These last few days have had their ups and downs. It’s hard to see the views on my blog go from almost 200 on Tuesday to 9 yesterday, but I know that it isn’t the quantity of viewers that matter. I don’t need hundreds of people to give me support, just a few good friends.
First, I want to share a few more details about Mother’s Day than I shared before. I was trying to protect the woman who hurt me by not using her title. She was and is my Relief Society President. This isn’t the first time she has hurt me. The fact that she is the Relief Society President makes the whole thing all the more difficult emotionally and spiritually. My counselor and I see a clear pattern of behavior from her that is not likely to stop if it is not confronted. She is well meaning, but extremely certain that she knows what is wrong with me and what I need. She is very suspicious and at times hostile to mental health and any concepts that sound mental health related. She is the only church leader I have ever had that told me not to contact my counselor after a depressive incident. Her ignorance, and her determination to preserve it, makes her particularly dangerous to me and my recovery.
Rather than admit her mistake on Mother’s Day and try to make things right with the Relief Society sisters and me, it looks to me like she has chosen to take the victim role. This complicates things. Sisters are taking sides and because she has a powerful position in the social structure, she has an advantage over me. At first I wanted to have a meeting with the Bishop and the Relief Society President, but after discussing it with the Bishop, it seems that he wants to try to reconcile rather than address what she did to me and why it was so hurtful. I don’t think it would be helpful to meet with her until she is willing to accept responsibility for what she did.
Yesterday I had a panic attack as I was considering the very real possibility that she would continue to target me and treat me this way. I considered petitioning the Stake President for a change of wards. This would disrupt our lives considerably, but it might be worth it. Perhaps in a new ward I could build a more solid social support structure with church leaders who respect and understand mental health a little better and are willing to confront the mental health stigma that is so strong in our church. But I would likely encounter similar problems in a different ward.
It is hard for me to keep forgiving my church leaders for their ignorance about mental health. They are not paid. Their work is completely volunteer. They receive no mental health training except for a few websites and pamphlets they are supposed to read. Sometimes I think they get burned out with all the drama they have to put up with with no compensation. Still, as the cycle continues and I have to try to teach each new Bishop and Relief Society President that is called, I can’t help but think that I have the more difficult job. I have no degree in mental health. I have no calling for this, no authority to speak to it, and often no respect for what I say regardless of how seemingly intuitive the concept. My only qualification is that I have a emotional disorder; which also serves to paradoxically discredit me.
My explanations are often met with questions I don’t know the answers to. “How much longer will you be in counselling? When will your recovery be over?” My personal favorite is, “Are you listening to your counselor? Are you telling them everything?” As though I am paying and spending an hour every week just to sabotage my own treatment! At best members and leaders are sympathetic but sometimes bungling. At worst they are hurtful. It is the equivalent of a diabetic person going to church and having someone steal her insulin and force feed her an entire plate of brownies. Studio C did a skit on this kind of situation. I relate with Matt!
I tell myself it isn’t their fault. They don’t have the experience or the training to understand what I am experiencing. If I were in their place and hadn’t experienced what I have experienced, I would probably see it the same way they do. I would probably think, “Why is she so sensitive? Why is she still in therapy? Why can’t she just move on from stuff? What a bunch of crackpot non-sense words are ‘recovery’ ‘healing path’ ‘my truth’ and ‘inner child’?” I get that people don’t get it. I get that most people probably don’t possess true mental wellness and never will. I get it, but that doesn’t stop them from hurting me.
God has given me a very powerful vision of a future where people like me can have understanding and compassion, love and acceptance, and most of all respect for the incredibly strong survivors that we are. My pain has given me empathy, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the gold in the world. It doesn’t matter that others often don’t suffer from the same problems or have the same scars; all pain is remarkably the same. It always benefits from compassion. Even when you can’t fix it, you can feel it and give love.
Love is like ice on a burn. It doesn’t make the problem go away, it just helps it not sting so much. Love is a positive and productive force that leads to healing. Shame is the opposite. It can produce short term results that look like healing, but it makes the sting worse and delays real healing. Too often at church I have felt shame instead of love. The depression makes it worse for me, but shaming messages aren’t good for anyone. Transitioning from a shame culture to a love culture takes knowledge, modeling, and instruction of members.
I say that like I know how to do it. I don’t. I still use shaming messages with my boys far too often. “Why aren’t you working on your chores? You’re supposed to be sweeping the floor! Why is there a candy wrapper in the living room? AGHHH! You guys are such slobs! Why can’t you clean up after yourselves!?!” They internalize those shaming messages. Thankfully, a good chore chart and some consistent device management is making our house run a little more smoothly. I feel less frustrated and they are getting more high fives and fewer scoldings from me.
My counselor talked to me about reframing my problems with the Relief Society President to gradually decrease their importance in my life. She isn’t in my inner circle. It doesn’t matter what she and her friends think of me. I can be okay and live a happy life without her love and approval. I don’t have to change her or the ward or anyone.
Most of all I can have faith in my Savior and myself. He didn’t give me these trials without giving me what I need to overcome them. He has a path forward from this place even if I don’t see it right now. My anxiety leads to me to catastrophize the situation, but I need to remember the Lord can soften hearts. He can change people if they let him. Whatever happens will be according to his will, and I can live with that.