Wildfires of Change

It had been almost a month since the Facebook conflict happened that resulted in my Mom and I not speaking before we finally talked things out. I had unblocked my mom’s phone and reached out to her. After a few days, I got the response. She wanted to talk. Thanksgiving was coming up and I knew Mom was hurting. Like every Mom, you have dreams of your adult children and their families coming together during the holidays to celebrate. My older sister and I have struggled with mental health and my parents’ denial has complicated everything. It has been four years since Mom and Dad were cut off from my sister and her children. After a year of trying to make things work with them, this conflict had been the tipping point for me. I needed to do as my therapist suggested and build an emotional wall with them. I had seen how much pain it had caused my parent’s to be cut off from their grandchildren. I was determined to foster the bond between my children and their grandparents, but I would be emotionally distant and aloof in order to protect myself. That was the best outcome.

Sometimes family members are never going to be who you want or need them to be. That’s a hard reality to face. Sometimes we keep going back to the same relationships expecting something that will never happen. That dependence can hold you back. Sometimes the best thing you can do is accept the reality that the other person is who they are and that you have to love them that way while keeping yourself safe and protected. I was ready to do that with my parents, but I wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were willing and able to try for something more.

Family systems can be so hard to change. One person starts growing and then everyone else pulls them back into old patterns. It takes the force of a rocket to overcome the gravity of a family system. Still, if I have changed, couldn’t they change too? What would happen if I gave it a chance?

I suggested family therapy to my mom. She agreed to it. Both my mom and my dad conferenced in with my therapist two weeks ago. We’ve only had one session, but the fact that they were willing to do a session was such a big step. I’m hoping that with the counselor’s help, we can meet each other’s needs better and understand more about the realities of our family’s mental health challenges. Once our relationship is on solid ground, I want to reach out to my sister and try earn her trust again.

For the first time in a long time, I can picture a Thanksgiving dinner with all of us together. Maybe not next year. Maybe not the next year. But someday. If we are willing to put in the work, the Lord will make it happen.

I was so encouraged and optimistic about the situation with my parents, I was discouraged that things weren’t getting better with church. It had been a whole month since I had attended sacrament meeting. The Sunday before Thanksgiving I couldn’t even go into the building. I wasn’t able to teach my primary class. I was devastated.

I journalled and I processed and I analysed my dreams and I figured out what was holding me back. I wasn’t standing up for myself. There have been some really horrible things that members of the church have said and done to me over the last six months. That’s not about me. That’s not my depression. That’s not my lack of faith. That’s not my fault. It’s not about me being sick or broken, it’s about other people being ignorant and unfair. I wanted to make sure that my leaders understood that the things that had been said and done to me were wrong. Wrong. If I came back to church it wouldn’t be me coming back for another helping of hurt; it would be me coming back to fight another day. I was going to show people that I’m not gone. They haven’t driven me out or shut me up.

So I texted my bishop and he came over. I stuck up for myself. I tried to explain guilt and shame and the changes I am trying to make to be kind to myself and how church has been unhelpful and reinforcing harmful messages. In the end, I don’t know how much of it he understood, but the fact that I said what I needed to say and he listened respectfully was a huge win.

I went back to church yesterday. It was fast and testimony meeting and I was the first one to the stand. I can’t remember what I said, but I talked how I hadn’t been to church for a while. I said I was grateful that Bishop listened to me without judgement and that it made all the difference for me. I talked about feeling like there was a place for me in sacrament meeting sitting next to my family and that there is a place on the covenant path for all of God’s children no matter what they have done or not done. I felt the truth of those words.

As for those who judge me, go right ahead. Just don’t expect me to agree with you because that isn’t going to happen anymore. A woman I admire greatly has been open about her mental health struggles. She has been a tremendous force for good as she has raised awareness and supported so many. She posted her own experience today about having her motives questioned and her character attacked by multiple people.  Some feel threatened by what they don’t understand. They see people who are standing up against mental health stigma and refusing to be dutifully ashamed of things that aren’t their fault.  They see the strength and power of authentic relationships that form when we choose vulnerability and authenticity. They see that and they don’t understand it. It’s scary and unexpected.  Some people react by lashing out against it. It isn’t personal, it’s just the expression of their inability to cope with the feelings they are experiencing in reaction to their own fears. Still, this kind of thing can be so painful when you already have tendencies toward being self-critical. Her pain galvanizes me. I will raise my voice with hers. We will not be silent.

There is hope. People can change. Wards can change. Families can change. We can exercise our courage and faith to help make those changes happen. We are on the verge of major breakthroughs on mental health in our society. There has never been more awareness. There has never been more interest. The truth is out there and it will change the whole world. Sometimes the Lord is just waiting for someone to speak the truth for it to spread like wildfire. We provide the spark and he will do the rest. He is enough for me and for you.

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