Dear Heather, I hope you read this…

After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:

You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.


This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.

I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?

We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?

The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.

She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.

Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.

All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.

In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.

The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.

The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.

So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.

So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.

So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.

The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.

Are our church congregations safe for the injured? Do they get the help and support they need? Are we like our Master, the great physician? How can we do better?

Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?

And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?

I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.

I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.

Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.

I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.

I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.

Learning Not to Say “I’m Sorry”

“I’m so sorry!!” I looked at the clock behind the receptionist. Late again. How many times today had I had to apologize for being late? Car seat in tow along with another child running around somewhere, I looked back on the day thinking of how I could have possibly done things differently.  I had made Herculean efforts just to show up!  Yet still, I felt the need to apologize because I had made one mistake, misplaced one thing, had a diaper change come up that I hadn’t planned for, or whatever.  My inner critic would insist, “You can’t keep being late for everything!!  It’s so rude.”  Cold wash of shame.

I’ve started challenging the shaming messages that come with having ADHD.  Shame can become a habit, and mine is pretty ingrained.  Maybe that’s why I wasn’t totally comfortable with this video from Jessica McCabe.  I had never considered how apologizing for my inability to be neurotypical impacts my feelings about myself.  “I’m sorry,” implies that I’ve done something wrong.  I didn’t care enough.  I didn’t try hard enough.  Truth is, I try so hard.  It isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that I’m to blame.  I deserve credit for my efforts just like everyone else.  Just because I start the game with two strikes against me doesn’t mean I’m not worth having on the team.

With ADHD, and a mother of children with ADHD, I’m not going to manage my symptoms and my children’s symptoms perfectly.  Even neurotypical moms of young kids have trouble keeping a schedule.  Shame is not a healthy way to manage symptoms.  At the same time I know how much my ADHD impacts the people I love and the relationships I care about.  In fact, my inabilility to manage my ADHD perfectly causes me to socially isolate myself to avoid damaging those relationships.

“Oh, there’s a babyshower next week,” or “My son has a birthday party tomorrow,” or “maybe I should set up some playdates,” or “I should sign up to bring cupcakes to the ward party next week.” Those all turn into another list of things for me to fail at; presents I forgot to buy or wrap, another appointment to put on the calendar that I will probably show up late for, another group of people to apologize to.  I’ve thought about quitting the choir I love because I’m worried about being late.  I don’t want to take risks because I know I’m most likely going to fail.  Those failures don’t just impact me.  They impact everyone who is depending on me.  That makes me feel awful!

As I’ve thought more about the ways that the shame around my ADHD has drained my life of the joy and happiness, the more I think Jessica McCabe is right.  I need to stop apologizing for being ADHD.  Instead, I’m going to start thanking my friends and family for their patience and love in spite of my disability.  To all those who have seen the value in me in spite of my ADHD, I say, thank you!  Thank you for seeing me for who I am and loving me anyway.  

I started a bullet journal last week.  Jessica McCabe has a whole ton of Youtube tutorial videos on why this style of planner is great for ADHD.  You can access them here.  It has really helped me so far.  I can’t believe how much I have been able to get done!  I’ve started thinking, “Wow!  I could start looking like that Mom (fill-in-the-blank) that has it all together!”  Then I have to remind myself that I’m me, and that’s the best.  I don’t have to be together and organized to have value.  If this planner helps me to be more productive, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t define me.  

I find myself grappling with the structure of the planner.  My perfectionism starts rearing up.  In fact, my daily schedule today doesn’t include my blog post I’m writing right now.  I’m cheating on my schedule!  I have to give myself permission to color outside the lines because that’s what I do.  That’s who I am, and I’m giving myself permission to be who I am, just maybe with a couple of extra tools to help out.

Jessica McCabe’s videos have done so much to help me and my kids.  I suspect Devin thinks she’s hot.  He seems especially keen to watch her videos.  All three boys resonate with what she has to say.  We watched this video on Sunday.  It’s about using a glitter bottle to calm the brain down during an ADHD meltdown.  They all want one now.  

So if you hear fewer apologizes and more thank yous from me, know that its intentional.  I’m choosing to have more compassion for myself and choose self-love and gratitude instead of shame!  Hopefully I can pass on this habit of positive self-image to my boys.  I’m way too hard on them most of the time.  They struggle with the same stuff I do, but the habit of self-flagellation is the only strategy that I’ve consistently used to manage my symptoms.  When I think about it, its not that surprising that they have self-esteem problems.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Fortunately, its never to late to start being a good example to them!  I’m so grateful for my Savior who is guiding my recovery.  I know that together, we are unstoppable.  Salvation is real.  Hope is not in vain.  


This is the calendar page for this month. It is soon to be filled with all the end of school activities!!
I’m redoing my chore chart, and this is going to be the tool that’s going to make sure that I get everything on it! Am I going to have a clean house??? Anything is possible!
All ADHDers know that keeping track of the many projects we start can get overwhelming….This section is going to help me get them all done!
Daily planning can get a little too structured for me. Still, I’m caught up on my laundry in the first time in forever. I’ll take it.
This is the page I did yesterday for one of my boys with ADHD. I plan to do one for all my boys.
This section is where I write about what has worked and what hasn’t.

Go in Peace; Confessions of a Mom with ADHD

I found a new series of videos on ADHD.  A woman named Jessica McCabe made them after struggling to reach her potential for many years.  She gave a TED talk where she explains her journey.  It sounds so much like mine!  You start out so hopeful and full of promise, and then ADHD just gets in the way and you end up lonely, ashamed, and frustrated.  The biggest thing that Jessica figured out was that speaking out was the key to overcoming shame and loneliness. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, after my second child was found to have a severe case of it. Having ADHD is challenging, but then you are also likely to have children who also have it. Parenting ADHD children as an ADHD parent is extra challenging.

King Tantalus was punished by being eternally tormented with hunger and thirst while surrounded by food and water.

Being atypical is always hard.  Ask any left handed person.  Being neutrally atypical is maddening.  I’m always comparing my own perceptions with everyone else as a frame of reference.  As a result, I am getting conflicting and confusing messages about who I am and how I’m supposed to behave.  Jessica says it is like being both the smartest person and the dumbest person in the room; and being the most motivated and most lazy person in the room.  That really sums up how I feel about myself and my kids.  There is so much potential there; we are so close to success we can almost taste it.  But like King Tantalus, it is constantly and maddenly out of reach.

It’s brutal on my self esteem to feel like no matter how hard I try to be on-time, stay on-task, manage a schedule, or even pay attention to my husband when he wants to talk to me, I just can’t do it.  ADHD impacts every aspect of my life in ways that even I don’t totally understand.  I function fairly well when it really matters, but what a lot of people on the outside don’t see is the coping strategies I use to make it all work.  I’ll use one example.

When I was a new mom, I went to a store with my newborn in a carseat.  I got distracted with the shopping and forgot my baby sitting on the floor sleeping peacefully.  I left him as I completed my shopping, went through the checkout, and left the store.  At some point before I drove off, I was overcome with panic remembering that I was a mom and I didn’t have my baby.  I will never forget that wash of shame, the panicked dash back into the store, and the mumbled excuse I gave to the cashier without meeting her gaze.  Some people might just see this as the typical behavior of a sleep deprived new mother.  I knew it was more than that.  It was the beginning of eighteen long years of responsibility for another person that would acquire attention and focus that I knew I was incapable of.  I knew that this was only the first of what would be countless episodes of danger that my child would experience because of my brain problems.  How could I make myself pay attention?  How could I ensure that I would be a good mom and keep my baby safe? 

Me holding my newborn baby. Nothing is more important to me than my four boys, but I know that with ADHD I face unique challenges as a mother.

I would regularly subject myself to shaming sessions where I would rehearse the fear, panic, and devastating grief that would happen if I didn’t focus my attention with my child and something horrible happened.  I knew that forgetting my child that day at the store was not that big of a deal.  He was sleeping, and I remembered him within a few moments.  What if I forgot him in the car in the heat of a Texas summer day?  I would vividly imagine my baby screaming in pain as he slowly died of heat because I forgot about him.  That was the way I motivated myself.  It has worked.  I have a very ingrained process of opening the back door when I stop the car, even when my kids aren’t in the car.  I have coped, but at what cost to myself?  And whenever I slip up, I’m reminded of the truth; I will never be a good mom.  My children will never be safe with me taking care of them.

It’s no wonder that I’ve avoided social interactions as a mom.  I’m convinced there is no more judgmental and critical group of people in the universe than mothers of young children.  Except for maybe their grandmothers.  Being with a group of young moms at a playgroup is torture for me.  I’m sure that they will see the truth, that I am a mess and their children are not safe with me no matter how good of an image I try to project.

Emotional and psychological torment along with social isolation, are two coping strategies that have traded ADHD problems for problems with anxiety and depression.  I’m so afraid that I will leave my child in a hot car, I don’t want to go anywhere during the summers.  I’m so afraid of being judged by other moms, I avoid playgroups and close relationships with other moms.  I’m lonely and ashamed of myself.  My kids, who are also ADHD, learn from me that the way to handle their problems is avoidance and shame.

I still don’t have all the answers for how to deal with these issues.  All I know is that I can’t bare them alone anymore.  It makes the people around me feel better to think that I’m a great mom who has it all together, but the truth is, that’s just a projection.  The real me knows that I’m not the mom my boys deserve.  My medication helps in the morning, but by mid afternoon, it starts to wear off.  I have a mid afternoon slump just as my kids come home from school, which makes it difficult to keep track of everyone and keep everybody safe and on task.

Last week I was in one of my crashes.  I was in my room watching crime shows on Amazon Prime.  Wesley and his friend were at the school playground that is just down the street.  Austin was upstairs with Layne.  Until he wasn’t.  He walked out the front door in nothing but a pair of shorts and walked over to the school playground to play.  It isn’t the first time he’s done this.  I knew it was only a matter of time before someone called the police.  Wesley came to get me to tell me that Austin was at the school playground and that the afterschool care lady wouldn’t let him leave without a parent.  The officer was there to meet me.

I don’t need any pity.  I know I screwed up.  Yes, I’m grateful he’s okay and I understand why people are concerned.  It still hurts like hell because there are no easy answers.  And that’s what I felt as I considered all the ways I was incurably flawed and how I would never be able to be the mom my children need me to be.  Shame.  Burning hot and painful as hell.  Hell that never ends.

Except that I have a Redeemer.  He knows my heart.  He knows the effort I put in that no one sees.  He knows that even though I am flawed, that He is enough!  And He loves me; and my boys.  He has paid the price.  The police officers, the judges, and the critical mothers of this world fade in importance, their power dimming as I ponder on this truth.  He is all that matters.  I am not enough.  I was never expected to be.  That’s why I need Him.  That’s why I love Him.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Master taught the Pharisee that the person who is forgiven a few pennies worth of debt isn’t as grateful as the one forgiven a fortune.  I need Him.  Not a few pennies worth of Him, but a fortune.  I need Him like I need the air to breathe.  And so I love Him.  I come to him as she did, with oil in my hands and tears to wash his feet.  I beg for his mercy and plead for his forgiveness.  He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much……Thy faith hath saved thee.  Go in peace.”

Expressing Gratitude

This is a promotional card for our concert next month. If you have the chance to go, you should totally do it! You’ve never experienced anything like MCO.

I have been singing with the Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestras for several years now. Sometimes I forget how very fortunate I am to sing with this incredible organization. I’ve been thinking some time that I needed to write a letter of gratitude to my conductor and the choir’s founder, Brett Stewart.

Expressing gratitude does wonders for my mental wellness. I don’t do it enough, and today I’m committing to be better. An attitude of gratitude can change my day today. I choose gratitude. I choose to lift someone else who has blessed my life. He doesn’t know me, but he has blessed my life, and it’s time to say thank you. I plan to give this letter to him after rehearsal tomorrow:

Dear Brett Stewart,

You probably don’t know me by name, but most likely you would recognize my face.  I’m an alto 2, and I’ve stood front and center, right in front of you since the first day of DMCO practice.  I’m nobody important, just one of the many alto voices and I kind of like it that way.  I don’t complain or kick up a fuss.  I blend well.  I just come and rehearse and perform every semester.  Last week you mentioned that you get emails from people complaining about stuff pretty regularly, and I thought, that isn’t right.  It’s not right I have been coming and benefiting from this program in such profound ways, and through my silence, I allow cynical complainers to speak for me.  No more.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years.  When I became a Mom to my son, who is now a fourteen year old, I thought I would be happy, but I found that I lost myself in motherhood.  The more children I had, the worse it seemed to get.  At one point I became suicidal and was admitted to the hospital.  Part of my treatment plan was to rediscover myself and cultivate my interests.  I started looking for a choir.  I had prided myself on my singing voice, and had even sung in an audition choir in junior college, but like so much about myself, my singing had been neglected.  It is one of God’s tender mercies that I found out that MCO was coming to Dallas.  My friend who had been supporting me through it all, took me to the audition.  It has been a near perfect fit for me, even though I have to travel an hour to get to rehearsals. 

Each rehearsal, each semester, each performance I think, “I can’t do this!  It’s too much work,” but my husband pushes me out the door and once I reach the hall and I see you, it all changes.  You have a rare gift to bring the best out in me musically.  Sometimes I feel like that old church video and that I am that old dusty violin.  You found me, dusted me off, took the time to tune and train me, and now I can sing the way God intended for me to sing. 

It’s a small thing to the world, what you do.  You gather a rabble of amateur church choir singers, complete with a horde of rowdy children, and you teach us to sing beautifully.  In spite of your skill and training, Meyerson Concert Hall has closed its doors to you.  We both know why.  The world doesn’t value me, and those like me.  They like to define talent narrowly and invest only in a small fraction of the world that they deem worthy of their time and training.  That’s the world’s way.  It isn’t the Stewart way.  You give freely to everyone.  You take the time for everyone, or nearly everyone, that’s willing to try.  Like the sower, you sow musical knowledge to all of us, and we take it like the soil and multiply it.  It’s beautiful!

This letter is already getting long winded, so I won’t go into great detail about the way DMCO has changed my life.  It is a vital part of my mental wellness.  My voice was always nice to listen to, but after years of MCO training I sound polished and professional.  I read music much better, I control my vibrato, and sing with phrasing, dynamics, and diction.  I always try to sing as though you or one of the other conductors were there in front of me reminding me to put “ih” in my Ai’s, lips around my vowels, and marshmallows in the back of my throat.  I can imagine your angry eyes glaring at me under your eyebrows, hand stretched out, daring me to breathe in the wrong place.  There are times in sacrament meeting when someone sitting in front of me will turn around to comment on my voice.  Sometimes they are quite moved.  To the world, a beautifully trained alto voice singing praises to God in a small chapel is nothing noteworthy; but I know that God hears me.  I matter to him and what you do has more impact than you or I can possibly understand.  I know that every week you give me what I don’t deserve and haven’t paid for; a treasure of musical knowledge and training.  I am humbled and grateful for the incredible opportunity to sing in this choir.

More than anything, I am grateful for the energy you bring to choir each week.  You must tire of repeating the same instructions over and over.  It must be frustrating to have to whip us to MCO standard when we predictably fall short.  Still, you seem to always come with a spring in your step, ready to sweat a bucket as your pour your heart into your work.  I don’t know where you get your faith and tenacity, but thank you.  A million times, thank you.  Thank you for having the courage to start this organization.  Thank you for believing in me and thousands like me.  At first, I was quite cynical about the idea that we were going to be the choir that sings for the second coming of the Lord.  Then I started doubting my cynicism.  Now I don’t doubt anymore.  We will sing for Him.  We are preparing our voices for that great and dreadful day; the ultimate concert of praise and welcome for our God and Savior! 

With Gratitude,

Bridgette Burbank

Transgenerational Trauma; Examining Psychological Roots

Dropping off Austin at preschool today felt so amazing. There is nothing better than to walk with your head up, not having to wrestle with a little ball of energy that tries to dart into the path of every passing car. With my brain free to focus for a few hours on whatever I choose, I decided to write for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of pondering on transgenerational trauma, which is a growing area of scientific research. Check out an excellent article from Psychology Today called “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations.” One of the groups of people most often cited in studies of transgenerational trauma is children of holocaust survivors. The idea is, that the holocaust was so horrific and the trauma so great that one generation could not absorb it all. Holocaust survivors had to pass their trauma on to their children and grandchildren. Some studies even indicate that our genetic makeup can change in response to trauma. This article explores some of those ideas.

I wrote a blog post some time ago about my parents’ families and the trauma that has been suffered and the ways I have seen that trauma effect me, my siblings, and my cousins. In my scripture study, my internet research, and pondering on the experiences of my own life, I am coming to a greater understanding of the crucial role that family, and particularly our ancestors, play in our lives.

Like the roots of a tree are unseen, so the roots of our psychological makeup are unseen; given to us by generations long past.

Parenting is so hard. This weekend was particularly crazy. Breaking up fights, taking sharp objects from the three year old, helping a child work through a melt down……all of those things are commonplace in our home. I have depression, we pretty much all have ADHD, and we have a toddler, which is like having a blender with no lid spewing chaos in his wake. We threw Austin’s shredded pacifier in the trash two weeks ago. He is still not sleeping well. I have resorted to driving him around in the van so he will take a short nap. If he doesn’t nap, he will scream constantly. A couple of days ago he was screaming at me, for twenty minutes non-stop. You try to tune it out, but it wears on your nerves. Eventually, I tried offering him some hot chocolate. He likes to eat the whipping cream that I put on the top. I tried giving him a spoonful of the white fluffy goodness half melted in chocolate. He turned his face away. I ate it myself and he was clearly offended and screamed even louder. I got him another spoonful. He was starting to get red in the face. Finally, after a loud game of toddler charades, I figured out that he wanted to spray the cream into the cup himself. I let him do it once and he was happy. Of course, he was furious again when I wouldn’t let him endlessly spray cream into the cup. So he was back to screaming.

If he is not screaming at me, he is finding scissors, knifes, paint, or breakable things. Sunday I thought it would be fun to have him play with some playdough on the kitchen table. A few minutes after starting the activity, there were playdough toys scattered in a twenty-foot radius. Pieces of playdough littered the floor in a ten foot radius. In the middle of this cyclone of stickiness, there was Austin, his church clothes embedded with orange and green splotches, standing on the table. With an expression of maniacal glee, he stomped and threw stuff.

“No, no,” Momma patiently insists. I take him off the table. “You sit in your chair.” I start sweeping playdough and picking up toys. Austin sits for less than a minute before trying to climb back on top of the table. “Austin, you need to sit and think about it?” He seems to ignore me, but my voice triggers a response in him. It seems as though the threat of consequences switches the chaos into high gear. With a swift gesture, he sweeps all the remaining playdough supplies onto the floor; a dramatic climax to an ill fated adventure. No more playdough.

I’m not even going to go into Devin and the adventures of teenager angst. The glazed expression of annoyance, the condescending tone, the irritation that we don’t understand his terms or care sufficiently about how cool or uncool we are. Sigh.

Parenting is so hard. We tried to gather the kids together on Sunday for our weekly gospel study. Austin sits for no one. The other kids are wandering around looking for scriptures and journals. Then they get distracted and need redirection. By the time everyone is sitting and ready to start, the tension is already high, and inevitably one of them needs to go use the bathroom. Mom and Dad start firing questions to get brains engaged. “Who remembers who John the Baptist was?” Stunned silence and vacant expressions. “Wesley, who was John the Baptist?” After a pause, “He was a baptist??” And so we work like house elves to draw their thinking out and get them to put something in their study journals. Yesterday at family dinner we talked about the importance of personal scripture study and prayer in developing strong testimonies. I asked them how they felt like they were doing in developing their testimony. Crickets.

Every day the impossible expectations of parenting weigh me down. The patient attentiveness, the alert awareness, the interactive presentness of good parenting is so hard to maintain for any significant length of time. With four children, the individual attention and love each child requires to function optimally seems eternally out of reach. If only I could clone myself!

I share these things with you, not just for you to laugh at, but also to consider the magnitude of the task each parent faces. We as parents stand in the place of God himself to our children. We are the all powerful creators of their reality. I feel much more like the Wizard of Oz with plenty of smoke and mirrors as I threaten my children with “serious consequences” for their disobedience, than I do a wise and judicious God who is in control of all things.

When my children become parents, perhaps they will understand me better. Perhaps they will find some empathy for what I was doing and have mercy on me for the multitude of ways I have fallen short in my parenting. One thing I will never do is hold myself up as the one who had it all figured out, with a set of rigid expectations for how they need to parent their own children. I plan to explore this issue in future posts, but I’m going to go in a different direction today.

Our parents shape us. There is no question about that. I have observed that the default human tendency is to exalt our parents. If we have superior parents, that follows that we are superior. That can feel pretty good. It’s also easy because we can parent just like our parent’s did, and all will be well. When we find fault with our parents and the way they did things, we are by extension, finding fault with ourselves. In addition, if our parents messed up, that means we have to work hard to do something different. This is so much more than just blaming parents, it is setting aside the illusions reinforced in the family narrative that is driving dysfunctional thinking and depressive symptoms.

Therapy is, at its core, intense and rigorous introspection. Like a cancer screening, you must enter each psychic cellular crack and crevice to find the places where unhealthy thoughts and behaviors take root. Sometimes those poisonous plants have seeds sown in previous generations. More problematic still, the prior generations are not likely to take kindly to suggestions that their methods were hurtful and wrong.

Ideally, we can split off from our parents, make our own paths, take the good that they gave us and go a different direction. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, that is almost impossible to do. Like crabs in a bucket, a dysfunctional family will pull one another back into the bucket each time one the members tries to escape. Scapegoating, gaslighting, and projecting are all too common in these families. The therapy patient can be overwhelmed with the reality of the awful state of things as they confront the larger systemic problems in their family.

Looking on from the outside, is recovery even worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the family narrative, make everyone happy, and live depressed? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why confront the family illusions? Why rock the boat? The answer is in the faces of my children. They deserve better.

They deserve a mom that is not depressed. They deserve a family narrative that is honest and holds up to scrutiny. They deserve better and I am going to give it to them. I have a dream of a family unencumbered by the cancer of shame and the demons of depression; a large and prosperous posterity that can realize the potential that lies in each individual member. I pray to my Savior that I can have the courage and wisdom to depart from the sins and errors of the past and bring my family onto a better path, a more perfect way. My Savior is the Father of my destiny, the pilot of my tomorrow. He will guide me and my little ones to lie down in green pastures. I put my trust in him and no one else.

ADHD; Embracing the Alien Brain

It was a fourth grade classroom and my mentor, the fourth grade team lead was sitting in front of me with a stern expression telling me some difficult things.  It was her job to tell me the concerns that parents had about a first year teacher, but I loved this woman!  She would take a bullet for me and I needed her to like me.  I had done everything I could do to be the person she would accept and here was the inevitable unfolding before my eyes.  Rejection.  I knew it would happen because it always does.  Eventually, no matter how hard I try, I would be rejected because I am all wrong and I can never hide it forever.  The familiar tidal wave of emotion came over me.  “Don’t do this…..” she said.  I couldn’t help myself.  I slipped into a meltdown.  An ADHD emotional meltdown.  

Think ADHD is only about attention and hyper little boys?  It’s not.  It is a biological reality that you never grow out of.  It is slippery disorder that is often confused for something else.  My son Layne is one of the most extreme cases of ADHD I have ever seen.  He has been very tricky to diagnose.  I took him in to a speech pathologist when he was three and she suspected severe developmental delays.  I took him into the district for an evaluation and they gave him much higher scores.  The difference was that they engaged with him and observed him much better than the other diagnostician who only asked questions which he disregarded, behaving much like a young autistic child.  Even so, the district found him to be autistic.  I took him to the Child Study Center in Ft. Worth to see a child psychiatrist that works extensively with autistic children, and she said it was clearly ADHD.  After observing Layne and learning as much as I can about the disorder, he is a classic case.

We started treating him with stimulant medication starting at age four just before he started a special preschool class for language delayed children.  The medication made a huge impact on his ability to perform in the classroom.  He made enormous strides that surprised everyone.  years passed and he was showing himself to be an excellent student.  Unfortunately, he had a hair trigger temper and was extremely sensitive to criticism and teasing.  He would regularly, almost daily, have major meltdowns that would end up with both of us sitting on his bed while I spoke softly and soothingly, trying patiently to keep his mind from endlessly ruminating on his painful emotions by distracting him.  Sometimes it would take him hours to calm down.  His distress was so great, that he starting having suicidal thoughts.  At school he never had a single meltdown.  He was six.

My Momma heart was in tatters.  My baby was having the same problems I had and there was nothing I could do for him.  All my life, for as long as I can remember, I have had an explosive temper that has eluded every effort to manage.  Telling me to control my temper is like telling someone not to pull their hand back when they touch a hot stove.  You don’t decide, it just happens.  I knew that Layne would need more than just lectures about self control.

Thanks to God’s intervention, I happened upon an incredibly competent pediatrician for my boys.  He is stooped and gray and full of an indomitable energy.  He never tires of playing silly games with his little patients and they adore him.  Austin calls him Dr. Strange.  “Very fierce!”  He knew just what to do when I called him about Layne’s tantrums.  He prescribed guanfacine.  How did he know?  Perhaps because he is unusually perceptive about treating ADHD patients because he has it himself.  How he managed to become a doctor with his ADHD, I don’t know.  I’m just glad he did.  He told me that his treatment was black coffee and a leather strap when he was a boy.  (Winking and smiling with a twinkle in his eye)  

Last night I came across a new theory about the emotional component of ADHD.  It is called RSD or rejection sensitivity dismorphia.  It literally means you can’t bare rejection.  The very thought that maybe somehow some way someone you care about is rejecting you, is so acutely painful, it can result in suicidal ideation in those whose anger is directed at themselves, or impressively explosive rage at another person if it is externalized.  This pain is so much greater than what is called the “neurotypical brain” that people that have never experienced it, can’t really understand it.  It comes on very suddenly and can be gone just as quickly.  It is like a supercell Texas thunderstorm.  Wait an hour and its gone.  The roof might be gone as well, but the storm is over.  Like it never happened.  This RSD is highly correlated with ADHD.  Some people, like Layne and me, it can be one of the most problematic aspects of the condition.  It is extremely difficult to manage as it is difficult to anticipate a trigger.  It can wreak havok on relationships and jobs.

Layne now takes Clonadine which is helpful to control the RSD aspect of his condition as well as helps him to sleep.  The ADHD brain continues to surprise me as new information about the many facets of this remarkable subset of the population are revealed.  Of course, viewing ADHD as only a disorder is insultingly simplistic.  ADHD brains are no better or worse than other brains, just different.  As we  understand and learn to treat ADHD, we can have more compassion for those who are neurologically atypical.  I dream of a day when the human environment can be adapted to embrace these differences in our brains and accommodate them rather than medicate them.  In the meantime, we will soldier on with our stimulant in one hand, our mood medications in the other.  We will speak out.  We will learn from one another.  And together we can find ways to survive and thrive in an alien world full of “normal” people.

Unicorn Witness; of Rainbows and Rubies


I was enraged today in sacrament meeting.  I was proud of myself for identifying the feeling.  It started as a sick depressed sensation.  I get that feeling often when I am angry because I turn the anger in on myself automatically.   Recognizing anger has been difficult for me to learn to do.  Correction, recognizing the feeling before it engulfs me in a world class melt-down has been hard to do.  After I identified the feeling,  I realized that I was really, really ticked off.  There are reasons to be angry, and I was angry for a good reason.

Today in church I was actually able to listen to most of the talks.  With a three year old, that doesn’t always happen.  The guy that spoke is a pillar in the church.  He has a big calling and is very important and was saying some stuff that he obviously believed was true and that we all needed to know.  Too bad it was completely false and harmful to people like me.  I turned to Ben and said, “I am really really mad.”  He gave me a quizzical look.  I said, “Listen to this guy!  I can’t believe he’s saying this stuff.”  The message didn’t enrage Ben at all.  We talked about it for some time this evening trying to parse out what exactly was said and what his intended message was.  I’m not passing judgement on the guy who spoke today in sacrament meeting, but I am not going to let myself get depressed over it.  I heard the message I heard and it triggered an avalanche of pain rooted in years of experiences related to this issue.  I’ve heard and believed it in the past and it kept me from getting the help I needed.

His talk was on temple worship, which is fine.  In making his point about the importance of temple worship in gaining knowledge he started going off on worldly knowledge.  He went so far as to say that all knowledge and philosophies of the world are at best tainted and at worst evil.  He made the case that everything that we need to know can be learned from God in the temple or from the church.

This fearful view of “outsiders” is in vogue politically now with the rise of Donald Trump, but has always held a seductive appeal.  “Only trust the people who are like you.  Don’t branch out and learn something new from one of God’s children who doesn’t look like you.  God only exists in this space. Everything  you need to know is right here.  If we don’t understand it, we can demonize it and pretend the problems don’t exist.”

The thing is, there are problems in the church membership, and they aren’t going away.  Look at me.  I was pretty much a model LDS girl growing up.  I went to church every week, my family read scriptures and had family home evenings.  I didn’t have sex until I was married in the temple to my returned missionary husband.  I never drank or smoked or even associated with anyone who did those things.  I went to college in Elementary Education like a good LDS woman.  Every principle I was ever taught by my church leaders or my parents, I lived to the best of my ability.  When I transgressed the law, I repented.  Why then did I, at the age of 22, find myself weeping on the phone with my mom, secreted in the institute building of Utah State University?  Why was I frightened?  Why did I want to kill myself?  “This shouldn’t be happening.  I’m a good girl who makes good choices.  I was supposed to be happy.  That was how it was supposed to work,” I thought.  That was what I was taught.  That was kind of my “rock bottom” and after that, I started earnestly trying to treat my depression.

Perhaps you could say that I didn’t read my scriptures enough.  I wasn’t saying enough prayers, or perhaps they weren’t heart-felt enough.  Perhaps my weekly trips to the temple were insufficient.  I should have been engaging in acts of service.  That was what I had done wrong to deserve to feel the way I did.  You can tell yourself that, but the truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong.  I did everything my leaders told me to do, and I still became depressed.  That was because the knowledge and treatment I needed wouldn’t be found within the church.  The church, as in the members, were actually part of my problem.  They didn’t know what I needed and often gave me the opposite.  It was outside the church in those places I had been taught to fear and distrust, outside of the expected realm of tidy answers and easy solutions, that I would find the treatment I needed to recover from my depression.  It was there that God led me, first to my bishop, then to LDS social services, and eventually to where I am today, under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist.  I still have depressive episodes, like I am recovering from now, but overall my depression is under control.

Imagine this stupid scenario with me please.  A woman limps into the temple with a broken leg.  She prays to God that he will take the pain away and heal her leg.  Next to the temple there is a hospital filled with competent medical professionals who have the knowledge and skills to help her solve her problem.  Don’t you think God would gently tell that sister, “You need to go next door.  They have what you need.”  Even if the doctor doesn’t have a temple recommend, even if he is a horrible person that is bound for hell, he probably still knows what to do to help set and heal a broken leg better than anyone in the temple.  Why come to God when he has already given his healing knowledge to the whole world and you choose to remain clueless because you are afraid?

This stupid scenario is actually a pretty good replication of what we do with mental health.  Want to know the best way to discipline your kids?  Why don’t you do it the same way you were raised by your parents?  You know they didn’t do a very good job.  You grew up resentful of their regular beatings, but you can just tweak it a little.  Never mind that millions of dollars have been invested into research on the subject, and probably thousands of scholarly articles have been published on the subject.  Don’t pollute your mind with the philosophies of men!  Instead, proceed in your ignorance.  Die of thirst while swimming in clean water.   That’s what God wants.

Having problems in your marriage?  Don’t go to marriage counseling.  Never mind that scientists actually study this stuff and your marriage is not the first marriage to have problems in the history of the world.  Don’t bother to benefit from the knowledge that has been accumulated by people a lot smarter than you are.  By all means, keep plodding on the way you are.  God wants us to suffer rather than open our eyes and see the truth staring at us in the face.

Having symptoms of panic, anxiety, or depression?  Have suicidal thoughts?  That means that you really are the pathetic human being Satan is saying that you are.  You need to repent!  That’s the ticket.  Never mind what you are repenting for.  Your feelings are evidence of your sin.  Don’t go get help from the people who are actually trained to treat this stuff.  Go to the temple.  Read your scriptures.  Keep doing the church thing and tell yourself its working.  Until it isn’t, and you are dead.

Think I’m exaggerating?  You can die of a lot of stupid things that are completely treatable and preventable.  If you decide your strep throat doesn’t need antibiotics, things can go badly pretty quickly.  If you have a biological condition like diabetes, or severe food allergies, if you don’t treat your condition, you could easily die.  I’m not being hyperbolic here.  Untreated mental health maladies can be fatal.  In fact, Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.  In fact, in children aged 10-17, it is the leading cause of death.  I’m not saying that the church is to blame for children killing themselves, but couldn’t we be doing more as members to identify and help these people?  Making church echo chambers that keep repeating harmful messages like the one I heard today isn’t helping the situation.

I read this article from the Salt Lake Tribune that interviews a suicide researcher in Utah.  The saddest thing I read is that the statistics show that many of the children who kill themselves were getting treatment but then felt embarrassed and stopped.  Those kids didn’t have to die.  They could have been treated, but they didn’t want the stigma.  Why do we still have stigma against mental health?  Why can’t people get help for valid emotional and mental wellness problems without being ashamed of it?  We need to stop this crap right now.

Abuse is real.  Mental illness is real.  This stuff is awful and it’s in the church.  As conditions get worse in the world, things are going to get worse.  Untreated mental and emotional problems are not going to solve themselves.  We need to do more than just treat mental illness, we need to create an environment of mental wellness.  We need our churches to be bully free zones where judgement and cruelty are addressed and dealt with.  We need to teach and model loving and inclusive behavior toward those who are different from ourselves.  We need to study the social sciences and integrate the truths that are there to make us more resilient to the messages of Satan.  Mentally healthy environments don’t just happen, they are nurtured and designed with diligent care.  Like a garden they must be frequently weeded and fertilized for mental wellness to thrive.  There are too many cliques and too much posturing among our members.  That is the kind of environment Satan loves.  It breeds mental illness like a petri dish.  Big sigh!  My anger has been exhausted.

Last night I had a dream that I was with my parents and some other people.  Suddenly, a unicorn came streaking across the sky.  In all it’s white, glittery, magical glory it flew straight toward the sheer wall of a nearby mountain.  It blasted into a fiery explosion, spewing wreckage all around and leaving several beams of red light burned into the side of the mountain.  I turned in shock and horror to my parents.  They hadn’t seen the unicorn at all.  I explained what I had seen and they dismissed it as nothing.  I pointed to the fiery pillars on the mountain, but they were unconvinced.  I ventured out into the brush looking for evidence to support my claims.  Eventually, I came across a rainbow.  I brought it back to show them, but it was nothing but a marshmallow rainbow, like a giant Lucky Charm.  It even had a few bites taken out of it, so it didn’t seem very credible.  I looked closer at the beams of red light and noticed that within each fiery column, there was a red ruby.  I would go and find the rubies and bring them back to show my parents.

Our Sunday School lesson today was on Daniel.  He was a legendary dream interpreter, of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder what interpretation he would give me for my dream.  I am not so gifted as he was, but lucky for me, I have Google.  Here is what I came up with.

The unicorn is a symbol of hope, insight, and high ideals; of gentleness, power, and purity.  I was the only person present who witnessed the death of this beautiful beast.  It was not so much sad, but shocking and disturbing.  I found a rainbow and brought it back as evidence of what had happened.  Rainbows symbolize a bridge to the divine.  Unfortunately, my dream self devalued the rainbow as did those I showed it to.  Still, I knew what I had seen and I felt compelled to witness to it, even if it meant climbing a steep mountainside and braving the fiery unknown in search of rubies.  Rubies are symbols of spiritual knowledge, so perhaps my quest to prove the witness of the unicorn will result in me finding spiritual knowledge.  Above all, what I had seen seemed vitally important and I needed to tell people about it.  Maybe that’s what I’m doing.  I’m shouting from my blog that I see hope, insight, and high ideals crashing in an inferno of ignorance.  I see gentleness, power, and purity failing to bring peace to a world in pain.  Yet in that desolation there are gems to be found for those who brave the mountain to find them.  Let’s go mountain climbing!


Missing Mothers; Broken Hearted Families

Dark clouds linger over my mind like the stormy Texas morning outside. My thoughts have tumbled thunderously through my brain like a wind shear rotating into a supercell thunderstorm.

The soldiers of Halla are preparing for battle, and their commander is pouring over the battle plans deciding the best course of action for them. I have written copiously, but nothing I can share on this blog. The feelings are too raw and personal, the messages written only for the eyes of the people they were written for. My family members have been the subject of my letters. Those sacred, and personal relationships packed with emotional dynamite that must be handled with care. It is like trying to do a tumbling routine on a balance beam suspended a hundred feet in the air.

Today I have written two letters to two mothers; my biological mother, and the mother of my husband. The love of a mother is uniquely beautiful. I’m not Catholic, but I have always adored the images of Catholicism of the Virgin with her child. No one appreciates and respects Mary and her sacred role quite like a Catholic, and I admire that. DSC_4445 She was a fallen mortal and I have no desire to convert to Catholicism. Why do those images of her in Cathedrals across the world stir something in me? It is, I think, because Mary symbolizes every mother who has ever held her baby, a child of God innocent and fresh from God’s embrace. There is no image more sacred to me. She was fallen, she was mortal, she probably made many of the same mistakes I made with my first baby, and yet she was just who Jesus Christ needed to nurture him. He became the Savior for all of us, and it couldn’t have happened without her. I don’t worship her, but I have appropriated her self appointed title, that of the handmaid of the Lord. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so there you go!

No one understands the value of a Mother’s love more than those whose mother is gone. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. When a mother is missing from the life of a child, that child suffers. I have seen it in my own children, when I shut myself away from them because of the pain of depression. It is chaotic, it is fearful, and there is no peace. I pray fiercely every day that my pain and my illness will somehow be turned to good in their lives. Statistical evidence is bleak. Children of depressed mothers are at a substantially higher risk of suicide, incarceration, substance abuse, and a host of mental disorders. I fight desperately to make sure that my children’s needs are met. No effort is spared to overcome this disease and make a good life for them. When suicidal ideation begins, it is thoughts of my children that are the best thing to pull me out. What would they do, and where would they be without me?

Yesterday I took Devin to the orthodontist. It has been four years since he ended treatment, but I take him every six months for preventative care. He opened his mouth and even the orthodontist was impressed with his perfect smile, not a single tooth out of place. His bite is perfect too. He smiled at me and said, “That’s what happens when you get early intervention!” I am healthy enough to give myself a pat on the back. I took Devin in when he was seven years old because he was developing a bite problem. An expander and head gear, only worn at night, along with a few thousand dollars corrected the problem and prevented a long and painful stint of braces. I made an appointment for Wesley to get his preventative care. Layne is also in treatment, and his teeth are looking good too.

Monday I took my Wesley to his last therapy session with his current counselor. His happy face and positive attitude are so different now than a year ago when he would punch himself and talk about how he hated himself. We are going to continue counseling with a new therapist because he is especially sensitive, and my depression is hardest on him. Monday, Layne was punished for disrespecting me. He was so angry that he threw one of his tantrums in the other room. He often has to take timeouts. He is blessed with dynamite emotions that he is learning to manage. After talking to his dad, he came to me and told me he was sorry. I threw my arms around him and we both cried. I told him, “I love you! You know I would give you the whole world if I could, right? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You are everything to me.”

This morning Austin and I had our “snuggle time.” Ben gets the big boys up for school, and Austin comes down and climbs in my bed. We lay together, I tuck his cold little feet into my warm legs, and he digs his little nose into my neck, and we savor this sacred time. I remember having insomnia as a child. I was always cold and the snakes and monsters were always under the bed and in the closet. Some nights when it was so bad, I would go upstairs to my mom’s room and she would let me lay beside her. It was so warm and safe. After a few minutes, I would save up a little of that warmth, hurry down to my bed and snuggle into the covers before it was gone. Better than Ambien! I don’t share these stories to brag, or incite comparison or guilt in other moms, but to show that even a broken mom with depression can love her kids. I could list out all the mistakes I have made as a mom, but I’m trying to silence my inner critic and be kind to myself, so I’ll just say, I’m a broken mom. Still, no one can love quite like a mom can love, even imperfect, broken moms.

Nothing can hurt a mom quite as badly as the criticism, from within or without that we have failed at motherhood. A big part of my recovery journey has been to embrace my imperfection and my children’s imperfection. The house is messy, the laundry is never done, the homework often late or incomplete, the constant bickering and bantering of brothers is always in the air, and often I can be found in my room, writing or drawing to survive until Ben gets home. It is messy and it is ugly, it is beautiful and it is real. It is perfectly imperfect.

I was born on my Dad’s mother’s birthday. Her name was Eva Cutler and when she was about my age, she lay in the hospital, knowing she was slowing dying. She had an appendicitis attack and living in a rural area, preoccupied with caring for her seven children, she did not get treatment in time. The appendix ruptured and there was peritonitis and then sepsis. She would never recover. She had seven children from a young adult son to a new baby daughter. Before she died, she said, “I am most worried about Jimmy. He is so sensitive.” eva briggs Jimmy, I know him as Dad, was only six years old. He remembers being told his mother was dead and “welcome to the real world.” He huddled in a closet and cried in the lonely darkness. He cherished every moment he had with his mother and committed it to memory. He says he can even remember his mother from infancy.

His father did his best to care for seven children. His oldest sister was sixteen and she tried her best to be a surrogate mother. Baby Ruth, the youngest child was given to an Aunt and Uncle to care for. They survived, but life was never the same as it was. One of the saddest things my dad told me about was memories of his front porch. At one time, he said, it must have been beautiful. Someone had loved it and planted beautiful flowers and climbing vines. Without Eva to tend to it, it fell into disrepair. I imagine the vine overgrown and disheveled, neglected and bereft like the motherless children inside. The delicious meals that Eva used to make were gone, and a young sixteen year old girl learning to cook just couldn’t compete. A proud father, determined not to become the ward project, turned away any help from his neighbors. Eva’s old friends, desperate to help alleviate the suffering of the children, were kept away.

As the years passed, his father remarried. His new wife, Beth, removed all the photographs of Eva from the home. She brought her own children to add to Rex’s seven children and it was a tiny house. I’m sure she was often overwhelmed, and motherhood is difficult even when the children are your own. Beth had overwhelming obstacles to overcome in order to be the nurturer both families needed. She had little love or patience for little Jimmy. This sensitive boy suffered terribly because of his mother’s passing, just as his mother knew he would. Emily Judd Henrie and Francis Henrie My mother’s father’s name was Eldon Dee Henrie. He was born to a wonderful mother named Emily, Emmer for short. By all accounts Emily was a delightful woman who brought sunshine everywhere she went. Her marriage to his father Francis was good, and they had eight children aged 18 to 1. She suffered a stroke while bathing her three little boys in a big tub. My grandpa, who was two, was sleeping in her arms at the time, having been washed and dried. He and his mother fell into the tub. His older brothers, Aure nine years old, and Thomas four, managed to pull him out of the water and likely saved his life. They couldn’t pull their mother out of the tub. When they got help, she was revived, but paralyzed on one side. She passed away a few years later after treatments were unsuccessful. That left my grandpa, her youngest son, at only four years old with no mother.

After a few years, his father remarried, but Victoria was physically abusive to both her biological children from a previous marriage, and Francis’s children. Veryl, Emily’s first child and oldest son, found her beating Elden Dee Henrie his baby sister Violet and became very upset. He had promised his dying mother that he would ensure that his siblings were cared for. Eventually the children were given to relatives and Francis and Victoria moved away. I assume the home became so toxic that Francis thought it was his best option.

Eldon Dee at ten years old had lost both his parents and lived with his oldest brother, helping out on the Ranch. The brothers became very close and worked at the Ranch together for many years. Eldon Dee survived. I’m not sure how. He became a loving father to my mother, but his wife Martha, my mother’s mother, was more like a visiting Aunt to her family. She would work all week in the city, and then return to the family home only on weekends. I watched my mother try my whole life to develop a meaningful relationship with her mother.

Martha was particularly taken with me as a baby, so my mom tried to cultivate that bond. Grandpa passed away when I was small and Grandma Martha lived alone in a small apartment. Mom bought me a red toy suitcase that said, “I’m Going to Grandma’s House.” I loved to go swim at Grandma’s apartment swimming pool and at first everything seemed good. I always looked forward to our visits. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA When I was about nine years old, I stayed at Grandma’s house for a week without my family. After a few days of being constantly scolded, criticized, and ignored by turns, I realized Grandma’s house was overrated. I remember looking in a mirror at the house and wondering why my Grandma couldn’t see anything good about me. I didn’t think I was such a bad girl. The harder I tried to please her, the more her fault finding hurt me. I learned over the years that it wasn’t me that was the problem. Martha could see little good in anyone. My Mom was undeterred by my distinct change of attitude toward Grandma’s house. We still visited her regularly. I tried to be polite.

Mom called Martha every week and listened to her prattle on and on about her daytime television shows, her friend Delma, and her trips to Hawaii. She would send me gifts on my birthday, but never anything I liked. My sister moved to Utah after college and she made a valiant effort to show Martha love visiting her every week. Tiffany said that all she would do was complain including about the frequency of her visits insisting that, “You never come see me.” Later, when she became unable to live on her own, she moved into my parent’s house. I was off at college, but when I came home to visit, I was amazed at how well my mom cared for her. As a career nurse, she was in her element.

Martha was always complaining about Idaho and how cold it was and how dull it was. Mom just listened and tried to make her feel better. My sweet mother was treated like a servant. I resented Martha all the more because of how ungrateful she was to my mom. We all did. Dad couldn’t stand her. It wasn’t until she started spreading horrible sexual lies about our family to my aunt that Dad insisted that she leave. I remember my mom hurting so badly. Not only had her mother spread horrible lies about her family, she had also rejected her efforts to build a meaningful relationship. She was forced to accept that a loving, warm, rewarding relationship would never be realized with Martha in this life. My mother’s mother was missing.

My father didn’t have a mother, but at least he could imagine her spirit smiling down lovingly upon him, the hope of a warm reunion someday. My poor mom had to live a life alongside a mother that was not capable of nurturing her. She was physically present, but emotionally missing. If I had a choice, I think I would rather have been my dad. It is impossible to know what forces created Martha. Why was she so difficult to please? Why did she lie about my family, and by extension, her family? Why was the motherly instinct to love and nurture so blighted in this woman?

A few years before she died she told us that her father, a respected captain of the Salt Lake Police, had sexually abused her. She said that she had kept quiet all these years because she wanted to protect him, but decided in the end she didn’t owe him that anymore. Whether this was just another one of her lies, or the explanation for her inability to love and receive love, I don’t know. Either alternative is bad. Sexual abuse is a horrible stain on a family. False accusations of it are hardly any better. One way or the other, that line of my family has serious problems. I’ll post more about this later.


Myrtle E. Thorne Cutler Back to missing mothers. There are more. My dad’s father Rex’s mother Myrtle died of breast cancer when he was fifteen. My dad’s mother Eva’s mother Eva died when she was just twenty-three. Of my six grandmothers and great grandmothers, four of them died untimely deaths. Two of them left children less than six years old. What kind of damage is done to a family that experiences that kind of loss! The pain seems to reverberate through the generations, as if it cannot be contained by time and space. The suffering ripples in waves through the lives of my cousins. On Eldon Dee and Martha’s line, there are problems with substance abuse and spousal abuse. My sister married a severely abusive husband who almost killed her. One cousin was married to a man who cheated on her. One cousin, a male, was married to an abusive woman. Another cousin was badly physically abused by her husband before her divorce. My Aunt married an abusive husband. So much pain. My overall impression of my Henrie relatives is that they are very kind and generous people who tend to marry abusive people. Our challenge is to love, protect, and value ourselves. My Cutler relatives have the dynamite emotions. We struggle with pride and personality disorders. We tend think we are right and we want to excel. We can be cliquish and overprotective of ourselves. Our challenge is to enjoy the journey, value the contributions of others, and have the courage to be vulnerable.

This post has taken several days to write and took considerably more research than my other posts. I have gathered my information from Family Search records and tried to make it as accurate as possible. Please comment or message me if you have concerns about the accuracy of anything I have written. Researching my ancestors and seeing the trends and events that have shaped my family and my life has been very enlightening. I highly recommend the exercise even if you are uncomfortable sharing the information publicly. I considered for some time if I should include some things like Martha’s allegations against her father. It is extremely sensitive information, but I heard it from her own mouth. The fact is, she said it to me and it is now a part of my story. She is no longer here, so I can’t ask her permission to repeat it publicly. Her father is not alive either and it would be impossible to investigate the allegation against him.

I choose to speak the truth about my family as I see it. My view of history is that we cannot fairly judge those who came before us. They lived in their time and with their crosses to bare. It is for me to learn from their lives and experiences. It is difficult to think that the handsome policeman in his uniform, wearing his prestigious badge could have done such a heinous thing, but it does happen. We live in a fallen world and sometimes people are not what they seem. When they are our flesh and blood, denial is a potent and addictive drug. It would be too easy to blame Martha and keep Walter on his lofty pedestal. There are not many people who achieved high position in my family. I don’t want to believe him guilty. Better to blame the woman that disappointed and hurt me and my family. I can’t.

Martha’s allegations fit too well with what I know of trauma to dismiss it out of hand. Her lies about sexual abuse in my family were likely a projection of her own sexual abuse experiences. Rather than discredit her allegations against Walter, they validate them. Perhaps in watching her morning talk shows she watched one about sexual abuse and heard that talking about it is a good idea. Perhaps in finding her voice at the end, her act of courage and honesty will help others heal. There are no perfect victims and no perpetrators so high in societal esteem to be incapable of this wickedness.

Who was Martha? My mom says that she had a charming side to her that was funny and came out from time to time. I never saw it, but trust that if my mom saw it, it was there. She was pretty as a girl and probably had a better nature when she was young and healthy. Perhaps I would have liked her better if I had known her then. She seemed to have an okay relationship with her husband Eldon Dee. Perhaps if I had known them together she would have seemed warmer in the sunshine of Eldon Dee’s bright light. Her emotional relationships with her children appeared sterile and superficial to me, but perhaps there was more there than I saw. Perhaps she was able to bond with other grandchildren. I adore old people, and she was my only living grandparent I remember, but I could not connect with her. There is a sad emptiness when I think of a relationship that should have been, but wasn’t.

Being open and honest about our families deep dark secrets can have many benefits. If Walter victimized his daughter, it is possible there are other victims. By coming forward with her story, Martha could be empowering other of Walter’s victims and their families to understand and heal from their trauma. That healing could benefit Walter and Martha as they come to terms with their relationship. I think Martha would want this told so that we can learn from her life and the person she was; a beautiful, lovable, broken daughter of God. Not so different from me, really. Can the Savior heal Martha? Of course he can! It may be, in his divine design, that I will meet a healed and whole woman someday who can return the love I have for her. It waits for that day. My sister. My future friend.

As for Walter, I have looked for stories about him and found none so far. I read his diary that gives an account of his hunting and fishing. His career was exemplary, of course. He served in the National Guard in Connecticut and moved to Utah when he was twenty. He was a prison guard and retired a captain in the Salt Lake Police. He had three wives, consecutively, not simultaneously. His first wife died from a seizure. He married again, but divorced eight years later. He was baptized a member of the church at forty-four, and married Martha’s mother, Zelnora just over a year later. They married when Walter was forty-five and Zelnora was twenty-nine. Their sealing in the Salt Lake temple took place a little over three years later.

Zelnora was actively involved in the church and seems to have been a good mother to the five children she had with Walter. Walter had nine biological children, three step-children, and one adopted child. Two children died in infancy. Martha was his youngest daughter. Walter had two other daughters, Isabell who was thirty-three when Martha was born, and Marion who was twenty seven. Martha was born when Walter was fifty-five years old. Her mother was thirty-nine. He died when Martha was only seventeen. That is all I know of Walter and his story. I can’t find any records that give me any indication of the kind of father or step-father he was.

When we allow that each and every person has their story, and that judgement is the Lord’s, we can let go of the secrets, illusions, and false narratives in our families. We can be real about who we are and who our family members are. They are God’s gift to us. We do not own them. We don’t get to define them or distort them to suit our vanity. They simply exist, and we can be honest with ourselves and others about who they are, or lie to ourselves. Let us keep Jehovah’s edict and resist the urge to bare false witness. No lies are more seductive than the ones we tell ourselves. Let us be grateful for the family God has given us; real and broken and perfectly imperfect, rather than covet the one we imagine we have. Living honestly has rich rewards.

I add a few words to my original post. I know that the Lord lives. He is Mighty to Save, the living and the dead. His power is over all the Earth and miracles come when we exercise faith over fear. I imagine in my mind that my willingness to post these things openly will relieve Walter of some of his suffering, that the healing grace of the Master might find him in the hell his sins have trapped him in these many years. I pray that Martha, his daughter might also fully heal from the effects of his sins through the sacrifice of the Son. I pray that all my Henrie and Jukes relatives within the sound of my voice might know that He is mindful of us. He loves us and would that the stain of the past might follow us no longer. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

The Broken Haidmaid

As a teenager, I had a seminary teacher named Brother Ramirez.  He taught my Book of Mormon class and it was in that class that I developed a deep and abiding love and testimony of the Savior.  I had a full length mirror in my room and I put a card at the top that said, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.”  Like Mary, I wanted more than anything to be the woman he wanted me to be and to live my life in his service and whenever I looked in the mirror, I wanted to see that.

cropped-img_20181021_223419Although my life has turned out much different than I expected in those days, I have had many opportunities to serve him and testify of his healing grace and loving mercy.  All he wants from me is my broken heart, and he has it.  I am his broken-hearted handmaid.

All he wants from me is my broken heart, and he has it.

In this blog I hope, more than anything to raise awareness of the suffering that hide among us, unseen and unloved.  Many of us who suffer from debilitating mental illnesses have a carefully crafted facade behind which we hide to avoid judgement and stigma.  In choosing to speak about my illness and my experiences, I hope to inspire others to find their voice, share their pain, and come to the Savior to be healed.  I also seek to inform my friends of the things they can do to help those with mental illnesses.  There are medications, therapy, and spiritual resources that have helped me and others find relief from the racing thoughts, suicidal ideation, self harm, and abusive relationships which tend to plague our lives.  There are also many things people do and say that might seem helpful, which are really harmful and painful.  Reading my blog can help you know what is really helpful for people who struggle with these issues.