One of the things about my mental illness that I am most grateful for is the doubt.
You heard me. The doubt.
I mean, it didn’t come with doubt originally. I was very, very sure that I was a terrible person, and that everyone hated me. I had no doubt whatsoever that making a mistake meant I was a failure, and other harsh things.
I was so sure of those things that when, in the process of recovery, I learned that many of those things I had believed with every fibre of my being were not true, it really floored me. It cast doubt on everything.
There are three ways I could have then approached this conundrum:
- This input that says these core things are not real is wrong, because it goes against something so basic to me that it resets my world if it’s not true. Throw it out.
- This core thing is wrong? Then everything must be wrong! Throw everything out!
- Hm. I can see that these core things may not be the complete truth I once thought they were. This makes me have doubts about other beliefs I have, too. In light of this new knowledge, I am going to examine my beliefs to make sure they are what I thought they were.
If I had followed the first path, I would still be locked tight under the prison of severe depression fueled by delusional worthlessness. Or dead from suicide. Probably the latter. So, that path is bad.
If I had followed the second path, the phrase ‘baby out with the bathwater’ would pale in comparison to the good things would have been thrown out without true justification. My life would have been hurt dramatically. So, that path is bad, too.
The third path is hardest. It requires much more thought and much more work. It requires making yourself uncomfortable as you question, ponder, and research each thing, one at a time. Sometimes it will lead to needing to make lifestyle changes. But it’s the only real way to reach the truth.
As we grow up, we are taught many things. Many of them are good and on purpose: Don’t hit your brother. Don’t take stuff from the store without paying for it. Be nice to people you interact with. Some of them are not so good: It’s okay to sample things like grapes or candy at the store because it’s tiny so it doesn’t matter and you want to know how good it is. It’s not okay to have silence. Stop asking questions, it’s annoying. Don’t be extraordinary because standing out is uncomfortable and might make other people feel bad. Failure is not an option. Downloading something without paying for it isn’t stealing because it’s just a copy. It’s bad to be alone. Going out without mascara is unacceptable.
There are TONS of things that we all grow up learning that become so standard in how we see the world that we don’t question them, and if we aren’t careful, they become so untouchable that anything that comes up that throws any type of question or doubt on them can make us nervous or angry. This is worse if the thing we believe is actually flawed, because deep down, we still want to believe it and we feel it is important that we believe it because it is tied to family or culture or simply comfortable familiarity or blissful ignorance. Lots of times we are so afraid of losing that belief (and subsequently everything tied to it) that we can’t tolerate even the idea that it might need to be adjusted.
Great example: in the LDS religion, righteous men of certain ages are given the priesthood. This includes both certain types of authority and certain responsibilities. Over the decades, this has been associated with a lot of practices and policies in the Church and the Church culture, some of which are good, some of which are benign, and some of which are not so good. The not good ones fall under what we call ‘unrighteous dominion’ — that is, a man basically abusing the power. In the doctrine, a man who abuses his authority no longer has the power or authority of God backing him up. However, since people are flawed and politics and lies abound, this does not always translate into a man losing leadership positions, respect, or authority within the Church structure. Which, of course, can cast a lot of doubt on things like the Church, the priesthood, the leadership, etc. And just like my example above, we have 3 ways we can deal with it. Two are bad. One is good.
So, back to my original point, I am beyond grateful that I was taught to doubt. Not just because of the direct doubting that I am a horrible person. But because of the other harmful ideas I once took for granted, which I was able to adjust or toss. I still see people all around me, though, who suffer under beliefs that are either flawed, incomplete, or outright wrong. They prompt these people to limit or hurt themselves and others, either through the belief itself or through emotional and often irrational defensiveness of the belief they are afraid to question. So I thought I would offer a few basic tips to help people try to find truth and the subsequent peace that comes with it.
- Break it down! Most of the time if there is doubt cast on something, it is because of a PART of something is bad, though sometimes that can be hard to see because we may have a hard time separating the flawed part from the whole. In the priesthood example above, you may have to separate a bad leader, local policy, or common practice from core tenets of the priesthood in the LDS faith.
- Learn to recognize and separate emotional reactions, arguments, and rhetoric from fact. There are a lot of people out there who can give very convincing arguments, but if you actually examine what they say, you find that very little is actually based on any facts at all. They might start with a fact, but then look at it from a skewed or tainted perspective, then blow it out of proportion, then use words that may be technically accurate but give exaggerated and emotional color to their argument that is misleading.
- Try not to make it personal. This can be hard, because sometimes our false belief is very tied to things that are important to us, and sometimes recognizing that we believed something wrong means we need to enact some difficult or uncomfortable changes in our lives. This can be doubly hard if it was taught by a parent who is still alive and still believes it and might get very angry to see you challenging it.
- Once you’ve learned something, don’t just sit back and decide you are done. Sometimes we grow up believing A, then B idea comes along to discredit A. That doesn’t mean we then throw out A and make B our new unquestioned mantra. Always keep learning! Always keep examining!
- Most of the time, the change needed is an adjustment. Not a purge. If your Dad always treated women like they were less important than men, that’s bad. But that doesn’t mean you start treating women like they are MORE important than men, or exactly the same as men (equal, yes. Identical, no.). Backlash beliefs or beliefs based on incomplete or false data are equally wrong and damaging.
- Recognize that some beliefs have different value to different people because of their family and culture, and you need to understand and respect that. There are a LOT of things in life that have value, and we can’t pursue them all equally. Other people and cultures often prioritize these differently than you do. So someone putting public image (including clothing or makeup) ahead of independence or honesty or other things that YOU may value more, does not make them bad people or mean they don’t value those things at all.
Examine. Question. That doesn’t mean to just throw out what you were taught. If your beliefs are worthy, they will survive.
This may take me a couple of days to write, because of the reason why I’m writing it.
Thanksgiving to Christmas, aka The Holidays, can be a lot of fun. But they are also crazy stressful, and for those of us who struggle with mental illness, even those in recovery, it can be crazy hard.
Let’s put together a scenario: take someone for whom life is made difficult by mental illness. This is difficult by itself, but often gives itself the fun presents of unemployability, strained/destructive/dysfunctional personal relationships, poor personal circumstances (diet, exercise, hygiene, shelter) and other health problems. Now add on to that the decreased daylight (which has been shown in many, many studies to increase symptoms of depression and other mental health issues, in the ‘mentally ill’ and ‘normal’ alike) and harsh weather, including injuries, stress, and risks that sometimes come with the weather. On top of this, put family get togethers (remember the strained/destructive/dysfunctional personal relationships part?), financial stress, and societal pressure for the holidays. It’s a wonder any of us survive this season at all.
Me, I’ve been slowly degrading for about a month now, as we get further into holiday pressure season and the days get shorter. Able to do less. More and more tired. Finding it more difficult to socialize. More irritable. Slipping a bit more into escapist behaviors. The getting less done (though I swear I am trying to do less than last year but I say this every year and why can I NEVER KEEP UP) makes me crankier and feel more stress and guilt, which can lead to more escapist behaviors if I let it, but since I know that increases the guilt and stress, I consciously fight it.
Though I am the first to admit that my fighting is not so effective around this time of year.
I am grateful at times like these for the help I have received and the skills I have learned, because I choose to fight. It doesn’t take it away. But it does help me get through it. So even as the floor falls away beneath my feet, and the scales of my emotional armor are buffeted and some are blown away by the storm, I survive, because the sturdy rock of my faith and my skills keep me above that black pit, battered and hanging though I am.
Though that Invincibility Star on the top of our Christmas tree might be nice. Just to get me through this part of the course.
I posted this on Facebook first, which I need to STOP DOING because stuff I put here automagically goes to Facebook anyway. 😛 So forgive me if you’ve already read it.
A scripture hit me like a brick this morning.
It’s in 1st Nephi chapter 11, when the Holy Spirit is speaking to Nephi on the mountain. And the Spirit asks, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?”
And Nephi answers, “I know that he loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.”
(first, it’s important to know that at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, the term ‘condescension’ referred to people of high rank being kind to their inferiors. It didn’t mean being snooty, like it does today.)
This struck me powerfully because of Nephi’s answer.
He knew that God loves all of us. That was first. It was first because it is the most important.
But he acknowledged then that he didn’t know everything.
This hits me because he didn’t say, “I’ve heard that God loves his children,” or “They say God loves his children, but there are so many things in this life that don’t make sense.” Nope, he KNEW God loves his children. Despite being driven from his home into the wilderness. Despite being beaten and derided by his brothers. Despite having his life threatened by Laban. Despite losing most of his worldly possessions. Despite having no idea what the future held for him. He knew God loved him. And that was key. He didn’t know why any of those bad things happened. Yet he perceived it all through the important filter of knowing that God loved him.
It’s super easy to perceive God through our own filters. “God can’t be involved because he didn’t give us/me/them miracles like we would have wanted.” “God can’t love us because this thing I insist is bad happened.” “God can’t exist because if he did, the world would be how I think it should be.”
But if we flip it around and choose to perceive the world and events in our lives through the filter that God loves us, and therefore this stuff must be good for us somehow, at some point, despite how it feels at the moment, even though we don’t understand it, it opens a world of joy to us.
God loves you. He is intricately involved in your life. He is all powerful.
Therefore, be of good cheer. Find the good you can learn and gain from your current pain. It’s there. It will be okay.
Most of my life I was pretty miserable. There are a lot of reasons why that was so. And it took me a long time, a lot of learning, and a lot of effort to turn that around.
But you know what? The secret is amazingly simple. The way to make Bad Things into Good Things is this: you choose to.
“What the crap?!” you yell. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
But hear me out as to why that works.
Good and bad are not physical qualities of things. They are perceptions. Opinions. Assigned values. They are not like colors, or density, or weight, or chemical makeup. And the designation of an event or thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends entirely upon how we apply our previous understanding and opinion upon the event or thing. For instance, you are walking down the street and someone waves to you and says “hi.” If the greeting is from a long lost friend, or a crush whom you’ve wanted to get to notice you, or a celebrity whom you admire, then you may perceive that as a good thing. If the greeting is from an ex you hate, or someone you have been trying to avoid, you may perceive it as bad. Even if it is someone from the first category, you may still perceive it as bad, for instance, if you are self-conscious about your hair today, or your crush is holding hands with someone else.
So, let’s look at making Bad Things Good, now.
There are a few things that are inevitable in life. Death. Injury. Illness. Pain. Having plans, ideals, or expectations in life. Not being able to experience or achieve all of those plans, ideals, or expectations.
Note that I said these things are inevitable. Not only this, they are universal. EVERYONE experiences these things. Everyone. In varying amounts, yes. But we all have them.
Most people will say that death is Bad. As in, cannot have any value to add to our personal lives (though some often throw hate and wishes for death or injury about haphazardly at those whom they feel have wronged them). Injury, illness, pain, all the same. Horrible, terrible, useless, irredeemable things.
Yet some people have experienced a LOT of these things. And they are still happy. How is that possible?
Simple: they made these bad things good.
I’m not saying they decided that someone’s death was a good thing, or they are so happy they were hurt. I’m saying that they have the skill (which comes more naturally to some than others, same as every other skill) to find the good either in the event/thing itself, or in the lesson they can learn from it.
There is ALWAYS good to be gathered. ALWAYS.
It helps me a lot to know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and a Savior who can turn every experience to my benefit. But I have to choose to believe in them and that they will do these things. And I have to choose to let those ideas affect my attitude, behavior, and choices with everything that comes up in life.
It it easy? No. Especially since it is not a talent I was born with. However, I learned. I practiced. I made choices with the events that happened to me. Am I going to let this break me? No, I am not.
I may never be the Itzhak Perlman of happiness. But I don’t need to be. I have learned to be better at choosing to find the good. And this has already moved my life from the ‘miserable’ category to the ‘happy’ category.
It’s a glorious thing.
I am an epistemophiliac, which means I love learning stuff. Love it. Love it love it love it. The older I get, the MORE I love it, because I have found that in the areas where I have been weak or afraid or both, learning has helped me not be so weak or afraid, and that helps me be happier, so it’s all good. Plus, the more you know about lots of things, the easier it is to have discussions with people.
There is a down side, however. Well, a few. But the biggest downside is that there just isn’t enough TIME. I want to write perfect novels and knit all the perfect things and see all the places and try all the foods (okay maybe not ALL the foods. Squirmy things, insects, and internal organs simply do not appeal to me) and bind lovely books and make all the webpages and databases and have perfect calligraphy and support all the tech and learn all the languages & make paper and cross stitch the heck out of everything. And maybe read all the books and half the internet (not the smutty half), too. And serve all the people, which means you have to get to know them.
See? IT DOESN’T STOP. There is just too much. So while that list is full of good things, I have to cut some of them back, or out completely. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important. It means that I recognize that everyone has the same 24 hours in the day, and no one can do everything, so I have to choose. Sometimes I’m not good at choosing, and sometimes I throw something dumb in instead when I’m being lazy, and sometimes I’m still sad with some of the consequences of my choices (like, I’m sad that I haven’t bound books for a very long time), even though I know I cannot be good enough in my chosen items without dedicating more time to them and I chose them on purpose. But knowing that the choice is mine, and having made it very deliberately makes the sadness less intense and shorter. The thing I look forward to the most in heaven is being able to have limitless time and resources to learn everything.
In the meantime, it’s important for me not to abdicate my power and responsibility when it comes to my life and time. So many times, we let life just sort of happen, or we put off or minimize the important things, and then we find ourselves where we don’t want to be. And that’s frustrating and sad.
Personally, I have to divide things into 3 categories. First is Core. Core are things that are part of how I define myself–vitally important activities and traits. Like, I want to be a great writer, I want to be more spiritual and closer to God, I want to be healthy, I want to be a better friend and family member, etc. That means I devote more time and energy to those things, in skill building and relationship building. It’s still a balancing act, but reminding myself of how important these things are to me helps me be able to say no at certain times, especially with other things.
Second is Important. Kind of self-explanatory. These are lower priority and I must use less time on them than on Core things, but more than anything else. Last is Unnecessary. Of course, you can have as many levels as you want (I can imagine Important being divided up a LOT), but these are my basic 3. Unnecessary doesn’t mean bad or useless, it just means that I generally don’t have time for those things, because the top 2 categories need lots more time according to my chosen priorities.
Fairly simple, don’t you think? Yet it’s so easy to get distracted! There are things that will crop up that will distract, sometimes things will come up that will be more important and you have to re-prioritize, and sometimes things out of our control will get in the way. But if you keep refocusing, re-evaluating, and reminding yourself that this is how to get what you want, you will find yourself making a shocking amount of progress.
3. Do the same with a phone call.
4. Show up at a senior center or assisted living center. Tell people you are the ‘Hug Fairy’ and go around giving a hug, a smile, and a greeting to at least a dozen people.
5. Visit a mom with young children. Offer to do a specific household chore and talk to her while you do it. Both can brighten a mom’s day like you wouldn’t believe.
6. With things like #4 or #5, wear a cape or fairy wings when you do it. It may seem silly, but trust me, it makes it a million times more awesome for everyone.
7. If you’re at a grocery store where people have to bag their own groceries, help the person before or after you bag their groceries (especially if they are elderly or alone or have little kids with them).
8. Keep your cape/fairy wings with you at all times. If you ever have a time and place that you have a few minutes to wait, put them on and give random people hugs or smiles.
9. When you are at a store, or in the drive thru, pay attention to the person helping you. Give them a moment of real and friendly interaction. Compliment them. And thank them sincerely for what they do.
10. Keep a couple of sticks of sidewalk chalk with you in a ziploc bag. Use them to write short and sweet greetings on the drives and walks of both friends and strangers.
When it comes to voting, I’m afraid that this is what we’ve come to:
After the results of the Brexit vote last night–including the regrets of many of the people who voted to leave–I thought it was time that somebody get the word out to people to clear up some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by soundbites and vote beggars, as well as give you some education about how government and democracy actually works.
First, to the government part. Governments are what make our laws that dictate what you cannot do. They are also in charge of enforcing those laws, and protecting the country that you live in as well as the people in that country. They also manage relations with other countries, to help with security and other foreign relations that affect industry, trade, and other things important to the people in your country.
Got it so far? Good.
Now, up until a century or two ago, most countries in the world were ruled by monarchies or dictatorships. A few were ruled by oligarchies, but democracies were few and far between. This meant that the number of people who had ANY say in the laws, enforcement of laws, protections, foreign relations, and other things that affected everyone in their country, was in the dozens at best. No one else had any say. Period. This didn’t mean that the people could sit around and let those few people take care of them and take the responsibility of making sure things ran smoothly. Heck no. This meant that the laws were based on the needs and wants of the people who made the laws–those few people. The laws kept them in power, the laws made them rich, the laws kept them from getting in trouble. Protecting the country was more about pride and power of the leader, not protection of the people (except for the detail that the fewer people there were to man the armies, the easier it would be for another country to take the power and pride away from the leader(s)). Foreign relations were more about keeping power and money with the people who already had the power and money.
Still with me? Let’s move on.
This meant that there were a lot of laws that most of the people didn’t really like, but there was almost nothing they could do about them. Like, they couldn’t talk bad about their leaders, at ALL, even if it was true. If they were accused of crimes, they were often guilty until proven innocent, and since it was usually appointees of the leaders who made the judgments, and not a jury of one’s peers, you were basically screwed if you had done anything to get on the bad side of any kind of leader or one of their friends. Religion at that time was generally based more on power and politics than conscience, as well, and many, of not most, countries had a ‘state’ religion. This not only meant the the religion was the official one of the country, but that the leadership, rules, and monies of the state and the religion were intertwined. This not only meant that the state religion affected laws and policies, but that the state affected what was taught at the pulpit. Think about that.
Now, the United States was not the first democracy, nor will it be the last. But the people living here considered the rules and restrictions they were living under unpleasant enough that they decided to go to war over it. Not just fight. Not just rely on a few strapping young men to go volunteer to sacrifice their lives in a foreign land for them. But to give up their homes, their money, their reputations, their comfort, and quite possibly their lives and the lives of their families by waging a war against the most powerful country in the world at that time. That is what a say in their country’s governance was worth to them.
Now, though, things have changed. Democracies have become so commonplace, and the world so populous, that we really take our way of life for granted. If something goes wrong, it is Somebody Else’s fault, and Somebody Else had better fix it.
Well you know what? That’s not how democracies work.
Let me say that again.
Democracies are not governments where someone else is responsible. Democracies are governments where YOU are responsible.
Now, I’m not going to use blanket, simplistic adages like ‘just vote!’ or ‘if you don’t vote, you can’t complain!’ Why? Because they are WRONG, and I will tell you why: with something as important as the governing of your communities, towns, cities, states, and countries, you absolutely should NEVER just throw crap against the wall and see what sticks.
Voting means you are in charge of the government in your country. And if others have been willing to work their whole lives, to give up everything, or even die for this, you should at least be willing to put a few hours of research into making an informed decision in the voting booth.
Don’t tell me you don’t have time. I know there are a few people out there that are crazy busy with serious responsibilities in their lives. But most of us spend more time in a single week scrolling through Facebook, watching sports, or playing on our phones than it would take to be decently informed on upcoming political choices. You cannot rely on the intelligence, sacrifice of time, or sense of duty of others to make sure your life runs smoothly. It never has, and never will, work that way.
So here’s some important rules to follow:
1. At least a week before an election, do some research and find out what issues and candidates are going to be on your local ballot. Then, from a few different sites (none of them social media, please!), gather information about the issues, the laws, and the candidates.
2. If you don’t know anything about any of the issues or candidates by the time you go into the polling place, don’t vote.
3. If you are basing your voting decisions solely on the party associated with that candidate or issue, don’t vote.
4. If you are basing your voting decisions on what you think your friends like, don’t vote.
5. If you are basing your voting decisions on how your spouse told you to vote, don’t vote.
6. If you are basing your voting decisions on hatred of some person, group, or people, you should probably not vote. (Protection of you and yours is one thing. Simple hatred of others is something else entirely. And it’s bad.)
7. If you are basing your voting decisions on what name simply looks most familiar, don’t vote.
Please note that I am NOT saying you should never vote. I’m saying you should VOTE RESPONSIBLY. Those career politicians you hate that you say we need term limits to oust? Stop voting them in. Those high-level politicians that you hate having as the only choices? Start voting good people in at lower levels of government so that we have better choices when they get to the top. WE are the ones in charge. WE are the ones whose responsibility it is to make our country better. So start taking the responsibility that was given to you seriously and put some effort into it. It’s important.
OK, so there is this trend lately to make sure that everyone is ‘beautiful.’ And I’m not particularly on board.
See, to me, everyone has strengths. Everyone has weaknesses. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people are short, some people are dumb, some people are ugly. Those sound like awful words, and in some ways they are and shouldn’t be used in polite company. However, I don’t think the solution is to redefine the antonyms of those words so that they apply to absolutely everyone.
Dictionary.com defines beauty as “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).” However, I feel like most people define it as visually pleasing when it is used in a generic context. If something is not intensely visually pleasing, it is not beautiful.
But my point is this: People do not have to be beautiful to be good and of worth.
You don’t have to be ‘normal,’ or clever, or pretty, or talented, or even functional, to be good. Period. Being good is all about your choices, which are unrelated to any of those.
The people I know who are not ‘normal’ (aka ‘weird’) are great because they add humour and variety to my life.
The people I know who are not clever can be great because they teach me the value of perseverance and trying even when they won’t ever do very well.
The people I know who are not fully functional teach me the value of persisting despite obstacles, and finding alternative ways to get things done. The ones that are truly and completely not functional, teach me to love and to serve without expecting anything in return.
The people I know who are not pretty teach me to look beyond the surface for other qualities.
Now, I have known a lot of annoying people. But most of them are annoying because of their choices, not because of vacuous societal judgments or inborn traits.
So embrace the good in you, fight the bad, always try your best, and you will always be splendid. You don’t need to be the best at everything–or even ANYTHING–to be wonderful.
I think I’ve seriously wanted to be a writer since about eighth grade. I was a voracious reader pretty much since I was four years old. As I got older, I not only wanted to live in other worlds and lives, but I wanted to live in worlds of my own devising, so I could make sure that things worked the way I wanted them to. But various things hindered me, the largest of which was a complete lack of self-confidence.
It was easy for me to see for many years that, despite my good grades in English and writing courses, the things that I wrote didn’t have the power to transport me to their worlds. Combined with the idea that I could never finish anything by myself, I spent most of my life feeling hopeless about writing.
But last year I got a bug. (As well as a dose of mania.) And that passion pushed me past my roadblocks, pushed me past the ‘I know something is wrong but I don’t know how to fix it,’ and pushed me past my doubts and psychological hangups (aside from being obsessive about Benedict Cumberbatch. That’s still there.). And last night, I finished the first ‘book’ I have ever, ever finished.
Yes, it’s fan fiction, so no, it will most likely never be published. And yes, it still needs some editing. But it’s DONE. And I am so excited and proud of myself that it’s like drinking a full case of diet Dr Pepper, because I couldn’t get to sleep until sometime after 2 this morning and I couldn’t sleep much past 6.
And while I was pondering this this morning, I remembered this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve.
And it made me cry. Because it’s true.