In a Mental Hospital

The way we breathe is
anxious
Take in used body.
We breathe out
when our breathing allows.

Our increases take in more body
and so balance is maintained.
When we are
anxious
our breathing is not working
it is not producing
is being expelled in the blood.

Blood-change lead us to our fingers and toes,
clammy and sweaty.
When in the blood, you deliberately relax.

Why I Left the Mormon Church (And You Probably Would Have, Too)

A common accusation against ex-Mormons is that they “leave the church, but can’t leave it alone.” This phrase sounds a lot like “you know you like it.” When reading the stories of lives lived under the Mormon church, imagine your own life lived under such pervasive control. Mormon thought is policed to the point where 12-year-old boys and girls are regularly and formally interrogated by adult male clergy about their sexual fantasies, activities, and masturbation habits.
Would living under such an invasive institution not shape your identity such that it was impossible to simply leave it alone? Could you simply forget or move on from having been a child who was asked by an adult to describe the ways you think about or touch your budding body? Whether it was touched by or talked about with your boyfriend or girlfriend, in excruciating detail? Would you not wonder why so much time was spent on this particular topic in the Bishop’s interview? Whether he, in fact, “liked” it?
Would you not wonder how often this Bishop’s interview added physical sexual assault to verbal harassment?
Further, would you not, perhaps, wonder whether it was moral for you, knowing the effects of such an institution as intimately as you do, to “leave it alone?”
Ex-Mormons are forced to move on with their lives knowing that others are being damaged the way they were. It’s not as if the church has changed because an ex-Mormon once wrote a heartfelt letter of resignation from it. (It’s also not unreasonable to realize the practice of the Bishop’s interview is anything more than ritualized child sex abuse, directly resulting in difficulty enjoying a healthy sexual identity for most Mormons.)
Many ex-Mormons feel a duty to share their experiences in hopes of shedding light on a more than occasionally sinister system, which the larger culture knows surprisingly little about. Auto-revelatory stories are often met with gaslighting, character attacks, and accusations of hate speech. Imagine ex-Mormons raised in the church being “Christsplained” by helpful Christians that you “don’t know what Mormons really believe.” The less rosy a Mormon story is told, the less likely it is to be taken seriously.
So, what is my story? I was absurdly devout; when I went to hear Dallin H. Oaks speak to the members in our area and he told us that year’s severe drought was caused by Mormon teenagers having sex, I believed it. SEX => DROUGHT. Check. I elected to take astronomy, like most Mormons in my high school, so I would have a head start helping my husband run his own solar system once we got to be Gods. Yep. I was so happy I never had to experience getting old, because Jesus was coming again when I was in my twenties, so I’d stay that way forever. Kind of like being a vampire. If ever I did question the church (polygamy in Heaven put knots in my stomach, followed by dreading the Bishop’s interview, which made me squirm, even though I never had much to confess), I “put it on the shelf,” like we were taught.
And like every single other ex-Mormon I know, I lost my faith because I learned something about the Mormon church. Unlike some, I didn’t go looking, rooting around in church history to find massacres of non-Mormons in Utah territory or Joseph Smith’s polygamy or the cover-up of a BYU DNA study which proved Native Americans are not Jewish in descent.
It was a Seminary lesson taught to me that broke my unwavering faith.
If I hadn’t gone to Seminary class that particular day, at six in the morning before high school just like every weekday, I wouldn’t have suddenly lost my faith at the age of 18 and would’ve gone to BYU, as it had always just been assumed I would.
If I had gone to BYU, Mormonism would likely have remained my core identity, my organizing force in life. But that early Spring morning, I was taught the Latter Day Saint church’s official stance on women. Instantly-instinctively, I knew everything that had made sense of the world for me, everything I had based my sense of self on, was a lie.
It’s hard to come back from that kind of existential free fall. Part of the nausea and motion sickness is still with me.
Sure, I’d been through the awkward object lessons in Sunday school when you see your teacher has brought cupcakes, only to find out that each one has been licked already. Non-virgins, the teacher explains, are like licked cupcakes: who would want them?
This happened regularly enough that I still don’t trust that anyone who comes bearing baked goods has good intentions.
There was also the same lesson regarding a chewed piece of gum, and dating from a father’s perspective being loaning a young man your “prized possession,” a brand new Ferrari, knowing he might very well wreck it.
Though I cringed a bit at “prized possession” and, well, polygamy being God’s will, to be continued once we all got into Heaven (I often thought about one day sharing my husband and how much growth I had to do before I got there spiritually), the licked cupcake metaphor seemed, well, an apt and sensible warning.
When I told my mother that our Bishop made me very uncomfortable, the way he’d needle me to go on and on about every single little thing my boyfriend and I did (necking and petting, at most) in great detail, she said I was uncomfortable because he was a man of God and I was a slut. I was incredibly hurt. I took it to heart. I knew no man wanted a non-virgin; not for a wife. And a wife was what I aspired to be, above anything else.
It went further. I was taught that God, Himself, turns His back on women who have sex before or outside of marriage. God, Himself, turns His back on women who have been raped.
I remember our seminary teacher suddenly turning solemn and waking all the kids trying to hide their sleep by wearing hats and slouching over their scriptures (we thought we appeared to be reading). She had something very important to tell us, something the First Presidency (the highest levels of church authority) wanted us to know.
My seminary teacher said that she knew police were attending D.A.R.E. classes in our schools, and that they were advising kids in the event of an assault not to antagonize the attacker, not to try to fight back. This compliance statistically greatly improved your chances of survival.
This is not what we’re supposed to do. Our teacher made herself very clear. She said the righteous thing to do is “everything in your power” to get murdered instead of raped, because it’s better to be dead than lose your virginity.
I knew she was wrong. I wasn’t a rebellious kid, by any means, nor was I prone to bouts of critical thinking. I knew that if God wanted you dead for getting raped, then he was not moral. Things were spinning out of control. Was the right thing to do, then, to oppose this God?
I thought of all the girls (and boys, whom the lesson was not so much directed at) in that very room at that moment I knew had willingly given their virginity, some to each other, most to other Mormons. I wouldn’t rather have them dead. They were friends- siblings almost, given the amount of time we were forced to spend together.
Throughout the speech, I stole glances at my friend who’d just that week told me she’d had sex with her boyfriend. I watched him, too. She looked about to cry, while his expression didn’t change.
The most precious thing women have, our teacher explained, is our virginity and our ability to bear children . It hadn’t particularly hit home before, but now suddenly I realized I was being evaluated like livestock. Was I just a tithe-payer generating machine? What about rape survivors? Abused children? The culture I loved, I realized, hated me.
The room was spinning and I felt like I was going to throw up, only exacerbated by the lesson going on to include this teacher “bearing her testimony” that she would rather have buried her gay son than live with his sexuality.
I knew her family well, and had never heard of this son before. Now I knew why.
Things were happening far too fast.
I was always an all-or-nothing thinker. I suppose that’s probably because I was raised in the church, in which life is strictly black and white. I didn’t just lose my faith in Mormonism. I lost my faith in God altogether. In the space of about ten minutes, it was gone.
The same way our teacher couldn’t stand to have a gay son, I couldn’t stand to have a bigot God. So I left him behind, unwillingly. It just happened.
I wish I could say it’s all exhilarating when you do get free. A lot of things, certainly, are: coffee, sleeping in on Sundays, R-rated movies, the thrill of analytical thinking, and your own opinions. But a lot of it is still tortured: sex, ties to community, trust.
I was very lost for a while, just when I was leaving home and needed myself. I had no value system I’d ever worked out on my own, and the one that was handed to me was clearly flawed, so I floated around in a nihilistic fog through college, when the chances to make mistakes and truly, actually, degrade yourself are plentiful.
In Salt Lake City, a place where every social interaction is organized around a binary Mormon/non-Mormon us versus them pole, I watched Mormons my age, suddenly finding themselves with a little more freedom, flounder in the same sort of fog. We tirelessly fought each other, Mormons and non-Mormons, in the papers, in the legislature, in our homes.
We sneaked cases of Rolling Rock into our dorms. They drank whole bottles of Robitussin. They skirted around the sex prohibition with anal and oral, and hated themselves and each other deeply for it. I had vaginal intercourse, and loved my body for the first time.
One in four women are sexually assaulted during her time in college. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, repeatedly raped, polygamously married, and forced to wear a veil. She has spoken out against the “licked cupcake” culture that condemns even her after her ordeal. Some Mormons rally to ordain women. Others march for tolerance of gays and lesbians in the church.
When I was Mormon, women wearing pants to church was unfathomable. Now, on Facebook, I see notices for days of rebellion against church patriarchy by wearing pants to meetings. You can do this: stay and fight, wear pants on certain designated protest days. Or you can walk away, wearing anything you like.
For me, leaving wasn’t much of a choice. My conscience made me leave. I couldn’t live with myself supporting such an organization. It’s only a matter of time until the LDS church experiences a large-scale sex abuse scandal and the extent of its damage in just one area of Mormon life is uncovered.
On days when it’s really bad, I remind myself that if I accomplish nothing else in this life, at least I can say I stood up and left a church that wishes me dead.

8 Things I Learned in a Mental Hospital

Let me introduce myself: I twice failed at taking a shower. I got out of bedno small feat for meand soaked myself, but then also got scared and tired and crawled back into bed without lathering up. I don’t suppose any idea how this could happen occurs to the healthy person, the mentally whole.
Sometimes my life is so embarrassing to me that it seems I’m the only naked person in the whole world, and the act of breathing is the act of desperately trying to pull on some clothes, and there is never enough air to mask my private parts.
During my lowest periods of depression, no matter how I may seem to others, I’m never thinking what you think I’m thinking, unless you think I’m thinking “God damn me” over and over.
I have been hospitalized once for a manic episode (but that’s another article entirely) and twice for severe depression. I simply wasn’t functioning: I never got out of bed, not to shower, not to eat. I wasn’t watching TV or scrolling through Facebook; I just laid in bed and regretted my choices. The only time I wasn’t playing my mistakes over and over in my head, I was praying for respite, for intervention.
I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills and was simply and straightforwardly angry when I woke up. It’s beyond my ability as a writer to describe depression.
Let me share with you what I learned during my stays in a mental hospital. These observations are taken out of a notebook I kept with me at all times, scribbling things that came to me in group sessions, in the middle of the night, and, as we spent most of our time, while simply sitting and waiting for some change, however small and to others imperceptible. We mostly sat waiting more or less patiently for a lifting of the inexplicable heaviness of our limbs, any answer to the paradoxical numb desperation attested to by various blank stares and bandages around wrists.
Let me also say that none of this is easy. You probably won’t conquer any one step once and for all. There will be a whole lot of backsliding and plain, simple, out-and-out failures, but my experience is that if even for a moment you can practice one of these principles, you’ll feel better, and even the smallest respite goes a long, long way in fighting a chronic disability like depression.
 
1. Replace Guilt with Gratitude
If you are depressed, then chances good that the bedrock of your self-image is guiltguilt and anger at yourself. Transform this guilt into an admission that you have within you a kind of momentum, even though depression feels like your self is at a complete standstill.
Consider that all this guilt takes energy. Remember that you do have energy even though you feel completely drained.
Once you’ve recognized how much energy it takes to sustain the guilt and blame you’re constantly throwing at yourself, try transferring that energy into gratitude for what you have, for what hasn’t happened, for the things you do like about yourself (there’s something you like about yourself).
For me, this means replacing the immense guilt I have over not finishing my graduate program with gratitude for the experience I did have. In my life, the most enjoyable experiences and highest levels of confidence I’ve reached emerged from the classroom. What’s that place for you?
In my case, the constant thought of “I ruined my life when I dropped out of grad school” has to morph into “I had the opportunity to go to grad school.” Find some sentence of gratitude and turn it into a mantra. Repeat that mantra when you find yourself stuck in the marathon loop of self-blame.
 
2. Replace Regret with Focus on Goals
A similar process as my first point, using regret as motivation can be very helpful. Of course, it’s a bit more intensive in that you have to have goals toward which to apply any motivation. Make some goals, but make them small (more on this later). Just setting goals is an admission that things could get better, which during depression seems inconceivable.
Do you regret gaining all that weight (even if primarily the result of necessary medication) and tear yourself down every time you look in the mirror? I do.
I look like a completely different person than before the depression slid past tropical storm into hurricane magnitude. I live deep in the black heart of body hatred territory. Looking at photos of my current self whisks me away to the Swamps of Sadness in “The NeverEnding Story” where Artax gave into despair and sank. How to be Atreyu instead of Artax, and crawl out of that mire?
Work toward some small goal. Every time you start obsessing over what went wrong in your life, shift into obsession over achieving this (again, small) goal.
For me it was running again. It sucked, because getting back into shape is painful and sucky, but every morning I run chips away at the number of times throughout the day that I regret my weight gain, because I’m doing something about it.
I used to run marathons; I now focus on running one mile most mornings. I’m a hundred times more proud of the last 5k I did than my first marathon.
Write your goals down, and put them somewhere you see them every day. (Don’t skip this step because it seems corny and embarrassing.) And as you work toward your goal, remember: you have a disability. Treat yourself like you’d treat a loved one. Would you point fingers at the fat gained by a dear friend who went through a major life trauma? No? Then stop doing it to yourself.
 
3. Act as if Your Former Self Can See You Now
This one can be crushing. In one group session in the hospital, we wrote letters to ourselves at age 18. I didn’t make it through reading mine aloud without crying in front of everyone. I’m so angry at squandering all the promise of my young self.
At 18, I was fearless. I was also a jerk. I took my family for granted, ignored my parents, failed my friends. If my 18-year-old self could see the physical circumstances of my life now, she’d be beyond disappointed. But, if she could see my interactions with other people, the humility and patience that’s been bored into me by my disability, she’d see how much I’ve grown. I think she’d be proud.
What does present you have to teach past you? Aren’t you proud of that?
What would you do, knowing what you do now, but being 18 again? Find something feasible that applies, and do that.
 
4. Choose Fight over Flight
Avoid Avoiding. This is the hardest piece of advice for me myself to follow. Avoidance is my way of life. If climbing back into bed and giving up on the day were an Olympic sport, I’d be swimming in commercial endorsement deals.
One reason I avoid so much is that I see my situation as fundamentally unfair, so refusing to participate seems almost moral to me. No doubt you can see how fundamentally stupid this is, but, in my hospital notebook, I transcribed one sentence from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy group session leader that rings particularly true for me: “meet the needs of the situation you’re in, not the one that is just, or comfortable, or that you wish you were in.”
It was drilled into us in the hospital that distress tolerance is about distraction, and distraction means doing. Two habits have helped me do: the one-minute rule and the twenty/ten interval. Both have to do with breaking time into manageable parts.
In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin cites the one-minute rule: just do any task that can be finished in one minute. It isn’t difficult to follow, but it makes a big difference toward cutting clutter out of your life. 
Unfuck Your Habitat  lays out the twenty/ten interval: clean for 20 minutes, then rest for ten, then clean for another twenty. The assumption is that you can do anything for twenty minutes. If you’re depressed, then chances are good that you’ve let your environment become depressing. Change it. You can buy the Unfuck Your Habitat app which includes a 20/10 timer for $0.99.
If you don’t think you can clean for twenty minutes, then set a timer for ten minutes.
If you need more rest, then rest for twenty minutes.
Chances are good that you’ll get carried away by the task, keep going, and distract yourself while doing something healthy: twice the benefit.
 
5. Embrace the Interplay of Acceptance and Change
It’s demonstrably true that acceptance of pain decreases suffering. Suffering, or the anticipation of it, has a tendency to stifle and suppress us (the “freeze response”), and the reason depressed people often wear that deer-in-the-headlights stare.
Acceptance can help us choose fight over flight and just do, because acceptance actually decreases suffering, freeing you to change your response to it.
By “acceptance of pain”, I don’t mean merely recognizing your diagnosis and owning it, as important as this step is. Acceptance of pain must entail a mindful embrace of one’s suffering.Feel it.
Mindfulness is one of the greatest tools at our disposal. Mindfulness is, as Sam Harris  describes it, “clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.”
Acceptance leads to change; change leads to acceptance. The very process of acceptance changes your circumstances, and changing your circumstances makes them easier to accept.
 
6. If Your Expectations Don’t Fit with Reality, Then Change Your Expectations
Are you still expecting yourself to function normally? Stop, and change your expectations of yourself.
Shift your focus from all the things you can’t do to what you can, and judge those things with compassion. Don’t belittle them. That twenty minutes of cleaning, or making that phone call you’ve been putting off, or walking, or taking a bath (it can be a pleasurable distraction, as well as doing unpleasant tasks) or whatever it is that you find to distract yourself, is a win and should be treated as such.
Ask clearly for what you want, and say no clearly. This goes for your conversations with yourself, as well as with others. Make your goals specific, and throw away the ones you simply can’t accomplish.
It sounds childish, but I collected a bunch of old magazines and made two collages, one on each side of a manila folder. One represents all the things accomplishing my goal will bring. It’s made up of pictures that communicate clearly what my habit of running will give me: better health, more confidence, communion with nature, management of my symptoms, etc.
The other collage is comprised of pictures that stand for things I have right at this moment that I’m grateful for. In my case these include my relationships, my memories of good times, my dog, my favorite books. These are not things I want, or things I’ll get if I accomplish my goals; I can access them to make me feel better right now.
In the evening, I prop up the manila folder in front of my alarm clock, the side with my running goal facing the bed, so I have to look at it first thing in the morning, and right before I hit snooze. I’m more likely to get up and run that way.
After my run, I turn the page over to the gratitude collage. When I’m feeling panicky, I grab it and actually hold it in my hands as I stare at the pictures. I pick something off the board to think about. Which leads me to my next point: your mood is dictated by what you’re thinking about.
 
7. Whatever Your Attention is On, That’s What Life Is for You at This Moment
Most of us intuitively know this, yet we don’t monitor our thoughts accordingly. If you want to change your mood, then shift your attention. I know this can be frustrating if you consider that at times, such as when you’re at work, your task at hand isn’t necessarily a matter of choice.
It doesn’t have to be a vast, sweeping transformation of heart. As with so many of the strategies I mention, go small if you need to. At almost any given time, you can focus on your breath. (Sometimes I clutch this focus for dear life.) You can feel the air on your skin, or the touch of the fabric of your clothes, you can conjure up a pleasant memory or a place you’d like to visit. Mentally grab any happy or at least neutral thing to first distract yourself and secondly, shift the focus of your attention.
 
8. Small Steps, Small Steps. Small Steps.
Let me tell you how I first “started running.” I would set my alarm, which would wake me upand then, I’d go back to sleep. After a week or so, my body had adjusted to waking up early, and I’d get up on my own. 
Then I would put on my running clothes and go outsideand just sit there for a while, and go back to bed. This went on longer than I care to admit.
One day, I got up and went outside, and told myself I could just walk; I didn’t have to run. After about twenty minutes of walking, I wanted to run. I actually wanted to runsomething I decidedly didn’t want while lying in bed. Eventuallyand I mean months laterI wanted to be running at almost any given time.
 
I hope some of this is helpful to those of us struggling with depression. I realize it’s not the most uplifting read. Ultimately, talking about depression isn’t depressing. On the contrary, it can be a transformative and uplifting experience for those who grapple with depression silently. It brings you closer to the support system of people who are crucial to your recovery.
It’s also important both for society at large and the individual to make space for a discussion of the experience of clinical depression. The stigma against mental illness is still very real, and many of us with this disability have internalized it. As part of that conversation, I can honestly say I’ve seen improvement of my symptoms and experience more quality of life as a result of these eight realizations.
Along the road to recovery lies the fact that the way we think about our emotions determines them. If you regard your disability as a shameful weakness, then you’ll feel guilty and frail. A nonjudgmental stance toward your mental condition and its symptoms is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, because, ultimately, your mind and body are all you really have.

God the Comforter

So you take a Xanax and lie down, and it physically hurts that you are so awful you can’t stay out of bed for the entirety of just one single afternoon. You are lying in the middle of day in bed “just until you’re no longer angry,” you tell yourself, about the phone call. You didn’t know the things you couldn’t do until one day you just couldn’t do them.

While you lie there obviously with conviction it’s possible to think your way into death- to just sort of mentally whisk yourself dead without any messy or painful action- you wait expectantly for it. That’s how strong your belief in your powers of mental death-whisking are.

You wait hopefully on death for a while, beginning to feel better. But life- thoughts keep intruding, pouring liquid signals through poorly sealed parts of you, into ignorant, pain- hungry, life- attuned receptors.

“I’ll treat this on my own. I’ll run every day- and eat healthy.

Maybe I’ll get a, a…certificate. (Certificate will fix life.)

We can fix our relationship.” (Medical or dental assistant or veterinary technician certification will fix relationship.)

Each idea already contains the disappointment and delivers the pain of failing yet again, as you certainly will.

“Maybe I’ll find the right doctor- the right meds this time.”

No. Back to death- whisking, pull the comforter close. Because the truth is, depression can feel like nature’s safety mechanism for keeping you painfully alive, robbed of energy or strength to even kill yourself. That what’s truly physically dangerous is feeling and will.

Then you see The Face. You examine it, and yes, surely as you’re heavily sedated God did this. Such a perfect face in the comforter formed by the folds and a bit of stray string for two teeth.

Is it you?

Doesn’t look like your face, no matter that you have gotten ugly. Not that ugly yet. How prideful to think this was you, no, it’s God, who either doesn’t know about you or to whom you have no access-well except for the blanket face, obviously.

All the the while remembering the bipolar are especially prone to bouts of religion and delusions of grandeur, you as an Atheist are now accepting readily the work of God making, as He does, imprints in the bedspreads of the unstable and impressions in trees and in the toast of the impressionable.

Possibly because your mind is beginning to hum along at quite a clip, and you think you just may be able to catch this God fellow, who answers the prayers and fixes the minute problems of the wealthy and whom you used to believe in because He answered your prayers and fixed your problems because you used to be wealthy.

“Lord, please let me get a car for my birthday- and the boy.”

(Back then there were only life- thoughts; life- thoughts had no reason to make you sad and death- thoughts no reason to make you happy.)

But today, because of the comforter-God-face, you decide to try a thought experiment- to try for some sort of enlightenment. And because you could have a normal, good life if you had a normal, good, solid mind instead of this one, this experiment is a sad, ironic task of blanket-staring insanity masquerading as meditation which nonetheless calms you considerably.

You in fact begin to feel a sense of euphoria as you meditate, punctuated by opening your eyes to peek at the visage of a God whom neither cat nor dog has yet destroyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nerds, Mormons, and the Women Who Barely Tolerate Them

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Stop your lamenting, Feminazis. Guys look up to me.

Like kids from most Mormon families who leave Utah, I went to high school in a place where being Mormon ensures that you’ll have more relatives than friends. My entire self-concept revolved around religion. (Seriously, there were Mormonads up in my room everywhere where New Kids on the Block posters should have been- and my parents didn’t put them up.) To state it mildly, the move to Texas was a rough patch in my young life; I was used to a private school in which exactly one student—from kindergarten to 12thgrade—was not Mormon. Like the founders of the school, he was Catholic. I still remember his name, Adam, and he got his ass kicked every single day. I never hit him myself, but I’m pretty sure I would have if my uniform had involved khaki trousers instead of a plaid pleated skirt.

Now, it’s a fun fact that Southern Baptists hate Mormons. Another fun fact to emerge from this is that anti-Mormon propaganda is exactly like Mormon propaganda; the difference is that in one version, the music is scary.

If you watched the latter cartoon, (pun unintended!) you’re probably willing to wager on why Mormons irk Protestants in general. I’m still not entirely sure how those sects “all deny the power of God,” but as you can see, Mormonism isn’t orthodox Christianity. If more people knew the Latter-Day Saint version of Jesus, the Mormon church would be considered less mainstream in American culture, and even more problematic for our boy Mitt.

The problem for Romney is a sticky one, the same I faced in high school politics: what makes people prejudiced against Mormons is Mormon theology, rather than any notion that’s not actually true. So being known as a Mormon is a different matter entirely than being Jewish or African American. It’s hard to break a stereotype that you are actually dedicated to filling.

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Is that Conan the Barbarian holding Mormon, or is it Moroni?

I’m not saying that people aren’t entitled to believe that they will get their own solar system if they play their cards right. But doing so requires them to wear sacred underwear, baptize dead people, perform marriages to each other on behalf of deceased couples, be polygamist, and turn (more) white-skinned in the afterlife. These are  the “stereotypes” going around about what Mormons do that make them seem presumptuous, insane, insufferable, sexist, and racist; they are also the practices that define holy ritual for them, all the while they’re protesting those labels. Suffice it to say, it’s a difficult position to be in if you want to be popular at any high school outside Utah. Or President of the United States.

Sociology aside, all that really matters to high school kids (and probably voters) is where you fall on the spectrum between normal and weird. Southern Baptists being predominant in my student body meant that suddenly I switched ends of this spectrum entirely. I went from being so normal as to be generic to having two options: be one of the weird kids, or attempt to keep my Mormonism a secret.

And, as you may know if you’ve opened your door to two strangers anytime in the past 80-odd years, Mormons are not good at keeping Mormonism on the down low. Yes, I wanted to convert all my friends, teammates, teachers, fellow shoppers, bosses, bullies, enemies… you get the point. Some because I loved them and wanted them to be with me in the afterlife, some because I wanted them to admit that I had been right all along and feel sorry for teasing me, and others because they would be a great ‘get’ for my God. For having brought so many converts into the fold, I’d finally be popular. (At church, anyway.)

Mormon cosmology… or maybe how Middle Earth got made.

I’m not convinced that Mormons are discriminated against in any way, outside of maybe having a few awkward moments while running for this country’s highest office, for which a lot of us would be considered unsuited. The reason that people say Mormons are racist is because they believe that the whiter your skin is, the more faithful you were to Jesus before your soul was given a body. They’re not called racist because they’re not Protestants. They are called sexist because they believe women don’t have the power of God in them.

And I’m not sure how Mormons can complain that ‘everyone knows me as ‘the Mormon'” when all most talk about is being Mormon. Because of my Mormonism- or, to be more accurate, because I was constantly trumpeting it, I wasn’t allowed to participate in many of the various Christian school activities that did a little dance around, then pissed directly on, the separation of Church and State. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes turned me down; although I was an athlete, I was not a Christian. The FCA was the most popular club in school.

One morning I showed up at school early–directly after our 6am seminary class was over–to See You at the Pole. The name speaks for itself; you’re a nobody if you’re not seen holding hands and praying around flagpole in front of the school. That day was the first time I ever saw a brightly colored, horribly tacky rubber bracelet all the cool kids were wearing. It had the fish symbol on it, not the cross, so I could have actually worn it without getting in trouble at Church. (Mormons don’t wear or display crosses, I shit you not, because The Cruxifiction was sad, and good Mormons don’t think about sad things.) I wanted one of those goddam fish bracelets so fucking bad. They turned me away. A group of hundreds of evangelicals about to embrace and sing and pray together turned me away.

That morning was a watershed for high-school me; I had no where to go. Literally. The people that I normally hung out with were either praying or just waking up. Or Mormon. And despite having the requisite Jesus headshot posted in my locker as all Mormons were instructed (to remind us to Choose the Right, and I may have been denied a rubber bracelet, but wore a diamond and gold CTR ring, thank you very much) I did not hang out with Mormons. I wanted to be popular.

Nothing gay here…

I was a snob. To the core. Still am. I had a whole bunch of people to feel superior to and nothing to wear. Desperate, I went to the classroom where I had a required Public Speaking class. I knew that people hung out there before school started. Yes, folks- the Forensics League. Otherwise known as Speech and Debate. Otherwise known as the biggest nerds in school.

When asked what I was doing there, I didn’t have anything to say but the truth. One of the girls replied to my story of most brutal religious persecution with, “I don’t know how they get away with doing that anyway. If the Islamic Student Group tried to pray together, they’d evacuate the entire building.”

“Are you a Muslim?” I asked cautiously.

“I’m an atheist.” She replied.

I stared at her, blinking. She was pretty even without any makeup on. Her clothes were very plain and neither feminine nor associated with any particular sport. She was acting friendly. And she was not on fire.

..or here!

I went on to join the Forensics League. (Any connotations of The Justice League that brings up are completely valid.) My solution to the same problem Romney is facing right now was to ally myself with the nerds. If brought upon myself, the social stigma was easier to bear.

Plus, all Mormons have instant nerd credibility due to their religion being two parts Battlestar Galactica (leaving out the third that has strong female characters). Under the autocratic rule of the postmortem country club that is the  Quorum of the Twelve, you learn about God- that is, one of many gods, but this one lives on a star called Kolob (not Kobol), which the twelve tribes (of the galaxy Israel) are trying to fly their fancy-ass ships back to.

It was a fairly easy transition; no story arch seems so very ridiculous, convoluted far-fetched, fanciful, made-up, or just plain… well, gay… when you’re raised to believe that the following is the true origin story of Native Americans:

Ancient Jews built submarines, floated from Israel to Mexico, got cursed by God with brown skin for drinking and dancing, became the mighty Aztec empire,  killed off all the white people and left a record of all these events written in Egyptian on solid gold plates buried in upstate New York. (From there, obviously, they were dug up by an illiterate farm boy, with the help of the angel of the guy who buried them, and translated with magic “seer stones”) It’s all very straightforward. Certainly at least as inspiring an insight into the human condition as the Bible. And most sci fi has got nothin’ on it.

Well, this story has a happy ending; I won some speech meets, left the Mormon church, and among the many nerds who have offered me acceptance over the years I found the nerd who is the love of my life. He treats me in every way as an equal. I like learning about the stuff he’s into. But I’ve never joined ranks with nerd culture. I don’t belong. And unlike my former, scandalously single Relief Society President and her “roommate,” I’m not one of those change-the-organization-from-the-inside types. I’m just not that patient. Or optimistic.

Why don’t more women read comic books?

Let sold-out slutty housewife Mary Jane here paint a picture for you. She’s done  pretty good for herself. She’s got a great rack, some pearls on there, she’s literally on a pedestal. And she’s banging Spiderman.

Well, cleaning up after him, at least.

Set aside the bullshit excuses guys make and fact that we all might sleep with Superman–or just offer to do his laundry- if given the chance. The sad reality is that generally in nerd culture, women are regarded pretty much the same as they are by the barbaric, outdated institutions like fraternities and the Mormon church that nerd identity rebels against in the first place. And in American culture, we’d be much better off dropping the fantasy of the nerd getting the pretty girl in favor of pursuing another seemingly impossible scenario: the girl getting treated fairly by whomever she ends up with.

Beauty Tip: Don’t Sleep With Your Makeup On, In Case of Fire

For one thing, ‘the combination of makeup and built-up dead skin cells ground into skin immediately clogs pores.’

Growing up Mormon, my only directive was to marry a good returned missionary (an RM). This was, in all honesty, all the instruction to accompany my upbringing. At my most ‘spiritual’, I was also at my most superficial. Which is far from strange because The Spirit (the feeling of which one must announce as often as possible to other Mormons) is something I can best describe as a state of blankness. It’s peaceful. There’s nothing there.

So as a teen, I reapplied my makeup nightly, as well as sporadically throughout the night as I woke up and frittered my insomnia away about my parent’s sprawling ranch house. A few of my friends had all agreed that measures best be taken in case of an emergency; these were mainly envisioned as fires or sudden trips to the hospital. But I really committed to sleeping in full, powdered regalia after a midnight hazing the older cheerleaders undertook yearly to initiate the freshman squad.

We freshmen had to go buy tampons at a Walgreens in which a particularly cute male cashier worked nights. Without makeup was the point, and getting tampons while crawling the entire way were kind of garnishes on the humiliation. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to use tampons. They tampered with one’s virginity. So the mortifying showcase trumpeting one’s menarche was additionally embarrassing to me in that I always did feel that I was wearing diapers. Diapers in a symbolic, social sense, and also literally. I don’t think I bought pads that night instead; that would have drawn extra attention to myself, though satisfying my ingrained frugality.

As a result of sleeping in makeup nightly, my pores clogged. Adding to the pre-existing teenage acne, I developed quite awful skin, leading me to be ever more vigilant that it remain slathered at all times. Besides, waking with makeup on came in handy for seminary class, a religious study course Mormons have to attend daily before high school. Before school for us, that is- we were painfully mindful that the Utah Mormons got to take seminary at their public schools, as an elective. No five a.m. honking of minivan horns for them.

Seminary class started at six, but our parents drove us in large carpools that had to make the rounds all over town; groups of Mormons aren’t all that concentrated in Texas, and several towns shared one meetinghouse when I was a teen. Thus my ride arrived at five twenty in the morning every weekday, stalling and laying on the horn something fierce just outside my bedroom window, which was the only room of the house facing the driveway. Making the pilgrimage a bit less solemn, but perhaps even more sacrificial,  was a morbidly obese man. Brother So-And-So, I remember vividly, had some sort of medical condition causing constant excessive salivation. No one wanted to sit in the front seat of the van next to his captain’s chair; it was covered in drool.

I bore this waking up hardship valiantly, just the way I imagined the pioneers conducted themselves whilst pushing their handcarts from Boston to Salt Lake City through snow-covered mountain passes with “faith in every footstep.” I still think about those pioneers. I imagine some steps involved more faith than others.

But I digress. When you sleep with lipstick on, you wake up with it in your eyebrows. When you sleep with mascara on, no matter how hard you try to sleep in a lovely, princess-y way, on your back with your arms folded across your bosom, you eventually thrash around and turn over onto your belly in your sleep. This crushes one or both sets of lashes to the pillow underneath, which sets them in a bizarre angle outwards, making you look old and shocking and strange to yourself in the mirror later. Or to the person you wake up next to; for me that was much, much later.

The thing is, don’t sleep with makeup on in case of fire. It’s a kind of pedestrian, backyard cruelty. Even later in life, waking up with makeup on made me a stranger to myself. It meant there was someone else there. In almost every case, down to a man—or woman—someone who really shouldn’t have been there.

Clogged pores aside, insecurity produces sluts. Sluts don’t need morals, or manners; they need attention. Learn to be smarter, more creative, with your flaws, whether they’re pimples or deep gaping existential soul-holes. For example, early in the relationship with my first live-in boyfriend, I would wait til he fell asleep, take and hide his glasses, then wake up early and put concealer on before returning them to him.

It’s a process. You’ll probably let go of the lipstick first, then the mascara, and slowly, over the years, the powder and foundation, and then finally, the concealer.