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.