I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t have any more fight left in me to keep up this facade of a believer at a church school.
You’d think I could clench my teeth and white-knuckle a ‘fake it till you make it’ for just a single semester, maybe two, and it’s all I would need for that stupid degree that I’ve toiled through three years of social anxiety and clinical depression in Rexburg followed up most recently with a faith crisis and a diagnosis of ADD to boot.
My life makes more sense to me now than it ever did before. I’m glad for the fact, but now what? Looking forward, I don’t see any light. My GPA has plummeted at this school. You’d think I would have tasted the social environment day one and gone elsewhere, but where else did I have to go? That first semester was terrible, and every semester since has been worse somehow.
I’ve kept to myself as much as I could. I know I have severe social anxiety, and I need to remember that before I read too hostile of a spirit into my neighbors, but come on, it’s not like this place would be just dandy if it weren’t for my mental illness. It wouldn’t be simply ‘quirky’ either. There are so many people here who seem shy or afraid until they open up about some anxiety or depression problem that has been tormenting them. Some person says its “just me” and chalks up all his/her problems to his/her own sins. Other people admit that Mormon culture is a fallen, shabby mess of pharisees, but save face by saying that “the church is true, even when the people aren’t.” These last must be thinking they are above error and unwarranted prejudice in their convictions without realizing that there must be someone somewhere, acquainted with them, that thinks that they are part of the problem. To make a long story short, Mormons torment themselves and make sure, through endless meetings, reassurances, and reinforcements of the common correlated religious narrative of the restored gospel, that the misery is common to all and kept in place as much as possible by threats of even greater miseries should the religious pretend be abandoned –– or even talked about being abandoned.
So here I am. I am a twenty-seven year old RM, the oldest of his family of three other brothers. I am BIC. My heritage goes back, as so many white TBMs’ do, to the proudest heritage a young Mormon male could want his other TBM neighbors to know about him. My father is well-known and well-loved in our stake. My mother nearly equally so. I was a straight-A student in high school, a white-bible thumping missionary, and the kid with the smarts and the cleanest record you could ever want to see in a kid. I’ve never been in a fight once. I think I got detention once in my life for having my cell phone out in high school. I’ve lived what some would call an exemplary life, because not only do I have a predisposition for social anxiety, but Mormonism and the circumstances of my life, all shaped by Mormonism, have had me obsessed with my appearance and stuck in a near fight-or-flight state of emotion since before puberty struck me. Before this last year and half (when I found out the church was not true and figured I had permission to stop tormenting myself so much), I have had few moments of genuine peace, and then none that lasted very long before the anxiety and the depression from being unable to meet the many things demanded of me except only barely, and then usually only in appearance (or that’s how it felt anyway), came to haunt me again.
The Holy Ghost and the fruit therefore have NOT been my constant companions from my perspective (I chalked it up to a masturbating habit that I figured was out of control, but I was operating under misinformed and insular ideas of what other people’s experience in that department was), but then I get other people telling me all the time what a wonderful example I am and how they feel the spirit when I testify of the gospel. I know longer believe in any of it, neither do I hold out any hope of any part of it being true (I’m damned glad to know the whole damned thing is an unsalvageable farce of a religion: this knowledge brings me a measure of peace that no amount of dedication to the prosperity gospel in the book of mormon ever did or ever could), but I can still incite these kinds of comments when I have to give an obligatory talk or prayer or what-have-you.
As anxious as I have been of other people throughout my life, I have been equally and genuinely concerned with and dedicated to honesty and integrity. Perhaps it’s because of my anxiety that I have cared so much. Perhaps it’s because of my ADHD that I have been as interested. But whatever the reason (maybe I just care), I have cared and care to be honest. I care what the truth is. I’ve always cared. I’ve never born my testimony in a way (deliberately, anyway: I am guilty of mormonspeak, for example: saying “I know” too often without realizing those words mean something beyond what I meant to convey with them) that would lead someone on to believe that I had less doubts about my convictions than I really had.
At one point, I really did think I had it all figured out. I had the testimony from the holy ghost. I communed with God daily in my head through my thoughts and emotions, and I really thought that all my intelligence and any “aha!” moments I had were ‘quickened,’ or enhanced by the gifts of God that my testimony brought me. This was a happy thought when my testimony was knew and I thought I would soon be basking in a forgiveness of my sins, but on the middle of my mission when I realized I couldn’t stop sinning (masturbating) through the most stressful and even traumatic episodes of that experience, I figured I was just a lost cause. Maybe it sounds stupid to say I wanted to kill myself rather than go home and explain to my family what an unworthy failure I was as a missionary, but especially as a person, but those were my feelings as my mission came to a close.
I went home anyway and got help (from LDS therapists only), but nothing was the same. I wanted my testimony to get better, but it just felt contrived. I learned things on my mission about the church that I wish I had never learned, like polyandry. I could defend Joseph Smith as far as polygamy, but when I figured from a FAIR article’s dodginess that the evidence for said behavior was undeniable, I knew I could never defend Joseph Smith’s reputation again with the same confidence with which I used to try. During my homecoming talk, I could almost convince myself the church was still true, but then I remembered polyandry and felt guilty for testifying of the church at all as if I knew it was true.
It’s been a slow and painful road of self-rediscovery that eventually found a confidence to think about the restored gospel in unorthodox ways (and, thankfully, eventually the ability to reject it because I had a more sound and independent self-view developing which I could switch to). All my pain and my struggles and my journey have been internal. I cannot show you the scars or point to a perpetrator to convince you of my trauma, but I do think I have been a victim of the church, not of only of religious mind control that brought me to believe in silly nonsense, but psychological trauma brought on my self-torment, poor self-esteem, constant stress, etc.
I have tried explaining as much of myself as I had figured out at any given time to my parents, as fast as I was figuring it out. I hesitated on the atheism thing, because I knew how it would go over. I love my parents. They are and have ever been kind to me, and I never want my rants or knowledge of who I am to give any kind of indication that they abused me as a kid. They did not. I was never abused by them or anyone else, but I do feel like I was abused in a very real way. I don’t say it to play a victim card for pity’s sake only. I say it because I’m still reeling from the emotional history of my life and trying to figure it all out. I understand that no one ever truly gets to the bottom of the human condition, but we can make headwind and have greater success at being satisfied or contented more often than not and for longer each time too. Well, I feel so far behind compared to what others around me seem able to pull off at life’s success.
I think the myth of the pathology of pornography keeps guys like me with similar problems from thinking to question the church or seek their fortunes in other culture. It’s a mixture of witch-hunting and systematic victim-blaming. We’ll treat a distraught guy like all his misfortunes are brought upon him by his habits. I used to believe this, until I read enough statements by the brethren to the end that sin or addiction is the automatic response of a psyche under too much stress to deal with in a healthy way except to indulge in a behavior that brings a sense of the feel-good that is lacking. So, if I did have some kind of abnormal sexual compulsive behavior, I could ask why those good feelings were lacking. I at last came to the conclusion that a belief in the orthodox Mormon atonement and good mental health/what can be reasonably expected of human beings/what is reasonable to aim for in terms of a standard of morality that we can shamelessly use social shame to enforce, were mutually exclusive. In fact, the whole gospel didn’t make any sense, and I was tired as a constant thinker (thank you, ADD) of trying to dismiss the mass amounts of evidence for evolution and the other evidences against genesis and the nature of reality as painted by the scriptures in general. Imagine what the world could accomplish if people treated the idea of God and religious ideas in general as skeptically as they treated their critics’ ideas, especially when those ideas specifically criticize a certain dogma.
I spend all this thought analyzing myself, my religion, scripture, literature, poetry, and yet I have little faith in my ability to make it in the world as an adult. Perhaps a little bit of it is learned helplessness. People with any kind of ADHD typically struggle, or so I read, with the kinds of feelings I have had about only just barely keeping up with the expectations imposed on me or with where I think I ought to be, the kinds of things I ought to be able to keep in mind, or the ways my life should be organized by now, etc.
In the meantime, I’m still seeing the people on campus up at the student health center. They aren’t bad or incompetent people, but what they offer does seem to fall short of what I need. It isn’t their fault. It’s the insularity of the collective worldview of Rexburg and the surrounding countryside of the Mormon corridor.
I’m in possession of my rational mind as I say that I’m tired to the point of wanting to give up. Why bust my ass getting a degree that everyone I know will say I lied to get? Why bother finishing my English degree (the most useless of all degrees) with the shitty GPA I have? Why not just go home to Arizona and get a job to work off my student debt, degree or no degree, and send my resignation letter to the church already? At this point, I don’t care what happens to my social life. I never could really call it a social life anyway. I’m not interested in anyone’s friendship (anyone that I used to know, anyway) unless I’m free to tell them who I think I am with a truthfulness and an accuracy that satisfies me and then see what they do. As much warmth and kindness as the Mormon community has offered me besides the coldness, their theology and the pettiness of their society has robbed me of the ability to be satisfied by any of it. So, as long as I am a prisoner of my own mind and cannot speak or act conscionably, I’m just not interested in staying Mormon.
I learned yesterday that Jeremy runnels is up for excommunication. I read this as I was in the middle of a prolonged train of thought trying to justify staying and making the most of it. I cannot. I’m reminded of what I felt when John Dehlin got the ax. I’ve been waiting, I suppose, on how I feel: whether or not my membership in the church is worth working with or if I need to start over, and if so, how? I want to believe the church is more than just a paradise for people who wish their social environment was conducive to the death of logic and reason in all the ways they wish and a hell for everyone else but the truest believers. I cannot. I have a gay (maybe bi?) brother, Chief, and the callousness to which so many things are said about the gay community strike me in my conscience more than they ever did as a believer.
I mourn the years I have wasted as a silent prisoner of my own mind. What would I have said or did different when I watched as a silent witness instead because of my religion and it’s authoritarian place in my mind? What relationships, friendships, or good feelings might I have been able to enjoy if I hadn’t been lulled into a testimony by a mixture of bribery (you are a chosen generation, foreordained from the preexistence and held in reserve) and blackmail (insert everything ever said about apostates here). What bad feelings could I have at least been spared? I will never know. What I do know is that every day observing Mormonism in Rexburg and observing Mormonism in the lives of people I know on my social media accounts, viewing them as an outsider with an insider’s advantage, I am ever more and more convinced that things would not have been worse out of the church than inside it.
The church is a cult. I say it soberly, although I am depressed. It’s a cult by every measuring rod, except the one where you point to a worse kind. It’s a cult because it’s a poisonous and insular environment, an authoritarian environment that does not care about your feelings that hides these parts of its nature from newbies in the faith, be they the youth or the investigators or the recent converts. People have a right to know the critical information of it, because as the church’s newest essays attest, most of it is based in fact, and you must forgive nonmembers whose knowledge of Mormonism is so lean that they skewer these facts only slightly in the gossip mill –– only just slightly.
The things I learned on my mission were so ridiculous when I first heard them, I could never believe that these things had been kept from me successfully my whole life. They were. I guess I should have studied it, but… wait… I was taught never to give the devil stage time too. It’s so confusing.
I’m dropping all my classes. I’m too behind. I can’t save the semester. And I just don’t care to try. They suspended me last semester based on the new academic standards of maintaining a 2.0 semester GPA AND a 2.0 cumulative GPA minimum. I fell short some few hundredths of a point. I should have walked. Instead, I found a teacher who heard me sputter out what was happening to me and understood me through my panic well enough to tell me that this was unnecessary. He helped me get some late work in, and my GPA raised just enough to get to be here this Winter 2016 semester. But the depression is still there and getting worse. I started this semester late due to a hold on my online account. I missed getting a bunch of classes I would have chosen. I’m stuck trying to manufacture enthusiasm for classes and teachers i would NOT have chosen but must bear with if I wanted to take any classes at all this semester. I can’t blame the school directly for my own lack of initiative or direction or what-have-you –– it’s depression — but there are a hundred thousand little things that haven’t helped. It’s hard for my old feelings of being guilty of some great crime (although i’ve never hurt another soul in anyway that I can remember) to resurface as it feels like the school is just trying to wash me out. I have over a 120 credits, plenty to graduate, but I’ve been waiting on all the required classes, which includes many required religious classes that I just can’t give a shit about anymore. Five classes. Can I finish only five more classes? I don’t know.
I’m sorry for this long rant, but I needed to gather my thoughts before I go and do something as drastic as dropping all my credits this semester. I’ll get W’s, and it’ll kick back my progress even more (a depressing thought: being stuck in Rexburg even longer), but I’m self-destructing right now and I’m no good to my own GPA at this point. I need a break and time to think. Professional help would be nice: an ADHD coach as well as someone who specializes in faith crisis counseling. I don’t know what I need though.
Cheers (in spite of my cheerless attitude),