On overcoming depression

I wrote the following article on March 9th and posted it at forum.newordermormon.org.  I think it’s worth sharing here on my blog, as well, for it chronicles details of my journey out of depression “peace by piece.”

“On Overcoming Depression”

I . . . served a mission and suffered serious depression during it. (You wouldn’t know that from the positive letters I wrote home, trying to “buck up” and be enthusiastic about the work.) I was a zealous missionary with little compassion for my companions, which I truly regret now. I believed God expected MUCH from me, from my companions, from the members, and from the investigators themselves. The self-criticism I inflicted upon myself and the judgmental attitude I held toward others were so damaging to my well-being and happiness, and to relationships. I was frustrated, too, by having my “success” depend upon the decisions of others. (That was difficult for me–so different from the reward system of academia I had thrived in.)

Returning to college after my mission was very fulfilling despite the pressure of papers and finals, and falling in love and then marrying [Erik] (who’d become my best friend) less than a year later brought me delight, comfort, and exciting plans for an adventure-filled life together. Not that he was perfect–some of his quirks were annoying, and he wasn’t as spiritual as I would have wished–but I needed him for a thousand reasons and thrived upon his love, support, and friendship.

Two years later we had a baby, and I chose to quit my job to stay at home. My depression soon returned. I lost myself as an individual as I juggled all the demands of a young baby, new house with unfinished yard, time-consuming calling in the YW, family finances, etc. The depression continued in various degrees for the next ten years as I added three more children to our family and felt completely overwhelmed by the demands of life and, especially, God.

But I never sought psychological counseling during that time because that seemed “weak” (I’m stubborn) and because I refused to be “officially” diagnosed as “mental” . . . (Ironically, I was just that–unwhole!) And I never entertained the idea that my religious beliefs were the source of much of my depression as a mother–believing instead that the culprits were feminism (making me dissatisfied with being a full-time mom) and my own inadequacies (I “deserved” my pain because of my many faults).

When [Erik] described to me three years ago the reasons he could no longer maintain a testimony of Joseph Smith nor his church (reasons such as polygamy/polyandry/duplicity, multiple First Vision stories, older revelations being revised to support later Priesthood restoration claims, the Masonic origins of temple ceremonies, magical thinking and treasure hunting–mormonthink.com stuff), I was worried! For him, and me. The threat of losing my testimony–changing my beliefs–felt painful, overwhelming, scary, and eternally risky, and I fought it tooth and nail. (Hadn’t I received many spiritual “witnesses” of the Church and its scriptures?! Wasn’t God testing our faith as members of his Kingdom– even of things hard to understand–expecting us to trust our heart, our spiritual witnesses, rather than our reason/intellect?!) God did NOT want us to lose our testimonies, I believed. Losing my testimony would be “bad” (!!!), I held.

For a time I prayed, fasted, and attended the temple weekly with an “assurance of things hoped for”: that the “beauty and majesty of the gospel” would be “unfolded in the eyes of [Erik’s] understanding,” per his patriarchal blessing–contingent upon his serious effort to “heed the admonitions and live for the promises” stated in the blessing. I honestly believed DH would come to believe again as I did, and I told friends and family as much.

For 18 months, [Erik] chose to love me throughout the slow, awkward process of my evaluating my inherited [LDS] faith tradition: my denying there were problems, insisting the kids shouldn’t know about the problems, hesitantly attending another denomination with [him] every other week to be supportive, endlessly discussing belief/salvation/purpose of life/truth/God after sermons or sacrament meeting, eventually being willing to investigate LDS history outside of church-edited sources, having to confront and interpret potentially damning details in the history, having to analyze my personal “witnesses” of the spirit and second guess their importance and meaning, attending the temple regularly just so I wouldn’t lose my testimony of it, losing my zeal for bearing testimony of the church and the need for missionary work, hoping to influence others in Sunday School to have a broader perspective on life/truth, worrying about “missing the mark” and failing the “test” of faith if the church happened to be true, and ultimately experiencing epiphanies that reassured me that God was okay with my change in beliefs.

[Erik] had believed that never in a million years would I come to see things his way (I was the most devout person he’d ever met). I had believed the opposite: that within a million years (hopefully sooner!) he would come to understand the truth and see things my way (despite his not being the most devout person I’d ever met–God is faithful!). The “beauty and majesty” he came to witness over the course of those 18 months was not that of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, the rightness of the doctrines he revealed, nor the authority he claimed for himself and his church. Rather, it was the “beauty and majesty” of the “gospel of love.” He learned that love prevails! Loving–acting in loving ways–is powerful! Not only did such love from him help our marriage survive the schism of differing beliefs, it had been what opened my eyes to trust in God’s mercy–for apostate DH, for imperfect/susceptible me, for all of His children “walking in faith” (and not knowledge) here on earth–which belief ultimately delivered me from my depression!

Here’s how love worked: [Erik’s] kindness, service, and loving acceptance of me during that whole process allowed me to trust that he was a good man (having acted with integrity and courage in rejecting the idea that God would ever condone or command ungodly and dishonest behaviors from church leaders), a good husband (a good provider, helpful around the house (our dishes guy!), a good listener, and a cheerleader who encouraged me to do whatever I felt I “needed to do”), and one accepted of God (despite DH’s rejection of the COJCOLDS, and despite his agnostic leanings). Love opened the door to my deprogramming and ultimate deliverance from depression!

I could mention several experiences I’ve had with God, but suffice it to say (for the sake of time) that I now trust that God is merciful toward us despite our weaknesses and ignorance! I wish that every member of the church who suffers from depression could understand that–that God is understanding, not exacting! He allows us to make mistakes and learn from them. He invites us to discern what is good and beneficial and to live deliberately, not fearfully. He wants us to be happy and to “go for it”–our dreams/desires–not to shrink in submission to irrational received wisdom! These new beliefs of mine have curbed depression! I still worry about what others think of me (working on that), and I can get overwhelmed and scattered at times, but I no longer feel a heaviness in my chest and the consuming feeling that “Life is just TOO hard,” “I am broken,” and “I’m not worthy of God’s love.” As Hampton and the Hamsters sing: “Life is good, life is great, for tomorrow I can’t wait . . . ” (Yeah I have small kids. Wink)

Sorry this is so long. I wanted to explore “out loud” how it was that depression ceased to be a debilitating obstacle in my life–how I came to smile more, be more flexible and resilient, and more charitable toward others. Best wishes in becoming who you want to become, believing what you want to believe, and breaking free from debilitating depression!

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On Belief and Free Will

A person on newordermormon.org posted the following comment on Sunday (http://forum.newordermormon.org):
“I am currently reading Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God book.I like the way he portrays God. On one page he says, (quoting as if God) ‘There are those who say that I have given you free will, yet these same people claim that if you do not obey Me, I will send you to hell.  What kind of free will is that? Does this not make a mockery of God…?'”And then on another page, ‘…could God judge God’s own creation and call it bad? If I wanted you to be and do everything perfectly, I would have left you in the state of total perfection whence you came. The whole point of the process was for you to discover yourself, create yourself, as you truly are– and as you truly wish to be. Yet you could not be that unless you also had a choice to be something else. Should I therefore punish you for making a choice that I myself have laid before you? If I did not want you to make the second choice, why would I create other than the first?'”I love the idea that the purpose of free agency is actually to use it to create ourselves.” Very Happy

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Walsch’s book(s) are fascinating! Lots of ideas to consider in there. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do love his ideas on God standing back and letting us create ourselves here–with no “divine expectations” or “test of obedience” to thwart our experiment with life.  Not because I want to engage in “riotous living” without consequence, but rather because such a divine plan for “learning without pressure” makes sense to me.  Like a child learning to walk, or feed himself, or talk–that’s our walk of faith here. We observe, and then we try; we fail, and we try again.  The process should be without threats, without external rewards.  Living life itself is the gift–learning its own reward. The way God communicates with me is via the heart and mind–gently, patiently, quietly, peacefully.    He seems to want me to find out for myself what is good, meaningful, joy-filling, and whole–through experience and reflection.  If he wanted to protect us from all harm, error, and pain, if he expected us to not make mistakes or deviate from his commands, he would not have sent us here away from his perfection.  The problem with a belief in God’s harsh expectations is that it would require those who wanted God’s blessings to find “the truth”–in order to know the exact set of rules.  The age-old question of who has claim to “truth” has been argued and fought about for millenia.  Would God set up such a system–where an individual would hold the responsibility of finding the right guru or else be under God’s condemnation for failing to live his “perfect will”?  I no longer believe that.

Rather than having us rely on others to tell us “God wants you to do this . . . ,” God equipped us with reason, conscience, memory, and heart–which is all we need to create meaningful lives and relationships here. That’s what I think.

Being free to believe anything we choose to believe is a precious gift–one aspect of “free will” which I think God is totally okay with. If not, I think he would orchestrate the conditions necessary for every one of his children on earth to come to “correct belief” during their mortal lives–which he obviously doesn’t do. He lets us live and die believing what we will, being influenced by those whom we accept as authorities in our lives. Sometimes people grow to trust themselves and the personal “enlightenment” they believe they have received  from God, others break from their faith as they turn to the collective wisdom of science for answers, some are influenced by the proselytizing efforts of religious missionaries or new-age gurus and accept a new reality for themselves, but most often people just stick with the beliefs/authorities of their inherited faith system. It’s an opportunity cost, but not of “eternal consequence”–in my opinion.  God knows most people don’t want to change, or fear to.

Viktor Frankl reminded us that the last great human freedom was to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances–“to choose one’s own way”. Given that opportunity to choose what we want to believe, how foolish of us as humans, then, to retain beliefs that are inherently harmful–to ourselves, our relationships, and the world. Sometimes “group think” (even outside of religious institutions) can dampen people’s freedom to “create their own way.” We need to guard ourselves against that, otherwise we submit ourselves to a life not our own.  I don’t think it beneficial to be a follower, nor do I believe God requires it.  It is our opportunity to visualize and create the highest  ideal of ourselves–one breathe at a time, one idea at a time, one decision at a time.

With that in mind, I’ve concluded that it would be quite helpful for me to create a list of my basic beliefs about life / family / work / meaning / responsibility / education / relationships / personal growth / god (etc.) to try to find which beliefs I’ve retained that intoxicate (poison) my life.  Only then will I be able to set aside harmful thoughts and enjoy a healthier existence through a wiser worldview.

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Will polygamy be legalized?

When polygamy becomes legal in the U.S. (which I think is inevitable, given the Supreme Court ruling on Lawrence v. Texas—at least for consenting adults), someone should initiate a media blitz in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California (LDS hot spots) with factual declarations from Brigham Young, John Taylor, and other early leaders on polygamy’s exalted status as a requirement for exaltation and the “holiest” of all God’s commands. NOT because I would wish anyone to practice polygamy (I think it is not conducive to happiness–for either the men or the women involved) NOR because I would want anyone to actually believe it was a requirement for living in God’s presence (I feel a loving God would never require that of his daughters—a situation of perpetual jealousy and insecurity throughout all eternity). Rather, I would want members to consider such statements and think, “These are ridiculous. I don’t believe in any of these ideas!” A serious doubt about polygamy might help members to question:

1) Joseph Smith’s credentials as a prophet of God (He claimed it was required of him to “restore” the principle, yet he withheld the “revelation” (D&C 132) from the lay members (even lied to them about his involvement) and practiced the principle in revolting ways: keeping Emma ignorant of the fact that “celestial marriage” (polygamy) involved his sexual intimacy with the women he was “sealed” to, marrying other men’s wives, taking teen brides, coercing women to accept his proposals with tales of his imminent destruction by an angel were they to decline, lying to the members about his polygamist activities, taking no responsibility for the financial support or public acknowledgment of his 30+ secret wives, etc)–see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/ and http://mormonthink.com/polyweb.htm#lied;

2) Prophets’ and apostles’ ability to really know “The Mysteries of God” (Joseph claimed polygamy was the very order of heaven and the “highest and holiest principle” given to man; Brigham Young taught that our heavenly father was Adam, and Eve was one of his plural wives; Joseph F. Smith stated that the marriage in Cana was Jesus’ own wedding to the sisters Mary and Martha; John Taylor said the “one-wife system degenerates the human family” and is “incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality;” Bruce R. McConkie stated that polygamy will obviously commence again after the Second Coming; etc.)–see Brigham Young quotes from the Journal of Discourses at: http://www.carm.org/brigham-young-quotes

3) The doctrine of the “restoration of all things” (Why preach of “restoration” when principles and practices come and go based on external pressure? Think: polygamy until 1904, the curse of Cain doctrine denying black males the right to priesthood until 1978, temple penalties and blood oaths until 1990, contraception as “vanity, passion and selfishness” until 1969(?), the Adam-God Lecture at the Veil until Brigham Young died, blood atonement, Lamanites as “the ancestors” –>“among the principle ancestors”–> “among the ancestors” of Native Americans, etc. Would God “restore” the doctrine of polygamy without “preparing a way” for the church “that they might accomplish the thing he had commanded them” (per 1 Ne. 3:7)? If Joseph’s doctrine on polygamy was true and indeed the “holiest principle given to man,” why didn’t the church continue to embrace it as an eternal doctrine and encourage all members to be sealed into polygamous relationships “for-eternity-but-not-for-time-because-polygamy-is-not-legal-here-yet”? Why didn’t the church encourage members to move to countries where polygamy was legal (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran?)–Why doesn’t it do so today, if polygamy was “restored” for the latter-days?)

4) Whether priesthood leaders ever lead the members astray (If one Latter-day Saint prophet taught that monogamy was the “foundation for [the] ruin” of nations (Brigham Young), and another taught, “Alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of human society . . . the end of the human family” (Spencer W. Kimball)–Who was right about monogamy? Who was deceived, preaching false doctrine?).

5) Etc.

I would want such a media blitz to pressure the church to acknowledge its “roots” (the doctrinal basis) of its historical practice of polygamy: D&C 132, and its term “celestial marriage” which meant, exclusively, plural marriage. Church leaders would need to address media questions such as,

1) “Will the church be returning to its former practice of polygamy? . . . Why not?”

2) “Won’t you leaders pray to ask God to ask his permission to re-instate that ‘highest and holiest principle,’ now that it’s legal? Why not?–since you claim God answered such a petition about blacks and the priesthood ban in 1978 . . . Surely the ‘highest and holiest principle’ is worth petitioning for?!”

3) “Is polygamy the ‘highest and holiest principle’ and the ‘order of heaven’? Did Joseph Smith and his successors get that right, or were they preaching false doctrine? Now that polygamy is legal, shouldn’t every member of the church be required to be sealed into polygamous family relationships if they want the promise of exaltation—a life with God and his wives in the Celestial Kingdom? Why not?”

4) “Does God still practice polygamy in heaven? You don’t know? Joseph and Brigham claimed they knew. Were they teaching false doctrine? Did God change his mind and stop living polygamy in heaven after the Manifesto of 1890? How about after the second manifesto of 1904?  Were the Manifestoes his ‘little joke’?”

5) “Among your members who happen to have some acquaintance with your church’s former practice of polygamy, most believe God only required it for a time in order to: 1. ‘raise up seed’ for the church, and 2. take care of the many widows whose husbands had died in the persecutions in Missouri. Are adding to your numbers and taking care of your many single sisters not valid reasons for practicing polygamy today? Why not? You say because the church is thriving and the single sisters will get husbands during the Millenium? Surely 13 million members (only half of whom attend your worship meetings each month) is a scientifically insignificant number when compared to the entire population of the world?! The more Mormons the better, right?–to do ‘more good’?–and to hopefully keep the heathens outnumbered by the Christians, right? What?–You’re concerned that returning to a practice of polygamy would do nothing to tarnish your reputations as non-Christians? You just need to set those evangelicals straight with Joseph F. Smith’s quote about the marriage of Cana being Jesus’ wedding to Mary and Martha!  Or, tell the heathens they’re living a celestial principle when they take multiple wives–they’ll love you for it and be more apt to listen to your message.”

6) “By the way, historical records suggest Joseph Smith did NOT enter polygamy just to take care of widows (since he proposed to and married teenagers and married women–AND because that whole thing about “excess widows” is just a myth, per census records of the time), and it is doubtful Joseph would have wanted his plural wives to get pregnant because that would have raised suspicions at a time he was keeping polygamy under wraps—even from church membership at large. With what end in mind did Joseph Smith practice polygamy? Why does the church divorce itself from that ‘end’ now?”

7) “Did Joseph Smith make a mistake in beginning the practice of Polygamy with Fanny Alger? Was it not of God? If Polygamy is ‘of God’, why won’t you church leaders set the example of this ‘holiest’ principle and take multiple wives today? It’s no big deal—no more important than ‘buying a cow,’ per early church apostle Heber C. Kimball. What are you afraid of—a mass exodus of the membership? With accurate, historical information currently and readily available on the Internet today, your offices are already being bombarded by resignation requests from members who feel betrayed and lied to by your church–am I not right? You could save face by owning up to Joseph Smith’s problems with polygamy and just confess, ‘He got that one wrong.’”

8.) “He didn’t get it wrong?—God had commanded him? Well, if God commanded polygamy, why didn’t God just prepare a way for Joseph ‘to accomplish the thing which [God had] commanded [him]’–as your Book of Mormon scripture 1 Ne. 3:7 suggests God does after giving a commandment? Why did Joseph have to hide polygamy, even from all but his closest church associates—even from his wife Emma, as evidenced by the letter he wrote 17-year old wife Sarah Whitney and her parents? Perhaps the legalization of polygamy is God’s belated method of ‘preparing the way’ for the saints to live the Celestial Law now, in preparation for the Second Coming. Don’t you feel obligated to appreciate that blessing and to move forward in faith and obedience to a return to polygamy?”

Obviously not–Church leadership would NOT be interested in returning to polygamy because it would halt the growth of the church, for the most part. I wouldn’t want them to return to polygamy—for many, many reasons—but I would want them to confess that former church prophets declared it was the marriage arrangement of God and a requirement for exaltation. Why? I want members to have to deal with it, and to doubt: “Could Joseph have gotten that one wrong?” The indoctrination that “the prophet will never lead us astray” would have some serious holes in it . . . and members might actually start to think for themselves rather than shelving all their doubts and following their leaders blindly. My great great and great great great grandmothers were Mormon plural wives. I honor their desire to please God and earn salvation but regret that they were taught that that was only possible through polygamy. They suffered unnecessarily—both emotionally and temporally. May the church stop exerting such control over people’s hearts and minds is my sincere desire.

Shaunalei Andersen

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