Thursday, December 24, 2015

I'd Like One Christmas Miracle, Please.

Christmas is tomorrow and to use a much overused phrase, I'm feeling all the feelings. It's going to be an interesting Christmas, for sure. I'm not really sure how to feel about it.

On the one hand, for the first time in months I feel amazing. Last September I started weaning myself off what I thought was an extra antidepressant I didn't need to be on. (You may remember me complaining about withdrawal. Often.) Well, turns out I really did need to be on it. Once the withdrawal symptoms finally subsided, new but equally unpleasant symptoms showed themselves. I was not in a good place. I was most often angry, bitter, annoyed, anxious, and often overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness. I didn't get back on the medication right away for reasons I won't go into *coughObamacare* but finally I decided enough is enough and got back on it. Literally within a day I felt like a new person. Like my old self. I'd forgotten what it felt like to laugh and smile, to feel happy and normal, to want to get out of bed and do stuff, to get on Facebook and Instagram and smile at the posts and "like" them instead of rolling my eyes and thinking things I'm ashamed of. I am so eternally grateful for modern medicine and self-revelation that showed me what I needed to do.

Yet as I'm skipping through my sunny days now, I watch my own sweet mother spiral ever downward and I've never felt so scared and helpless in my life. Many of you know the severity of her struggles of late but many of you don't. I haven't spoken much publicly about it to respect her privacy, but as time goes on the secrecy just seems silly and frankly, she needs all the prayers and good thoughts she can get. Besides, if she had some serious physical, medical ailment, there would be no secrecy at all, so why should this be any different?

For the last month or more she has been being treated for severe depression at Sacred Heart in Spokane. She is home now but returns once a week for electroshock therapy treatments. So far she's had 12 with no sign of improvement and we're not sure what the next step is. We pray, we fast, we pray some more. We research online and talk to friends and family who've gone through similar things. We talk to doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. We try it all. And when nothing changes, we try not to lose hope. But it's hard. It's so very, very hard.

So you see, I'm not sure what to feel about Christmas this year. How can I be excited and happy when my mom is suffering so agonizingly? What we need is an honest to goodness real life Christmas miracle. If you're the praying type, and feel so inclined, please pray for my angel mother. Maybe with enough prayers we can get that miracle after all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Happiest Depressed Person I Know

Warning: If you’re prone to feeling like people are “over-sharing” when they share deeply personal things online, feel free to stop reading now.

I’ve never kept my anxiety/depression a secret, but I’m not overly vocal about it, either.  I stopped being ashamed of it a long time ago.  I’ve made peace with the fact that it will be a lifelong struggle for me, that I will be on medication for the rest of my life just to feel…not normal, but as close to normal as I can get.  I’m okay with that.  But some people—a lot of people—don’t get it.  Mental illness still carries such a stigma, despite the growing numbers of people who suffer from it.  It’s still a taboo topic in society and often looked upon with pity, judgment, and misunderstanding.  Unless you’ve suffered from it yourself, or are close to someone who suffers from it, you just don’t get it.  You can’t.  And that’s not your fault.  But you can try.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  In mine.

I was 14 when I was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance.  I had suffered from severe anxiety attacks my entire childhood but had no name to attach to them.  I just thought I was overly scared of things, things that seemed ridiculous to most people but were very real to me.  I had never heard of anxiety or panic attacks.  Depression was people who slept all the time and talked like Eeyore.  Mental illness was crazy people in psychiatric institutions.  My parents weren’t familiar enough with it either to be able to pinpoint what was wrong with me, or that anything was wrong with me beyond normal childhood fears.

But then puberty hit and with it, hormonal changes.  The chemicals in my brain couldn’t keep up, and the daunting task of starting high school put me over the edge.  I finally got bad enough that my mom saw the need to take me to a psychiatrist.  Here I received my fist diagnosis and a script for an antidepressant.  I learned what a panic attack was, and could finally put a name to the all-consuming, completely debilitating episodes that had plagued me my entire life.  Those times when hell had opened up and had threatened to suck me in.  There was a name for it.  I couldn’t believe it.

But I was angry.  I was scared.  I was in serious denial.  I just wanted to be like all the other kids and be normal and happy and free of stupid, embarrassing fears.  I was furious that I had to take a pill just to feel normal.  So I didn’t.  I only took it every three days when the withdrawal symptoms set in and I couldn’t handle the electric shocks in my brain and the way the room spun every time I moved.  I was young and stupid and didn’t understand that my brain needed that medicine like a diabetic needs insulin. 

I proceeded through high school this way; mostly ok, but totally unable to cope when things in my world went horribly wrong.  I couldn’t handle big changes, especially changes in relationships, and when that happened, I fell apart.  I bounced from therapist to therapist, getting no help at all.  One guy would talk about his other patients, then mutely stare out the window for 5 minutes.  Another one said I was doing too well on my medication and he couldn’t help me unless I stopped taking it and got some of my symptoms back.  After a trip to Seattle to have a psychiatrist tell me I was “textbook” and then proceed to relay everything I had told him in confidence to my mother, we gave up.  (I knew that last guy couldn’t be trusted when I saw a cartoon drawing pinned to his bulletin board in his office, the punchline being something about Prozac.)  I was done with therapists.

After high school, I got married and got pregnant and things went downhill again. (Pregnancy hormones and mental illness don’t mix well.)  I was a mess and my doctor switched my meds up.  That was when I learned that antidepressants only work for 5-10 years (sometimes less) and then your body decides it’s used to them and they stop working.  This was also the time my diagnosis was switched from “chemical imbalance” to “severe anxiety disorder” and “depression.”

My pregnancies were rough.  The second one rougher than the first.  I barely made it through, and only with the help of an increased dosage of meds and another one added for good measure.  After two miserable bouts of post-partum depression, I knew my body couldn’t do another pregnancy, and that’s something I struggle with every single day.

Moms with anxiety and depression raising young kids deserve some special award for bravery. (Dads too.) It was arguably the hardest thing I have ever done.  Lack of sleep, crying babies, sick kids, the constant demand for attention, is hard enough.  Throw in emotional instability and you have a recipe for disaster.  But here’s the thing:  we can still do it.  People do it every day.  And we’re still amazing parents.  My kids are older now and pretty self-sufficient but the challenge is not gone.  It’s just different. 

So here’s why I don’t talk about my anxiety/depression.  Because people like happy endings.  They don’t mind hearing your story if it’s in the past tense.  But the minute you admit you’re still smack in the middle of that story, things get awkward.  But to most sufferers of mental illness, the happy ending is not “and then I was cured. The end.” It’s “I get through every day, and some of those days are good, and some are crap, but I keep going and that’s something I’m proud of.”  And that’s the happy ending.

Also, remember how I said that people who don’t have it just don’t get it?  Those people like it when they can fit mental illness sufferers into a neat little package with a neat little label on it.  Bipolar.  Schizophrenic.  Manic depressive.  But guess what, Mr. Doctor In Seattle With Totally Unprofessional Cartoon On Wall?  There’s nothing textbook about me, or my illness.  You can’t file me away under one category and call it good.  Despite what my file says under “diagnosis,” I’m not anything that will make sense in anyone’s brain that hasn’t been there.

So what is it like to be in my shoes? I’ll give you an idea.

It’s standing in the middle of your kitchen, seeing the dirty dishes, and being so overwhelmed by the prospect of doing them that the only thing you can think to do is crawl back into bed.

It’s getting on Instagram and seeing all the pictures of fellow moms doing things like baking, and taking their kids to the pumpkin patch, and volunteering at the school, and dreaming about what that must be like, to just decide to do those things and actually be able to do them.

It’s being proud of yourself for showering and putting on real clothes that aren’t pajamas today.

It’s wondering how much longer until your kids start to call you out on things you and they both know you should be doing but aren’t, then realizing it’s already started happening.

It’s being so consumed with self-doubt and guilt and feelings of inadequacy that sometimes you can’t breathe.

It’s falling to your knees and pleading with God to “just feel normal.”

It’s feeling so unbelievably tired that your bones feel like they’re filled with metal instead of marrow, and your brain is full of sand, and the only thing you have energy enough to do is sleep.

It’s dreaming up different ways to try and make your family think you did something other than sleep all day without actually having to lie to them.

It’s thinking back to the days when you were young and carefree and your biggest worry was which CD to buy and wondering if you will ever, ever feel like that again.

It’s wondering why the little things that people do every day, the mundane tasks that they don’t have to work at doing, are like climbing Everest for you.

It’s worrying that even though you think you feel ok, you’re missing out on all the feelings that other people feel every day, because your medicine numbs you, and you’d have no way of ever knowing.

You may read these and think they sound like the statements a severely depressed person would make.  But you’d be wrong.  (At least in my case.) And that’s why I don’t fit into any one mold.  Because I’m a “happy” person.  Ask any of my friends and family members.  I’m talkative, friendly, outgoing.  I laugh and joke around and sing.  I know it seems impossible that that could be one person, but it’s true.  And that’s the beauty (ugliness?) of mental illness.  It doesn’t make any sense.  I don’t fit into the “depression” category.  I don’t even fit perfectly into the “anxiety” category.  I’m not bipolar, either, sleeping all day and moping around and then suddenly singing and dancing and cleaning my house.  I am ALL of these things at ALL the same time.  And when I’m happy and talkative, I’m not hiding my depression either.  It’s still there, just pushed to the back.  It’s all there—the good, the bad—all of it, always.  I am the happiest depressed person I know.

So please, please don’t read this and think, “Wow, I had no idea Alicia was doing so bad.  She needs help.”  I’m getting all the help I can get.  And I’m ok.  This is me.  It’s my life.  It’s always been my life and will always be my life and I will never give up hoping for something better but in the meantime I have to accept what is.

What is my purpose in telling you all of this?  Understanding.  Understanding for the person in your life who suffers from any mental illness.  Because I promise you there is someone.  Understand they are not less than.  Understand they can still be happy and act normal and they are not faking it.  Understand that things you take for granted being able to do every day are monumental feats for them to accomplish.  Understand that the best thing you can do for them is to listen when they want to talk about it, show compassion, and don’t try to fix them.  Because you can’t.  That is worth repeating: YOU CAN’T FIX THEM.  Trying will only make them resent you.  Tell them that you love them, no matter what, and you are so sorry they have to deal with stuff that you can’t even begin to imagine on a daily basis.  Make sure they know you are always there for them.  Most importantly, don’t judge.  Until you’ve been there, you can’t judge.  And if you have been there, then why would you judge??!!

Feel free to text/message/call/email me if you have questions or want to talk.  I am ALWAYS willing to talk about this, and I am always amazed at how many people suffer from it.  People who are suffering in silence, people who are scared to speak up because of the reasons I listed above.  To those I say, please know you are not alone. 

Let’s rid the world of the stigma that surrounds mental illness and start talking about it. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hi. I'm Alicia. I'm a Christian and I Love Gay People.

I have read two separate articles/blog posts today written by people in support of traditional marriage.  Both posts began with the authors saying how nervous they were to be writing about the topic, because of the side they happen to be on.  One said his fingers were literally trembling at his keyboard.

Why is that?

Why should we, or anyone for that matter, be so terrified to speak up about something in which we/they believe so strongly?  What are we so afraid of? 

Being judged?  Yes.

Being hated?  Yes.

Hurting the feelings of people we love and respect?  Absolutely.

Being called narrow-minded, hateful, bigoted?  Most definitely.

We have every reason to be scared.  Because so much of the world hates us right now.  Hates us for being religious, a word they spit out with disgust and venom.  Hates us for worshiping and following a God they see as a fairytale, or worse.  Hates us for being the "modern-day KKK," the proverbial white man on the bus ("religious person") making Rosa Parks ("gay person") move to the back.  Because she's lesser, not equal, not as good as us.  You laugh at the ridiculousness, I know, but the comparison has been made, and sadly enough, it's not the worst thing being said.

And yet, the hypocrisy is unbelievable.  Advocates of gay marriage stand on a platform of equality, acceptance, and LOVE FOR ALL*.  See fine print: *"All" encompasses only those who support gay marriage.  If you don't, you are a hateful, bigoted spawn of Satan who deserves to be beheaded. 

See the irony?

And here's the crazy part:  I DO LOVE ALL!!! 

Hi.  My name is Alicia.  I'm a Christian--a Mormon, nonetheless (gasp)--and I love gay people.  I love transgendered people.  I love everyone.  I even want everyone to be happy.  I want everyone to feel equal and no one to feel less-than or discriminated against.  Is this often a conflict with my belief that marriage is ordained by God and should only be between a man and a woman?

Every.  Single.  Day.

Because I know that by fighting to maintain that sacred definition of marriage, millions of people feel discriminated against.  Do I hate that?  Yes.  Does it mean I'm going to give up my belief, nay, my knowledge that marriage is ordained by God when done the way He intended?  Never in a million years.

So you see?  It's possible to disagree with someone's choices and beliefs and still feel love and compassion for them.  I know so many people don't want to believe that.  It's easier to get mad and feel angry and spew vitriol at those of us who believe differently than they do.  It's easier to refuse to believe that we still love and accept the very people who have made choices we don't agree with.  So weird, but, the very word "Christian" actually means "follower of Christ."  We strive to pattern our lives after Christ's.  And Christ was, is, and always will be the very definition of unconditional love.  Did he love that the woman being stoned had committed adultery?  Heck no.  Did he love the woman?  Without a doubt.  See?  It can be done.  And it is done.  By millions of Christians, every single day.

Are all Christians accepting and loving and not hateful toward gays?  No.  Does that mean all Christians should be lumped together into one big ball of hateful, narrow-minded, unaccepting people?  No.  Because that would be....yep, bigotry.

All I ask is for some fairness.  All I ask is to be given the same acceptance, tolerance, and love, despite my differing beliefs, that those on the opposing side are fighting so hard for.  I ask for the hypocrisy to stop and the equality that is so desired to be given to ALL people, including people like me, who oppose gay marriage.  Because that is true equality, is it not?

And lastly, I ask my fellow Christians, my fellow supporters of traditional marriage, to speak up too.  I plead with you to stop hiding behind your computer screens and quietly feeling anger and frustration and fear.  Because I know you want to speak up too, or, at least, you have things you'd love to say.  You wouldn't believe how many people have messaged me privately, ardently agreeing with me and saying they feel exactly the same way.  But why are they messaging me in private?! Why won't they speak out??  Because of fear, and because they, like me, know and love people that they would undoubtedly offend.  But I ask you this: Has my post about acceptance and love offended you?  Any of you?

The time for silence is over.  The time to speak is now.  Our side needs a voice too, and we are being drowned out by the opposition.  The world cannot know how strongly we feel about our convictions unless we tell it.  Not by bashing the opposing side but by stating our beliefs in a loving, Christlike way.  Because if we all truly acted in the name of love--as we are all claiming to--maybe we could start to see eye to eye.  And wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Reality of Christmas

I love Christmas.  I love Christmastime.  I love December and winter and snow and traditions and celebrating the birth of our Savior.  I love everything about it.  So much so that every year I have the most perfect vision of what Christmas will be for me and my family.  And every year, without fail, that vision isn't realized.  And it hurts.  A lot.  Just once I want that Christmas that I have in my head.  The ones like in the movies and on every blasted news feed on my phone.

Social media has ruined Christmas for me.  In a way that has me thinking "bah humbug" with every scroll of my finger.  Every picture of every perfectly decorated Christmas tree and every perfectly executed tradition and every perfectly coordinated outfit for every perfect Christmas card photo has me becoming more bitter and heartbroken at the reality that is my Christmas, which is this:

Decorations are hauled down from the attic at best by December 3rd or 4th, but more realistically, the 5th or 6th.  By the time we actually pull said decorations out of their dusty bins and put them up around the house, a week has gone by and seven pockets on our advent will never be used.  The adorable advent that hangs on the wall with 25 pockets that, on the first year we had it, were each filled with a slip of paper that had a Christmas related activity that we would do that day: bake cookies, make Christmas cards, go see Christmas lights, etc.  That first year we diligently partook in every activity, no matter the strain on our time or bank account.  The second year, that advent gave me anxiety to look at but I had started a tradition and traditions can't be broken, right?  We did our best.  The third year (last year) I almost didn't take it out of the bin altogether.  I actually don't remember what we even put in the pockets.  This year I'm deciding between telling the kids it was eaten by mice or that some poor family needed it much more than we did.  

I used to spend days preparing handmade Christmas card (and hundreds of dollars, when all was said and done) with our latest family picture attached to send out to family and friends.  Over the years I simplified the card more and more until finally resorting to the ever classic Costco pre-made photo Christmas card, and even that died a painful death over two years ago.  Sending out Christmas cards of any kind are but a distant memory in this house.  Family picture with coordinating outfits? Ain't nobody got time for that!

Every year I have bold aspirations of wrapping as I buy.  Yet every Christmas Eve I am up till the wee hours of the morning watching the only Christmas movies I will watch that year as I wrap like an elf on crack.  Which means my tree skirt sits barren below my Christmas tree until literally Christmas morning.  My poor children make comments about how other families have their Christmas presents under their trees already and I snap back with some obnoxious comment about how only the kids who will actually never have any presents under their tree to open Christmas morning have the right to complain, while secretly feeling plagued with guilt at yet another Christmas failure on my part.

Oh, and the wrapping? In my head it's always going to look like this:

But in reality, it's always more like this:

We have no Christmas traditions, really, other than watching The Polar Express on Christmas Eve while drinking hot chocolate (and by we I mean the three of us that stay awake *coughbill*).  No new Christmas pajamas to unwrap, no caroling or traipsing up into the snow-covered mountains to cut down a fresh pine tree and go sledding...thank goodness the Elf on the Shelf came out after my kids were too old for it, or I would lie awake every night haunted by all the clever antics our little non-existent elf wasn't up to.

Please don't get me wrong.  I am in no way critiquing or making fun of or judging anyone who does any or all of these things or who has the perfect Christmas I dream of every year.  I'm just jealous, suffering from a hearty dose of good old fashioned, unadulterated envy.  I try and live vicariously through those who do have the picture perfect Christmas, to be happy that someone, somewhere, has it all together in the month of December.  But mostly I feel like this.

I won't give up.  Maybe, just maybe, one day my Christmas will look like my Pinterest board.  In the meantime, I make myself feel better by remembering that Christmas has nothing to do with decorations and traditions and positionable elves with questionable behavior.

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” 

It has only to do with this.

And nothing more. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Confessions of a Hypocrite

So...remember this?

Remember this comment I made in reference to above post?:

Yeah, so it turns out, I'm wrong. Well, there's a pretty good chance I am, anyway.  I was definitely taught a lesson in forming an opinion based on a few things I'd read and heard before learning all the facts. 

So here's my shameful secret that only a few people know: Within days of sharing that link on Facebook, I went gluten-free.

I know what you're thinking: What?! Hypocrite much?! Why yes, yes I am.  And I've never been happier to be proven wrong.  So here's the story:

The above-referenced post led to a heated debate (which I knew it would) and friends and family were quick to argue with me and tell why going GF had changed their lives.  One friend in particular, who is very passionate about this topic, ended up messaging me privately to apologize for her heated comment (which was completely unnecessary, but appreciated) and it started a discussion about GF.  I asked some questions, told more of my skepticism, and for days we went back and forth about the subject, with her sending me links and enlightening me more and more.  (She has done a TON of research on the topic so the girl definitely knows what she's talking about.) I looked up the links, read up on it, did my research (which is what I should have done before sharing the link above).  Normally I wouldn't have spent the time to do so, except for one thing: As I stated in one of my comments in that thread, I actually tested positive for Celiac Disease several years ago.  The blood test said I had it, the biopsy and endoscopy said I did not.  Well, here's the thing: I now know, through my research, that one must have gluten in their diet for the endoscopy to show the damage the gluten is causing to their stomach (if they do indeed have Celiac) and my doctor, who will remain nameless, told me to go off of gluten for a month and then have the endoscopy done.  The gastroenterologist who did my endoscopy knew I had been off gluten for a month and didn't say anything about it.  Long story short, I now know the test results were screwed up and I am not about to pay the money to go through it all again.

So my friend suggested going off of gluten one more time.  This would be my third time in about six years.  The first time was per my doctor's questionable orders, the second time was a year and a half ago when I was having crazy digestive issues.  Each time was for a month, and each time I didn't notice a difference.  My friend said a month wasn't enough, and I probably wasn't being careful enough with making sure everything I was eating was, in fact, gluten free.  Which was probably true.  So I decided to try it one last time, for at least three months, being super diligent about checking labels and not cheating, and see once and for all if gluten was causing my lifelong headaches and more recent digestive issues, which were worse than they'd ever been. 

It's been a month now, and I feel amazing.  My headaches have almost completely disappeared and my digestive issues are GONE.  But, I still wasn't convinced it was for sure the gluten.  After all, I was eating healthier and avoiding sugar for the most part.  (But not completely.) After a while I started feeling deprived as I watched everyone around me eat hamburgers and cake and all kinds of gluten-laden goodness so I started eating sugar if there was no gluten in it; you know, to make up for what I was missing out on.  (Hello, milkshakes.)  And I still felt great, so I knew it wasn't the sugar.  I was eating plenty of dairy, so I knew it wasn't that, either.  Still, I was not going to know for sure until my 3 months were up and I introduced gluten back into my diet.

And then last night happened.  I was sleeping restlessly so I got up to have some milk, which always helps, but I can't just drink plain milk without anything with it, because...gross.  And sitting in my fridge, staring back at me, screaming at me to eat them, were these amazing looking gourmet cupcakes the devil my friend had brought us.  Don't do it, Alicia, the voice in my head said.  Don't throw away the last month, you've worked too hard.  You'll regret it.  But then another voice said CUPCAKE and before I knew it I was sinking my teeth into the most delicious caramel, peanut butter-filled cupcake with caramel frosting.  Oh. My. Gosh, it was a-MAZING.  As I ate it, I knew one of two things would happen: nothing, which would make me question the no gluten thing but not give up on it since I've felt so good, or something, which would prove to me that my body hates it. 

I went back to bed and fell asleep.  Four hours later I woke up with what felt like a butcher knife in the side of my head.  I have not had that kind of headache in, well, a month.  Especially waking me up in the middle of the night.  And I knew there was no way it could be a coincidence.  And I knew it couldn't be the sugar, or any other ingredient in the cupcake, because the only thing in that cupcake that my body has not had in a month was gluten.  So there you have it.  My answer.  Which is incredibly bittersweet because on the one hand, I FINALLY know, after all these years, what has been causing my headaches and stomach issues.  But on the other hand....NO GLUTEN!!!! No cupcakes, donuts, cake, cookies, bread, pasta, and a million bajillion other things that have made up my diet my entire life and make me oh so happy.  It will be hard, I'm not gonna lie.  But it will be worth it.  I finally feel like a normal, healthy person.

So the reason I say there's a pretty good chance I'm wrong about my previous opinion, and not a definite one, is because there's still a chance I actually do have Celiac Disease, which would mean my self-discovery about gluten wouldn't prove anything about people who don't have Celiac responding to a GF diet.  But oh well.  Who cares?  Not me.  If all those people have found something that makes them feel better, then I'm happy for them, and who the heck am I to say anything about it?? 

So, add me to the list of "annoying" people asking "what's in that?" and requesting the allergy menu at restaurants.  I'm proud to join the club.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Sometimes in my life there are things that I have a really hard time staying silent about.  I feel things so strongly, so passionately, that often I feel like if I can't get my feelings out there I'll explode.  Lately it seems like there are so many hot button topics flying around that have me feeling this way, and they all revolve around one thing: my religion.

I am Mormon.  I have been since the day I was born, but I like to think I was even before that.  I have never not been Mormon, and I know that because of this people think I am biased and unable to see outside of my little cushioned Mormon bubble.  And maybe this is true to some extent.  Obviously I only know what my life experiences have given me and allowed me to see and learn, including the things I have been taught every Sunday for 35 years, and every day in between those Sundays in my home.

But I am not an easy person to convince.  I am not a mindless, impressionable creature that just does something because I am told.  Sometimes I wish I was, because it would show great faith.  But I have always needed to know why, and how, and what will happen if I do, or don't.  I have always questioned everything, my entire life, and I don't just mean my religion.  When I was very young my mom was ironing clothes.  She told me not to touch the iron because it was hot and I would burn my finger.  I had absolutely no reason not to take her word for it, but a few minutes later the doorbell rang and my mom went to answer it.  The minute she was out of sight, I couldn't reach my little hand out fast enough to touch that iron.  I couldn't just take her word for it, I had to learn for myself.  And she was right.  It was hot.  And I burned my finger.

In high school some of my best friends were Catholic and we'd get into (mostly) friendly religious debates.  During one of these debates one friend I was particularly close to accused me and my Mormon friends of only believing what we believed because we'd been brainwashed our entire lives.  As I argued with him and demanded to know how it was any different with him and his religion, his words echoed in my brain, and stuck with me for a long time after, even now that he is no longer with us.  And I've never stopped pondering it.  It really got to me.  Was there truth to his words?  Do we all only believe what we believe because we've been told it by our parents and the people closest to us our entire lives?  If I'd been born into a Catholic family would I have been on the other side of those classroom arguments, calling out the Mormon kids on their "bizarre" beliefs?  I couldn't handle the thought.  I needed to believe I believe what I believe because I believe it, not just because I've never been told different.

My point is, I've always stepped back and taken a look at my beliefs from the outside.  I know how they appear to the world, now more than ever, with the Mormon religion under the microscope getting rotten tomatoes thrown at it day after day, so to speak.  Do you know how it feels to be a part of something that so much of the world hates?  Something that is so much a part of you you feel that you wouldn't be you without it?  Something you hold so dear to your heart that every time someone speaks ill of it you feel like a tiny part of your soul dies?  Well I do.  And for someone who cares so very, very much what people think of her, it's not easy, let me tell you.  So often I ask myself, "Can you do this?  When people start really, truly hating you for being who you are and believing what you do, can you stick it out?  Do you believe enough to stand by your church and not go running for the hills when the angry pitchfork-wielding mob comes?"  I want to believe I can, and I do, and I will.  Because I'm not stupid.  I know that day will come.  I know the day will come that even my belief in God will condemn me, and I want to be ready for that.

But mostly, I just want to be heard.  I want my weak little Mormon voice to be heard among all these other voices that are screaming and shouting and being heard 'round the world.  Because all anyone is hearing right now are those voices, Mormon and non-Mormon alike.  All they're hearing is "Mormon church is kicking out their own for wanting equal rights for women" and "Mormon church opposes gay marriage so obviously they hate gay people and don't want them to be happy" and every other possible negative thing that can be said about the Mormon church.  But what about what we have to say?  The scale is being tipped so far in the other direction, I think it's only fair that we be allowed to add a little weight to the side that's hanging high in the air.  Because what no one seems to be seeing is the inequality that is coming to pass in this fight for equality.  Am I really the only one who sees it?  Sometimes I feel like I am.

I got used to being in the minority for my beliefs a long time ago.  I've watched as the world shifted from accepting and loving of those with different lifestyles (a good thing) to taking it a step further and despising, judging, and condemning those of us who don't agree with certain aspects of those lifestyles (not a good thing).  I've watched as anger, hatred, and disgust became the common feeling amongst those fighting for equal rights, all in the the name  Seem backwards to you?  Because it sure does to me.  Fight for equal rights, sure.  Fight for everyone to be happy and loved and not judged.  I want all those things too, whether you believe me or not.  But please, please don't become a hypocrite by treating a group of people differently for their beliefs.  Because it won't be long (I promise you this) before we--those of us fighting for what we believe in, no matter how unpopular it is--will be the ones being treated as lesser people who don't deserve to be happy.  We will be the ones fighting for OUR rights to be equal.  And who will stand for us then?  Who will fight for OUR group that is being condemned for OUR beliefs?  It's a very thin line between fighting against someone for quote unquote "not loving" and becoming that person.  In the very, very near future, that line will no longer exist.  It's already beginning to disappear.

The bottom line is, I love my religion deeply.  Not just because it's all I've ever known, or because it's what my parents taught me or what I've been brainwashed to believe.  Because I look around at what else is out there, or I think about just not having it in my life at all, about what would happen if I walked away, and I feel sick.  I can't imagine the emptiness I would feel inside.  The happiness that would undoubtedly be sucked from my life, the uncertainty that would plague my very soul about so many things.  My religion is part of my chemical makeup, part of what makes me who I am.  I couldn't walk away from it any more than I could walk away from my heart, or my brain.  And the more people judge me, and push me, and argue with me for my beliefs, the harder my body wants to fight back.  Because that's what I do when something I love is attacked.  I fight back.  I defend.  I am fiercely loyal to the things in this life that I love.  And that will never change.

So now you've heard it, one little voice against a whole lot of big ones.  Maybe it will be heard, maybe it won't.  But at least I've said it.  And to answer the question of a recent attacker of my beliefs, THAT is how I sleep at night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Transformation In A Move Theater

WARNING: It's about to get all sappy up in herrr.  Also, spoilers.

Today I went with some friends to see The Fault in Our Stars, a movie made from an amazing book about two teens dying of cancer who fall in love.  I know, sounds horribly depressing, but it's really not.  Sad, yes.  But the good kind of sad, where you sigh at the end and walk away feeling good because you truly felt.

But here's the thing: halfway through the movie I had a weird sort of revelation.  About myself.  You see, I am a self-proclaimed romantiholic.  A romance junkie.  I fiend for a good love story.  I always have, and I hope I always will.  I am a romantic through and through and nothing gets my heart pounding and my insides all crazy like a good love story.  Which is exactly what happened when I read The Fault in Our Stars.  I was all about Hazel Grace's and Augustus Waters's relationship.  I couldn't get enough of them falling in love, their ironic wit and cheese-less romance.  I pined through the entire thing and was all warm and fuzzy by the end.  Romantically fulfilled in every way.  And *SPOILER ALERT* when Gus dies, my heart broke because I was reading through Hazel's eyes; that was me reading his eulogy, knowing I'd lost the love of my life.

The movie was different.  Well, actually, the movie was pretty much exactly the same as the book, they mercifully stayed incredibly true to it which is so rare and so fantastic.  But it was different for me to watch it than to read it.  Why?  Because of Hazel's parents.  The book portrayed them as loving parents trying to cope with the inevitable death of their only child while simultaneously trying to take the best possible care of her while still encouraging her to get out there and life life while she still can.  They were good parents who obviously loved their daughter.

But in the movie, her parents (played by Laura Dern of Jurassic Park fame and some guy I'd never seen before who looked to be at least 10 years younger) were, well, amazing.  What didn't come across on page came across powerfully on screen and I ached for them.  I could feel every single emotion they felt dealing with this horrible, emotional roller coaster ride that could come crashing to an halt at any time.  As I watched them stand over their not-so-little girl anymore, trying to hide their tears but obviously falling apart on the inside, I found myself completely overcome with emotion, fighting back tears and swallowing a serious lump in my throat.  And that's when it hit me: I have transformed.  I didn't get choked up when Gus died, or when he told Hazel he loved her, or when they cried together after he told her he was dying.  No, I got choked up when Hazel's mom couldn't handle the fact that she couldn't afford to give her daughter her one dying wish.  When her dad carried her like a baby in his arms into the ER one night when she couldn't breathe and felt like her head was going to explode.  When it flashed back to a 13 year old Hazel in the hospital taking what they thought were her last breaths and they stood over her sobbing, telling her it was okay to let go.  I almost couldn't handle it, because I was them, and that 13 year old girl could have been my own sweet, precious, amazing 13 year old girl.

And that realization, that suddenly I was relating to the parents of the teen instead of the teen in love was kind of shocking.  When did that happen??  I'm not gonna lie, it was a little disconcerting.  Am I like, grown up now?  Or just...a parent of a teenager?  It's so bizarre, I still don't know what to make of it.  But it was eye-opening.  And so, so powerful.  And weird.

Anyway, my point is...I don't really know what my point is.  I guess one is that there are certain things that just cannot be portrayed on page like they can onscreen.  Another is that the actors were amazing and the filmmakers did a bang-up job of transforming the book to film.  And a third is that self-realization can hit you anywhere, even in a dark theater surrounded by your friends who are all crying except for you.  Because that, at least, is something about me that will probably never change.