I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in other words, I am a Mormon.
I’d love to tell you why I believe what I do, especially after having endured a Scrupulosity/OCD breakdown that ripped my faith to shreds.
I grew up in Houston, TX in a family that was only semi-active in the church. My parents were not married in the temple (where faithful and active members of the church are married and sealed together for eternity) and my dad was not an active member in my childhood. When I was about six or seven my mom started to consistently take my brother and me to church and to our primary activities (activities during the week for younger children). My brother and I were both baptized when we were eight and, in general, I liked church and even had a few friends there. I sang solos in church, sometimes I even sang in the church choir my mom directed. I could tell, even as a young child, however that our family was a little different than most of the others at church. I sensed that the gospel wasn’t quite as central to our lives as it was in everyone else’s there. I always felt a little bit on the outside.
As I ventured into Jr. High, I started to distance myself from the church. My emerging self-identity had very little to do with being “Mormon”. My social life became my sole focus and being popular my only goal. By eighth grade I was your typical groaning, eye-rolling teenager who hated going to church. I thought church was boring, nerdy and totally cramped my style. Let’s be honest, the church doesn’t offer a lot in the area of Jr. High popularity. I thought the kids at mutual (a mid-week activity night for teenage boys and girls) were dumb and totally uncool and I didn’t really want a lot to do with them. I had joined the cheerleading squad at my Jr. High and had become friends with all of the popular kids. These kids talked a lot about doing (and a few even did) the stuff I’d been taught not to do but I ignored the little voice inside that told me they were not a good influence for me. Fitting in with them seemed more important than anything at the time. Besides, I wasn’t doing any of that stuff, in fact most of my friends weren’t either, so why did it matter that much? I still thought of myself as a good girl, although deep down I knew my commitment to being good was definitely starting to wane as I hung out with this group.
My father, sensing the things I was being exposed to, would often pull me aside during that year and talk to me about the challenges teenagers face. Although he still wasn’t an active member at that time, he definitely wanted his little girl to follow the church’s standards. In his non-churchy way, he would warn me about drinking and drugs and sex and partying and how hard it is stand up to your friends and to have the strength to say no when you’re surrounded by these temptations. He told me that there would come a day when I would see all of my current friends succumb to these temptations. He also said that he knew I was strong enough to withstand them. He believed in me. I felt the power in his words and they really impacted me. I wanted to be strong enough to withstand these temptations. I did not want to fail my dad.
But, as meaningful as these talks were, they were not enough to make me stop hanging out with my current friends. I even got a boyfriend who drank and smoked. I figured that as long as I wasn’t doing those things myself then I was not failing my dad. Underneath it all, though, there was a part of me that knew I was treading dangerous water.
As fate would have it, my junior high split when it was time to start high school, and my boyfriend and most of the student body were assigned to a different high school than I was. I thought the world had ended. My life was over. It was a tragedy equal to Romeo & Juliet. I still had a few friends going to the same high school as me, but that did little to console me. Besides, as soon as we started our freshman year most of them started to change. They were acting different, older, trying to seem cool. They didn’t seem to care about anything but impressing other people. I felt like everyone was stepping on top of everyone else, trying to get to the top of the popularity pile. These friends didn’t seem to care about me at all unless I helped them to get to the top, which I generally didn’t seem to do anymore. I had been among the most popular at my middle school, but here among the sea of new faces I was almost back at square one. I seemed to sink lower and lower in that popularity pit and no one seemed to notice or care. My so-called friends would make plans with me and then cancel them for “better” plans with “better” friends; their eyes would wander off in the middle of our conversations, looking for more exciting people to talk to, and then when they’d find someone cooler they’d run off, mid-sentence; they would completely ignore me if boys were around or insult me in order to look cool. And all anyone seemed to talk about was sex and partying. I started to hear of more and more of my friends doing things that up until now they had only talked about doing.
A few months into the year, I was hanging out at the mall with two of my friends from my old middle school and two new friends that had gone to one of the other middle schools. We’ll call my old friends Emily and Jill and the new friends Catherine and Kristine (which means that the names have been changed). The two new friends, Catherine and Kristine, were on the cheerleading squad and so we were all trying to impress them since, being cheerleaders, they were automatically popular. Everyone had been talking about dirty, sexual and inappropriate things all night. To make it worse, Emily and Jill had been putting me down, making fun of me, insulting me, doing whatever it took to look cool in these cheerleaders’ eyes. These were friends that I had had for years who were now acting as if I were nothing to them. They were completely hanging me out to dry. I felt dirty, insecure, vulnerable, and incredibly betrayed, and for whatever reason, that night I decided I was done. I was done feeling this way and if I had to be alone for the rest of my life I was not going to hang around people like this anymore. The night had left me feeling hurt, filthy and incredibly alone and I decided something had to change. I hated the way I felt inside and I would do whatever it took to not feel that way anymore.
Unfortunately, however, my parents were out of town for the weekend and I was spending that night at Jill’s house. When we started getting ready for bed I told Jill that I felt like writing in my journal and asked if I could just write in her closet while she went to bed without me. She asked if I was ok, but graciously let me use her closet. I’m sure she thought I was so weird! As I wrote and cried in that closet, I did some soul-searching. I realized I did not like who I was becoming. It finally hit me that I’d been chasing after all the wrong things and that it was eating away at who I was meant to be. All I felt inside was emptiness. And I finally admitted to myself that I was walking down the same path that my dad had warned me about, and eventually I would end up doing all the same things that my friends were starting to do. I decided that night that I wasn’t going to worry anymore if the people I hung around were pretty or popular, but if they made me feel good about myself. And I decided then and there to commit myself to the gospel. I realized that I had always known it was what I should do but I had let other things become much more important to me. That night it became blatantly obvious to me where those other “important” things got me – crying and alone in a so-called friend’s closet.
That was the day I changed my life. I repented and committed to the gospel from that day forward. I threw my whole heart into seminary (scripture class for high school students), read my scriptures daily, and grew to love going to church and to mutual. My best friends became other members of the church or kids who shared my standards. (There were a lot of amazing people in Texas where I grew up who were very devout in their own religions and who lived very good lives. I have always felt blessed to number them among my friends.) It felt like a light had been turned on inside of me. A whole new world opened up and I couldn’t believe how different and happy I felt.
Interestingly enough, my Dad had decided to become active in the church right around the same time as I did. He’d had a similar, although separate, experience as mine where he realized he was chasing after the wrong things in life. We were sealed in the Dallas temple during my sophomore year. It was a wonderful time for our family.
As happy as things were though, this is when my OCD/Scrupulosity really started to kick in.* If you’ve read My Story (link on my Homepage) then you know that I have a type of OCD called Scrupulosity, which causes sufferers to continually and relentlessly feel anxiety and guilt about their own supposed sinfulness. Scrupulosity is similar to other forms of OCD in that nothing the person does ever permanently relieves their intense anxiety and pain. All of the compulsions that sufferers are driven to perform only relieve the pain temporarily; it always comes back, oftentimes just hours or even minutes later. It is an endless battle unless the person gets outside help. I have a few examples from my childhood that reveal OCD thinking, but for the most part it hadn’t really afflicted me much until then. It obviously wasn’t a coincidence that it reared its ugly head right when I made a deep commitment to God. I also was in the midst of puberty, which is often when mental-illness really shows itself, so this struggle was inevitable.
To read more in-depth about how this mental-illness affected me, you’ll have to read My Story. But to quickly summarize it here, I always felt guilty and like God was mad at me. I would find short relief in pinpointing different aspects of my religious efforts in which I thought I needed to try harder, but the relief would never last and I’d always think it must be because I hadn’t pinpointed the right area. And thus the cycle of guilt and over-analyzing myself would start all over. Things got continually worse until I had a breakdown of sorts after I got married that struck my faith to the core. I had been studying about some church doctrine that really confused me and, because I was so mentally sick (but didn’t realize it), this confusion became a catalyst for the most intense and relentless fear I’ve ever experienced. Suddenly I began to question everything in the church. This scared me in and of itself. I knew the happiness that the gospel had brought me when I decided to commit to it in high school, I could not deny that. I had also had many spiritual experiences that I could not deny. But none of that was enough anymore. I couldn’t shake the questions that now constantly plagued me. Doubts I never would have believed I could have seemed to light my insides on fire. I believed the church was basically good, but was it the one and only truth in the whole world like I’d always thought it was? Was God really, and I mean really, there? Could I actually believe that there was a man named Jesus Christ who was part immortal and part human who died for my sins? Did I really have sins? How did I know that what our church taught was right? Doesn’t every church think they’re right? Don’t Muslims believe with the deepest conviction that Allah is God? If I were Jewish, wouldn’t I think with every fiber of my being that Christ had not yet come to the earth? And what about Joseph Smith? Did I really believe that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and found gold plates in a mountain that were scripture? Had everything I’d based my life on been wrong? And if so, then what was right? And how did I figure that out? Who and what was I to trust if everything I’d trusted my whole life was wrong? Was each person’s view of truth all just based on how they were raised, culturally, religiously, emotionally, etc.? Was there even a one and only truth or was it all just relative? The window through which I had always viewed the world was drastically shattered and everything seemed to be confusion for me. I felt as if I didn’t know which way was up or down.
My OCD, of which I was still unaware, added a layer of terror to the normal confusion that someone might feel from these thoughts. For months it felt like I was screaming inside, day in and day out. I had panic attacks almost weekly. I never slept or ate. I lost 25 pounds in two months. Unless you have experienced an OCD breakdown, it’s hard to understand the true amount of pain I was in. Following is an excerpt that I’ve written about how I thought during this time. I also included it in My Story, but I’m sharing it here as well because I think it paints a good picture of the state my mind was in.
The lights are hot. Too hot. The people are laughing. They don’t know. They don’t know that the world is all wrong. That it’s a lie. She takes us to our table. Grant orders my drink for me. Did he just see that? Did he just see the world jolt off its axis, helter skelter? It’s not going back. Why isn’t it going back? I order enchiladas. Grant orders a burrito. We wait in silence. Suffocation. No one knows. They shouldn’t know. They should be happy and laugh and go to movies and play games and order pizza. Not suffocate. Not hear the scream inside. Grant can’t hear the scream inside. He wants too, but he can’t. Could he just hold me? Could we just go home and could he just hold me? I don’t want to eat, I’m not hungry. All the people are eating and laughing. They should, I want them to. I want someone to. I don’t want them to feel the scream, or the panic. The terror. The darkness. The suffocation. Why didn’t Grant see the earth shift? Or the oxygen leave the room? And all the light? Didn’t he feel the crazy set in? And the terror? Didn’t he hear the scream? Why didn’t he hear the scream? I want to go home. I can’t eat anything. God must be trying to tell me something. I think I need to have more faith. I must still not be trying hard enough. I need to go home and read my scriptures some more. And pray again. The scream. It’s still screaming. Why can’t anybody hear the scream? God, please help me. I can’t breathe. The darkness is tightening. I need help. I really, really, really, really, really, need help. I’m not ok. Somebody please hear the scream. Somebody. It’s not stopping. I’m not ok.
Yeah, sooooooo….that’s not normal. (And if reading that makes you feel bad for my husband, you should. He had no idea what to do with me, poor normal and innocent guy!)
During that time I did everything the church had taught me to do to find answers. I prayed from the depths of my soul for help, for guidance. I read my scriptures, frantically searching for answers. I went to the temple hoping against hope to feel peace. I talked to past religion teachers, bishops, my husband and other relatives, asking for their thoughts, understanding, and feelings. None of these efforts seemed to take away the deep screaming fear inside of me. I felt completely and utterly abandoned, almost betrayed. If the things I had been told to do in order to find peace and answers failed me then where in the world was I to turn? I’d even had some of my most horrific panic attacks while reading the scriptures; once it even happened while I was in the temple. What was I supposed to do with that? Did that mean the scriptures weren’t true, like I’d always believed? And that the temple was an evil place? I was so utterly confused and in so much pain. I had no idea what to do, what to believe, what to feel, who to trust. If God was really there, which I was desperately trying to still believe, then why wouldn’t He show me what was true? Why wouldn’t He help me? Was I not trying hard enough? Was I not having enough faith, or being righteous enough or following the commandments enough? What in the world was I supposed to do?
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