Spiritual Skepticism

“Can I please schedule a time to speak with the chaplain?”

Clutching a book tightly to my chest, I looked down and away. They seemed to respond better when I did that.

The nurse scheduled the appointment.

I can’t remember all the meetings I had with the chaplains while I was there, but I do remember how they made me feel. In a place where I felt dehumanized, the chaplains gave me a reprieve.

It was my feeling that they perceived me as fully human.

My recent zoloft-induced manic episode and hospitalization illuminated my eyes to a few things. I don’t even know what I set out to say by writing this post. But there were parts of my recent experience that felt, for lack of a better word, profoundly spiritual.

Maybe the way my brain tried to process the trauma of my experience was by fitting it all into a spiritual narrative of sorts that made sense to me so I could cope.

See I had spent the last year or so, and even before my first breakdown, feeling incredibly powerless.

I had been diagnosed with social anxiety at around 18 years old. But since I left the hospital nearly a month ago, I haven’t experienced any social anxiety whatsoever.

Yes, I have this new diagnosis, bipolar (which now is up in the air with my healthcare providers), but something is different in me. Something has changed deeply within my being, my psyche.

The anxiety is gone.

I don’t know what happened, but maybe after what I went through (for example going manic and singing in my apartment’s parking lot at 5 AM) nothing just seems to trigger my anxiety around people anymore.

It’s like a switch went off somewhere in my head. Yes, mania is not healthy, but its manifestation seems to have released a lot of pent up anger and resentment at being told what to do.

The shame at the root of it, the shame for merely existing, is gone too.

I’ve tested it. With no issues, I’ve been able to strike up conversations with strangers at the grocery store. Some react the way I would have a couple months ago, unsure, nervous and/or curious as to why I would want to talk to them, but most have reacted warmly. I spent nearly half an hour talking to a new friend in the grocery store the other day and we exchanged numbers.

While I was in the hospital I reconnected with some of my Mormon roots as well. Inspired by some of the words of Ghandi and the fact that Mormons fast on the first Sunday of the month, I decided to fast on the first Sunday of July. The staff questioned me on it, and some patients and a staff member or two scoffed at my fast, but it felt right at the time.

I did feel a little rebellious toward the hospital when I fasted, but I also wanted to show the staff I was capable of self control.

I even made my own prayer before the fast and crafted it to a divine mother. It was the prayer I had always wanted to say but had never been allowed to say, first by my belief in Mormonism and then coincidentally by my lack of belief in Mormonism.

I’m realizing now that spirituality is way more fluid than we are taught or trained to believe. Spirituality is intensely personal, as it should be. (Thankfully other skeptics use the word as well.)

I have started exploring myths that catch my interest, and reconciling my spiritual upbringing with where I am now in my life.

After my release from the hospital, two sister missionaries from the LDS church knocked on my door. This is the church I was raised in, the church I left.

They talked with me for the next couple hours. I told them all about my history. I told them I was bisexual (and this was before I had come out publicly about it), I told them about my rape and hospitalization. We seemed to really connect.

Does this mean I’m going to rejoin the church? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in practically every truth claim of the church and I have a major problem with it’s patriarchal makeup.

In fact I found it a damn near shame that these sister missionaries would never be allowed to be priesthood/spiritual leaders of the faith because of their sex. One especially contained more empathy and wisdom in her pinky finger than did my BYU bishop.

But my experiences have helped heal me of my trauma associated with spiritual things in general. The spiritual abuse I experienced from poor leaders and an imperfect church growing up left deep scars, but I recognize that people can and do find peace in the Mormon faith, and that’s OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think the LDS church shouldn’t be held responsible for the horrid way the organization has treated the LGBT community, or that I didn’t talk to the sister missionaries about that. Of course I did, and they listened. They shared a message of healing from their scriptures and I shared a favorite poem of mine with them. If I could share this poem a thousand times over, I would:

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

I was bitter for a long time when it came to religion and spirituality. Because I had been hurt, deeply. Spiritual abuse is real and devastating. And I still see people hurt by people in power in these organizations. But there is a lot of good too. And that I see in the love people have for each other.

Because there is a lot of love in the world, and love heals. And too many people on the religious side and on the skeptic side resort to harsh and angry words towards each other, and I can no longer stomach it. It has started to make me ill.

I’ve also come to integrate the worst of my experiences into my current makeup as a person. I seemed to have healed from the worst parts of my traumatic past, and I feel incredibly stronger. I also have more peace in my heart.

Myths, stories, and narratives have been immensely empowering for me.

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“In many of the ancient myths, a person who wanted to find happiness, love, or eternal life, had to first travel through the netherworld. Before being allowed to contemplate the splendors of heaven, Dante had to wander through the horrors of hell so he could understand what kept us from entering the pearly gates. The same is true of the more secular quest we are about to begin.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And that’s where I feel I am, still dealing with some of the burns and scars of the trials of my journey through the underworld, but I’m dusting myself off, and I feel like I’m coming out the other side.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it is possible to become a spiritual skeptic. The things that I find value in, the love I have for stories and those closest to me, that love can be the basis of my spirituality.

Myths don’t have to be real for me to take meaning out of them, and since this life is about creating our own meaning anyways, they’re a great place to start.

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Coming Out! Current Thoughts on Mental Health, Sexuality, and Kink

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I recently discovered that I’m bipolar. For so many years, I struggled with the depressive episodes of bipolar thinking I was just dealing with regular depression.

Every time I’d been put on antidepressants in the past, they never sat well with me. Recently, I had been taking Zoloft, which had been great for my depression, but seems to have contributed to my recent manic episode where I had to be hospitalized.

My recent hospitalization was horrific. And my experience let me see just how backwards the mental health care system is in our country. I was raped by another patient, dehumanized and victim blamed by staff, and more. I’m working this out in therapy now as well, on top of all my other trauma I’ve accumulated in the last year or so.

But at the very least, I have a new, more accurate diagnosis. For one, now I know that I need to be wary of antidepressants, they can be bad for people with bipolar. I’ve also learned about mood stabilizers and know what symptoms to look for if I’m entering a hypomanic/manic or depressive phase of my illness.

In a way, I know that I’ve been able to take advantage of the “positive” (hypomanic) aspects of my illness. I was able to earn a 4.0 in grad school, work full time at a library, get scholarships, and help rear a small family some years ago. In retrospect, when I think of these sorts of times in my life, I was hypomanic, full of drive and energy and the capacity to do almost anything I put my mind to.

But my inevitable “crashes” after these energetic episodes have taken a huge toll on me. I’ve had bad depression, viral infections, body pain, and more.

What’s frustrating is that before I was harmed, by a non-licensed hypnotist and his BDSM practices, I had always been at least functional with my illness. But after his intervention my illness became debilitating.

I decided that I wasn’t going to be quiet about my diagnosis (or my past abuse for that matter). I’m not ashamed to have bipolar and PTSD (the PTSD has gotten worse after my last hospitalization), and so I find power in not keeping it quiet.

There are a lot of creative and famous people who have been or are able to function in spite of their diagnosis of bipolar. Carrie Fisher was one of them.

Carrie Fisher on Bipolar
Source: https://twitter.com/bphopemag/status/771709916830629888

Anyways, I’m glad to know more about myself and my mental illness.

I also did finally come out publicly as bisexual in the last couple of weeks. After my experiences, I have had to face a lot of the skeletons in my closet, so I made the decision to be open about my sexuality as well.

I was raised Mormon and had a lot of self hate and guilt for the feelings of “same sex attraction” that I had over the years. I no longer have that guilt and realize there is nothing wrong with me when it comes to having the sexuality that I do.

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I decided to come out publicly on my twitter and other social medias. Bisexuality is still highly stigmatized and bisexual people have a lot of problems when it comes to mental illness. I hope people will be able to read this article about these very issues.

“Prejudice manifests itself multiple times over to dismiss bi people with mental health problems and reduce them to perverts and sex addicts rather than autonomous human beings with valid identities and feelings as profound as anyone else’s. Their lives and experiences are routinely put up for debate as though the rest of society should control their characters. Autonomy is something sought to be crushed, as is bisexual identity as a whole. The prevalence of such biphobia and mental health stigma regularly leaves those who are vulnerable questioning their entire sense of self, as though they could be flawed just for existing which can lead to extreme self loathing, depression and even suicidal ideation.” -Source

The shame I felt as a bi person was unwarranted. After talking with some friends, I discovered that I may even identify as a demisexual. I had someone try to convince me that I was a “slut” about a year ago. I don’t have a problem with sluts and am against slut shaming in general, but that is not who I am.

The Mormonism from my youth never sat well with me because I was always an opinionated woman who liked to call out the men who claimed to have authority over me. Last year I had someone try to tell me that my Mormon upbringing made me incapable of being anything other than a submissive.

Bullshit.

Frankly, the only reason why I had submissive tendencies was because a lot of it had been ingrained in me by society and by my religious upbringing, for sure. My social anxiety also gave me the crutch of trying to be a pleaser. But it is not who I am. I was never happy as a submissive Mormon woman, so I don’t know why I would ever be happy as a full-time BDSM submissive.

My original interest in submission came from a place of fun and play, and the way it was thrust upon me with manipulation and hypnosis was not at all playful or fun. I was told that submission was an essential part of who I was as a person, and that combined with the hypnosis involved exacerbated my mental health problems.

I recently met someone who is a spiritual guide, and also a dominatrix. She was supportive of me and helped me see that there are good uplifting people in the BDSM community. I also recently learned a new term: MTDs (Male Therefore Doms). Sadly, as the name implies, there are men (and some women) who assume that males have a better position to be dominant and females should be submissive.

Women are already so submissive in the patriarchy as a whole, and so I’m tired of that role. If I’m going to do something for fun, I’m not going to reflect the submission of my upbringing in a patriarchal religion and a patriarchal society.

Hell to the no.

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I’m not a little girl who enjoys being told what to do. I’m a free agent and I am powerful and self aware. If I ever considered kink again, I’d take on a dominant role.

I’m intelligent and a warrior. I’m someone to be respected and admired. I don’t get off at being shamed or humiliated. The fact that so many have done that to me throughout my life, and told me that I should appreciate it, is repugnant to me now.

People who’ve hurt me no longer have any power over me. I’ve come to accept the pain that comes with being alive. All I can do is try to be a decent human being and seek empowerment from my experiences.

Sometimes, you need to get broken down just so you can build yourself back up.

Also, I’ve had an amazing spiritual breakthrough of sorts. When I left the psych ward a couple weeks back, I had this song on repeat. The lyrics are amazing. It’s about finding the beauty in the pain that we encounter in life. (There is also an inner child of sorts creating by drawing throughout the video.) It meant a lot to me and I hope you’ll take a listen/watch.

And despite my issues with Mormonism in the past, I also formed a relationship with some local sister Mormon missionaries. And they gave me love and a listening ear shortly after I came home from the hospital. This made me realize something that I recently posted on my Facebook:

Good people use labels and identities to help themselves feel spiritually connected to the world and others. When we use our labels to feel superior to anyone else, be it Christian or atheist, or liberal or conservative, or single or married, or whatever, or use those labels to try to manipulate others into doing what we want, that’s when the disconnect happens.

The path to happiness and connection is, I think, pure love for one’s self and others. And self care before caring for others. This is huge.

Thanks for reading. I have a lot of creative projects I wish to pursue and am excited about the future! I wish all of you lovelies the best.