On depression and suicide

A little over a year ago now, I was seriously thinking of suicide. It was well beyond any bout of depression or panic attack I’d ever felt before. There was no perceived misdeed or responsibility I was trying to escape. I was working with my doctor to change medications, as depression medicines tend to lose effectiveness the longer you are on them. I ended up deep, deep in a panic state, barely able to move and shaking uncontrollably, my mind unable to focus on anything but how I could make that panic feeling stop. I also knew, amidst all this, that I had to be sure whatever I did would actually kill me. No cutting, no car wrecks. Pills were too hit and miss. It’s partially due to that need for surety that I managed to get through it at all.

That and my wife.

No, I don’t mean that thoughts of my family and what would happen to them had saved me. As I said, I couldn’t make myself even think about anything but the pain and panic, praying that it would just end. I mean that even though she was struggling to care for three small children and has always had as one of her major fears that I would die, she made sure I was not alone. She did her best to help get what aid we could get, helping me through it, even though an end didn’t seem in sight. Through a combination of support, counseling, and medication, we made it through.

As a society, if we talk about suicide at all, we treat it as if it’s one monolithic thing. We don’t want to talk about it, we know it’s there, and so we don’t like to put any more thought into it than we have to. From my experience, suicide comes from one of two sources.

The first is like this episode I had, where there may not be particular reason, just an overriding need. This tends to need medication to help, with counseling to watch to make sure the medication is doing what it should without creating side effects it shouldn’t. Suicide here tends to leave more questions than answers, as people wonder what they could have done, what burden they could have helped lift, what they might have said without thinking. The problem is that there is very little they could have done. There is no “choose to think positive” or “just snap out of it” that would help. The person was sick, and needed medical help. They may have had shades of this illness before, or it may have been the first time, but it is still an illness. Unfortunately, it’s an illness we don’t like to think about (or sometimes even believe), so we’ve let go the resources we have for treatment. There is no support for getting a debilitating disease that requires weeks or months away from work and life to try and get in control.

The other is from a build up of problems where it feels like the world and everyone you care about would be better off without you there. This type needs more counseling than medication, working through the problems to help remove or mitigate the issues weighing life down. Unfortunately, support for this is just as poor. Some believe that you just need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “not take the cowards way out” without even thinking about the reasons that might be involved.

I’m very grateful I had my wife and resources to help, including a job that had the flexibility to work with me during that time. I worry for those who do not have these resources and mourn with those who have been left behind through this. No amount of platitudes will help. It’s hard. It hurts. If it (or anything else) has triggered your own feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide, get help in any way you can. There is no right way in getting help for this. Grasp onto whatever slim reed you can manage, be it family, friend, coworker, or even a stranger on a help line. You don’t have to do this alone.

In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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Genealogy, the ultimate “Missed Connections” board

Since much of the family history/genealogy work for my forebears has been done (and continues to be done) by my parents, much of my concentration has been on finding cousins, the other descendants of my ancestors. It’s been interesting to see how their lives have developed, even if it’s just through the glimpses left in the records left behind. There’s the widow left by a rail road worker cousin who marries his brother, also a rail worker. The couples who had just a few or many children who saw either all children live and grow or saw all their children go into early graves. The cousin whose wife died, leaving him with two small children he had to leave in an orphanage until he could reclaim them again. There are just so many stories, and we, too often, barely get a one sentence summary.

I’ve particularly been gratified at finding the cousins whose lines have ended. These are those who never married or never had any children. There’s no one to remember them. I wish I’d posted about it nearer Memorial Day, but I wonder how many of those who died in the past wars are simply forgotten?

In any case, the most difficult part I find in this research isn’t the heartbreaking stories, but in finding cousins that have just recently died. You finally get down to people that you could conceivably talk to and get firsthand information from, and they’ve already passed on. Most of the time you don’t even know who their next-of-kin are. So here’s my “Missed connection”:

To my 6th cousins, once removed, children of Inez Pellett-Cavin-Rounds-Bevroot-Linley. I know your mother passed 25 years ago, but I’m hoping to make a connection to learn what you know of your family. Do you know anything about your father or where in Central America he came from? Hope I can find some way to connect with you soon.

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Of course, now that I check again, one of them died just 6 months ago. Blast it all.

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Self selection in Church attendance and membership

Spend any amount of time reading the various Mormon themed blogs and you will see any number of reasons people are dissatisfied with and/or have been hurt by the Church and its members. There have been a few attempts to understand the reasons for these things, but mostly there have been unfeeling lists of simple points, trying to codify “why people leave”. To me, aside from the excommunication or removal of those who have shown themselves to be physically or spiritually dangerous to others in the community, coming to Church and being part of the community are mostly a matter of self selection.

People join the Church and attend their meetings because they feel that they have learned the truth of how this life, the next life, and the previous life fit together, want to learn more on how to progress, and want to join with others who have the same goal. There is both power and safety in numbers, and it helps our own growth to work with others with the same goals. Those who fall away do so because the community is no longer a place of peace, but has become, for one reason or another, a place of pain, confusion, or distaste.

This is where self selection comes in. Ultimately, it is that persons choice to stay or go, no matter how deep the dissatisfaction or pain. The question then becomes, what can we do to help them stay, heal, and grow together with us?

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No, You’re Not Next

There has been quite enough ink (and pixels) spilled on the upcoming disciplinary hearings for Kate Kelly (of Ordain Women) and John Dehlin (of Mormon Stories). Much of it has been with sadness, but some of it with fear. People have been wondering if this is the start of a new “purge”, where anyone who asks questions is likely to be excommunicated. For me, this is certainly sad, but I have no fear. There is a marked difference between what has been done by these individuals and those who have varying beliefs, opinions, and questions about the Church.

For Kate Kelly, she has been a good voice in helping organize those who believe ordination is the answer for the problems many women face in the Church. I believe her discipline (having previous to this been put on probation) comes from the organizing of a second protest on Temple Square (even if they didn’t call it a protest) after being asked not to, and the continued expansion of Ordain Women to try and “convert” people to believe as they do. The Church has repeatedly explained that women’s ordination is not how the Church is organized and this cannot be changed by popular opinion. I am truly sad it has come to this.

For John Dehlin, I’ve little opinion. I’m glad some have found more peace in being part of the Church through these podcasts, but for me, what I’ve listened to his podcast seemed to be interested more in placing seeds of doubt than in trying to find answers. In his case, he seems to have more sought out the line where he would be excommunicated, using it to make himself a martyr for his cause. Even his latest request for messages to console his wife and children seems calculated. I’m sad he’s worked himself in the direction he has gone.

Now, for the fear part. First, two data points do not a pattern make. There is no evidence that this is a concerted effort, nor is there anything to show that other prominent voices with questions are also being “quashed”. Your Bishop is not more likely to censure you because of your ideas. These actions are not broadcast as a warning to others by the Church, nor is there any direction given to discipline those who have sympathy for them. The fear does not come from the Church, but from those who sent these notices to others. It is not the Church saying “get in line or you’re next”. This is coming directly from those taking advantage of this to promote fear in others. Unless you’re actively doing one of these things, you have nothing to fear:

- Spending your time telling people they should leave the Church.
– Teaching things that are completely contrary to Church teachings.

Even with these, it takes quite a lot of either for even disfellowshipment to be considered. These recent actions have not been sudden or unexpected by anyone involved. Undesired, certainly, but not unexpected.

No matter what the outcome, I hope that we can all continue to move forward with faith, hope, and charity.

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You’re not a gatekeeper if you don’t hold the key

I’ve come across a few articles recently which have gone back over the idea that men have Priesthood and women have Motherhood. These are trying to make the case that each gender has it’s own sphere and should be content with that. The reasoning used for this comes mainly from Valerie Hudson Casslers’ speech The Two Trees. She brings in information from the Eden story to declare that men are “gatekeepers” of the ordinances required for salvation while women are “gatekeepers” of mortality. She equates this with the two trees mentioned in the Eden story, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve ate the fruit of the second tree and gave to Adam from it, so women are in charge of making mortality. (She also asserts a few things that LDS “believe”, but that’s another post.)

Overall, I think it’s a good speech with some good ideas and thoughts, and while I’m glad for those who have found some measure of peace and understanding through it. However, I find the conclusion of it, the very premise that men are gatekeepers of salvation while women are gatekeepers of mortality, to be overly simplistic and potentially damaging. I know I’ve written on it before, but it needs to be said more often, so people will start to get it.

Making babies is not analogous to Priesthood.

To the point of rebutting Casslers’ analogy, the saving ordinances performed by men with the Priesthood can be done with no input whatsoever by a woman. As far as being a “gatekeeper” for them, the analogy works. Creating mortal bodies, however, cannot be done by a woman alone. Women may stand at the gate, doing the work of guarding and the very nearly all of the work of opening the gate,, but only men have the key. It takes both to open this gate. You can’t call women “gatekeepers” of a gate they have no power to open on their own.

There are also the standard arguments against equating Motherhood and Priesthood, like Motherhood being available to nearly all women while Priesthood is available to fairly few men, and that neither can be the ultimate meaning of a persons’ life, but I’m glad to leave those for other times.

I do think there are many, many wonderful things waiting for us in the future. I may be completely wrong on what they are, but I do know that whatever there is, it will be wondrous for all of us, men and women. I believe we will have the balance that we know exists in our Heavenly Parent’s love for us, but I despair at some of the rationales we develop to try and convince ourselves that we have that balance now.

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Work for the dead done by the living

In LDS theology, there are certain ordinances that are required to progress; Baptism, Confirmation, The Initiatory (washing and anointing), The Endowment (covenants and instruction on how to enter God’s presence), and Sealing of family relationships to be not only for time but for eternity. Temples have been built, as a house for God, specifically to perform these ordinances for the living and dead. (Chapels, which are more common, are where we go for our weekly worship and learning.)

This is one of the reasons Mormons are heavily invested in genealogy and family history work. We believe that “. . . we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” (D&C 128:18). We believe this to be in accordance with Malachi 4:6 – “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” and 1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”. So we work to find our dead, that we can serve them by being proxy for them in obtaining these ordinances. This does not obligate them to accept these ordinances, but gives them the opportunity that they might have the choice available to them.

There have been a few arguments against the push for getting more work done. The best one I know of is wondering how we can assume our ancestors would desire these things, believing that we are dishonoring their memory and the lives they have lived or even died for their religion. This concern has brought about a policy that ask we only do work for those we are directly related to. We’ve also been asked that we take extra care in doing work for those who died in the Holocaust, being sure we are a direct descendant. I know of some people who had personal experience with some very bad, even evil behavior from a close relative, and have purposely left them out of their work, only to have it done my some other well meaning person. We do not know how the Atonement will be applied for anyone, but we can still show compassion for others by respecting these wishes.

The other common argument I see is wondering why spend so much time and effort to do this at all, since we will have the entire Millennial Age, when Christ comes again and personally reigns upon the Earth, to do it all. This one has given me much more to think about.

On one side of the complex where I live is a strip of land, about 3-4 feet wide and about 4-500 feet long. When we moved in, there were some awful overgrown bushes on it. These have since been removed and for the past two tears has been left a bit of a lumpy, somewhat weedy, mess. The Home Owners Association hasn’t had the funds to do anything with it, though there have been ideas on what they would like to do with it, such as cover it with gravel or some other cover. The problem is that before anything can be done, the ground has to be cleared and prepared for this.

So, I’ve started digging at it. I’m terribly out of shape, so I can only manage a few feet at a time. It’s going to take weeks if not months to get it done. It could be that someone will come in with some large power digger and do it easily in a day, but that doesn’t matter. As much as I’m doing this work to eventually benefit the community, I’m also doing this for my own benefit.

Temple Ordinance work for the dead is much the same. We gain a closeness to our ancestors by learning about their lives, sitting as proxy for something they cannot do themselves. We can be in symbiosis with our dead, both benefitting from this time we are essentially working together. Doing the work now, even if incomplete and potentially incorrect, also helps make these people more real to us. Is there anyone you can look in the eye now and say, “we’ll get to you eventually”? How would it feel to you to be passed off as one of the less important masses?

Why not wait ’til these people are resurrected and let them do their own work? Aside from strengthening the bond I mentioned before, I think that there is something about these mortal bodies, as opposed to the bodies these people will have when they are resurrected, that is needed for this work to be in effect. For some reason, whatever meta-physical reaction that happens that makes these Ordinances required cannot be done by those resurrected, but can be done, by proxy, by those living and have effect on those once dead. I’ve no idea why or how this is (we can’t even measure spirit and no resurrected person has submitted themselves for testing), but this makes sense to me.

So, in the Millennial Age, there is going to be a lot more demand for the living to do proxy work for the dead. We will have more than 12 Billion people to do the work for, with only the barest fraction done beforehand. The time to get started on this, even if we can only manage a tiny percentage, is now. They need us, and we, even with our modern sensibilities, blessings, and trials, certainly need them.

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A lesson on caring for single sisters

This past Sunday, in the meeting we have of those ordained as an Elder, we had a special topic and teacher for our lesson. The lesson was on how we can better serve as Home Teachers to the single sisters in our ward, taught by one of these single sisters. Home Teaching is a program where the Elders and High Priests of the ward are put into pairs and assigned to met with each family, in their homes, once a month, to share a spiritual message and to try and help the family wherever we can. Usually, Elders aren’t assigned single sisters (by policy, probably because single sisters are perceived to have more need), but since we have 60 in our ward, we’ve all at least one family that consists of a single sister (sometimes with children), rather than a married couple (also sometimes with children).

Our ward may be a bit high on the number of single sisters, but I don’t think it’s all that high. There was a recent New York Times piece on women in the Church, A Growing Role for Mormon Women, that had an interesting infographic, showing the ratios of single men to women of different age groups in the Church. What particularly surprised me was that, while there were more men than women in the under 30 group, each group older than that has progressively more single women than men. Over 60, the ratio of single men to women is up to five women for every man. Some would say that the ratio of 12 men to 10 women under 30 is an indicator that young women are “leaving in droves” over perceived inequality, and that this ratio will continue. I think with the increased numbers of women serving as missionaries the ration will continue to skew younger, it becoming more noticeable earlier that the women who remain in the Church will outnumber the men, even below 30.

I’m kind of conflicted about the numbers of single women in the Church, especially those I see around me. I know they are strong women, many of whom are dealing with impossible circumstances of trying to raise and provide for a family on their own. They do not technically “need” someone else to share the load, but it certainly would make life easier if that were the case. I do not want to ever infer that these women are less than, incomplete people, or anything of the sort, but I do know that beneath it all there is a vulnerability, a need for the Priesthood power only available to men, that they feel in their homes and lives. I don’t think ordination would solve this (even if it may relieve it for some), but some things can only be helped when you can see yourself moving toward that next step of becoming like our Heavenly Parents, in a committed, equally yoked, sealed marriage.

That brings me back to the lesson. The lesson, as I said, was on how we can better serve the single sisters in our ward and was taught by one of these single sisters. She’d done a great amount of work, polling and talking to the single women in our Ward so she could communicate with us the special needs that were there. She’d asked the sisters what the top needs were for Home Teachers. The answers were not terribly surprising, as they tend to apply to all of the families we teach: 1. Show Up, 2. Make an Appointment, 3. Be Consistent.

There were a few comments from the men on how we were needed, especially to help with what I’d refer to as “moving big stuff” (y’know, manly man work) that I wanted to push back against, but I felt that I both couldn’t and shouldn’t. I was there to learn from someone who is one of the women in this group, not to lessen her time to teach by pushing back on this minor misconception. Thankfully, she put in some points that helped put these ideas down. She has her own home, in which she’s done her own yard work, tiled her own kitchen, done her own upkeep. There were also times when she needed an extra hand, like in removing a stump from her yard. She was glad of her Home Teacher who not only got together the people to get the stump out, but went the extra mile of filling in the hole and getting sod to grass the new bald spot. It wasn’t an absolute need, but she was very, very grateful for this service.

She also talked very passionately about the need of having the Priesthood available in times of need. She talked about how we need to build the relationships with those we are assigned to watch over so we’ll be one of the first people they think of when they need help, whatever that help may be. No one is going to call for help someone they barely see once a quarter, not even when something as seemingly simple as a blessing or just a shoulder is needed. These women keenly feel the lack of Priesthood power in their homes, and yet they are still strong in their faith and in the Church.

Priesthood holders are not here to “rescue” these women. We’re not supposed to be swooping in to make everything better. These women are not helpless children. When I attended Young Women’s camp as a Priesthood holder, it was not to be over anyone, to be the “manly man” to keep everyone safe, or to be the body to move the heavy stuff; it was to be simply available when a Priesthood blessing is needed. Yes, this could have been done by any Priesthood holder in the area, but it was important to have someone from each Ward, someone familiar to those being served.

That’s the key, really – familiarity. Knowing those we intend to serve is the only way we really can serve. Familiarity helps remove the broad misconceptions we may have about any group. I hope I can do a better job of being there for the families of every size and shape around me, especially for those I’ve been assigned.

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