Positivity

I think I am naturally a very positive person. I like to be optimistic and to look on the bright side of things. I like to smile and enjoy positive interactions with people. I’m friendly and easygoing, and I try to quickly forgive people that offend me and move on. If there is someone that seems antagonistic or otherwise unfriendly toward me, I will generally smile and get out of their way quickly. I don’t deal well at all with confrontation and avoid it the best I can. Perhaps I’ll try and send an email later to try and smooth things over, especially if this is with a person that I will need to interact with regularly like a boss, coworker, roommate, or family member.

But what can a person like me do when the abuse feels constant? When the unfriendly attitudes seem never ending? I tried to express my feelings in private emails. I tried posting to my blog, hinting publicly about some of the interpersonal issues that I’m experiencing. The result was that many people stopped reading my blog. Other people told me to stop complaining and feeling sorry for myself. Now, people think that this is who I am.

It kills me that many people now think of me as a complainer, a whiner, a negative person. I want to write positive blog posts again. I want to move on. I don’t want to write about the negative, but I feel trapped. The negative has become an ever intrusive part of my daily existence. It feels like poison in my heart, eating away at me every day. 

So what do I do now? There are some people that you just can’t cut out of your life or even avoid. I’ve tried everything I can think of to restore peace, but minds are made up, and I see no way to restore positivity to the relationships. Is it time to give up? What would giving up even mean if we still have to interact?

I want to be myself again. I want to see light and goodness in every person that I meet. I want to breathe fresh air outside and fall in love with the trees, the earth, and everything. I want to marvel at the beauty that surrounds me every day. I want to hum and whistle and sing with nature.

I put up walls to protect myself from the abuses of others, but those walls prevent me from really living any kind of life. How can I come outside those defensive barriers without being destroyed in the process? I am weak. I am sensitive. Living within my protective walls, I have become afraid and lonely. I don’t want my life to be this way, but where do I go from here?

I know that there is still a lot of good in the world and in my life. I’m trying to shift my attention away from the negative and toward the positive. Perhaps I can’t fix the negative; there’s nothing I can do at this point, but at least my conscience is still clear. I have been completely honest in all of my interactions and have consistently striven to maintain the moral high ground at every juncture. I can be falsely accused and judged, and even persecuted, but at least I’m still me inside. And inside? I’m a positive person. I’m friendly and optimistic. I’m open and honest and never judgmental. I’m definitely also soft and sensitive which makes it difficult to live in this world sometimes, but maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Is it safe to come out yet? I want to live!

I Know … I’m Sorry

The other day, a relative posted their testimony of the LDS gospel to social media, and they used the words, “I know.” I got a bit triggered by this statement because in recent years, those words have come to mean an expression of extreme arrogance. What sounds good and beautiful to the speaker sounds like, “I know I’m right, and you’re wrong,” to me. It sounds like, “no matter what you think you’ve learned, experienced, or discovered in your life, you’re on the wrong path because I know the truth.” It sounds like an impenetrable wall being built up. It sounds like the worst kind of arrogance.

At the same time, I’m going through some difficult times with my wife and our divorce proceedings. I’ve been reading some of the emails we exchanged in the early days of our marriage. In one of the first, I bear my testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wrote, 

“I have a strong testimony of the church and of my savior Jesus Christ. I know the church is true. … I am determined to [stay on] the path that leads to my Heavenly Father. I have felt His love strongly in my life and I know that … His love is unconditional … . I have faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that He suffered and died so that I can repent and find happiness … .”

I used the same absolute terms as my dear relative. Was I being arrogant? If not, then what is the difference? Why does one feel like arrogance and the other not? I thought about this for a while, and decided to go back to my journals to find more instances of the same. I found the first evidence that I believed the LDS gospel in 1990. As a 12 year old, I wrote, “[The bishop] asked if I believed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I happily responded, ‘I do.’ The best thing about that is, I could honestly say it.”

In the following years, those instances of private testimony multiply greatly. By the time I turned 16, I was absolutely certain that the church was true. Every other page of journal writing talks about spiritual experiences, reading the scriptures, and prayer. I wanted nothing more than to please my Heavenly Father and to return to Him one day. At the age of 17, I wrote the following:

“I went out in the rain and sang into the darkness. I feel the Spirit most readily through music, so often I’ll sing my prayers if I feel no one is within listening distance. This night, I stopped singing, being overcome with the Spirit. I felt His presence so strongly around me like a warm embrace. I made a promise at that time to my Heavenly Father that no matter how difficult things got, I would return to him in the Celestial Kingdom. I promised never to give up. If I fell, I would get up again.”

That promise defined me for the next two decades and is still with me in my thought processes, and my journals attest to that fact. At the same time though, my depression never let up. As a missionary in Hungary, I wrote, 

“I was feeling so depressed.  Sitting on my bed, close to tears, I cried out in my heart, ‘Father, hold me.’ The Spirit was instantly all around me as though he were giving me a hug, and I believe, in a way, that’s what it was.  I know He loves me in spite of me. The tears are still flowing though. Despite my prayers, I’m still me. I’m wishing right now that I had never been. I wish I could just cease to exist, both body and spirit.  God Help me!”

Several months later, I also write,

“Help!!! Sinking, ever sinking, the lights are growing dim.  I almost welcome the enclosing darkness, being nearly smothered in a familiar blanket of depression.  As I’m about to be swallowed up, voices call out and give me further desire to struggle and not surrender to the powers of hell.  O great, merciful God! Hear my voice from the great abyss!”

I have no written record of it, but I remember a particularly bad depression when I was 15 years old. I was seriously contemplating suicide and went to my Heavenly Father in prayer. I believed the church and gospel were true, but I was still not absolutely certain, and I needed an answer. If the church was true, I would keep on living because suicide wouldn’t free me from anything. If the church wasn’t true, then I … I don’t know what I would have done. I remember I didn’t want to think about it. I wish I had written more about this time of my life.

One week before my 16th birthday, I made a list of goals to accomplish. Among them is to “Find out for myself whether or not the church is true.” In one week, I finished reading the latter half of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon to its conclusion. Each day of that week I recorded my progress through these books. 

On my actual birthday, there was a situation with my dad where my birthday gifts were somehow locked in the trunk of the car, and he couldn’t get them out. He wanted me to help him figure out how to open the trunk. I had no clue, and I didn’t really care either. I had other things on my mind. I overheard someone asking my Dad why I seemed unhappy, and my Dad told them that I was disappointed that I might not get my birthday gifts. “If only my problems were that simple,” I wrote. I didn’t care at all for presents. I had more important matters on my mind… Like, would God answer my prayer about the church? I felt that if I could just finish the Book of Mormon that day, there might be some chance to turn my life around. All I actually write though is, “I read in the Book of Mormon until I finished it for the first time in my life.  And minutes after I finished came the call for supper. We had hot dogs.”

Despite not writing it, I remember feeling good about my accomplishment, and I took that good feeling to mean that the book was true. From there on, there was no looking back. I would accept that the church was true, and I would live on. Even though I often felt depressed, I put suicide out of my mind. It wasn’t a viable option anymore. I would just have to endure the pain and live on, though I often cried out to God to please just end my existence altogether.

I wasn’t happy, but I knew the church was true. It had to be. The alternatives just seemed too terrible to imagine. Although part of me wanted to die, another part of me was deeply afraid. I needed the church to be true, and I could not afford to doubt. For the next 20 years, I continued to pray regularly. I had countless spiritual experiences that confirmed my knowledge that the church was true. I was incapable of doubt. … 

And when I said, “I know the church is true,” it wasn’t arrogance; it was survival. 

And so, when I thought again about my relative’s declaration of sure knowledge, I decided that there may be other reasons besides sheer arrogance. I still don’t like certainty of any sort, and especially in religion, but I can see how it may feel necessary at a personal level. And though a person may believe that they are being open-minded, I think there are layers of consciousness or subconsciousness that may disallow doubt in order to preserve well-being. 

I guess I should get to the point now or risk rambling on and on without end. I forgive my family and friends for their certainty. I forgive them for seeming arrogant and closed-minded. I’m sorry for being arrogant myself when I’ve looked down on those expressing certainty in their positions. I’m sorry for thinking I was right and they were wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about right and wrong. These things can go deeper.

“I have a testimony that will never be shaken. I know who I follow. I know my master. As I try and live the way He would want me to, I come to know Him. God isn’t some distant force in the universe somewhere, but He’s my Father, my Heavenly Father, who stands here beside me, teaching me and leading me, holding my hand and He is showing me the way. I love Him.” – November 11, 1997

Vile Spirits

A number of years ago, I decided to try alcohol for the first time. Out of curiosity and a belief that a small amount wouldn’t cause any lasting harm, I bought a small fruit-flavored beer. The alcohol content was actually quite low, but as it was my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My first impression of the beer was that someone had poured paint thinner or other toxic chemical into some fruit juice. I had difficulty swallowing as I am, I think understandably, quite averse to ingesting poison. After finishing the small drink, I rinsed the vile taste out of my mouth with water and felt none of the purported positive effects of drinking alcohol.

Still, despite that first experience, my curiosity was not sated. Maybe I just needed to try greater amounts or drinks with a higher concentration of alcohol. Over the next few months and on a weekly basis, I tried varying amounts of other types of beer, wine, champagne, vodka, and whiskey. As I tried more, I was able to experience some of the other effects that I’d heard about. I never felt like I lost any clarity of thought, but I did lose some motor control, vomit, and get a terrible headache. I really felt like I was just killing myself with poison. In the end, I decided that if I was going to experiment again, it would have to be small amounts and only socially. I get absolutely nothing good out of drinking on my own.

This experience really made me wonder about all the alcoholics out there and others that actually enjoy the taste of wine or champagne with a meal. I just don’t get it. To me, the taste of alcohol is absolutely vile without a single redeeming feature. However, it is clear to me that not everyone has the same experience. Some drink and enjoy the experience. Some get hooked. And some, like me, don’t. [The rest of this post is published on the M.O.R.E site.]

At the Red Light

One of my more vivid middle school memories never actually happened. You see, I had this habit of imagining conversations and scenarios with the people I knew or saw around me. The beginning of the story is true enough though. I was walking to school one early morning and approached an intersection.  A long line of cars, occupied mostly by parents and their kids, were stopped at the red light. Of the people I could see, nobody looked particularly happy. Tired faces looked blankly ahead. I certainly wasn’t the only one that would have preferred to sleep in that morning.

My mind wandered, and I began to imagine the conversation I might have with a boy in my grade, a boy with a reputation, at least in my mind, of being somewhat of a bully. Even in my imagination though, the boy didn’t want to talk with me. I was frustrated that he was being so stubborn. If only we could understand each other, we could be friends, I thought.

Whatever… I hate that word. Whatever. Closing the door. Conversation over. Talk to the hand. 

I got angry with him. I totally lost it. With a thought and a hand gesture, palm faced forward, I lifted the kid off the ground and suspended him high in the air. I don’t remember the particulars of the conversation, but I remember that the attempt to communicate ended in failure. I wanted to shake him, to make him listen to reason, and to make him stop his bullying behavior. We could be friends.

Ha!

Perhaps my imaginary scenario could have been successful if I weren’t playing both sides. I wanted to imagine him agreeing to give up his bullying ways and then enthusiastically asking to be my friend. Instead, I imagined myself as the poor kid being suspended in the air by some mysterious power. I freaked out. Friends? What? As if that could be possible! Maybe I’d say the words this monster wanted me to say, just to get away, but that would be the end of it. I’d be out of there as fast as I could.

Disappointed, I ended the scenario in my mind. Force doesn’t work. No matter what a person would say or agree to do in that situation, it would be false. It wasn’t what I wanted. 

I had other conversations with other kids where I tried logic instead of force, and these were similarly ineffective. As humans, we’re emotional beings. Logic can feel too much like manipulation. It can feel cold and calculated. Some behavior or action may make logical sense, but who are you to tell me what to do or how to act?

I realize that as I’m sharing this experience, I’m slipping back and forth between different points of view, but that was the nature of the experience. I played every role and tried to get in everyone’s head. I was every person simultaneously, and I did and said what I thought they would have done or said in that situation. 

In recent days, I’ve experienced some real-life closed doors and minds. It can be so frustrating, especially since I know exactly what it feels like to be the one with the closed mind. Words mean nothing. Logic is irrelevant. Just go away already! I can’t do this. It’s too hard. You are that way. I am this way.

I know the feeling, and I can feel it again if I try. But I prefer to just let it go. Optimism is better than pessimism. Hope preferable to despair. Maybe I can do it. Open the door. Just a crack. Some thoughts are more helpful than others. Let them in.

In my mind, I lower the poor frightened kid back onto the ground, and he takes off running. I’m sorry, I say silently. He’s long gone already. I wanted to be friends, but that’s not going to happen. That’s okay. I’ve let it go. I hope someone else can reach his heart though. Both being the bully and being bullied are terrible experiences that no kid should have to go through.

Force doesn’t work to change people. Not really. I gave up trying a very long time ago. Logic can work with some people sometimes, but not particularly well. I wish it worked better because some ideas make a lot of sense, and the world would be a better place. Respect for people often works. If I respect somebody and they say I should change in some way, I’ll think about it. Emotions though… feelings and emotions rule the heart and our paths through life. 

 

Back to Church

As part of my job, I get the opportunity to interact with a lot of young people. I love the kids and my time with them, and they seem to like me in return. I try and be friendly most of the time, and I smile a lot. I’ve written blog posts about smiling before and how it’s an important part of my life and who I am. I smile at all the students, my fellow tutors, my supervisors, the parents, and whoever happens to be walking by. That’s just the way I am.

A month or so ago, one of my students noticed me smiling and being friendly toward one of my female coworkers. His face started to glow, and he had the biggest smile on his face. “What’s up?” I asked.

“You’re blushing!” he exclaimed. “You like her!”

I can’t remember what happened next on that occasion. I only know I tried to convince him that we were friends but nothing more. I remember how certain he was that he was right. I really just wanted to explain that I was gay and not really looking at her that way, but I didn’t. I’m still uncertain about how people will react to that knowledge. I wouldn’t be the only “out” individual at my workplace, but I’d be the only one working with young children, not that that should matter.

A few days ago, I had a repeat experience with the same child and a new female tutor that I was helping to train. Of course I was smiling and being friendly. “You like her!”

“I just met her,” I explained. 

“I’m old enough to be her dad,” I added when the kid insisted. “I have a wife.”

“Swear to God you don’t like her,” he said. 

“Umm…”

Anyway, I realized that this kid was probably at the age when he’s starting to notice and really be attracted to girls for the first time. Although I was equally friendly to everyone there, he only noticed those times when I was smiling at or being friendly to an attractive young female adult. My guess is that he was projecting his own feelings onto me. I didn’t call him out on it though. 

Later that same day, I was helping a child find their tutor, someone they’d never met before. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “They’re nice.” I made the comment privately to the new tutor I was helping that I thought all the tutors were pretty nice. “Not everyone,” she said. She said it kind of quietly, almost under her breath, and I wondered what experience she might have had in just the short time that she’d been there to make her think that there were unfriendly tutors.

When I started this job, almost a year ago now, I remember there were some tutors that would never make eye contact with me. In fact, there still are a couple like that. I see them making eye contact and smiling when they’re with their students, but they don’t interact much with people they haven’t met in a formal setting. That’s okay, I guess. I try not to take it personally. I wouldn’t call them unfriendly though, but maybe that’s not what my fellow tutor meant when she said, “not everyone.” Not being unfriendly doesn’t necessarily imply being friendly. I guess when I said everyone is friendly, what I meant was that nobody seemed particularly unfriendly.

Anyway, today being Sunday, I had nothing to do. I was in the mood to meet people and to be part of a community. I don’t know anyone at my apartment complex besides my neighbor, who I only seem to see about once every three or four months. So, for the purpose of feeling connected to a community, I found where the local Mormon congregation meets, and I attended church for the first time in nearly a year.

I don’t own a suit or white shirt, so no matter what I wear, I stand out from everyone at the Mormon church. I tried to be friendly and to look nonthreatening though. I sat in the back where there were still seats available. I had a direct line of sight to the front where the leadership sat. I could see them looking in my direction from time to time during the service. I expected someone would at least come and say hello at the end, but no one did. I tried to smile and make eye contact with people, but nobody went out of there way to greet me or to find out who I was. I wondered what I was doing there.

After the first combined meeting, everybody separated into other rooms for one more hour of meetings. I decided to give church one more hour as I had nothing else to do anyway. I thought that if I went early, I would give people more time to at least say hello. In the Sunday School room, I sat at the end of a row so that there would be plenty of room to sit near me if anyone so chose. Instead, the room filled up to near capacity with only the whole row of seats near me left available. Nobody sat near me. Nobody said hello.

I did listen to the speakers, and to the teacher in the second hour, and I sang all the songs with the congregation. I didn’t feel anything though. The speakers seemed almost desperate to prove their points that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true. Had it always been like this? Nobody seemed particularly happy either. It felt as if people were just going through the motions out of habit. They were only there because they felt they were supposed to be there. Was it just this congregation, or was this something more widespread.

At the end of the meeting, a few people did make eye contact and looked as if they might say hello, but instead turned aside to greet or otherwise mingle with people that they already knew. I made my way slowly out of the room, walked two laps around the building, and left the church. I gave them every opportunity, but I guess they had other things on their minds. 

As I left church today, I had two thoughts on my mind. First, I wondered if I weren’t just like my young student that thought I was in love with every attractive female I happened to smile at. Like him, maybe I was projecting my own thoughts and feelings onto others. I thought the members of this congregation seemed unhappy and all their talk about the Holy Ghost seemed to lack spirit of any sort. I felt like they were saying the words and playing a role, but none of it was real. Was it really them though, or did those feelings I had reflect something going on inside of me instead? I guess that’s still something I need to think about.

My other thought was about the young tutor that didn’t think everybody was friendly. At work, I usually go out of my way to say hello when I see a new face. I try and help the newcomers as much as I can. I’m a different person at work than I am at church. I’m a person that I like. I find everybody to be friendly because I bring that with me. I expect friendliness to be returned, and it almost always is. 

At church today, I wasn’t as proactive as I am at work. Yes, I tried to smile and make eye contact. I tried to make it easy for others, but I didn’t actually say hello to anyone or attempt to start any conversations either. If I had, I imagine people would have been friendly, and I could have had a different experience. Today, I could say that nobody was friendly. Maybe next time though, if there is a next time, I’ll be able to say that everybody was friendly.

Until then, I might just head out to Walmart. Last time I went shopping, I smiled and made eye contact with many people as I went up and down the aisles. And honestly, I got better returns from strangers at Walmart than I did from church today.

Who I Am and What’s Been Going On

This might end up being pretty long. I’m in the mood to write… And I’m not in the mood to care too much about organization, flow, coherence, grammar, or whatever else I might usually care about. I just want to write about who I am and what’s been going on in my life lately. I used to be a regular journal writer. I’m not anymore. These past few years have just gone by so quickly without much record of anything really happening.

A few days ago, I started a blog post by saying that I don’t feel much like writing anymore. I suppose that’s kind of true, but also not true. I’ve always had a desire to connect with people… and I’ve always felt like I’ve failed pretty miserably on that account. Instead of connecting with people, the things I write seem to push people away. Instead of increasing understanding, my writing seems to breed misunderstanding. The only comments I ever get seem to be the result of people jumping to conclusions. 

Family members especially have disappointed me. I don’t blame them though. They’re just unable to see from my perspective. I’m in a new space. I’ve moved on and left them behind, and I lack the ability to share how I think and feel without making them feel like I’m attacking them personally. It has never been my intention to hurt others, but I still have that deep seated need to form connections with others. So… I want to write, but I don’t want to at the same time. 

I hope that at least makes sense. No one ever says anything, but I can’t be the only one. Surely others have been in the situation where they’ve wanted to express their true feelings and thoughts, but also not wanted to for fear of hurting or offending the ones they care about. This is my life now, where a great majority of what I think and feel has become a point of conflict instead of a means to connect with those I care about.

So when did this great disconnect start? Maybe when I came out as gay? I can’t even remember when it was now. I put it in an email to the family, or a blog post, or something of the like. Maybe around 2011? Anyway, most of you know, but for those that don’t, my family is really big. I have 8 sisters and 2 brothers. When I came out to them, and everybody else, I believe only two, or maybe three, of my siblings made any kind of response. I don’t think my parents said anything at all. The word ‘gay’ was never uttered. I remember the siblings that did comment were positive, saying that they weren’t surprised or that now they finally understood why I never seemed interested in dating.

Nobody said anything negative to me. Why should they have? I was already married to a woman and had had a child with her. I was doing everything they thought I was supposed to be doing. What did it matter if I “used to” struggle with same-sex attraction? It was so easy to just ignore or pretend I’d said nothing. I guess it was my fault that things went that way too. I tried to pass it off as something in the past. I was gay but living a straight lifestyle now. People respected me for doing the “right” thing under difficult circumstances. Eventually, in the next life perhaps, God would take away my same gender attraction.

I wish I could have had someone to really talk to though, about everything I had been going through. I had nobody. I was so alone, and none of my family members were there for me. And although my wife had known I was gay from before our marriage, not even she really accepted it. Just pretend we’re a normal couple. That’s what we did for over a decade. She said she was okay with it when I came out to others eventually, but it did cause tension in actuality. It was difficult for her to deal with when others found out, and she couldn’t just pretend we were normal anymore. Still, I was able to connect with her better than I could with my parents or siblings.

The thing is, being gay isn’t just about who you want to be intimate with. It affects so much more than that. I used to pray for God to take away my gayness, but I think I never really wanted that prayer answered. If I weren’t gay, I really wouldn’t be me anymore. It’s more a part of me than how I look on the outside – like hair, eye, or skin color. Physical appearance can change, but I’m still me on the inside, and being gay is part of that, and is a part that I wouldn’t honestly want to change.

A couple years after coming out as gay, I felt compelled to come out in a different way, in a way that would drive the wedge deeper. Despite a deep trust and faith in the religion of my family for most of my life, I was unable to hold onto it. That was six years ago now, in 2013. The thing is, religion is a defining characteristic for most of my siblings and certainly for my parents. Most of them are so deeply religious that I think they’d even be willing to die for their religion. I know I would have been willing, right up to the moment I let go.

And so there I was, back in 2013, knowing in my heart that I was now fundamentally different from my family members and most of my friends. I could have pretended that things hadn’t changed, and I seriously considered it. But that’s not me. If anything, I’m true to my ideals. I prefer to live authentically, even if that means losing connections with those I had previously been close to. For those of you who are familiar with MBTI personality types, I’m an INFP. I think that’s probably pretty obvious to anyone that has read many of my blog posts.

So, I decided I had to tell everyone the truth. In the same way as I shared my homosexuality, I came out to everyone as a nonbeliever. This revelation got a bigger reaction, though still quite a bit less than what it might have been in any other similarly religious family. If anything, my siblings hate confrontation of any sort. They tend to be very agreeable and inoffensive.  I suppose these are good characteristics for the most part, but often I’ve wished that they’d just come out and say what they really think and what they really feel. That would be so much better than the overwhelming silence I’ve had to face these past several years.

Lonely, and craving human connection, I blogged quite a bit between 2013 and 2015. I asked my family members not to read my posts because I recognized that rather than bringing us together, my writing was pushing us further apart. I did want to connect with people with regards to what was going on in my life back then, but I didn’t want to completely alienate my family. I don’t think I really needed to ask that of them though. Those that would read, would. Those that wouldn’t, wouldn’t. I don’t think anything I said ever made a difference.

Of those that did choose to read, the one that was hardest to deal with was my mom. The problem was that she never seemed to read in order to understand me or how I felt. Instead, it seemed that she just wanted to figure out where I’d gone wrong so that she could fix it. She had all the wisdom and I was some poor lost sheep that needed help. At least that’s how she made me feel. 

Years have gone by and not much has changed. My “wiser” loving mother, along with a couple of siblings, will occasionally comment on one of my more controversial blog posts or send a more private email regarding something I’ve written. You’d think I’d want that. I’m always asking for comments or more interaction from my readers, but what I get from family usually disappoints. They don’t understand what I write. They can’t understand even when they try. I write as clearly as I can. I say things in direct fashion, and still they misinterpret and take things the wrong way. They quote scriptures at me and the words of church leaders that speak to other issues than the ones I’ve written about. And yet, I’m not sure if I prefer the silence of my other siblings or not. One sibling, out of 10, has seemed to make more genuine efforts to connect.

The point? I still want to be understood. I still want to connect. I’m tired of all the shallow conversations I have with people in my day to day life. Hi. How are you? I talk about traffic and the weather all day, wishing I could talk about philosophy, religion, and the purpose of life instead. As an academic tutor, I talk on a variety of topics with my students, but not one of them, or my fellow tutors, knows that I’m gay. Not one has an inkling of what sort of things I like to think about. Nobody knows me, and that hurts. I write to connect and to be understood, but I’m not making those connections and I’m not understood.

So should I still write?

Sometimes, my son talks about how he would really like a friend – a best friend. That was always my dream as well when I was young. I don’t think that dream has changed. My two closest friends when I was young have never talked to me about anything deep or real. I still long for the day when I can make that kind of connection with even just one person in my life. I shouldn’t say that I’m completely without that in my life, but what I have is simply not enough. Who can I talk to about being and growing up gay in an extremely religious family? Who would understand what that is like? I know there are people out there, but nobody that I’ve met or talked to. Who knows what it’s like to feel a great rift between themselves and all those they’ve ever loved or cared for? Who knows what it’s like to believe in a religion so deeply that you could give your life for it, and then have that taken away from you? Who knows what it’s like to be so completely misunderstood by what feels like everyone? I know there are many of you out there. Why do I have to feel so alone?

Oh, and then there’s depression and all that comes with that. I think I’d be depressed by my life even if I didn’t have some other brain related reason for it. I wonder if anyone else in my family goes through the same thing. I don’t think they’d admit it though. Maybe they would, but there’s such a stigma placed upon unhappiness in the church, it would be difficult to admit it. If they’re living the way they’re supposed to, according to their religion, they should be happy. So what if they’re not? I hope they know they can talk to me, that I’d understand.

For two years now, I’ve lived separate from my wife and daughter, and one year separate from my son. I miss them. I love my kids so much. Originally, my wife had suggested that I take both kids with me to America. I was only able to take my son because my daughter is adopted and required more paperwork to prove she’s our legal daughter. I kept my son with me for a year, and then a year ago, my wife came and took our son back with her. Now, two years since I left Taiwan, the initial paperwork has finally been approved. The wait isn’t over though because there is still more that needs to be done. It will probably just be months though instead of years.

I’m not sure how to feel about the progress that’s been made. On the one hand, I’m excited about the prospect of being with my kids again. One of my greatest desires in life was and always has been to be a father. On the other hand, I’m not sure the issues that made my wife feel like the kids and I needed to leave have really been resolved. The truth is, my wife and I never should have gotten married in the first place. I don’t want to say it was a mistake because a child came into the world as a result, and he is very loved by both of us, but as I am now, I wouldn’t have married her, or any woman. We got married as the result of family and religious pressure. I used to feel guilty for subjecting my wife to a life with me when I couldn’t love her the way she needed, but now I blame the religious culture that brought me up. I don’t think I really had a choice. Religion has hurt us both. Now though, without those pressures, I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

What else is there to say? I did warn that I had a lot to write today. I have to say I’m actually pretty happy with my life at the moment. I have a job that I love, even if it doesn’t pay very well. I get to interact with kids of all ages and with other great people. We can’t connect on any deep level, but even that surface level is enjoyed. I have a brother that lives nearby that will occasionally be in the mood for the kind of conversation I enjoy, together with his wife, and I’m often able to feel a connection with them. Even when they’re not in the mood for that type of conversation, I enjoy the experience of having family nearby. It helps to lessen the general loneliness that is my life.

I think I will continue to blog from time to time. Maybe this kind of writing doesn’t ultimately allow me to connect with people the way I’d like, but it does feel good to put thoughts into words. I just need to learn not to care too much about what others think about it. Any of my family members who are going to be offended by my writing probably already have been and have likely stopped reading these posts at this point. It’s sad, but that’s just how it is.

One more thought that’s on my mind before I finish today – since I’m just rambling anyway and don’t really have a topic – is how I feel that despite all the changes that have occurred in my life, I don’t really feel any different than I did as a young teenager. This may seem random, but it’s how I feel about who I am. I’m still a kid inside – the same kid I always have been. I’ve learned a few things over the years, but I’m fundamentally the same. Perhaps my expectations are somewhat more realistic, but maybe not. I wonder sometimes, when I look at older people, if they see themselves the way I see myself – as a kid in an adult body. I have to act grown up from time to time, but it really is just an act. I hate seeing mirrors and being forced to acknowledge that my face is looking older. 

I feel like my mind is stuck in my teen years. I often wish I could go back and really live them. Not relive them because I don’t feel like I ever really did. I wish I could have attended school without religious beliefs. Would I have figured out that I was gay earlier? I wish I could have pursued a youthful crush. Would I have gotten my heart broken? I would still like to have tried. I wish I could have lived life in a more carefree manner… but then I guess it wouldn’t be me anymore in that case. Still, it would have been so much easier to connect with others if it hadn’t been for religion. I remember feeling that connection with the world for the first time back in 2013. It was such a great feeling. I wish I could have felt that earlier in life.

1994 Tayson
Me – 25 years ago, and how I still see myself

 

These days, I love the world. I love people. I believe most people are good. Even when people do bad things, they’re usually just doing what seems right to them based on their circumstances. The world isn’t the evil place it seemed when I was young. I was taught that the world was full of wickedness, ripe for the Second Coming of Jesus. The Millennium would be here in our lifetimes. The truth though is that the world is better than it’s ever been. People are kinder and more tolerant of other backgrounds and perspectives than ever before. There is real hope for eventual sustained world peace. We may not be there yet, but there is hope. 

Okay.. I guess that’s enough for now. This is who I am. This is what’s been on my mind recently. I’m happy today. I still don’t have that best friend both my son and I crave, but I at least like myself at the moment, and that’s enough for now.

Keeping the High

Earlier today, I began to watch the second season of a TV series I’d started watching a year ago. The show is a little violent and not really the uplifting sort at all, but some of the concepts were interesting, so I thought I’d continue to watch more episodes later. At the thought though, my eyes started to water, and I began to wonder if the high I’ve been on for the past few days was ending already. It’s too fast, I thought. And besides, my lows don’t usually start with random tears. Maybe there’s another reason I would feel sad.

I opened myself up to Durand to see if I could find some answers, and I felt disappointment from him. When I spend my time watching shows like the kind I’d watched this morning, I close myself off to the sort of experiences I’d been hoping to have with Durand. I had been looking forward to strengthening our connection, and I think, though the idea still seems strange to me, so had Durand. He represents the part of me that wants to move forward and learn and grow. Of course he’d be saddened by the thought of me throwing hours of my life away on another meaningless TV series.

When I’m feeling depressed, I tend to spend more of my time watching long TV series and playing mindless games. I’m not feeling depressed at the moment, but I’ve developed some unfortunate habits. I’m glad Durand was able to get my attention before I made a mistake. Instead of spending my day on time-wasters, I committed myself to staying productive. I had great experiences with my students, and the day has been pretty good overall. This high will hopefully last for a good long while yet.

Trying to Add Clarity

My last post was all over the place and very poorly written. I’m not sure this will be much better (It’s after 2 AM already!), so I apologize in advance. Sorry. Anyway, I did not mean to complain or make anyone feel sorry for me in my last post. I was not in a good place the other day, and some of that personal angst came out in my writing. I’d like to try again…  As a result of my religious upbringing, I often feel hesitant to admit that I’m sometimes unhappy with life and my life’s circumstances. I believe that this hesitation is one of the many negative effects of my former religion.

In my youth, because of stories I heard in church, I came to have some really terrible beliefs that I was only able to abandon much later in life. Since I was once burdened with those beliefs though, I know that others must believe similar things. Some of these beliefs include things like happiness only comes from righteous living (as defined by the church), and that unhappiness comes from disobedience or doing things that don’t please God. I believed that suffering had a good purpose in bringing people who had strayed back to God or in furthering some plan of God’s, meaning that most suffering in the world was good and came from God.

Because of these beliefs, I, and I’m sure many others, become reluctant to admit when life just sucks. People that need help don’t get it. Many people suffer in silence that shouldn’t have to. This is a wrong that I would like to see righted. Unhappiness can be the result of poor choices, but just as often, it has nothing to do with our choices at all. In my case, though many of my life’s disappointments are my own fault, I believe most are not. Things just are as they are. Life just sucks sometimes, and that’s okay.

When bad things happen to me, I sometimes feel the need to share or reach out to those that I believe care about me for help or comfort. Too often though, I’ve harbored these negative feelings deep inside and said nothing. I believe this experience is common to many of us. Victims are victimized further or made to feel like they will be, and I believe religion (or at least ones like the one I was raised in) is often a primary cause of this.

This post is already longer than I intended it to be. To get to the point – every life sucks sometimes, and that’s just the way life is. Nobody should ever feel glad at the suffering of others, and people should feel free to talk to loved ones about their struggles without the fear of being judged. There, I’ve said it, and hopefully more clearly this time.

Joy Born of Suffering

I’ve never been diagnosed for depression. I just know that it had been a rather regular part of my life until several years ago. I had suicidal thoughts throughout my teen years, but I never acted on them. I was too afraid that suicide wouldn’t actually end anything. I might just have to go through some kind of purgatory or go to the spirit prison of Mormonism. During the darkest times of my life, I just pled with God to just end my existence entirely. I didn’t want to experience any kind of afterlife.

But these times were transitory. A week or two or even a month of depression was followed by a season of relative cheerfulness. I wouldn’t say I was ecstatic or anything, but in comparison to the depression, I felt really good for days or weeks at a time. And then I’d crash again.

Nobody seemed to ever notice when I was feeling down though. If anybody asked how I was doing, I always said I was fine. I smiled at everyone no matter how bad I felt inside. If I couldn’t keep up the act, I’d isolate myself as much as possible. Back in junior high school, I faked sickness once or twice a week during the lows. I don’t know how my parents could let me get away with that, but I’m glad they did.

As I got older, I learned other strategies to combat or at least hide the depression from others. I slept long hours, disappeared out of the house on long walks by myself, and tried to push through to better days. I used to think the depression was caused by my own mistakes or “sinful” nature. Sometimes, I think I tried to invent reasons to explain my unhappiness. My church taught that happiness came from doing the “right” things, so if I was unhappy, I must have been doing “wrong” things.

Only as an adult did I finally realize that brain chemistry could also be a contributing factor, and a major one. The realization that my depression wasn’t always the result of doing wrong actions was more helpful than anything I’d learned before. Learning that diet, exercise, and the company of certain individuals could shorten the duration of my dark days and weeks was life changing. I wish I could have known that when I was younger. I wish I hadn’t felt it necessary to blame myself for my unhappiness.

And then, back in 2013, I lost my faith in my religion. And I broke. My ups and downs ended. I stopped feeling depressed, and I wrote blogs about feeling better than ever. But that wasn’t completely true. I stopped feeling depressed, but I stopped experiencing those times of happiness as well. I stopped feeling anything at all. I remember thinking that I could handle anything then. The world could end. I could lose my family and friends. I could become homeless. I thought I had grown in some way and was capable of any trial. But I was wrong.

I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that there was a problem. I remember feeling uneasy in 2015, like my life was just wrong somehow. With my wife and kids, I tried to start over somewhere else. I made drastic changes in my life.. But that feeling of something being off wouldn’t go away. I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t figure it out. I remember acting out, trying to feel something, but failing.

In 2017, my wife suggested I go back to America. I know that, like me, my wife had no idea what was wrong with me. She was slipping into her own depression, and just being around me made it worse. I said things to try and explain what I was going through, but as I didn’t really understand it myself, anything I said could only be partly true. When she mentioned leaving though, I felt resistant, but then as I thought about it more, I thought this could be the shake up that I needed.

I returned to the United States with my son in the summer of 2017. I lived with my parents, found a part-time job in the area, and tried to live my life. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Through talking with others though, especially a number of siblings, I realized that something really traumatic had happened to me. Losing my faith and religion was a bigger blow to my emotional well-being than I’d realized. I’d completely shut down that part of me that feels and became numb. Things started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

In the spring of 2018, my wife came to visit me and our son. The visit was nice, but when she left, she took our son with her. Earlier in the year, my parents had left on a mission abroad, and so, with the departure of my son, I was left virtually alone. Being alone though gave me options that I hadn’t had before.

I decided to take a trip to California with the thought in my mind that I might stay. I chose Fresno as the biggest city with jobs that was still affordable. I stayed in a stranger’s home and walked around the local neighborhoods, trying to get a feel for the area. Could this place become my home? On my drive there, I’d felt optimistic. When I saw some of the local trees and plant life, I felt nostalgic. I told myself that I was home, and I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.

During those first few days, I searched for jobs, considered various housing options, and contemplated life.

And then.. In the wake of the hope and optimism I’d felt came all the darkness I’d been numb to for the past 5 years.

I escaped out to my car so that the owner of the house wouldn’t hear the sobs I could no longer hold back. I drove around the city and tried to find a private place to just let it all out. I couldn’t find any good place though. Gradually, I got myself under control and returned to the house. For the next few days, I closed myself in my room and played computer games. I tried to shut out the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm me.

No.. not Fresno, I decided. Nothing wrong with Fresno, but I was finally feeling depressed, and I wanted to enjoy it. I would go back to my parents’ home and curl up in a dark corner by myself. Jobs and responsibilities could wait. I wasn’t going to think about any of that now.

On the 12 hour drive back to Utah, I was a mess. My feelings were all over the place, and I had no control over them at all. I raged and screamed, bawled and whimpered. Through the salt flats, I surpassed 100 miles per hour. I watched the oncoming traffic and considered how easy it would be to end it all. Easy? Yes. Something I could do? No. There were other lives in those cars, and no matter how much I wanted to be done with my life, I couldn’t risk someone else’s.

And then I thought about my kids. They’d be okay without me. But I believed they’d be sad. I didn’t want them to be sad. I didn’t want them to misunderstand. I loved them. Would they think I didn’t love them if I decided my personal pain was just too much? And so I decided to keep on living. I didn’t have a fear of an afterlife anymore to hold me back, but I had people that I loved and that loved me. That would be enough for the time being.

Back in Utah, the house was crawling with family members. I can’t remember the occasion now. I know there was a wedding around that time. There was also a funeral not long after. The family also gathered in that house for other reasons as well. All I know is that I had no desire to see or talk to anybody. I couldn’t hide the fact that something was wrong, and I didn’t want to try. Anyway, to make a long story short, the depression passed. The cycle returned with its lows… and highs. In fact, knowing what was coming made that first depression shorter than average.

Coming out of that episode was marvelous. I felt like I could finally breathe again after being nearly smothered to death. Breathing never felt so good. The world got some of its color back. I hadn’t realized how drab all the colors had become. I had some serious issues, and lots of them, but hope and optimism were back too.

My brother and his wife invited me to go to Washington to live with them for a while until I could get on my feet again. In a high moment, I accepted their offer. I went in August, and things were mostly good. The lows come and go as they did before my crisis of faith, and I feel myself again.

Back in December, I moved into my own apartment. I started blogging again in mid-January when I was feeling good. The last week and a half have been particularly bad, and thus, no blog posts. I’m not sure if writing cheers me up or if I write because I’m feeling more cheerful. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, as of an hour or so before starting this blog, I started to get out of my funk and to move around. I cleaned my apartment, studied a textbook I’d borrowed, and thought of goals I’d like to make.

I never want to go back to that numb state I was in before Fresno. Though things were dark for me there, I remember that city with fondness. Through the pain, I can feel joy. It’s okay that I don’t feel happy all the time. Even when I’m feeling depressed, I am glad that I can at least feel something. This is life. And for now at least, things are looking up.

Lonely in Utah

I was feeling a bit lonely and isolated the other day, so I decided to go to church for the first time in many months. The experience wasn’t bad, but it didn’t do much for me either. A few people that already knew me said hello, but not much else. The one person that didn’t really know me singled me out because it was his responsibility to set up appointments to meet with the bishop, and he knew the bishop had wanted to meet with me way back in November. So, I agreed to meet with the bishop in the afternoon.

This was my second meeting with the bishop since moving here to Utah. The first time had been okay, but a tad frustrating. He had wanted to get to know me as a new member in the congregation, but he was too careful. He seemed afraid to say anything that might offend me in any way. He was afraid that I might interpret any or all questions as prying. I tried to be friendly and to smile a lot to ease some of the bishop’s tension, but not much was accomplished that day.

So yesterday was our second meeting in at least nine months. I thought maybe he might have more to say this time or that he might have gathered a little bit more courage, but if anything, this experience seemed even more awkward. He started by just sitting across the table from me with a strange expression on his face. Sad, maybe, mixed with some confusion and uncertainty. Helpless? Hopeless? He seemed tired as well. He told me he didn’t really know what he wanted to say to me. He felt like he and the congregation had let me down.

He was right about my being let down, but I don’t blame him or the congregation. I am disappointed that I can’t find what I’m looking for at church, but nobody is to blame. The bishop commented that maybe he should just leave me alone. He was still afraid that I would be annoyed or offended by any of his attempts to talk with me. I told him that I was glad for our conversation. Even if there’s nothing he can do for me, just having someone to talk to can be therapeutic.

For almost a year, I have been separated from my wife and daughter. More recently, my son also went to stay with my wife in Taiwan, leaving me alone here. I have no friends or family members here that I can really talk to. My job recently ended as well, leaving me without anyone to interact with. I tried to go to church, the only social gathering that I know about in the area, but the experience just made me feel more alone. Anyway, I feel sorry for the bishop. I believe he’s a good guy that honestly wants to help, but I don’t know if I’ll try going to church again.