the bipolar mormon’s lament.

being bipolar is hard. being mormon can be hard, too. being a bipolar mormon is, at times, complete torture.

a lot of people with bipolar disorder become hyper religious when manic, either as a coping mechanism to deal with psychological pain, or as part of delusional thinking that is a trademark of psychosis. i sometimes wonder if hyperreligiosity would have been a nice side effect for me, considering that i went in the opposite direction and almost lost faith entirely in the religion i’ve known and loved my whole life. if you know many conservative mormons, you know that a loss of religion can sort of be a loss of self–family, friends, social activities, and many other aspects of life are so wholly shaped by the culture of the church that to lose faith is to experience something akin to emotional death.

the truth is, during manic episodes, i am another person altogether, a shadow version of myself who acts solely on impulse without thought, or even awareness, of consequences. in my mania-addled brain, there are no consequences. there are only sensations, and the manic mind is on sensory overload. everything that normally feels good now feels like the best thing that’s ever happened, so i should probably do that as much as i can, for as long as i can. this is the irrational thinking–and subsequent behavior–that leads bipolar people to shop till they are bankrupt, drink until they have liver damage or have ended up in jail for driving while intoxicated, or to abuse drugs until they end up forcefully committed to a rehab facility. none of these things happened to me, thankfully, but they easily could have.

unfortunately, that is also the thinking that led me to no longer feel like i was worthy to sit in a church pew. imagine me, a 20-something mother of two, sitting next to my husband and children during sacrament meeting, everyone showered and in their sunday best, listening to a congregation member bearing her testimony. she is another mother, someone like me, and i listen to her as she tearfully admits that she feels inadequate because she has failed, yet again, to get her family to church on time. and imagine me, still somewhat drunk from last night’s manic bender but maintaining appearances for the sake of my family, thinking, “well, if you’re inadequate, i guess i’m lucifer.”

that was just one of many self-destructive thoughts that ran through my head as i went to church week after week and heard people speak from the pulpit, or at the front of sunday school classes and other meetings, casually condemning themselves and others for sins of what i considered to be little magnitude (not to scoff at the way another person experiences remorse; i’m merely relating how i felt about myself at the time), when the ways in which i was sinning felt something like murder in comparison.

the thing was, i couldn’t stop myself from capitulating to the unrelenting compulsions. physically and mentally just could not, and i didn’t know why (i was still undiagnosed at the time). so i just was like, well, i’m a terrible person, apparently. it hurt so very much to  hear my actions, which i felt to be uncontrollable–and which i now know were out of my control, to a certain extent, as i was unmedicated and untreated–categorized as actions that made me unworthy to have an eternal family. made me a sub-person, basically, in my mind. the cognitive dissonance eventually became so great that i told myself that none of it could possibly be true, that the church wasn’t for me. i kept going to church services because i’d made promises to my family to remain active, but on the inside, a light had turned off.

and yet.

i never stopped self-identifying as mormon, even though i told myself over and over that i shouldn’t allow myself to participate in a culture that made me feel so terrible about myself as a human being. why? because the truth was, i still believed in something. i still believed in god, his son, and in the possibility of a personal relationship with deity. throughout my life i had had many experiences that defied all logic and spoke to a spiritual part of me that never died, even when i tried so hard to smother it out of existence. there was no way i could deny those experiences, though i made my attempts. i knew i had felt something beyond myself, and in my mind, that “something” will always be called god.

so what am i left with? i am a bipolar woman, who in manic episodes is sometimes incapable of controlling impulses to do things that are framed in mormon doctrine as very serious sin, and yet i’m a mormon, for better or worse. how do i reconcile that?

i’ve realized that my problem is actually that i keep trying to reconcile that. alone. when i was never meant to do it alone. i go to church and i’m so consumed by my own feelings of failure because i sin and sin and know i will keep on sinning, that i leave no room for grace, or mercy, or love. and i say to myself “your sins are so much worse than everyone’s around you, you’re worthless, you don’t belong here,” because it’s easier to redirect my anxiety about the church at other people, rather than focusing on healing from whatever pain i’m dealing with inside.

because honestly, who wants to focus on their own pain? it hurts.

but i think that’s what i’ve been missing for the past few years that i’ve been going to church and feeling nothing. i’ve been forgetting that i can relieve that pain, if i want to. all it takes is the humility to say, “i can’t do this on my own,” and the savior is there. or at least, that’s what i’m remembering i believe.

i’m not glossing over the many questions and doubts i have about the church and its culture that i still have to personally address on a daily basis. that is another issue entirely. i still have those issues, and i wrestle with them. i think most mormons do. and i’m also not saying that i can just go about my life doing whatever the hell i want and then go to church and poof!, i’m clean. no, there are a lot of intricacies to my membership in the lds church that aren’t so easily explainable.

but of one thing i have become sure: i’ve chosen to stay. it sometimes feels impossible to be a believing mormon with a serious mental illness, but meh. life’s never really been easy for me, i don’t know why i expected this to be. i guess it’s a good thing mormons believe in eternal life, i’m going to need a while to sort this whole “being a good, albeit clinically insane, mormon” thing out.



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