Monday, August 8, 2016

It's not you, it's me

My husband was stationed at Ft Carson, Colorado when we met and got married. I left college life in Provo, Utah and entered the strange new world of “military spouse”.  I had no prior experience with the military and I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) in Colorado. But I was optimistic and eager to begin this new chapter.

Soon after moving into our 800 sq ft townhouse I found out we were expecting our first child. A few weeks later I found out my husband would be leaving on his first deployment of our married life, 3 weeks after our baby was due.

Another shock was realizing that we could not actually live on his income alone. We could pay all of our bills, including tithing, but there would be nothing left for food or gas…or anything else we might need like a table or maternity clothes. (and when I say nothing I mean less than $1!) So I applied for a job and started working at one of the day care centers on post. It wasn’t a bad job, overall, but I had to be there at 5:45 every morning. We only had one car so I took the bus home in the afternoons.  We didn’t have a washer or dryer so we spent our Saturdays at the laundry mat.

I was exhausted in every way possible. My pregnancy hormones were going crazy, I was overwhelmed with all the sudden changes to my life and I was so far from the people who really loved and cared for me.

Our son was born almost 2 weeks early, giving us a total of 5 weeks before my husband left for 8 months in Bosnia. I quit my job (my husband had been promoted and we no longer needed a second income) and devoted myself to being a full-time mother.

I told my family not to worry about me. I had the church and the members would take care of me. And I really believed that. As long as I had a church family I would be okay.

But I wasn’t.

I was miserable.

I felt alone and invisible. For many years after, I saw our time in Colorado as a journey through my own personal hell. My memories were filled with isolation, just me and a tiny baby…and the daily TV line-up.  The idea of turning it off and sitting there in silence was, frankly, terrifying. I became so attached to my routine of talk shows and soap operas that I dreaded weekends and holidays. At least on Sunday I could go to church. 

I went to church dutifully every week. I sat in the chapel, alone in the back, attended Sunday School and Relief Society and every activity available to me.

But I was still miserable.

And I blamed "them".

“They” weren’t reaching out to me.

“They” weren’t including me.

“They” weren’t checking in on me.

“They” didn’t really care about me at all.

I felt that if the ward members had been doing their jobs I wouldn’t have felt so bad. I spent years blaming the horrible people of Colorado, cursing them and vowing to never return if my life depended on it.

Looking back now, I see things a little differently.

The Bishopric would speak to me and shake my hand in the hall. The Relief Society President would call me and ask how I was doing. My visiting teachers came, although sporadically, but were very helpful at times. Someone even brought me a little cake on my birthday.

I had 5 callings in the time we were there, each time working closely with at least one other person. I knew almost everyone by name and they knew me.  I worked with the Young Women and in Primary and even after being released I had kids and parents alike waving to me in the halls.

And I got invited to every home-based business party known to man. I always went and I always bought something, a token of thanks for getting me out of the house.

I had a neighbor a few doors down who was in our ward. She had a daughter a few months older than our son. She was very friendly and invited me to dinner when her MP husband was working a night shift.

I also got invited to some scrap-booking nights by a couple of sisters who were scrap-booking masters.

In all honesty, I was pretty busy. But I was still miserable.

Now that I know about anxiety and depression, I realize that much of what I experienced in Colorado was due to a mental health issue and not the “horrible people of Colorado”. Even now, even after accepting these issues as real and debilitating at times, I still feel a little frustration with my situation there. It wasn’t that no one cared about me or reached out to me, it’s that no one noticed what was really going on, not even me. I can’t help but wonder how much better life might have been had I been aware of my mental health status and sought help.

Colorado is the only place I ever lived that I didn’t stay in touch with someone. I can only remember one or two people by name and even then my recollection is hazy. It’s a shame, really. Many of the sisters were very kind and shared some experiences and lessons that still inspire me. But I was so eager to leave that place behind that I had no desire to maintain a single connection.

In the years since leaving Colorado I have lived in some great wards. At least I think they were great. Not perfect, by any means, but wards where I made lasting friendships and grew spiritually. Wards where I was eager to attend church because I knew I would walk away uplifted and feeling loved. But in each of these wards there was always someone who hated it. Someone (or several someones) who dreaded church, who never saw a friendly face or heard a kind word.

Each time this happened I would look around me and think “Really? This is a bad ward? An unfriendly ward? A ward with cliques? A ward with problems? Are you sure we’re talking about the same place?”  And if I took a few minutes to discuss this with the person (How exactly have you been slighted?) they couldn’t really give me an answer.  Their response would be very similar to my own feelings about Colorado. Oh, sure, sometimes there would be a very specific reason but it was usually isolated to one or two people, not an entire ward. More often than not, the real answer would be “I’m not happy and I need someone to blame.”

In a few cases, the reason they were unhappy was that they were not living the gospel and needed to repent.

Sometimes it was because they felt their life didn’t match up to what they thought of as the ideal Mormon life (not married, no kids, working mom, etc) and they felt out of place.

Often it was that they were dealing with some heavy burdens and they were just generally unhappy.
In every case, the reason they were miserable was, ultimately, them. Something in their life was …off. And until they fixed it, no amount of church or blame or anything else was going to make a difference.

In my case, having my husband home went a long way to improving my feelings about Colorado. Our last few months there were not so bad.  And even though my journey through life has had many potholes, I have never again shifted the blame to an entire ward.

To anyone feeling that they are in a “bad ward”, take a step back and give your ward a good, hard look. Are you sure it’s “them”? All of “them”?  Or is it you? Be honest with yourself. Ask your Heavenly Father for guidance. And if you realize that you need to fix something in yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Things will get better.  

And if it is “them”?  Reach out with love. Be patient. They are probably struggling with something… and they may not even know.

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