Thursday, March 27, 2014

My mental health and my religion

I've been doing a lot of thinking - mostly trying to figure out how I would honestly answer the question "how are you?"

It's a question that's surprisingly difficult for me to answer.  I'm currently lying alone in bed in the dark (my lovely wife, Camille, is in Las Vegas for work.  i just got a text from her - "this isn't a buffet, it's a personal challenge." so, you know, there's that).

I don't really feel lonely - I rarely feel lonely.  I guess I've just been thinking about my own life and how much it's changed in the last 2 or 3 months and what that means for my future.

I guess I should explain more so that I can include you in the thought process:

For the people who stay current on my life, whether that be through seeing each other in real life or through Facebook, you know that I'm in chiropractic school.  It's like med school, but with Easy Mode turned on.  Chiropractors are called doctors because several years ago, there were various chiropractic schools throughout the land and they wanted their students to receive a doctorate degree.  So they looked around and realized that no one taught enough credit hours for it to be a doctorate, so they just stole some classes from the medical program and called it good.  I won't ever use most of what I'm learning.

Anyway, I made it through one quarter and started my second quarter where I ran into a bit of a problem...

Again, if you've kept up with my life to any real degree, then you probably know that I have a history of mental health problems

but you're so Normal!! 


When I was 20, I started having seizures for no explainable reason.  The neurologist pretty much accused me of lying about not doing drugs and that was pretty much the end of that.  The seizures stopped after a year or so.

When I was 23 as a missionary in the Dominican Republic for the Mormon church, I pretty much went crazy (or so I thought at the time - now it's like looking at a toddler riding a tricycle compared to the Harley Davidson I deal with now).  I came home early from my mission after the threat of me running away became pretty real.  Nothing sounded better than just walking out the door at night and disappearing into the crowds of people, never to be heard from again.

Damn, that still sounds nice...

I came back home and met with various (unhelpful) Mormon-church-employed "doctors".  Through all the problems I've had with mental health and all that, there are only a handful of times I've ever felt looked down on by someone (almost everyone is extremely supportive).  Those doctors definitely made me feel like there was something wrong with me because there was something wrong with me (and not that I just lost the genetic lottery or whatever explanation doctors are supposed to give).  They made it sound as if I had done something bad and this was my punishment.  Their questions for me weren't so much focused on what made me feel better or worse.  They were focused on finding out if I had sins that I didn't confess before leaving on a mission, or maybe I did something while on my mission that would explain me developing these problems?  Without directly saying it, they pretty much said I probably did something bad and God was punishing me.

After multiple meetings of them trying to pry some kind of confession from me, I was told I had a "mood disorder of some kind", given some drugs, and pushed out the door.  Later, I would see another doctor who would report the Mormon-church-employed "doctors" for malpractice (apparently giving a patient 2 years worth of drugs and never seeing them again is bad).

When I was 25, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.  Everyone pretty much knows what bipolar disorder is (experiencing uncontrollable extremes in mood - usually depression and mania), but few people know the distinction between bipolar I and bipolar II.  Bipolar I, in my opinion, sounds much worse than Bipolar II.  Bipolar I is where you get really insane levels of mania and do stupid things like stand in front of an airplane as it tries to take off (I had a friend try that once).  The "mood peaks" of bipolar I (both mania and depression) are much more severe.  Bipolar II is more like sadness, but sometimes you're not sad, you're actually quite charming and sociable and awesome.  The danger with bipolar II is that you don't really know that you've had a manic episode until it's over and you realize you have tons of new friends, hobbies, STDs,  no money, no job, no school, and an eviction notice.  Then you get super depressed, think about times when you were happy, worry that people think you're a loser, and contemplate suicide.  Bipolar II also comes with insomnia, which is why I had trouble sleeping a few years ago.  So it's that shit, but over and over with very little you can do about it on your own.

People who haven't experienced it (such as my wife or my mother) don't really understand why you can't just will yourself out of it.  If the problem is that you're sad, then think happy thoughts!  If it were that easy, it wouldn't be a problem people have.  When I'm in the throes of mental illness, I have as much control over my brain as my wife has over my brain.  A normal person commands their brain/body to do something and it does it.  For someone with bipolar disorder or depression or something like that, instead of making a command, it's more like making a request (self, please get up and shower?).  And those requests are often ignored.  You can't will yourself out of it because you aren't the one in control.

Then one day, it all went away.  All my problems just went *poof*, and then they were gone.  No need for medication to help me sleep.  No need to lock myself in my bedroom for days at a time because real life was more than I could handle.  No problems with hanging onto money.  All my problems just sort of... faded away.  And life was perfect!

I mean, sure, I had a rough day here and there; everybody does.  But there was a distinct lack of "I can't control this" going on, and it was really nice.  In that time, I had a good-enough job managing a gas station, I dated a lot, I got married, I graduated from college, I got into grad school.  It was the most productive year of my life!  Life is surprisingly easy when your own mind is working with you instead of against you.

And then it all came back, but way way worse than before.

I started hearing voices.  At first they were pretty primitive - not so much voices in a speaking sense as much as just sort of jumbled background noise.  When they did speak coherently enough to understand, they would try to convince me that my wife was fat.  Then after a few weeks, they went away again and I was fine.  I read that people often temporarily hear voices and stuff when they make a big life change, and I figured me getting married was that change, so I continued on like it never happened.

Then they came back with the figurative power of the Spartan army, and I wasn't prepared for that.  Voices, paranoia, random spiritual experiences, being in a constant dreamlike state - it was like I was watching a movie of my own life with someone else making my decisions for me (and there were other people in the theater shouting at the screen).  I don't know if I can accurately express in words how terrifying it is when you can't tell the difference between reality and fiction.

I have a memory of me stabbing my wife and watching her die... did I actually stab my wife??, or was that memory somehow inserted into my mind?  OH NO!! OH NOOO!!! PLEASE NO!!  Oh, she's fine.  False memory.

I have a memory of my wife leaving me!  How could she do that to me??  WHY???

I have a memory of me having sex with this random person in one of my classes.  Did I actually do that?

I have no memory of how I got here.  How did I get here?

Where's my son?  Do I have a son?  I think I remember having a son.

There are two voices - Sandra and Tom.  They aren't voices of anyone that I recognize in my own life (that's always the first question people ask me - "IS IT ME??").  Sandra and Tom are both pretty neutral-sounding voices.  Sandra talks much more frequently than Tom, and she is a total bitch.  Tom is better, but also kind of a bitch.

Their main goal is to convince me that my wife is cheating on me.  They come up with various narratives of what she did during the day while "at work" and make fun of me for not being able to see the evidence.  I'll admit, there came a point where I believed them, and that was also point where I realized that I couldn't fix this problem myself and started reaching out for help.

I dropped out of school for the quarter and shut down for a while.  I'm pretty sure Camille fantasized of a life where her husband isn't a total psycho, but I guess we each have our lot in life.

I even spent a night in a mental hospital after shouting at the voices while in the shower and scaring my wife (who then begged for me to check myself in).  Then after that, I found a doctor and got some medication that has helped tremendously.

So that pretty much brings us to now.  I start school again on Monday, and I have a completely different view on life.  I've realized how easy it is to believe something that isn't real.  Everything I think I know has to be relearned again to make sure it's actual knowledge and not just something I made up.  That's a HUGE task!  Reviewing every single fact I think I know?  I can't trust any non-confirmed knowledge or memory ever again!

In the Mormon church, it's common to tell people to listen for a "still, small voice" and that's supposed to be the Holy Ghost guiding you.  Now imagine you hear voices that you want to disappear forever and imagine how receptive you are to the advice to listen for a voice that tells you what to do.  Imagine you have random spiritual experiences in the weirdest locations (such as taking a massive dump in the bathroom) and imagine someone telling you that when you feel that feeling, that's the Spirit of God conveying truth to you.

How do I approach religion now that I have these problems?  That's a question that I'm actually asking you, the reader.  I need advice on this topic.

Do I just abandon it?  I feel like if God exists and he plans on having some kind of judgment day, he'd be pretty forgiving of someone with my problems.

I can't just jump in 100%, I need to take it slow and question everything, but that behavior is frowned upon in Christian religions.  And even then, how can I know if something is spiritually true when feeling that spiritual feeling is a symptom of my mental illness?


  1. You know the movie "A Beautiful Mind"? He was able to find himself again after many many challenges similar to yours. I have personal health issues as well that make me question religion as well. I have to pay close attention to how I feel the spirit talking to me. It's not a voice, It's a rushing excitement when I think about or talk about things and confusion is like a fog invading my mind. When I finally am able to determine the spirit and other influences I follow clarity. We are all going to make mistakes following something we thought was real, It's what we do with the now and what is right in front of us. I have dreams that seem so clear and real that I have to ask Hubs when I wake up if we did that or if it went on. After an extended period of time clarifying real and imagination I know that it will get easier for me to determine on my own. If all else fails rely on your wife! She loves you and is there for you with anything you need. Your friends (us) and your family will always be there as well to help you understand the differences so that eventually you can feel "YOU" again and you will have a better control over issues. It's not an over night fix and it's not an easy thing either but for people that love and care about you, it's so worth it! Brandon, You are strong and just keep remembering that you are worth waiting for. Thanks for sharing this! BL

  2. "I feel like if God exists and he plans on having some kind of judgment day, he'd be pretty forgiving of someone with my problems." I feel like belief in God wouldn't make sense unless that were the case. As far as "needing to take it slow and question everything" goes, the mind is (as your condition clearly shows) a pretty powerful thing and that should be respected. Mental health is pretty important. So, whatever gets you to peace of mind, I say. Besides, a little skepticism could do those of us who don't have Bipolar II disorder some good as well. God gave us reason, so I doubt he'll be disappointed if we use it.

    1. I agree with JJ, as a Mormon going through her own faith search, I see man's reason as the true guide of our lives. Perhaps reason works a little differently for you, I have no idea what it's like to question the fabric of my reality, but I do know the fear of wondering if everything I have been taught or done was all for the wrong reasons or the wrong morals. Rely on Camille, rely on reason and know that you are loved. If God exists, I don't think he'll even need to use forgiveness in your circumstance, only love. There's nothing to apologize for being of human mortal make and making mortal human choices.

  3. 1. I agree with JJ.
    2. I don't really have any advice. I just want you to know that there are people out in the world who care about you and are glad that you are handling things, whatever that may mean or to whatever level of success you are having. You are handling it and not shutting down. Cause I'm pretty sure I would shut down.
    3. I admire your willingness to talk about this. It can't be an easy thing. You are a strong and brave man.

  4. Hi Brandon. When I read this blog post I just wanted yo give you a big hug, so consider this a virtual hug! The road you are travelling is not an easy one and as someone who has struggled with mental health issues most of my life , my heart goes out to you. I am in our stake RS presidency and we recently sponsored a mental health symposium where we had four lds mental health professionals come and speak on a variety of mental health topics and answer questions. The talks and discussion from the symposium are published on our website The keynote address was given by Grandma and Grandpa's former bishop and I have found it quite helpful and perhaps you will too. A wise therapist once told me her golden rule which is "don't believe everything you tell yourself", which is another way of saying, don't be afraid to challenge your beliefs. I have also struggled with the concept of the spirit and have difficulty feeling it the way others seem to. But when I focus on the core principles of the gospel, such as charity and kindness, I feel something akin to light. Please know that you are loved, and no matter how difficult the journey, there is always hope.

  5. I don't have any great advice either, but like everyone else I applaud your efforts to reach out to others (especially mental health professionals, and also to your family and friends for support). As far as religion goes, I 100% agree that any kind of God worth believing in wouldn't judge you negatively for not being able to trust indistinct voices or impressions that you can't tell whether they come from the Spirit or from your sickness. I don't know if it's helpful, but I guess I'd recommend you always move towards what is good and kind and loving, wherever that takes you.

    Also, your story reminded me somewhat of the experience of a BYU science professor who wrote an article called My Madness about similar issues. It really resonated with me even though I've never experienced this type of illness.

    Good luck, my friend, and much love!

  6. Dear Brandon, I never got to know you as well as my dear Camille, but I am so proud of you for seeking help, and learning about your disease. It is a very hard and brave thing to do. Our daughter is with a young man who developed schizophrenia two years ago, seemingly out of the blue. He tried to hide the voices from our Amy, but she came to spend a week with us and he ended up in and out of the hospital for six months. They ruled out drugs and tumors, and it took many, many months and then the last two years to come up with an appropriate dosage of medication to keep him able to function. It has been a long, hard road, but he is doing much better and is considering looking for part time work. Through all of this, I truly believe our daughter's devotion, patience and acceptance of his illness is what keeps him going. Sadly, she has left the church, and he never belonged, but I will agree with those who say always steer towards the feelings of peace and kindness, and always question feelings that make you feel bad, such as doing things you wouldn't do, or thinking Camille would do things that she shouldn't. Those are the "voices", not the spirit. And they can seem very, very convincing. But the spirit will never tell you anything hurtful. I believe that with all my heart. I am sending hugs and prayers to both of you, and hope you will continue to seek out help - it is a good thing. Love, Susie

  7. Hi Brandon,
    I understand how you feel. I am a bipolar myself. I tried to take my life. i didn't just have five voices in my head at that time. I had the whole world screaming profanities at me. I felt like there was nothing left for me to live for. On the first, I was going through separation. When I could no longer bear everything, for some strange reason, I hated my husband it was his prayer that I remembered " Lord be my strength" then the screams tapered. I kept on repeating it until I screamed it and silence followed after that. I spent a month in a mental facility and my first doctor said I was better off living my life there since I was schizophrenic. My sister refused to believe ans changed my doctor. The other one said I was bipolar. I for better during my stay there but I can tell that there were some voices left. A few weeks later I got back with my husband and maybe I seemed pretty normal and he convinced me to be off my meds. Six months later, the voices were back and it happened on the eve of christmas. I can't recall the day but the voices were meaner than before. When I saw my husband in deep sleep, I took a belt and hanged myself on the cabinet. I remember seeing black and someone saying "What is she gonna do in here" and my husband was waking me up. Getting better took a while longer after that. We ended up separating last August and I decided to leave 2 days before my birthday because he never saw me as the person whom I used to be. Not all people will be able to understand why you just can't be with other people on special occasions when you are feeling agitated. And it hurts the most when the ones you truly care about are them. But there are people who will love you whether you are a bipolar or not. Does God care? I studied in a Roman Catholic school. The first sentence that came out from my religion was " What if I tell you God does not exist?" We were perplexed he was supposed to convince us to believe in God. But he later told us you can only only truly believe something if you can support this with a reason. Four semesters of religion subjects, we studied and used our heads to know Jesus better and whenever a Christian would come to the house I would use and argue with what I've learned. Overcoming bipolar and getting better twice, I learned later that miracles aren't found with intellectual reasoning. It's in your heart. I think God found me first before I found him and pierced through my insanity. There are still days when I don't feel like getting up from the bed. And for some reason, I get the headaches when there's a full moon and still have the night terrors at times. Practical advice: always take the meds since these will keep your hormones in check even when you think you are normal. It takes longer to recover from a rebound and meds will keep the voices away.God didn't promise a walk in the park and the same can be said for the ones who are not like us. But for some strange reason, believing in Him makes me think everything's gonna be okay. I hope you'll find your miracle soon.