I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend hunting down the reasons for my depression, unrest, sadness, whatever you want to call it. Maybe confusion is a better word. Or insecurity. Whatever it is, I think it is deeply rooted. It’s not a symptom of the past 18 months. I’m figuring out bits and pieces.
Part of it seems to be due to the inner conflict I am experiencing with regards to what I was raised to believe and what I actually believe now. I was raised to believe that I am a dual being, part flesh and blood and part spirit. I was raised to believe that I had spiritual parents, a Heavenly Father and Mother who I lived with before I was born. I was raised to believe that I was a valiant and noble child in a premortal world, and that I chose to come to this planet to gain knowledge and experience and follow my Heavenly Father’s commandments so that I could return to live with Him and my family for all eternity after passing through this life. I was raised to believe that there was a strict set of commandments, do’s and do-not’s, and that by striving to adhere to that set of rules I would be exalted in the hereafter. I grew up believing this narrative, flourishing in it and being rewarded for following the path that was laid out before me. I was supposed to be baptized at eight years old (and I was), ordained to the Priesthood at 12 (and I was), serve a mission at 18 (which I did not), and be married in the temple to my eternal companion (which happened, except she was already pregnant when we were married and we’re getting divorced now). And then I was supposed to have a family of my own and instill those same values and beliefs in my children, and set an example for them. I was supposed to continue that cycle and make sure that I had a righteous family to live with forever. And all of that would make me happy, and would set me up for eternal salvation from sin.
The trouble was this: by the time I was 12, I was beginning to experiment with my freedom to choose. I started doing little things that I had been told not to do. That led to doing bigger things that I had been told not to do. This created a conflict within me…I had been taught to believe that it was wrong to do certain things and that I would be punished for doing them. I began to see events in my life, positive and negative, as rewards and punishments. If things would go wrong, it was because I had broken the rules. If things went right, it was because I had followed the rules. Looking back, I think this was nonsense. Yet I still carry that idea with me, I catch myself making those connections and I remind myself that there is no connection between the two. Not directly, anyway. All actions have consequences, and some actions – like hiding behavior from someone you love – can and will lead to a loss of trust. So as I continued to secretly break the rules – or, at least I thought it was in secret – I began to erode the trust that my parents had in me.
Throughout all of this, I know my parents recognized that my behavior was not meeting their expectations. I’m not sure what they knew or didn’t know, but they knew I wasn’t following the plan that they had laid out for me. I wasn’t on the righteous path, so to speak. So they lost trust in me over time, and I knew it. Every hidden action had to be covered up carefully. This led to even more guilt on my part. I was conflicted about my choices. I was conflicted about doing things that I had been taught were wrong, and I was conflicted about lying about all of it.
In this way, I have caused myself a lot of anxiety and guilt – all of this sneaking around and hiding things from my parents. But I didn’t stop. I kept straying farther and farther from the path that I had been taught to walk on. A lot of it involved the girl who would eventually become my wife, and now my Ex.
It took a lot, to build up the courage to tell my parents that the Ex and I were getting married. But I did it. And I knew they weren’t particularly thrilled about it, but I did it anyway. I was used to being a disappointment in their eyes by that time, but this took it to a new level. By choosing to get married I was giving up on the missionary experience, an integral part of a young Mormon male’s preparation for adulthood. Even the Bishop tried to convince me to wait, but I pushed ahead anyway. Marriage would give me the freedom to be my own person. I think I saw it as a clean slate of sorts. I was going to start a family and go to BYU and prove to everyone that I knew what I was doing, and that I was a good person, and that I would be successful and righteous and happy.
So when we moved to Utah and, just a few short weeks later, discovered that we were going to have a child…that the child had been conceived out of wedlock…that was a harsh blow. We hid it from our families…for a time. Then when we did tell them, we didn’t say how soon the child would be born. It wasn’t until a month or two in that we broke the news to them that the child was to be born in May, and we had just been married in late December. Of course, everyone in the new ward found out too. There was the silent feeling of disappointment once again. We…I…had let everyone down. I was exposed as a sinner, a fraud. We moved home at the end of the semester (I had stopped going to classes anyway, which I never told anyone) and the happy introduction of our daughter to the world was tarnished by the disappointment of our youthful indiscretions. We faced church discipline…couldn’t participate in the sacrament for a year…couldn’t hold callings…attendance was on and off, but mostly off.
My reason for going into this detail is to make it clear that the from an early age, I felt that I was a disappointment to those around me, in particular my parents and church peers who I desperately sought acceptance from. I was proud. I wanted to meet the high standard that had been set for me. My parents were well-respected in the church and up until I was 12, so was I.
I made a few attempts to get back on track. I would go through periods of intense activity. I was called into an Elder’s Quorum presidency and served diligently. I was called as a Sunday School teacher, as an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, etc. I was well-liked, but I was always that guy who comes to church with his daughter but not his wife. I could not get my Ex to return to church. She always had a problem with male authority, and would always find offense in how she or her family was treated. So I was constantly undermined and never had support from home in my efforts. Finally, two years ago, I suffered the final embarrassment – being kicked out of a home that we had rented from church members. They had moved to Hawaii and were having trouble selling, so we rented it from them and my Ex took complete advantage of them. By being her spouse and being unable to stop her, I was guilty by association. Church members had to come and clean up our mess. I had lost. I was a disappointment once again, to the entire ward. A few people have reached out since then. While I was still with the Ex, we almost had kiddo baptized. But that was last May, and soon thereafter we separated. I haven’t been back to church since.
My “sinful” behavior has since broadened. I’ve gained an affinity for alcohol – I rarely drink, but I do enjoy hard cider. I had my first margarita last weekend. It wasn’t that great. I haven’t done any drugs or smoked anything, nor do I want to. I have been involved with several women since separating. I curse. I still don’t go to church…I spend Sundays doing laundry, watching TV with friends, relaxing, etc.
In admitting all of this, I don’t mean to boast or brag – getting back to my original point, I feel conflicted about it all. I was taught that all of this was bad, sinful behavior. I would never admit any of this to anyone. Yet at some point, my parents will find out that I have had alcohol. They will find out that I am in a relationship with another woman. They will hear me cuss. They know I don’t go to church. I still feel like a disappointment to them, and I feel like I can’t share who I really am with them. That goes for a lot of people…family, some friends, and anyone that I ever knew from church. And so here I have this whole part of my life – a huge, foundational part of my life – that I am not being true to anymore. That I am choosing to go against on a daily basis. And it’s really fucking hard. I still sit and wonder if I’m on the right path. If I should go back to the way things were before. I could take kiddo back to church and start all over again. Live the life that was expected of me. Everyone at church loves a good prodigal son…I would probably be welcomed back with open arms and could be integrated back into that culture, back into that social support system. My Ex would have no say in it. She’s not a part of my life anymore, not in that way anyway.
But I don’t. I resist the gravitational pull of my upbringing because it doesn’t feel authentic. It doesn’t feel genuine. All of the handshakes and hey-buddy’s were so fake to me after a while. I have questions. I have questions about life – why are we here? Where are we going? What’s the meaning of all of this? What happens when we die? I don’t want the book answers. I want the truth. And what I have learned is that the truth doesn’t come to you all at once, or from one source. You get bits and pieces of it from everyone you meet. You get a lot of bullshit too, so you have to sort out what’s true and what’s bullshit and slowly piece the puzzle together. I’m not the patient type, so it pisses me off when I start to stagnate. I put a lot of weight on the relationships that I get into these days. If I’m not learning something from somebody, I stop listening to them. Or I stop talking to them altogether. I have disconnected myself, unplugged from that system. I have had to find my support in other places – at the theater, at ultimate frisbee, at work, etc. It’s harder this way. But there are no strings attached now. I don’t need their support, so I don’t have to play by their rules. But my heart still aches for the old life, the one where I knew what was at the end of the road, and what every step along my path was going to be like or who was going to be with me.
All of this brings me full-circle back to my original point: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. All I know is that I can’t go backwards, I can’t fall back on old relationships and old beliefs and values. I need to know what’s observable, what is measurable, what I can see and touch and it’s only those things that I can learn from. Cause and effect. Is there a God? If so, he or she doesn’t speak to me. Is there a life after death? If so, I have not glimpsed it. All I do know is that I am a speck in a seemingly infinite universe, one that we do not have the means to explore satisfactorily. We can peek through our telescopes and see worlds, suns, galaxies, black holes…all of it spinning about, beams of light that are simply ghosts of what has happened millions of years in the past. We are stuck here on planet Earth fighting petty wars over fractions of a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam (thanks, Carl Sagan). We busy ourselves with trivial things like how many Facebook friends we have, or how new our cars are, or how many bedrooms our houses have, and none of it really means anything in the grand scheme of things. Human lives come and go, our belongings come and go, what lasts? What lasting effect can I have on this world? What reason do I have for getting out of bed each day? To what degree do I pass these ideas on to my own child? I want her to be as inquisitive as I am, but I do not want her to be unrealistic and idealistic and disconnected from society in such a way that she would be shunned. And I do not want to be alone. I want a deep connection with someone. I want someone who asks questions too. I want someone who looks up into the sky and marvels at the twinkling lights and wonders what it would be like to transverse the blackness of space and explore the universe. Someone whose mind has risen above the atmosphere, someone who is able to look down at our tiny little planet and see it for what it is, so small and yet so marvelous.
And I want to be accepted. I want to be understood. I want to be loved. For who I really am, not because I conform to some set of beliefs or values that there is simply no evidence for. I want to be a good person in my own eyes, and for others to recognize that desire and be okay with it. I try hard to make others happy, to do the right things, to make this world a better place for everyone. I put a lot of pressure on myself, I do have an internal code of ethics, an internal set of values that is centered around continual improvement and learning from mistakes. I am introspective, I am my own harshest critic, and when I do something wrong I make a point not to do it again. I’m not perfect, but I try. And I feel like I’m getting close every day. But the “new” me is going somewhere very different from the “old” me, and it’s hard to reconcile my past, present, and future.
But where is that, anyway? I don’t know what I should be doing with my life. First and foremost, I am a dad. I have to take care of my little girl. I have to make sure that her needs are being met. As my counselor brought up in our last session, she is in need of a mother figure. I can only do so much to fill in for that role. Christina is very willing to step into that role…I am just afraid that kiddo is going to manipulate her and test her. But I guess that’s all out of my hands, isn’t it? I can only react to how that goes. There is very little that I can proactively in that regard. But what about me? I am an innovator. I am a dreamer. My current job…is not a good match. I am underutilized. I think I would feel more satisfied doing innovative things, working for a start-up, or a non-profit with a global vision and a driven team of world-changers. I think the most “alive” I have ever felt was when I was running for political office. I had a message, I believed in something, I believed in myself. It was amazing. In hindsight, my perspective was narrow and I’m kind of glad that I didn’t win. But the point remains – I was immersed in something, I was passionate. I was a different man for a time. I want that back. It’s just a matter of finding the particular message, or organization, or whatever it is that I need to latch on to. And I need to make some money doing it.
I have thought about being an author. Or a cartoonist. I have thought about moving to San Francisco or New York and joining up with some education start-up, or a political organization, or a non-profit tackling some problem in a developing nation. I think about staying here, but there’s not really anything world-changing happening here. I live around farmers, and urban hipsters, and nothing we are doing is making a difference in the world. Right now, I’m just a replaceable part in a machine that was built hundreds of years ago and no longer serves a relevant purpose. The organization I’m part of could become relevant again, but I’m not in a position to make the changes necessary to make it relevant again.
I can see the various possibilities, all in different directions, moving away from me like spokes of a wheel. And I feel like I have to pick one. But in reality, isn’t life more like a fractal…constantly branching out, constantly giving us more choices, constantly offering alternatives? So I just need to pick one and then reassess, take a different direction, reassess, just do whatever it takes to get somewhere. But then I also feel like I should see the end result…I should be able to anticipate what the consequences will be to some degree of certainty. Like when I was younger. If I did A, B, and C then the end result was D. And if I chose W, X, and Y the result would be Z. I don’t have that certainty now. I don’t know if A, B, and C will take me to D or J or L or P or Q. Life is too unpredictable. I have no road map. I don’t know what will lead to happiness or what will lead to unhappiness.
It’s not just the big decisions that I worry about. It’s all of them. If I run, will I end up hurting myself or making myself healthier? If I become a vegetarian, will I live longer or will there be some unintended consequences? In the end, do any of my decisions matter? Do I have any control over my life, or will I always be tossed about live a boat on the waves? Does anything really matter? I could die from an aneurysm tomorrow. So what’s the point of even trying? What’s the point of even worrying about these things? If I were to die tomorrow, what could I do between now and then to make a difference to anybody or anything? What rules do I need to play by, and what rules should I ignore? Everything is fuzzy, hazy, unclear, dark. And I haven’t found anyone with the answers yet. This is why I’m upset. I could make every effort to be scientific about life, and still get nowhere. Yet if I resign to the idea that I have no control over this life, how can I ever be happy? I am a smart, capable man – I should be able to do anything I set my mind to. The one thing I cannot control is when I die. And I don’t know what meaningful activity I can undertake before I die. And on a much larger scale, how am I connected to everything? If there is a universe full of planets and stars and galaxies, what do I have to do with any of it? I feel like my life should mean something on a cosmic scale, human life seems like it should mean something more than it’s fleeting existence on this one planet at this one point in history.