Sunday, January 18

I Miss Depression

I don't understand myself.

I have my own business - a place I love to work. I have a best friend and plenty of people who care about me. I have food, clothing, a place to sleep, and the freedom to worship God.

And yet...

I'm not even sure if I want to write this post. My mom wrote a group text to the family asking us to do family history, and at the same time I was reminded of the dozens of things on my to-do list... and the billions of people in the world (and thousands within my reach) who could use a friend.

And despite everything, I miss my depression.


I miss depression.

If you've followed my blog for long enough, you know that I was diagnosed with rapid-cycle bipolar a few years ago (at the same time I was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder). I went on medication for a little while, then miraculously found an extreme diet that ultimately cured me of bipolar mood swings. I've been off the diet for months and life is normal.

And I am awful at normal.

I could go into the newfound issues I have in keeping commitments without a hypomanic phase to lean on, or my complete inability to remember one day from another without the powerful emotional moments to which I had grown accustomed... but right now I just miss my depression.

The logical side of my brain is rebelling. Depression is an awful thing. It made me want to die. It killed my relationships. It smashed my hopes and dreams. It haunted my commitments and burned bridges I had never crossed. Depression would pull me away from relationships I care about and things I never could have done in the past.

And yet... that same depression made me into the guy I am today. It made me aware of the pain that people feel who are depressed. It put me in touch with the world. And it ground me low enough that I was able to open my heart to God.

Right now, though, I guess I'm wishing for depression because I want an excuse for not being good enough in my calling and in life. Or maybe not an excuse - while depression often kept me from doing some things, it actually motivated me to do others. And when I came out of depression, my focus was crystal-clear on what I wanted to accomplish.

Maybe that's what I'm missing. Focus. Focus was always the first thing in helping me figure out my direction in life, and focusing always happened during the depressed moments of my life. It came so easily then. And now it doesn't.

I want to be a better friend. To be healthier. To be a better missionary. A better brother and employer and son.

I didn't ever expect normal life (well, at least my life without bipolar) to be this hard.

Thursday, January 1

Authenticity: I Resolve to Be Real

This year I'm resolving to be real.

Authenticity is a hot topic in the gay world, and especially in the gay Mormon world. And I'm sure I'll get to that. But I feel like modern culture places So. Much. Emphasis. on sexuality that other important issues are completely eclipsed.

There are good reasons that authenticity is at the front of the push in becoming a healthier person. When I believe one thing, and do another, that creates cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance will, over time, destroy my immune system, wear down my beliefs, and/or force me to change my actions. I can't live and honestly believe two different things.

It does depend on how much I actually believe the things I say I do - if I'm ok with lying to others, I could live a duplicitous life without much cognitive dissonance. The Holy Spirit would tell me what I was doing was wrong, but if I silenced it enough times, it would stay silent.

But most people (including myself) realize someday that honesty is a lot less complicated than lies - small or complex. When I live a double life, I have to manage what I've told who, when, and who knows what about the "real" me. Which gets more and more complicated when I add more people, more facets, and when I don't have control over what other people say about me in quiet conversations.

I'm definitely one of the people who has lived inauthentically, at least if I look back in the past. But the reality is that I was living as well as I knew how. I didn't know what I truly believed, and I was living according to some misunderstandings of reality. 

An example: I honestly thought that my personal mission in life - the reason I'm here on the planet and the mission given to me by God - and my career needed to be completely separate. I spent years trying to reconcile the things I love and am good at (mission) with the things that could make money (career, guided by societal expectations). But after years of wading through business consulting, copywriting, and other lucrative endeavors, I've realized that what I believed was only a half-truth. Yes, I needed to find something valuable that I could give to the world in exchange for my personal wellbeing. But it didn't need to be something on the world's terms. It could be on mine. When I opened The Soap Factory, it was a horrific experience. I was scared more than... more than I ever have been in my life. More than the first time I came out, more than getting robbed at gunpoint on my mission, more than anything. But it's worked. I can combine my love of teaching people, building experiences to make people happy, and giving people tools to improve their own decisions... and they love it. And I'm incredibly happy.

Another example: when I told my family, friends, and the Internet about (Gay) Mormon Guy, I was afraid as well. I finally felt like I needed to switch from living a dual life (as Mormon Guy and also as David) to just being me everywhere. I shared it with people, and I felt a wave of relief - not from coming out, but from simply not having to constantly stress and think about that facet of reality.

That's why many people - whether or not they support living by the commandments - usually endorses being authentic in personal and relational situations. The simple act of choosing to live a single life, rather than two or three, can be a huge step in reaching personal happiness.

But that's also the source of danger. Living a double life is so stressful that the decision to live authentically will almost ALWAYS lead to positive benefits. Enough so that it can be easy to choose the wrong path - and this time, I'm living authentically, but I'm terribly misled. I can come clean to my parents and tell them that I don't want to live up to their major expectations of becoming a doctor (my parents don't have any such desires, but if they did...), but the resultant bliss and freedom when they accept or reject me doesn't mean that art (which may be my passion at the moment) is honestly the right choice for my future. It just means that I feel relief from the stored up cognitive dissonance.

I've seen a lot of people who made faulty decisions because they based their choices on the high that came from being real, instead of determining deep down who they really wanted to be.

Which leads to the question: what does it mean to be authentic?

Usually the push for authenticity leans exclusively towards emotions. It says, "whatever emotion you are feeling right now, let it push and guide and command you." "If someone else has told you something that conflicts, follow your heart." But that logic fails in billions of situations. When I was honestly, truly depressed, the authentic thing to do under that dogma would be to kill myself. Because that is what I honestly wanted to do. And if you've never really been suicidal, that will make no sense. When I was trying to reach out to people, and got hurt emotionally from attempting to make friends, or when I'm completely exhausted emotionally, I have the honest desire to cut off communication with everyone and retreat to a little bubble of quiet. But that's not really the right thing to do for myself either. So I personally believe that authenticity isn't following just my feelings. It's also not just following my rational logic (which for most people is just feelings that have been souped up by biased research from someone else who believes the same thing). I think that authenticity is being true to what I truly believe.

Which makes sense. Beliefs are something that can still exist even in depression - at least they could for me. And beliefs - in God, in His commandments that lead to happiness, and so forth - ultimately determine what I'm going to do. 

Hence the one caveat I always give to someone who asks me how they can stop living a lie. If they simply snap to one side of their feelings, it's likely that the resultant bliss will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it may not be the right path. So, before they jump into the water, I tell them to figure out what they truly believe.

I truly believe that God exists. That He loves me. And that since He loves me, He has created an experience here on earth to help me grow. He allows me to feel pain and sorrow, to be blessed and cursed, to walk in darkness and in light... so that I can become a better person and turn to Him. In my darkest hours, He has always been there - both helping me get through it, and pushing me further than I would have gone on my own. And if I follow Him and His commandments, I will find true, lasting fulfillment and eternal happiness and peace.

Those are my basic beliefs - and so authenticity is living and communicating accordingly.

It's obviously not always that simple. Figuring out what is real - what to believe in - is a difficult process. It took me two degrees and a dozen career changes to find one that's authentic to who I really am. And for a really long time I had MAJOR misunderstandings about the gospel - I believed completely the wrong things, even though the prophets had always taught differently - and thought that I was doing something wrong when I was actually believing something wrong. But it's worth it. The time to really understand the gospel and how to live it every day is worth it. The time to figure out who I really am and what makes me tick is worth it. Hence why I'm going to keep going.

The gospel is true. Living honestly according to the commandments of God brings awesome peace. Living authentically in the business world optimizes my passions, talents, and the needs of others. And living authentically to myself brings me simple peace.

This year I'm resolving to be real.