Sunday, November 15
I can see.
I've been wearing glasses that weren't mine for a long time. I knew they were the wrong prescription, but that was just how life was. I ripped my last contact lens years ago, and I didn't feel like I had enough money to buy new ones. I found a pair of glasses in my room and couldn't figure out whose they were. I tried wearing them and people told me they liked them. And they worked well enough that I didn't have to worry.
But I have to get a new driver's license, and I was afraid that I'd fail the vision test... so I got an exam and a new sample pair of contact lenses, fully intending to wear them for the exam and nothing else.
But then I put them in.
There are billions of things to look at in the world. Intricate details of sculpture, perfection in art, flowers and bugs and shapes and textures. Sunsets and clouds, raindrops and snowflakes. Chunks of broken asphalt, fields of boulders, and brilliantly cut gemstones.
Of all the things in the world, I watch leaves.
The leaves are changing here in Utah. Red and green and gold swept across the trees in broad swathes, touching some and drenching others. Thousands upon thousands on trees and sidewalks, crunching under your feet on the sidewalk, and everywhere falling - falling and swirling in great heaps with each gust of wind, only to rise and fall yet again.
I could watch leaves for hours.
I hadn't been able to see for so long. What had happened? I remember feeling the same way about leaves when I got my first pair of contact lenses, and yet just last week I couldn't see leaves unless they were in front of me, let alone count them on trees.
Leaves hadn't made me get new contact lenses or glasses. Being able to see the sunsets reflected as burning fires in the trees, while compelling, hadn't been compelling enough to pull me into focus and invest the couple dollars it would take to have perfect vision.
No. While I love watching leaves, it wasn't the leaves that made me go back and send my glasses in for new lenses.
It was people.
As much as I love watching leaves, sunsets, and listening to the rain, there's a deeper draw to people.
I'm not normal. I'm on the autism spectrum and therapy, books, classes, effort, prayers, blessings, diet, and graduate degrees haven't changed that. I don't understand people through normal pathways. Sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek remarks, and even sometimes obvious nonverbal communiques are totally lost on me.
I've learned to listen for slight variances in intonation in people's voices to help me guess if they're still interested in the conversation or just talking to be nice. I watch for a hundred different signs that someone is being sincere or is trying to communicate something other than what they're saying.
And when I talk to people, I've found the best way to see into their heart is to watch their eyes.
Maybe that sounds strange to look at people's eyes when they talk. I don't know. Whatever. But the first conversation I had after putting in contact lenses - with my best friend - I realized how much I had been missing. We still don't understand each other, but I felt like I was at least a step closer.
A paragraph in my Patriarchal Blessing tells me that as I look into people's eyes, I'll be able to know their feelings and what I can say or do to help them come closer to Christ.
How had I forgotten that I needed to be able to see, in order to look? Why had I stopped caring about being able to see?
The eye place had quoted me $30 to replace my lenses. So I went back, handed a tech my glasses (she's in my ward - something I hadn't noticed before), and paid for it to happen.
And I've worn contact lenses for the last few days.
I've seen trees, sunsets, smiles, and snow.
And now I think I know the real reason why I stopped.
The sudden increase in visual information has been overwhelming for me. In addition, I lost my voice a few days ago. Whatever the reason, the last few days I've felt like I was just watching life. Engaged, doing the same things, even taking charge, but watching rather than being. As the days went on, the constant flow of emotions and busy-ness inside me grew silent, and then went completely still.
It's a feeling I know well. It's the in-between place that used to come between bipolar cycles, just before depression hit or life took off. I don't have bipolar anymore, but the in-between is unique enough that I could never forget it.
Back when I was bipolar, the in-between was the best place to look at my life and really get perspective on who I was and what was important. Some of my best writing came from the in-between, often because I could see more clearly. And without the chaos of emotions, my mind and heart were easier to turn to God.
It's been a long time since I was here.
I spent all day at Church today watching, and then I realized something. Something I had come close to forgetting. Something part of me didn't even want to put into words. The reason why I'm so busy, so involved, so engaged, and why, to dull the pain, I didn't care that I couldn't see.
I'm an outsider.
I've tried to explain what it means to be an outsider to people before. I don't know if it ever worked.
Being an outsider means that, when I let myself feel, I feel alone... no matter where I am or who is with me.
It doesn't matter that people know who I am in my ward, or that my bishop loves me.
It doesn't matter that people smile and laugh and post happy pictures on Instagram when they come to The Soap Factory.
It doesn't matter that I live and work with family who loves me and that I live and work with them for the express purpose of improving our relationships.
It doesn't matter that my best friend has put in long hours trying to understand me and be there for me, or that he has forgiven me for all the things that I do wrong.
It doesn't matter that half a million people have read my most recent blog posts or that my email inbox is full.
After everything in my life - after all the things I've done, after all the effort I put into making people feel important and loved and valuable, after praying and fasting and dieting and everything else...
I still feel alone.
Promises and sayings that I've heard all my life mock me. Try your hardest, and you'll succeed. Don't wait for someone to be your friend - be a friend instead. And the worst: People who feel alone are that way because they're not willing to put in the effort. If you feel alone, it's your fault.
It has nothing to do with same-sex attraction. If you think I need to abandon my morals, leave God and His Church, and have sex with men to feel loved, you can go jump in a frozen lake. I feel just as alone when I'm talking with a cute guy as I do sitting at my computer desk.
So I've remembered.
I got the right prescription and turned off my voice, and now I've seen through the complicated mess meant to keep me occupied... and I remember that I'm an outsider.
It isn't news to me. Without the complications of busy-ness to cloud my memories, I see pretty clearly. The reason why I began shaking people's hands at Church and listening to their stories was because I felt alone inside. The reason why I started The Soap Factory was because I wanted to create a place where people could smile and do something productive and get away from the mess of life - it's what I wish I had. I started my a cappella group because I wanted people to have fun and feel loved. I started (Gay) Mormon Guy because I wanted to help people feel understood.
Everything I've started stemmed from being an outsider. I had incredible pain. And I knew I couldn't get rid of it... so instead of focusing inward on myself, I focused outward and tried to make sure that no one ever felt the way I did.
And, for once, the distraction worked. Without depression and the in-between to wake me up, life has just moved forward, and over time part of me forgot why I worked 10, 12, 14 hours each day and then scheduled my free time to the brim.
It took new contacts, and losing my voice, to wake me up.
The realization at Church made me cry for about a minute, but emotions don't really help here. I've cried a ton about being alone, watched therapists cry when I tried to explain it, and I'm through with all the crying.
Is that healthy? Do I turn off my emotions as a coping strategy when faced with something I can't handle, or do I actually benefit from being able to sequester and process them separately? I think the latter is true, but I don't really have a way to be sure. I used to cry a lot. Whatever.
So what is it going to change? What am I going to change?
I think that I've been holding back recently because I thought that maybe I could still find a way to feel like I belong. I've been trying to fit in. And I think I honestly believed that if I tried hard enough, this time I could make it work. This time I'd find someplace here where I belong.
I know that probably won't happen in this life.
The only One who has ever completely gotten through to me was God. My family and best friend do a lot for me. But God is the One who picks me up when I'm broken, who carries me when I can't walk, and who helps me see clearly when everything is hazy. With God, I can feel like I belong.
Another memory. Now I remember the *real* reason why I reach out to people.
In my darkest hour, when I felt most alone and unloved, and wanted life to be over, I asked God to help me. I asked Him to help me feel His love. He told me to love others - to do everything I could to touch and heal and teach and share and lift and bless the people around me - and that if I did that, He would help me feel His love. I made the promise that I would, and He promised me that I would be ok.
The 15 years since haven't been easy. Sometimes I let my vision cloud and I forget who I am. Sometimes I find myself wishing for a different life - one where I could be like everyone else or where life could be simple. And sometimes I forget to turn to God... and I feel alone.
Is it fair? Is it worth it? Imagine going through life knowing that you may never, ever truly feel like you belong, no matter how hard you try or how hard other people try to make it happen. A handful of people told me the other day that they were going to kill themselves before they read (G)MG, and that while reading my blog post they changed their minds. If I had to go through rough life experiences to help them stay alive, was it worth it? Yeah.
That's the irony in my life, and the thing that makes me laugh through it all. God knows me perfectly... and He knows that there's only one thing I long for more than to be loved and understood. The one reason why I'm willing to put up with *anything* He throws at me. I'd do anything to help someone who needs it.
Two hours ago I realized I was alone, and cried. Right now, my tears are dry and I feel awesome. Life is good, and I have a dozen things planned to make it even better - a dozen ways to improve life for the people around me.
I'm glad I got new contacts. I was pretty blind before. But now I see. Not just the physical reality, and the messed-up reality of my life, but the hand of God in all of it. Thanks, Father, for reminding me. Of why I'm here, of what I'm supposed to be doing, and of who I am.
For the brief moment of mortality, I may be an outsider. But for forever, I am Yours.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 6:43 PM