In 1985, three years after moving to Mesa, Arizona, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was a popular church in the area. I had joined lots of churches over the years. Rather lightheartedly, I agreed to be baptized before my hospital shift. Little did I know, I just threw away the next 20 years of my life and sentenced myself to a world of hard work, sacrifice and self-abnegation.
This church kept me very, very busy. There was so much to do and so much to learn. I was the only convert in my family who lived far away. The ward became my family. Six months into it, the ward split. I got settled, then it split six months later, then the whole stake split. This church was always changing. Being an agreeable person, and friendly, I was able to adapt. I always accepted whatever callings they gave me. Pretty soon, my husband joined. Before we knew it, we were swept into a rush to get us into the temple and get our patriarchal blessings, and then babies.
I was serious about doing all my new religion asked. Callings, babies, meetings, ward activities, family history work, temple work, family home evenings, prayer and scripture reading [both individual and family, both morning and night], fasting, tithing, fast offerings, relief society work, visiting teaching, kept me pretty occupied.
Food became a huge all-consuming deal. Mormon women are supposed to keep everyone fed in a big way. Buying huge white containers of food, constructing food storage rooms, cooking and baking the food from scratch, then storing, freezing or re-using the food was a big task. It wasn’t just for your family either. Clipboards went around relief society every Sunday requiring me to sign up to feed the missionaries or other families. I took classes on how to do this food storage, but I never felt I was able to become confident at it. Food became like a large, looming mountain I could never overcome. It was constantly overwhelming and defeating me.
I was completely dedicated to the point of giving firesides [church talks] when asked. It was common to give three firesides a month. Firesides are like viruses. I’d give a talk in one ward, and the next week, a family member would call and ask me to do the same talk in their ward. Mormons have huge families. I did firesides for 15 years. I finally had to stop doing them when my second son got so sick.
I was still working as a nurse, a career I dearly loved and had worked and studied hard for. Eight years into being a mormon, I was beginning to get a little tired. In 1993 I quit my beloved nursing career due to obeying the prophet who commanded women to leave careers and become full-time homemakers. I cried for two years. The talk I gave about that experience they called, “Seeking the Will of God, Bit by Bit” and was published in Hearts Knit Together, 1995, Deseret Books. They liked it so much, they published it again in The Best of Women’s Conference, 2000 and then again in Sunshine for the Courageous Latter Day Saint Soul in 2001. That’s why I entitled this myself, “Losing My Mind, Bit by Bit”, because that’s exactly what happened. I always wondered why they kept publishing the same old talk. Didn’t they want to know how I was doing since then? I would love to have filled them in on how exhausted and depressed I was. I thought if I kept working hard, I’d earn God’s peace. I was so focused on having eternal perspective that I lost perspective; the perspective that this life was worth living. I was living just to get to die soon, and get admitted to the celestial kingdom where all those hardy, enduring souls got to go.
I lost my identity. I lost all sense of who I was as an individual with a right to sleep, pleasure, fun, joy. Being a mormon, de-humanized me. I was just a worker-bee, like in that beehive thing they use as their symbol. Rather than rest, I plodded on, just like a good pioneer woman. I worked hard, read lots of church history, like my patriarchal blessing advised. I was obedient to every rule, every commandment: no alcohol, tea, coffee, tobacco, be chaste, wear garments day and night no matter how hot it was in Arizona.
I’d sign up to do extra work on those clipboards that went around the room in Relief Society: feed the missionaries, work in the cannery, take a meal into the three sick sisters, put up the temple lights, take down the temple lights, clean the church building, sew something for the humanitarian project, donate used items for the Deseret Industries, etc. Of course, there was always some meal to prepare for the Elder’s Quorum function because Men are so busy acting for God they can’t cook. Temple attendance was encouraged once a month, at least, twice a month was even better. Those who were celestial material attended once a week. Yes, that’s right, I went every week for years. That took up most of my Thursdays. I dreaded Thursdays. I’d spend the whole day just getting one distant relative cleared for celestial glory.
Fridays were devoted to searching for my ancestors at Mesa’s Family History Center. I had filled volumes of my father’s mother’s people, then his father’s people. I worked hard to gather in my mother’s father’s people and then her mother’s, mother’s people. I saved money to send in to courthouses for birth records, marriage records and death records. Family after family, I began to see that you are born, you get married, and then you die. I worked on my husband’s families also.
We were converts so there were thousands and thousands of ancestors who never got taught this busy, busy gospel, and whose only hope of getting out of their spirit prison was me. I agonized every week that all I had to give them was one Friday a week. But faithfully, every Friday I worked down at the Family History Center from 9am until my kids came home from school at 3pm.
When the kids were too little for school, and they would nap, I’d spread family group sheets and pedigree sheets over their little beds as they slept. These sheets would spill over even to the floor space of their rooms. At night I’d use a flashlight and keep working. I got every new computer program the church recommended and entered these deceased families into my Personal Ancestral File. Over and over, year after year, I worked on my ancestors until I knew every one, every life. I was busy with the dead, the dying and the living. Each hour I turned the crank on the film machine, I agonized over all the work at home that wasn’t getting done. I resented Fridays.
On Saturdays I’d cut my husband’s and sons’ hair, lay out all those white shirts, ties, black pants, sox and shoes. I’d get all those zipped-up scriptures out for everyone, snacks, and bags. I raced through all the laundry, groceries, cooking and cleaning for the week. I spent time teaching my boys all the chores because we were taught in Relief Society over and over how important it was to teach our children everything. I spent time on Saturdays putting the finishing touches on the lessons my husband and I would teach the next day. I always planned my lessons a whole week in advance, just like the manual said, so I’d really have the spirit. My husband was too busy to do his own lesson, so I always worked on his as well.
I was always sure to be a good woman behind the men. In fact in one of our family portraits, I made sure I was actually standing behind all three of them, to illustrate that very point. I always got the feeling though, that I was dragging all three, like mules up a hill. It was exhausting to do all this work, but honor the men, as the real spiritual leaders. Saturdays were a lot of work.
Then there were Sundays. Oh, my god, the Sundays. Depending on what time my ward got assigned the building; I was up either at 5am or 7am. Forget sleeping late on Sundays, there’s just too much to do. There are meetings before and after the normal 3-hour stretch of mandated meetings of Sacrament, Sunday school and Relief Society, Primary or Young Women’s. Depending what callings I had, there were the meetings to plan what to do in the next meeting. I would have such a splitting headache on Sundays.
Usually I was fasting for my youngest son, Zack, who had quit breathing as a newborn 5 times and was Severely Learning Delayed-Developmentally Delayed- Bipolar, and, well, just never fit in. I had advocated for him successfully in school where he finally got Special Education, but there is no Special Education in the Primary or Scouts or Sunday School or the Aaronic Priesthood, so he never mastered the art of sitting still, and was always being abused by some priesthood holder, so there were those meetings as well. I thought if I just kept fasting and praying for Zack, God would intervene for him. Every Sunday would end by everyone yelling at each other, followed by Kevin giving Zack a blessing, and we’d close in a prayer. I hated Sundays.
On Mondays, I’d start preparing the evening’s important Family Home Evening. I’d re-clean the house so as not to offend the Holy Spirit. I’d cook an elaborate meal, so as to appease my masters. [I used to tell people I was working for my “Masters”, all 3 of them: Kevin, Mike and Zack!] After awhile that joke wasn’t even funny. I’d take special time to fix the dessert, because that was the one hope that all 3 males would sit through this “prayer-song-lesson-song-prayer-dessert-The End” of this holy family event. I dreaded Mondays.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the only days I had to work on doing my Visiting Teaching for the month, doing a member-missionary project, taking notes at my Institute class, and on helping my oldest son, Mike, progress toward getting his Eagle Scout Award. Every day of the week belongs to the church since it steals your individuality.
Scouting is very important if you happen to have male children in the church. Only Eagle Scouts get the first pick of future marriage partners and good jobs. I was a very dedicated Eagle mother. I was mentored by an Eagle father, in another ward, who guaranteed any boy the Eagle Scout award by age 14. There were certain badges to get at particular times. We had to work every week, without fail, very hard. I was warned if my son did not get this award by age 14, to just abandon all hope for it. After age 14, boys don’t follow through, these days, due to other interests.
In the old days, scouting was all there was. The church doesn’t keep up well with modern times. Mormon boys are to get this award whether they have interest in it or not. Mike was a joy to work with. He always had a big smile on his face and a willing spirit. He’d do whatever ridiculous thing I had planned. Some weeks we were cleaning yards together. Sometimes we’d grab some scouts and play cards with old ladies at the nearest rest home. Sure enough, by following the rigid formula for three years, Mike and I got our Eagle Scout award! I’m suspicious the Scouting program is some kind of crazy, leftover Nazi bullshit. The leaders, with all their goofy feathers, songs, and chants, really need to get a life.
I loved Mike. I wanted him to have every advantage in this very competitive LDS community. It wasn’t Mike’s fault he had old convert parents. Kevin and I were from Illinois. See, we had the misfortune of being cursed and didn’t know it then. We had gotten married too late, at 28. Then, we were having such a good time with our careers, and each other, we had completely forgotten to even have children! If we hadn’t moved to Mesa, and met the missionaries, we would never have come to our senses! Mike wasn’t born until I was an old hag at 35. I had his brother Zack at 37. I’ve always thought Mike got off on the wrong bus in the pre-existence. He was supposed to go to some huge LDS Utah family that goes back six generations. I’ve always thought he was disappointed at our small, defective, convert family. No matter how hard I tried to please him, to please them, I fell flat on my face, and was always behind, trying hard to catch up.
Bit, by bit, I began to lose my sanity. The bipolar illness I had all my life began to get worse. My conscientious and persistent visits to our LDS family psychologist [doesn’t every family have one?] and my psychiatrist didn’t seem to help much. I tried many different medicines. I had my lab work drawn. I was enduring to the end. I was hoping the end was soon because this pace was killing me. Literally. I thought about suicide and tried a few times. I was no longer able to keep up with this marching band of christian soldiers. I hated the song, “Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel”.
Zack was also very suicidal. I caught him with ropes around his neck. He started fires. He jumped out of moving cars and off our roof. Once I grabbed him at the last moment as he tried to jump off the top floor of the mall. He wanted to fly over the treetops below, he said. He didn’t sleep through the night for eleven years. He was taking stimulants and anti-depressants, which only years later, we discovered made him worse. Zack was failing in school, in church, in scouts, in our family. There was never one single family function we enjoyed.
Zack dreaded going to Scouts on Wednesday nights. There would be a fight to get him there and then a fight once he got home. Zack couldn’t learn the scout oaths, codes or anything. His leaders couldn’t learn to just love him. I gave five workshops to the ward. No one cared or followed through. I read the Ensign faithfully every month. The General Authorities reminded mothers to get their sons to the Aaronic Priesthood activities, which was scouting, every Wednesday night. We battled. One night I was on my knees cleaning up dog pee in the carpet. I received a distinct feeling that Jesus Christ did not care one bit about those merit badges. A light went on for me at that moment. I decided to disobey. I stopped making Zack go to scouts.
The very next week, I unraveled some more. It was April 2003. I was taking notes in General Conference. There was a talk on “Raising the Bar”. It devastated me. The gist of the message was that the expectations were being raised for missionaries. The Stake and Bishopric leaders reinforced the “we’re raising the bar” message every other week or so. It grew to encompass the mothers. I was already stretched to the max trying to meet an unbelievably impossible high standard. The church leaders had now raised the bar so high I’d never be able to reach it, let alone get Zack up there. It was impossible.
I remember the exact moment I snapped. Just like a rubber band that gets stretched, especially when it’s old and stiff, maybe one that’s been weathered a little. I was listening to the Bishop, as I sat in the middle pew. He was talking again about this higher standard. I was alone. Kevin was out of town again. In my mind’s eye, I could see them all taking off, leaving Zack and I behind to fend for ourselves. Like in that movie, Open Water, where two scuba divers are left behind by their group. They bob around in the water for days until they give up, and are eaten by sharks. I began to think about all those pioneer mothers who died, under a bush, on the plains, with a dying child, so the dad and older, stronger son, could make it to the Salt Lake Valley. That week, an LDS family moved off our street, a few streets away in order to be in a different ward. Their boys were my boys’ best friends. We were being left alone.
The summer of 2003 I began to feel something big was around the corner but I didn’t know what it was. I began making all kinds of preparations as if I were going somewhere, somewhere for a very long time, somewhere I wasn’t coming back from. I felt real urgency to get my affairs in order. I called the Relief Society President and asked her to take care of my Visiting Teaching Sisters and other duties because I couldn’t do it anymore. I made all the preparations and appointments so that Zack got his Patriarchal blessing. I made sure Mike actually got handed that Eagle Scout Award and also his Deacon’s Duty to God Award.
I worked hard completing the group of ancestors I had been working on and got their names ready. The church encourages families to find their own deceased family names and have their own living family get the temple work done. baptisms for the dead, by the youth, are really encouraged. Mike had already been doing baptisms for the dead for two years now, as he was 14. Zack just turned 12, the exact age required to enter the temple baptistery. I made extraordinary efforts to get all four of us our temple recommends. I was determined to get our little family to the temple, and have one of those lovely family temple experiences I’d read about in the Ensign. The experience was a nightmare because Zack was being weaned off his psychiatric medications. He was irreverent in the temple and the men in white reprimanded us all. Mike was embarrassed one more time. I made a silent vow never to go through that again.
The next Sunday, Mike was doing his priesthood duties in the bread room when Zack barged in and ate the bread. Mike was mortified when a lady overheard the commotion and blamed Mike for his brother’s terrible behavior. I promised Mike he would never again have to be embarrassed because of his mentally ill brother. I promised to keep his brother home until he could obey.
I used to stay home from church sometimes, with Zack, so that Kevin and Mike could enjoy Church without the agony of trying to get Zack to fit in. Our bishop told me once, “Just keep Zack home. You can teach him the gospel at home.” I wrote to the church’s Special Curriculum Department and got materials and did just that. Over time, though, I got lonely. I guess I had gotten selfish, in thinking Zack could fit in just this one Sunday.
Zack was unstable all of September. His liver enzymes had spiked, making it necessary to wean him off his Tegretol medicine. I had just made sure his new school year would be a good one. He had a great IEP and teaching team in place. I had such high hopes. With this new instability, his school year unraveled within a few weeks. Teachers were threatening me not to keep him.
I was panic-stricken; I called his doctor, emailed her, and sent her the teacher’s pleas. I was in his psychiatrist’s office four times that month getting different medicines for him. His mania was scaring me. His doctor laughed at it though and said, “you’re going to have to learn to live with it.” I knew that was impossible. I called four hospitals to get him help. One hospital said we were on the wrong side of the county line. One hospital wouldn’t take him because he was under the age of 13. One hospital wouldn’t take him because he wasn’t also a substance abuser. The last hospital said they didn’t take children. I slid the white insurance book across the kitchen counter to my husband and begged him to get Zack another doctor. He said he wanted to keep the current doctor. I sank into a deep despair. I had failed. I was utterly exhausted. There was no way out. Our situation was hopeless.
The week leading up to Sunday, September 28, 2003, was especially taxing. We had gotten a frightening letter in the mail over some property we owned. I was very alarmed and wanted my husband’s support and kindness but he said it was nothing and he wasn’t concerned about it, and left on an errand. That month, I learned from another specialist that Zack was even more developmentally delayed than originally believed. He was going to need extensive orthodontic work to bring his jaw up to normal. In the doctor’s office, the assistant asked Zack which of all the knots in their nautical display he preferred. Zack said, “the noose. I’d like to hang myself.” I was used to this, but she wasn’t, she jumped up and got the doctor right away. He lectured Zack for quite awhile in how important it was that he continued his bipolar medications.
I felt like I was treading water in the deep end of a pool with Zack on my back. I had treaded water as long as I physically could, and we both began to drown. Zack was getting bigger and stronger and heavier, but I was weakening and couldn’t support us. I just couldn’t continue. It was too much for too long. Looking back now, I was going through menopause but so busy with Kevin’s needs, Mike’s needs, Zack’s needs, the church’s needs, the needs of the household, I lost sight of my needs. There’s a saying in Relief Society, “Don’t forget to fill your bucket”. I had lost my bucket years ago and had no idea where it was. I had a feeling if I were to ever find it, it would be full of holes and rust and be no good anyway.
The week of the 28th, I had gone to the temple that Thursday, as usual, and the Family History Center on Friday. That Saturday was the usual frantic blur of a race to get things done for Sunday. I think by Sunday my body and brain were already way passed the breaking point. There had been so little time over the years, for myself, I had forgotten that I was even there at all. I had died somewhere, along the mormon trail, with all the other weary, pioneer women, first in their family lines to join the gospel.
Looking back to that last Sunday, I got up early as usual, nothing out of the ordinary, except that I wore no makeup, and just let my hair fall in gray threads. I wore a black blouse, long black skirt, black stockings and black shoes. No color at all. Zack and I came home right after Sacrament, keeping my promise to Mike. We were changing into more comfortable clothes. Zack, very manic and animated, stepped out of my bathroom toward me. I was bending over slowly taking off my black stockings. “Mom, let’s kill ourselves!” He was smiling, asking, begging. I’ve never seen Zack so happy. He smiled from ear to ear. It was like he was going to Disneyland. We were like two weak ice skaters holding on to each other for support. When one falls he pulls the other with him. It never occurred to me to call anyone for help. Looking back, I think we de-stabilized simultaneously. I think he was in a manic state and I was in a depressed state.
There is no logical or reasonable explanation for what happened next. I felt like I was falling backward down a hole. The room got dark, somehow, even though it wasn’t quite 10:30 in the morning. Maybe it was a cloud covering the sun, I don’t know. My vision was going. I couldn’t focus. Everything was blurry. I was very slowed down and uncoordinated. The walls began to close in. I felt I was dying already. Talking was difficult, “ok” was all I could get out. It felt like some heavy weight was on my chest and I was smothering. I couldn’t breathe well, short of breath.
I felt it was my duty as a mother, since I had failed every which way here on earth to help Zack, to go with him to the other side. Neither Zack nor I would ever get better. If Zack was finally going to kill himself, I must somehow get over there, too. A few years earlier, my brother’s son, Charlie, had killed himself with a gun. I always felt so badly that he died alone. His death was something our family still hadn’t come to grips with. I didn’t want to kill Zack, or myself, but I wanted Zack to feel relief. I didn’t have the hand-eye coordination and thinking ability to effectively see my way to accomplish it. I didn’t have the ability, at the time, to get us to the other side. Maybe we could just sleep. I told him we could take our meds. We could take a little extra.
In the past, I had followed the advice of a therapist who told me when I was having a bad day, take my meds early, take extra, and take a nap. That had worked for me. I’d wake up the next day and feel ‘re-charged’, ready to go again. Her theory was a person didn’t really want to die, just black out. It had worked for me. About every three months I’d have a really bad day. I’d tell Kevin to take the boys and I would check out for the evening and the night. In the morning, I was myself again. I had never tried to help anyone else do this.
Zack was used to taking his medications four times a day. I didn’t have to help him. I wasn’t able to help him. At one point I remember him getting bread. I know he wanted to die. I was just exhausted. I was concentrating on swallowing as much Tegretol as I could. If Zack was going to the spirit world, I needed to be there for him. It was like I’d hold his hand as he crossed a busy street. I didn’t want him to be alone. I had stopped him so many times over the years from taking his life. This time, I was going with him, so he wouldn’t be alone. From the temple covenants I heard, “It’s time to sacrifice your own life if necessary.” From the New Testament I heard, “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.”
Because I was fasting, the meds worked quickly. I was getting sleepy as we wrote our love notes to Kevin and Mike in case we made it to the other side. I always wrote notes to say goodbye in case I never came back. When I did come back, I would just tear up the notes and throw them away. Kevin and Mike would be better off without us. Their whole lives revolved around our mental illness. Without us, they could live normal lives. Zack wrote a note and put it on the door saying we’re just taking a nap. We both pushed a heavy dresser in front of the bedroom door and locked it. We didn’t know if we were going to have enough time to get to the other side. We took a picture of Jesus off the wall and laid it between us and lay down on the bed and held hands. It was the picture of Jesus holding a little boy as he is helping an older girl up out of the river. We slept. I lost consciousness.
When I first tried to open my eyes, all I could see was white. Then I made out a metal U-track. In spite of the fog, I recognized the metal curtain track common to all I.C.U’s. “Shit”. I never got passed the ceiling. I couldn’t use my left hand. It was tied to the bed. I was so sick. The next three days I was in and out of consciousness. I remember Kevin’s strained face, telling me Zack was ok and would be fine. I remember Mike’s face. A nurse saying, “Let’s clean you up.” There was a guy sitting by my bed all the time. I’d see him through the rails. He’d just sit there. He said he was a sitter. I had no privacy. I slept constantly but was still so tired. Occasionally people would come to the bedrail and ask questions. I’d answer as best I could, doctors, social workers, a chaplain, nurses, and policemen reading me my rights. I remember a visit from a friend, Jeni. She’s very tall. One groggy day, her long arms were suddenly on either side of me. Her face was an inch from mine, and she growled, “Why didn’t you call me”. She was like one of those large silver back gorillas in the forest, warning off predators.
Actually I had called her. I told her many times Zack killed an animal, set fires, kicked in a door, threatened to kill us. Zack was not sleeping. Zack was suicidal. Zack cut himself with knives just to see the blood. Zack did not fit in at church. I told Kevin and his friends. I told church leaders and friends. I told the doctors. I told the ladies who drew blood. I told the secretaries and receptionists. I told the specialists. I had called family over the years. I never hid the fact that Zack and I were bipolar and unstable. Every day was a fight for sanity. Looking back now, I should never have continued with Zack’s psychiatrist so long. I should never have worked so hard for the church. I felt so badly for my husband. He looked warn and tired and sad.
One night Kevin came to my room and told me Zack and I would be transferred to the same psychiatric hospital. I was strapped to a gurney with just a hospital gown on, barefoot. I was taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s’ Behavioral Health Hospital. I was terrified. I had never gone to a psychiatric hospital before. I was so cold. I was alone. I had no sox, no shoes, no hairbrush, no make up, no clothes, no money, no family, and no friends. I sat in the lobby of the hospital for many hours before I was admitted. It was dark outside and I didn’t know where I was in downtown Phoenix or I would have run out of there. I overheard the staff laughing about other patients and funny ways they had tried to kill themselves. This frightened me and I called Kevin to come get me but he never answered the phone. I was increasingly nervous and anxious. I had been on psychiatric medications for twelve years. Now it was several days without them, having been totally purged of them in the ICU. My teeth were chattering, my skin was crawling, I was paranoid.
Early in the morning, I was admitted to an adult locked psychiatric ward. I was petrified as I was shown my room where another, very large patient was sleeping. There were crickets jumping, the bathroom fixtures all dripped, dripped, dripped all night long. There was a red light over my bed that never shut off. The mattress was only an inch of light plastic, as was the pillow. I got to where I dreaded the nights. My medicines were never right and I never slept. It was like a Chinese torture chamber, never being able to rest or sleep, being manic, without meds, the red light, the dripping, the crickets, the miserable plastic. I tried to believe I was in a rain forest, but it didn’t work.
I was absolutely frantic about Zack. He was in the same horrible place somewhere on a children’s unit. Was he sleeping? Was he eating? Was he drinking? Was he as scared and lonely as I was? I was hysterical to get to Zack until one of his therapists came to me and told me Zack was doing well. He was eating and sleeping and had friends. He was sleeping? Zack had had night terrors for years. He had never slept well. He had friends? That was new. Come to find out, the first thing the hospital psychiatrist did was take Zack off all the antidepressants and tranquilizers he had been on that made him so awful all those twelve long years! Kevin would visit me after seeing Zack. Kevin was amazed how much better Zack was. Zack was on a new medicine called Geodon, an antipsychotic. Oh, and his liver enzymes were fine, after all, so he got his Tegretol back! Something inside me let go a little, but I still obsessed about him and prayed for him incessantly. [oh, by the way, we decided to keep this new smarter psychiatrist and dump the old stupid one. Zack hasn’t been suicidal once in two years and he’s been stable now for two solid years. Ahhhhhhhh. The wrong meds are dangerous, like gasoline on a fire. The right medications are absolutely life changing.]
Because I couldn’t sleep at night I was tired during the day. There’s a big difference between being tired and being sleepy. Normal people don’t know that. I was extremely tired, but wired, jumpy, exhausted. I dreaded the nights. I stayed up writing all night. I was so worried I’d lose my mind without sleep about the 6th night without it. Someone told me that no one had ever died without sleep, and then someone said you could die without sleep. I wasn’t concerned about dying. During the day I went to all the groups, and read the reading material and learned I had become enmeshed with Zack and that I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as Bipolar 1 Disorder with panic and anxiety. I was encouraged to focus on myself and stop obsessing about Kevin, Mike, Zack and the Church’s standards. I learned I had compulsive religiosity.
I learned that all the hard working helpfulness I did was really controlling compulsiveness. I learned I had no boundaries with Zack. He had felt suicidal that day, not me. I was exhausted and yet acted with him to carry out his wish. My medications were changed every day. None of the medicine they tried me on for sleep worked. There was nothing strong enough. The last day there I was placed on Depakote1000mg twice a day with Restoril 45mg and Tegretol 600mg at night and Seroquel 300mg. I had an image of what had happened. I was a deep, ceramic bowl; a hard working bowl, holding several beautiful glass balls, among whom were Kevin, Mike and Zack. On 9-28-03 the bowl fell crashing to the ground, never to be repaired, the balls were ok, they just rolled across the floor. The bowl was in a hundred different shattered pieces and I had no idea how to fix myself.
After two weeks I was discharged into the custody of two police officers. I was arrested and handcuffed and taken to jail. I was charged with a 2nd degree Felony for Child Abuse which carried a mandatory 15 year prison sentence followed by 10 years of parole without seeing the children and faced a fine of $150,000 and many years of community service. Because my husband is a Lieutenant for Mesa Police Department, and a Commander of its Bomb Squad the Assistant Chief was concerned about liability. They prosecuted me fully so they could say there was no special treatment.
I did get special treatment though, because normally this case would have just disappeared. The original cop who investigated my case was taken off the case because she didn’t agree with prosecuting it. Two cops got reprimanded because they disagreed with the illegal search and seizure of our home. The arresting officer was having an affair with the unit’s doctor , who lied about facts to make the case stronger. Zack was awake and alert in the ambulance to the hospital. They sedated him in the ER in order to work with him. They interviewed Zack when he was still sedated and restrained in the ICU. Later, the toxicology report came back saying Zack had only taken four pills. I was arraigned before a judge. He let me stay at home, for now, but stipulated Zack and I could not be alone together. I had never had such a bleak future.
My head was spinning as Kevin took me home. I immediately tried to get back to normal, no matter how abnormal it was, and no matter how I was feeling inside. I went to work cleaning the messy house. It was obvious the unpaid domestic servant had been gone for two weeks. That day, Kevin sternly sat me down and told me I was going to have to get a job to pay for the expenses of this mess, maybe live somewhere else, and that he could never go though this again. He could never go through this again?
Those first days home, I was still reeling inside from everything. The Depakote sedated me and made me sick and made my hands shake. I wanted to please Kevin, the boys, and the Law. I felt lower than low for what I had done and the mess I had caused. The lawyer kept telling me I’d probably go to prison for years. I didn’t know how I could please Kevin; resume my nursing career, just yet, with this criminal problem, shaky hands, and sedation. The reality of mental illness is discrimination and blame. It’s the only illness we blame people for having. It doesn’t happen with a heart attack, just a brain attack.
I felt like I was in limbo. Shamed. I was a social reject, an outcast. Embarrassed, defeated. My life was beyond my control. My body was so sick on the heavy doses of depakote, tegretol, and seroquel. The fear and anxiety crushed me. I don’t think the police and courts understand how much worse they make life for the mentally ill. For the next year and a half, I went back and forth to the courts as a defendant. To help myself, I joined The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill [NAMI]. I took trainings and classes in mental illness. When I told the president of NAMI about my felony charge and indictment, he kindly said, “Eventually, everyone with mental illness ends up getting charged with something.” Associating with these very accepting people helped my feel there was hope for me.
The LDS psychiatrist, I had for twelve years, retired just when I got out of the hospital. It’s a good thing, because I got busy finding myself better psychiatric care. I mean, it’s pretty obvious I needed someone who would do a better job. I navigated the maze of Value Options and became a patient to continue some out- patient therapy. I got a new psychiatrist there and my own case manager. I took classes there as well. I was told to focus on myself. I had never done that before. I was so busy helping others. My confidence began to grow but my religious life began to fail.
For a year and a half I struggled to get back to normal. I cleaned, cooked and did laundry. I went to church. I obeyed all the rules. I took care of the boys and Kevin. But something was flat. Something was off. I hated church talks on sacrifice and service. When I went to the temple and heard, “sacrifice your own life if necessary” I never went back. Daily Scripture reading and prayer wasn’t fulfilling. The Relief Society president grabbed me twice, without even asking how I was, but asked me to resume Visiting Teaching and Family History work! I just looked at her in disbelief! It all seemed very strange. I called for two appointments with the Bishop who offered no advice other than “Go forward in faith.” He had no idea what to do. He acted nervous and afraid.
Something was wrong. The church and its people did not know what to do. The Bishop and the Stake President interviewed me for my temple recommend within a few months of my discharge and arrest. I was able to answer every question honestly and easily renewed it. Neither of them knew what to do for me. Here I was keeping all the commandments and was still uneasy and felt something was wrong.. Then I remembered that I was keeping all the commandments when I overdosed with my son!
The funny thing about that Sunday was no one had any revelation. The day came and went without revelation. Funny, huh? The whole time Zack and I were “napping” in the back bedroom, priesthood holders came and went. My priesthood holding husband and older son watched TV, made cookies, and worked on motorcycles, without checking on us in the back bedroom. The bishop even came by delivering an IEP the old bishop had in his desk and left without any revelation we had overdosed. September 28 was the last Sunday of the month so our home teachers came by that evening and gave the home teaching lesson. Here Zack and I were gorked out of our minds in the back bedroom during their visit and NONE of these men had a revelation that something was wrong? They all left after their pleasant visits! That’s odd.
If the church were true, where had been my revelation that day? I was wearing my garments. I had said my prayers. I had read my scriptures. I had gone to church. I had gone to the temple. I had gone to the family history library. We had paid our tithing and fast offerings and more. We read the Book of Mormon as a family. We held our family home evenings. And on and on and on! I had kept all the commandments, and yet look at the plight I was in. What had happened to me was way outside the ability of the church, that’s why they didn’t know what to say or do. Elder Morrison calls mental illness “a tsunami of suffering.” It’s just too much for the church to deal with.
January 2005, I zipped up my scriptures for the last time. I put them up on a shelf. I went through all my mormon books and threw them away. I stopped wearing those long hot garments, put them in a big bag on a high closet shelf. I bought regular underwear for the first time in twenty years. I bought myself a box of tea. I used to love hot tea and iced tea. I began talking to my husband and sons about what I wanted.
I began reading books: Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood
Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
Breaking Point: Why Women Fall Apart and How They Can Re-Create Their Lives also by Martha Beck
Revolution From Within by Gloria Steinem
The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden
The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt
Women and Madness by Chesler
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
The Joy Diet by Martha Beck
America’s Women by Gail Collins
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
The Woman’s Book of Courage by Sue Patton Thoele
Comfort Secrets for Busy Women by Jennifer Louden
No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie
Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck
With each encouraging word from these new female friends of mine, I began to piece together a happy life. I became selfish for the first time in my life. I collected bits of turquoise glass. It spoke to my soul. I got rid of the old heavy antique furniture in my bedroom that Kevin loved and replaced them with modern. I did the exercises in the books to discover what meant something to me.
I wanted to work with the mentally ill. I got a fabulous job as a Rehabilitative Associate for Triple R. Behavioral Health’s East Valley Clubhouse in Mesa, doing just that! I have two sweet women bosses who adore me. Within six months I got a raise! All those years of not working were not good for me. The hours are great. They know about my felony indictment. I was completely honest. I love my work. My co-workers are great. The atmosphere is very nurturing and feminine. Everyone is immersed in compassion, acceptance, kindness, going at your own pace, no competition. Religion is not allowed because so many mentally ill people have been harmed by religions. Yet, privately, most of my co-workers see their work as their ministry, an outcropping of their many and varied religious denominations. I know if Jesus came to Mesa, he’d definitely stop in the East Valley Clubhouse. He’d feel at home there.
Because my husband refused the expense of a trial, I pled guilty to child abuse. I’m serving ten years of probation now. It’s hard. I try to keep my head above the waters of the low self-esteem. I hate sitting on the dirty plastic chairs with the other criminals. I feel so badly for all of us in that disgusting room. I feel small, insignificant, and inhuman. I try to do things that help me feel better. I got my own banking account. I went shopping for clothes. I bought exercise equipment and use it every day. I stretch out in the sun, nude. I got my hair cut and professionally colored and highlighted. I stopped cooking all those meals! I’ve lost twenty pounds! I stopped doing all the laundry. I put a laundry basket by each male’s bed. They do their own now. I declared my freedom from the need to cook, clean and sew, laundry and iron their clothes. I am a freed slave!
It’s amazing how much time is available by just not going to church anymore and doing all that work! I still meet often with our family psychologist who has encouraged my leaving the church. I’ve kept my husband and sons posted on my new life and why I must take each step. I love having a female psychiatrist and female case manager. Even my probation officer is a female. It feels so good to be free of male domination. I’ve decided being under a male, authoritarian, patriarchal church was oppressive and depressing. It kept me from growing and expressing myself. Yesterday I mailed my resignation letter to the Bishop. It felt good. Mormonism was an interesting period of my life. I’m glad my service is over and I can move on with my new life.
The issue for me is not whether the mormon church is true or not. I don’t care one way or the other. It’s just too hard on me to live it. It’s just too exhausting. All that work and sacrifice and dedication is unhealthy for me. For me, the issue is living a healthy life. For the first time in many years I want to live! I’m happy waking up in the morning and having a job to go to. I’m not lonely anymore. I have a place to go, people to see, things to do. I have a paycheck again. There is something so satisfying about doing a job well and having people appreciate it enough to pay for it.
My husband is stepping in and being a parent. Imagine that. My boys are doing their own laundry and cleaning their own rooms. They cook for themselves or buy pizza. They are becoming more independent It’s good for them to see a happy mother. It’s good for them to rely on their father. Our family was out of balance. It’s better now.
We have more money. We laugh more. We like Sundays. We play cards and watch movies. We don’t freak out if someone is relaxing. We spend more time together. We talk about the church some. I make it clear I will not get sucked back into that vortex again. The church is harder on women than on men. I actually think it’s set up for men. They like having the women do all that hard work for them.
We still have family prayer and family home evening. But it’s different. We do an activity Zack and I learned at the psychiatric hospital. Everyone gets to choose a goal for the week and state how he/she feels. We listen and support each family member. The next week we check in with each other and see how the goal went and add the new feeling. We talk more and we respect boundaries.
Whether you are lds or not, I wish you all the very best in your life. Thanks for hanging in there with me and reading my journey.
Love, Pam Kazmaier August 7,2005
August 6. 2005
Bishop Stephen Thomas
2339 East Enrose
Mesa, Arizona 85213
Re: Resignation from church membership Pamela Ann Kazmaier
This is my formal letter of resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, effective immediately, severing all relationship to the church. I hereby terminate my consent to be treated as a member of said church and I withdraw my consent to submit to the church beliefs and ecclesiastical disciplinary procedures. Please make the confidential changes in the church records, without delay, according to the Church Handbook of Instruction, page 130.
You must now treat me as a former member in all your dealings with me. Please forward this voluntary resignation to the stake president, within the week, as I waive the thirty-day waiting period, having considered this for six months. Due to health reasons, I can no longer sacrifice, and consecrate all my time, talents and everything to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I understand by doing this I cancel forever all hope of exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
I am not leaving due to some personal offense or doctrinal issue. I am grateful for all I gained over the course of twenty years of membership. I was able to break the cycle of alcoholism in my family line. I treasure the relationships developed with my husband of twenty-four years and two children. Over the past seven months of inactivity, we’ve gotten even closer. I gained leadership and public speaking skills in all the tasks I was asked to do. Though it got exhausting, I magnified every calling. I poured all my energy into each assignment. This excess use of human energy took a toll.
The sudden crisis and tragedy of September 28, 2003 caused me to wake up. Overdosing with my suicidal son was a wake up call. Stepping out of the LDS mindset has taken a full two years now. This week, August 10, 2005, marks 20 years of church membership. September 28, 2005 marks two years since my breakdown.
Waking up tied to a hospital bed, locked up in a psychiatric ward, and being arrested in handcuffs and taken to jail was quite a shock. I got all the way to age 50 without even a traffic ticket. Being a criminal, charged and indicted on a felony, and now serving the next ten years in probation is almost more than I can endure.
I wish there had been a warning when I joined the church: “This church will require you to meet more than you can humanly do. It is not recommended for those of you who have inherited mental illness, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder. You will work yourself into exhaustion and breakdown.”
All of 2004 I struggled to “get back to normal” in the church. Church talks on striving and dedication sickened me. All the hard work is too exhausting now. By not attending church, I am beginning to relax, and feel peace and happiness. I am beginning to heal. I wish you all the best and thank you for your time.
Cc: Members and Statistical Records Division
50 East North Temple Street