Taking control (social media)

I’ve written about paring down on social media previously, but I’m finding that it is something that periodically needs re-visiting.

Since starting to use “Facebook without friends” (enjoying articles and select pages, but not using it for connecting with friends) about 10 months ago, things have been much better. I have no regrets, despite the decrease in the number of people I communicate with regularly. Quality over quantity and all that, along with the fact that it is exhausting attempting to maintain so many connections and the constant influx of information was incredibly overwhelming. Unlike many others, I’m not a twitter or Instagram (what else is there? Are there others now?) person. I had less to detach from.

After removing the web browser from my phone (with discomfort but a profound sense of freedom) as well as “work” related e-mails, I did slip back somewhat. The browser crept back, the e-mail crept back in. Checking and searching slowly increased again, even if I didn’t actually spend much time at all when checking. My small amount of online shopping also became less contained in regards to when and where I did it. In addition, I also stopped putting my phone “away” (out of site in a special box where I could still hear it if desired), which increased compulsive checking of… the weather (what else was left?)

So, after running myself into the ground with various work things which in turn crossed over into phone use and e-mail checking and the like (it makes it all so much easier!), I stopped to re-evaluate. I needed, for the sake of my sanity, to take stock again.

This time I enabled restrictions on my phone, disabling all web browsers, the ability to download new applications (I.E. web browsers) and also inhibiting my ability to make any further paring down very difficult to undo (deleting my work related e-mail access.)

A trusted party has my restrictions pin number, and I don’t see her for at least a week, if not two. I have too much pride to contact her prior to the scheduled time. I doubt I’ll re-install after a week, but removing the ability to give into temptation in the first couple of weeks makes it much easier to stick to.

Again, there has been a combination of feelings – a profound sense of lightness and freedom, but also that slight discomfort. It is odd not to be able to google the answer to any question at any time. It’s difficult to not pick up my phone and compulsively check… the weather… but it gets easier by the hour. I put my phone away more and do word searches (on paper!) when watching TV to occupy my hands. I play Tetris on my 23 year old Gameboy. I am left to wonder about the answer of what ever I’m wondering about at any particular time; I’ve discovered (again) that it can actually be nice to not always find the answer… there is a nice feeling of mystery just being left to wonder.

Things are more peaceful. My mind is calmer. I am starting to find my feet again.

I still have access to all of these applications on my laptop, which I keep out of my main living area. I can still look things up or tend to e-mails or do work that I want or need to, but it is easier to enforce the needed time away from these things without them in the palm of my hand. If I really want or need to know something, I’ll go look it up. If I’m away from home or in bed at the time, I leave it, and if I care enough or it matters enough, then I’ll remember to look it up later; it’s amazing how rarely I do remember or care enough.

So, that’s my experience. Take something from it or don’t, but either way, it’s working for me.

Johansen X

 

Leaving the LDS – Mental Health and Same-Sex-Attraction

Bear with me: if you’re interested only in my experience and thoughts regarding same-sex-attraction and the LDS church, just skip down the post a bit.

After years of agonising over my involvement and membership with the LDS Church, making the final step to cut ties is both scary and freeing. What has allowed me to finally feel relatively safe in doing so is the work that I have done over the years to meet my needs outside of the church.  I’ve intentionally invested my energy in creating local community through neighbours, friends, informal social groups, a relevant music society, and other volunteer work. I’ve intentionally worked with my mind to help stabilize my mental health and manage challenges in increasingly wise ways.

Recognizing the destructive influence of the church in my life and how it essentially mimicked the years of anorexia that I lived with had become increasingly obvious. In learning to replace anorexia as a way to cope with life with other more helpful way, I also learnt to apply this strategy to my spiritual life and overall wellbeing. Leaving anorexia and leaving the church in many ways required many of the same kind of challenges – working out how to meet my needs in healthy and life-giving ways rather than relying or the prescribed rigid guidelines of the church or of anorexia to help me feel safe. I learnt to live with the grey in my life, loosening my grasp to the “black and white”.

Leaving them both behind – seeing them for what they were and realising that I didn’t need either of them anymore has required much courage but has been incredibly freeing. These days I meet with a small group of individuals in our “not church” – we are Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, and Buddhist. We meet fortnightly and talk over coffee and breakfast. We are each welcomed and respected for who we are and for the individuality of our journeys. Ironically, I feel the presence of God and the Spirit in my life and in this world that I ever did when I was involved with the church.

Through letting go of the intense desire to be “worthy”, to be “righteous” (in the eyes of the church), to follow the rules to the letter, and instead learning to be flexible and more comfortable with the unknown has been incredibly challenging and at times terrifying, yet it has also been incredibly freeing. Today I live with an increased level of integrity, striving to live a moral and ethical life that is free of the guilt that came with trying to live with one dictated by (false) doctrine.

For the most part I’ve never had a problem with being same-sex-attracted. I do feel like the LGBTIQ community can do itself a public disservice in the image it can perpetuate about our lifestyles and values (which are as diverse as any other large community). Personally I’ve always been rather conservative in dress and behaviour, and I’d far rather a cup of tea and an early night than some club or parade. The queer folk that I’m friends with display gentleness and love, and are living in or seeking to live in committed, loving relationships. For the most part, our “gay agenda” (that some like to allude to) is making sure we have milk in our fridges, getting essays in or work done on time, spending time with friends or family, and in many cases, working hard to raise children in loving and wise ways.

The only times that I’ve struggled with my sexuality was when it really hit me that I’d never have that imagined ideal of wedding, kids, and white picket fence. Yes, I could still have family, but the journey toward it would be much more challenging and require planning. Obviously, it is far rarer for same-sex couples to conceive “surprise” children.

The only period of my life where I’ve felt intense guilt and shame over my sexuality was when I was part of the LDS Church. Despite a loving and wise Bishop and even friends in the church who knew about my inclinations, I knew that a) I could never be in a same-sex relationship while in the church (meaning a life of singledom), b) that I would never have a temple marriage, and thus c) that I could thus never be worthy of obtain the ordinances to one day be granted entry into the celestial kingdom.

I did what many in the church try do or are told to do when they share with anyone their same-sex-attraction; I prayed fervently to change, I tried dating guys, hoping and praying that if I just tried hard enough, I could change or at least make it work. I tried to accept that my life would be one of singledom. I tried really, really, hard. It didn’t work but it was soul destroying.

Like many I was given the line that even if we are born gay, that we are all given challenges in this life, and that how I chose to respond to my same-sex-attraction was what counted; endure. If I didn’t act on my feelings, if I endured to the end, if I lived righteously (aka by the teachings of the church), then I would be rewarded in the next life, and that in the next life I would be “free” of these “temptations”.

At times I sincerely wanted to believe this, and shelved all that I knew to be correct and contrary to these teachings, and yet I still struggled with immense guilt and shame, and always had to keep such an important part of my being secret within the church. I always had to hide. Compared to many members raised in the church, I was lucky enough to have friends and family who didn’t give a toss about who I was attracted to – they were far more concerned that I’d become involved with the Church to begin with (to their credit, they actually stuck by me through that choice… and were still there for me when I left. Bless ’em).

Even when I wanted to believe (so I could then believe in the rest of the package and promises), I never was quite able to. I knew that people with same-sex-attraction are born as such, and I knew so many loving and committed individuals and families – who I could see were not a danger to the values and fabric of society – but often upstanding citizens who were living well and for some, raising beautiful children.

To anyone in the church who is LGBTIQ? I would say:

  1. You were born this way. If God created you, he created you (as anyone else) in His image. He didn’t make a mistake and he didn’t give you your attractions as a challenge. You are okay just as you are.
  2. Having trouble believing in God at the moment? You were still born this way, and your sexuality and how you choose to respond to it have nothing to do with your value as a human being.
  3. Interestingly, same-sex-attraction occurs not only in humans, but countless animal species. Google it, it’s fascinating! While you’re at it, Google “gay penguins” – you’ll find wonderful stories of committed same-sex penguin couples successfully raising other chicks that have been abandoned by their birth parents!
  4. No amount of prayer, “conversion therapy”, trying “hard enough”, wishing or hoping, can change your sexuality. It can, however, intensify you level of guilt and self-hatred over something that you have no reason to feel guilty of ashamed of.
  5. You are okay just as are, just as you were made. You are just as worthy of loving and being loved as any other human, regardless of sexuality.
  6. You can live a healthy, happy, righteous life (not in the LDS church’s eyes, but in the eyes of a loving god and / or the world) while being queer.
  7. This is who you are and that is okay.

For those considering leaving the church I’d have you ask yourself:

“Am I living with integrity?”

“Is the Church helping or harming my spiritual wellbeing?”

I’d recommend seeking out support or social groups for those with same-sex-attraction (on-line or in person) before making that so very difficult step of actually leaving. If possible, work to extend your network of friends outside the church (even simply on-line through places such as ‘exmormon.org’ or ‘post-mormon.org’) and (if possible) accepting family. Explore joining non-church related clubs, sports, or social groups. If you decide to leave the church, however you do it, it needs to be your way, though. Whatever path you take is okay. If you decide to stay, then peace be with you in that path, too.

In a nut-shell: there is nothing wrong with you. There is much wrong with the church (there is already much literature available regarding evidence of the un-truthfulness of the church and the false doctrine, so I won’t repeat it here). I hope and pray that one day you, too, can see things for more of what they are, and have the courage to pursue a life of freedom and integrity, whatever that looks like for you.

It is never easy. It will never be easy. It is, however, worth it.

Peace be with you,

Johansen X

LDS Church – Official Resignation

At the very end of 2009 I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). I was severely depressed and suicidal, willing to grasp at and try to believe anything with a promise of some kind of peace or better life. I was desperate for community, for love, for belonging. I was desperate for some kind of, any kind of hope.

From the beginning I knew it was a crock. I shelved this knowledge and tried and prayed so hard for it to be true, to be able to believe.

It really was an odd choice of church for a same-sex-attracted quasi Christian / Buddhist / agnostic soul.

I came and went over time. I alternated between trying to set aside my lack of faith for the possibility of hope and community. Each time I went back, my experience of cognitive dissonance grew by the hour, along with my personal guilt for not being “worthy” (in the eyes of the church) and for knowing in my heart of hearts, that I simply did not believe. Each time I left, these feelings had driven me to the point of breakdown. Each time I left I did so, somewhat ironically, to save my own life.

Eventually I learned that the church and its teachings were never going to be my saviour. I learned that I’d never be able to really believe. In all my time in the church, I was never able to “testify” to or attempt to recruit other lonely and lost souls. It didn’t sit with me – I knew deep down the potential ramifications of joining the church.

Throughout my time in the church, I stayed connected to and supportive of other queer friends, and even kept participating in a social group for same-sex attracted Christian / ex-christian / post-christian women. A number of these women are still dear to my heart and so very important to me. These women were more my saviour than the church could ever be. With these women, and with a supporting church, I could be and was accepted for myself – through my ups and downs, through my involvement with Mormonism, through the trials and joys of life.

To me, “officially” leaving the church is still a difficult thing to do – it feels like cutting ties with a safety net that I could always run back to, like some kind of drug. This net for me though is woven with barbed wire, and this drug for me, is one that has the potential to kill – my spirit, my soul, my faith, my body.

I didn’t mind being an “official” (though “inactive”) member of the church. I like to drop in to the occasional service, and I have friends I hold dear that are faithful members.

For me, the tipping point in offically resigning, has been seeing and knowing the unimaginable damage of the church’s teachings around same-sex-attraction. These teachings that create division in families, ostracism of good souls, and the damaging beliefs held individuals that they are sinful and unworthy to the core, simply for living the way that they were born to live. I don’t want this membership of mine – of just one  – to be counted among the official numbers of the church and thus inadvertently be aligned with such harmful teachings and false doctrine.

Today, I posted my official letter of resignation to the church. Actually, I posted it to three people, having had my last request ignored.

People within the church often say that the Church is perfect, but naturally, the people within it are only human and thus will always be less than perfect (as we all are). I believe the reverse is true – despite the false foundations and doctrines of the church, it still has many, many good souls that are a part of it. I hope that they, too, regardless of their beliefs, are able to stand up and halt the harm that the teachings of the church cause.

Love. Love without condition, without judgement, without expectation. Just love.

Johansen X

The Phone Box

Phone Box

That? That is my phone box.

Over time, my “smart” phone has become both an indispensable device that helps me organise so many aspects of my life – from calendar to GPS, from banking to shopping list, from music producer to metronome. Not to mention the actual phone that it originally evolved from. In my life, it has also become a constant source of anxiety.

Like many, I frequently find myself checking anything from my E-mail to the weather in that sticky, habitual, rather compulsive way. So often now, even just the sight of the thing generates feelings of overwhelm and aversion.

Breaking such habits is difficult, especially when devices are constantly within our reach and programmed to be “sticky”. At times I’ve considered returning to a “dumb” phone (oh, for the old Nokia 3310!) just to solve the problem, but have realised that the smart phone really has become quite indispensable in my life. This was made particularly clear following a break-in, which not only alerted me (via internet banking and my compulsive checking) to the fact that my card had been used, that my handbag (including my purse and all my house and car keys) had been stolen.  It was the phone that allowed me to quickly cancel cards, contact police, sort-out direct debit issues, re-order replacement cards, and much more.

So, how can I get the most out the benefits of this device without it overtaking my life with the compulsive checking?

I created a “phone box.” This box is where I place my phone for most of the day and only take out when I actively choose to use it. The box is in a place where it is easily accessible, and yet it removes the device from my direct sight. I can still hear it ring or “dings” with a message, but it’s no longer constantly by my side, emanating that mental barrage of stimuli that I know it holds.

Aside from the uncomfortable and challenging adjustment period of learning to do things like watch TV, do my music practice, read, or even cook without being constantly diverted or multi-tasking, it has been a God-send. I am calmer. My head feels calmer. My home feels like a more peaceful place. I feel less overwhelmed so much of the time.

Technology can provide great opportunities and conveniences. When we work out how to use it smartly in a way that benefits us more than it takes away from us, is when we can really make the most of what it has to offer.

The “phone box” is one very helpful strategy that I have discovered. Using the ‘Do not disturb’ option between 8pm and 7am is another one.

May you, too, find your own ways that help you juggle and smartly manage the omnipresence of these oh-so-helpful devices.

Kind regards,

Johansen.

New Year ‘Focus Areas’

Around this time of year there is a lot of talk about resolutions and goals. To set them or not to set them? To aim high or keep them more achievable? Measurable or general?

I prefer choose some focus areas for the year and then explore both now and then explore, over time, what these areas mean to me and what they look like when put into play.

I find that my focus areas often overlap with the ones of the previous years and are generally based very much around my core values and things that are positive for my own and others’ well-being – physical, mental, spiritual, social.

This year’s focus areas are:

Community: continuing to build, strengthen and develop local community. To help create a local environment that helps to meet my needs for local connection and feelings of belonging, as well as to foster the same for others.

Health: continue to undertake activities that are essential to my health and wellbeing. These include things like playing my music, nourishing my body with good food and moderate and enjoyable exercise, a balance of activity and down time that works with my energy levels and volunteering at a local organisation.

Family: continuing to negotiate and develop relationships with different members of my family so that we all benefit from our interactions and connections.

These are my main three. There will be more, but most of them come back to these core ones. There are strategies for each, but I won’t list them here, and they really do evolve as everything is in life does. Change is one thing that I think we can all rely on, whether it is comfortable or not.

This is just the way that I have found that allows me to move into the new year with both something to aim for but with a gentleness that allows me to be both specific but flexible.

I hope you can find your own way to move forward.

J X

Holiday Quiet (is not always peaceful)

I don’t think I have ever noticed it quite so clearly before, but it feels like the city (world) really does go “off-line” over the Christmas / New Year period. The streets are quite, the shops are closed. People stay home or with family (or if they’re unlucky, they still have to work.) I imagine this time of quiet for many people is a respite from the usual fast-pace that life can be.

What happens to those who are less connected though?

Those without families?

Those with families but who live alone?

Who have more less-structured days or alone times?

Those who are having a rough time but whose usual supports are having a (well earned) break?

Volunteer and support services are often closed. For me I know that it is not only the “clients” but the volunteers that this can have profound effect on.

The less connected can become and feel even more disconnected. More lonely.

Neighbours and friends are around, but many go off the radar, either spending time with family or just taking some much needed time out. This is understandable.

Some times big things, unexpected things or crises happen which throws usual patterns out of whack, compounding the challenge of getting through an already difficult time with less resources. This is life. These things happen.

What do we do in this time if we feel like we have little to hold on to, to tether us? We sit quietly trying to pass our days, wondering what on earth to do ourselves and hoping that things will improve when the world turns back on again. Or at least that seems to be what I’m doing. You might have a different way. Please share if you care to. We all have our own ways.

For someone whose days and weeks are structured much differently to many peoples, I’m hanging out for the city to turn its lights back on, for the pedestrian and car traffic to pick up, for shop doors to open, routines to recommence, volunteer gigs to kick off in the new year, markets that sell strawberries to light up and regular, trusty routines to return.

In the mean time, what is there to learn from this? I suppose if we take the time (and head space), we can note by their absences what things are just so important in our day-today lives and work on strengthening them in the coming year (and maybe even plan ahead for future times.) In the middle of potential emotional tumult, we can discover who is able to offer tendrils of connection or hope when we need them most (and from whom we might find them mos helpful.) If we find them (I have) then we can acknowledge them with gratitude. We can be reminded of why sometime Facebook really can feel like it offers a life-line, whether or not we engage with it. We can understand and empathize just a little more with others who are struggling in their own or similar ways.

I think most at this time, we (I) can acknowledge what I already knew – just how important  connections with other people are and how treasured different types of relationships can be. From simple waves and sidewalk conversations to shared cups of tea, to crossing paths at local markets (and more…) They all have their place, and I am grateful that I have enough of them to notice their absence when they are not there. My wish – my New Year wish (and resolution?) – is that some how all might be able to find even just some of these connections, and that I might be able to play a small role in offering them as well as receiving them.

J X

‘Tis the Season

Today is my birthday. I’ve always loved birthdays. I’ve always loved Christmas. New Year I can take or leave.

As an adult, birthdays have remained special to me. While so many have reached a “meh” point with them, for me each one has marked another year that I have kept myself alive. That is no easy feat.

Birthday and Christmas celebrations have always run together. It’s just been a special time of year.. The lights, the carols, the good-will (for those of us who are lucky enough to experience it.) Decorations, trees, traditions. It has always held some kind of magic.

This year it has been a bit different. It all started off the same with the excitement, the lights, the magic. All was well.

But life happens.

For the first time ever I felt to some degree what many others feel at this time of year. The magic disappeared, I’ve been exhausted and dreading obligations (but still lucky enough to have family obligations.) I have just wanted to run off to some bush retreat(or hunker down at home) until it had all passed and things were back to normal (whatever that is.)

I thought that this year would just be a write-off, the year to go down in history as that Christmas that I would just want to forget.

But… Some times it just takes something small to change things. For me, I called on a friend, a neighbour, and asked her if she would be up for a morning cuppa on my birthday. I just wanted an hour of something small and normal to look forward to. She bought be breakfast at a local cafe. The weather was perfect (the heat of the day is yet to hit.) In that hour, I couldn’t have asked for more.

That breakfast, that “small” but lovely start to my morning has shifted something. I am grateful. I think that maybe, just maybe some of the magic has seeped back in.

I am lucky. I have so much and so many good people. With just that tiny hint of the misery that engulfs so many at this time or year for so many reasons, I think my perception of how hard it can be might have shifted that little bit from head knowing to heart knowledge.

I hope that others, whatever is going on, can find even just a tiny spark of magic this year, and if not, that they are able to endure the darkness in the hope of better things in times to come.

Peace be with you.

J X