Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling In Love

     I was asked this week to give a talk in church about having Christ as a constant companion, and throughout the week I brainstormed ideas and wrote my talk. What I actually said and what I wrote differed a little, but I figured I'd post the written version of my talk here on my blog:



For me, falling in love, not just love for a family member or a friend, but really falling in love with someone is one of the most powerful, overwhelming, and intoxicating feelings I’ve ever experienced. Falling in love has been so joyous and yet so painful, so safe and yet so dangerous.
I’ve only really fallen in love with 6 individuals throughout my life thus far. I’ve had many crushes on guys, and rarely girls, where I think wow, he’s really cute, or really nice, or really spiritual. But I’ve only really fallen in love 6 times, to different degrees.
Of the 6 people I’ve fallen for, 2 of them ever fell for me, too. And both of those relationships ended because eventually lines were crossed and mistakes were made. The relationships ended because it wasn’t a safe environment for me or them, and it wasn’t bringing us closer to God.
Of the remaining 4 relationships, those being the ones that didn’t fall in love in return, 1 died out simply because of distance. He moved away, and we didn’t really have a means of contact, so the relationship ended quite suddenly, and falling out of love with him followed soon after.
1 of the more painful endings for me was a friend I fell for before I really even knew I was gay, and definitely before I knew that what I was feeling was being in love with him. He was straight, and I had put a lot of work into building our friendship. But I guess I came on too strong, and even though I didn’t even know at the time that what I was feeling was love, I made him uncomfortable, and eventually he cut contact with me for that.
The last 2 relationships are ones I still have today. 1 of them, and actually the only 1 on this list that’s a girl, was someone I fell in love with over time. We were friends and eventually best friends throughout our childhood. And somewhere along the way, as I got older, I fell for her. But for reasons that I’m not even aware of, the being “in love” just very slowly died out. Despite that, her and I are still in contact, and I still consider her one of my best friends.
The final relationship I have to talk about was someone that I fell intensely for. Out of all of the relationships, this was the strongest for me. So strong in fact that I put him on a pedestal, and created this false belief in my infatuation that he was a perfect being. I was so entranced that I made him into something that he wasn’t. And it wasn’t fair to me or him.  After years of believing he was perfect, reality finally hit me. I realized that I had fallen for him so deeply that he had essentially become my deity. I turned to him when I had gospel questions, and not God. I talked to him far more than I talked to God. That’s not to say that he was a bad influence on me, because he wasn’t and hasn’t been. He has actually been a great influence who honestly has saved my testimony and even life on multiple occasions. But the bad influence for me was my own choice to leave God behind in favor of someone who, while an honestly fantastic human being and fantastic friend, isn’t and can’t be perfect as a mortal. I’ve just now been coming to the realization the past couple weeks that if I want our friendship to continue and be healthy and beneficial for the both of us, I need to find ways to put God first.
There are a few reasons why I bring these situations up. One of them is that I feel that some of those can be related to my relationship with God. Like the first 2 relationships, when I have committed sin, I have pushed myself away from God and lost some of the deeper contact I had before the mistake. Like the relationship that died out simply because of distance, there have been multiple times where my relationship with God suffered simply because I didn’t put myself in situations where I was close to him. Like the relationship that I slowly fell in love with, and slowly out of love with, my relationship with God has gone up and down. Sometimes God has seemed like just an acquaintance, other times a friend, and other times a best friend. And there have been a few times in my life where I had put God at the forefront of my time and attention like the last relationship I mentioned. Where I treated Him like the perfect being that He is. And treated him like my God.
The other, is that I’ve realized that when I fall for someone, they often become the most important person to me, and get first priority in many ways. If I want to text someone, I’ll text them first. If I want to call someone, I call them first. If I want to spend time with someone, I spend time with them first, etc. I often also try to be like them, or at least try to like the things that they like. For example, I used to say my favorite animal was horses simply because I knew that my best friend who I was in love with said horses were her favorite animal.
But really the reason I bring this up is that I’m starting to realize how great it would be if I could fall in love with God. Because if I could fall in love with God, He could be the first one I text. He could be the first one I call. He could be the first one I spend time with. And He could be the first one I follow. If God loves people, then I can try to as well. If God’s favorite animal is a giraffe, I can try to make that my favorite animal, too. That’s not to say that I want to lose my uniqueness, nor do I think that’s what God wants me to do. But I want to find a way to fall in love with God, to honestly and deeply fall in love with God, so that I can follow Him more deeply and with more conviction and with more surety.
God is perfect. Unlike some of the other relationships that ended in painful ways, God would not cut off the relationship with me. Only I can do that. Unlike the relationships where I put my trust in someone who may honestly be a fantastic person who can help me immensely, but is ultimately mortal and imperfect, God is not. God is immortal and perfect. If I can truly fall in love with God, maybe I won’t need to worry about pleasing others or trying to be in love.
But how can I fall in love with God? Honestly, I don’t completely know. It seems difficult for me because my two main love languages are physical touch and quality time. And I don’t think it’s possible for God to physically touch me, at least in the way I comprehend physical touch, while I’m a mortal. And I’m not sure how quality time works since I can't really hand God a controller and have Him play Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart with me. But some of the ideas that I have had are that I can talk with Him. Like I call my best friend at least once a day, I can learn to talk to God at least once a day. Like I mimicked my friends favorite animal, perhaps I can learn to implement God’s favorite things and things that God loves into my life. I can spend time to get to know God. After-all I’ve never fallen for someone I didn’t know. And God has scriptures, conference talks, and prayer available to get to know Him. I can come to church to learn of Him, and to share of what I have learned. There are many good things that I can do to get to know God. I just need to do them.
In reality, I don’t know how or when I will fall in love with God. It could be a month, a year, or maybe a lifetime. But I really feel that if I want to live a life with Christ as my constant companion, I need to have Him be my number one. And I need to trust and know that He loves me no matter what, and that He is perfect, and would not hurt me or lead me astray. I can't fully control who I fall in love with, but if God really is perfect, what isn't there to fall for?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feeling Alone



                One of the things I deal with in my life that I wish more than almost anything to go away or be different is feelings of loneliness, emptiness, confusion, and depression. I went on a vacation with my family over the weekend, and had a lot of laughs, fun, and made memories. I honestly had a good time for most of it. But on that same vacation, I experienced overwhelming and consuming feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression, hopelessness, and emptiness. And sometimes those feelings would follow directly after a positive experience, and seemingly for no justifiable reason at all.
                Feeling depressed or lonely in these moments that I believe I should be feeling the opposite (loved, connected, and happy), actually made those feelings worse as it took them from just being loneliness or depression, and suddenly carried a feeling of shame because I felt like I must not love my family enough to have a good time around them. I must not be a good enough son, brother, or grandson if I’m not happy when I’m with family. Sometimes I feel safest physically isolating myself by going into a room and closing the door because then I feel that I have a justifiable (even if self-inflicted) reason to be lonely. And somehow, even though I am then literally alone, it seems better to feel alone in that situation than to experience shame by feeling alone around those I believe I should feel most connected to.
                Another difficulty that leads to even further self-inflicted isolation is I feel the need to police my own words and actions. I listen to my sisters, mom, and grandmother comment on how good looking certain guys are that we see on our vacation, and sometimes I agree, and while my sister can enthusiastically express how cute a guy was, I constantly feel the need to suppress and completely bar any similar expression from my own mouth. For me, it’s a fear of the potential perceived sexual intent behind any such expression…Because of my insecurity about views of culture, or even about how my family would react if I did express such feelings, I just bury it deep inside. And sometimes it’s honestly suffocating. Yes, there are many things to talk about beyond attractive people… But feeling like I can never talk about it at all is suffocating. I don’t blame my family for it. Even if my family were to assure me that such expressions are fine, I would still monitor and filter everything I said, and would probably feel uncomfortable about it anyway.
                I look at my friendships, and feel shame there, too… For so much of my life I would cry any time I finished watching the Lord of the Rings. I wanted so deeply to have a friendship as deep and trusting as what I saw expressed in film between Frodo and Sam. And right now in my life, I honestly feel like I do. Sure, the relationship between Frodo and Sam in film could be considered a highlight reel. There’s so much you don’t actually see. And that’s why I feel like I have that relationship now. It’s not perfect, but I feel honestly cared about and loved in that relationship, in many of the ways I yearned for from watching those movies. Yet the same shame I feel around my family carries over to my friendships, too. Being with my friends, I still have times where I feel totally alone. I still have times where I feel like I need to carefully monitor and filter anything that I do or say. Even with my best friend, who I feel the most comfortable with and loved around, I still have times of being with him and feeling alone, depressed, or fearful for what he may think of me.
                Then I look at my other relationships and feel bad… I want and need other relationships. Yet I struggle so much to keep them alive. Setting up time to spend with friends leads me to experience really overwhelming anxiety, even though when I finally make it happen, I usually have a really good time. And there are times with my other friends where, while with them, I feel alone, depressed, or like I need to police my words and actions.
                When I go to church, I usually sit alone. It’s usually because that’s when I feel safest. Does it leave me feeling alone? Yes. But sitting alone seems far less stressful. And even though I’m really not doing much of anything when I’m sitting alone, I feel more authentic to myself by doing so than by sitting next to someone purposefully and then feeling like I need to nit-pick everything that I say. When someone does sit next to me and talks to me, or even when I push myself and decide to sit next to someone, I usually feel good about it. I often leave the interaction with a positive outcome. At least temporarily. But even after an interaction has concluded, I spend so much time dissecting every little thing I said, and trying to determine what that person took away from the conversation and what they think of me. 
                Before I get too off topic, I want to point out that I really did have a good time on the vacation with my family... I really did feel loved and connected. But during that same vacation, I had moments of feeling alone, depressed, and lost. And I guess that's what I'm trying to write about. That I can have a great time, even a great time for the majority of a certain event, but even at the highest moments of happiness and fun in my life, I can also feel those deep negative emotions, and I feel that I carry a lot of shame and confusion about it, and I fear to really be open and talk about it, especially in the moment with the people I am with.
                I really don’t know what the answer is at this point. I just felt like I needed to write. Honestly sometimes I really don’t feel like I even know who the real authentic ‘me’ is. I feel like there are so many sides to me, but I don’t know how to acknowledge them… are they fully independent parts of me? Are they independent parts that come together to make a whole? Are they just feelings that come and go, but don’t define ‘me’? Or maybe each one is ‘me’ and aren’t separate at all? I don’t know. I don’t even know that that makes sense.
                I value those that I have deep relationships with. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, I feel comfortable being the most authentic with those I truly trust… and sometimes that includes the negative side of me that I usually try to keep hidden and suppressed.
                I believe in God, I believe in the church. I know, at least in that area, how I want to live my life. But there are so many areas of my identity that I feel like aren’t set out clearly in my mind and lifestyle. I’m still trying to figure out how to be me. How to authentically interact with those around me, and what ‘authentic’ in those circumstances really means… because I think there’s a difference between conduct that is appropriate and conduct that is not… but I’m not sure where those lines and authenticity meet.
                I have a lot of decisions before me right now… I’m at a big crossroads with my current job. I can either keep my current position, with some tweaks in the hours I work, or I can move up higher, accept a lot more responsibility, and there would be risk involved, but the potential benefits would be higher. I’m working on my spirituality again. It’s been a long time since I’ve read scriptures consistently, but ever since conference I’ve read at least one chapter from the Book of Mormon each night. I don’t know… life is confusing and stressful.
                I’ll keep moving forward. I have a lot to figure out. Life keeps going, even if sometimes I wish it would slow down. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to best deal with loneliness, depression, and anxiety, and learn to be authentic to myself.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Grateful for the Gospel

     I just had a thought come to mind. Something that's constantly part of my life, but something I so often forget, gloss over, and take for granted. I am honestly so thankful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so thankful for the direction that membership, and the belief in God and Christ gives my life.

     I've felt like my testimony has been a bit rocky recently. I don't know exactly how to explain it because it hasn't really been issue with doctrine, and it hasn't necessarily been my own level of belief. It seems like it's just been struggling to have motivation to go to church each Sunday, to go to ward council and fulfill the responsibilities that come with my callings, or even to do my home teaching. I've also been feeling distant from God. I know He is there, I know He is real, I know I've felt close to Him in the past. Things just feel distant now... And I'm struggling to find the motivation to do the little things like pray or read my scriptures. But that's not really the point of this post...

     See, despite all of that... Despite my perceived distance from God, despite my lack of motivation to attend church or pray, I realized how thankful I am for the path that God offers me. I'm thankful for the guidance the gospel gives me. The way it teaches me to live my life.

     I feel that for me, I look to causes and things I feel strongly about to give me direction in my life, and there are so many things I could dedicate my life to. Some could be good, some not so good. I could become engrossed in politics, and live my life based on the views of a political party. I could become obsessed with a celebrity, and try to copy their actions and live their life. I could become a slave to drugs, and live my life around finding the next high. I could dedicate myself to serving others and donating time and money to charities. I could dedicate my life to building the church and the kingdom of God, or I could choose to spend my time and energy seeking to destroy it and the faith of others.

     For me, I've lived through a variety of directions in my life. When I was very young, my life was dedicated to anything to do with animals and bugs, and having fun. For a time when I was in inpatient treatment, I dedicated my time and energy to getting out by almost any means necessary. At the time I started my blog and volunteered to do a Voice(s) of Hope video, I was dedicated to proving that I was in control of my choices, and wanted to help others to know that they weren't alone and that there was hope.

     More recently in my life, I've noticed that I'm lacking some of the truly powerful motivators I seemed to have in the past. Right now I don't feel passionate about school. I don't feel like I know the answer to the question of what I want to be when I "grow up". I don't have some grand vision of where I want to go spiritually, or what next step is best for me in my relationship with God. I'm struggling with being social. I don't have much motivation to speak with people. I've been incredibly shy most of my life, but for a while when I was really close to God, I was outgoing, and life seemed so much brighter... I want to feel that way again.

     But I want to express gratitude for the gospel. I may be lacking deep motivation in many things, I may be struggling to go to church or fulfill my callings, I may be struggling to reach out and be friendly, yet the gospel still gives me guidance. I feel like my life has meaning and purpose even though I feel lost right now. I know that God is there and is aware of me. I know that no matter what happens in my life, or in the lives of those around me, I will get to see them again in the next life. I want to be better, because I know what it's like to be better. The greatest and happiest times in my life weren't necessarily when everything was going right, but when I was truly trying to be better. The best times of my life were when I had deep convictions for things that really mattered. The most positively motivated points in my life were when I was close to God.

     Sometimes it's painful for me to be LDS. I'd love to have a guy that I could marry and share everything with. And yet, the happiest I've felt wasn't when I had a guy I was in love with who loved me back, which did bring some happiness, but it was when I was dedicated to God and willing to reach out and help others find God, too.

     I want to follow the gospel because of what it gives me. It's not about what it takes away. I need direction in life, and God gives me direction and motivation to better myself, to love others, and to make the world around me a better place. I don't want to destroy the world, or destroy others or their ideas, I want to find the motivation to build the kingdom of God, to touch the lives of those around me, and to be the son of God I was meant to be. I want to find who I truly am, who I'm meant to be. I want to give him a big hug, and tell him that I'm sorry for losing my way, but that I want to do better. So I want to say thank you to my friends and family who support me and push me to be better, to the church, to God, to Christ and His gospel and for the guidance they give me. I don't currently know the way to go with my life, but maybe I can start by saying thank you for what I have been given already, holding to the past and what I've learned and know, and then looking to the future and for a way to reconnect with God.
    

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pre-Op: Nuss Procedure, Pectus Excavatum

     Tonight will be my last night sleeping with my heart and lungs compressed by my own rib cage. Tonight is the last night I'll sleep with my pectus excavatum. Tonight is the last night I have before I'm strapped into the wild-ride that is 'change'.
     I'd say the majority of people in my life don't know that I have a pectus excavatum. It's not something you can tell just by looking at a fully-clothed person. And if you've never seen me shirtless, and I haven't told you that I have it, there's really almost no way of knowing. But my pectus and I go way back. All the way back, actually.
     For those of you who don't know what a pectus excavatum is, it's a congenital deformity (congenital meaning you're born with it) which results in some of your ribs and your sternum forming incorrectly and caving-in giving it a sunken, crater-ish-like (totally a word) appearance.
Here's a good diagram of it:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/~/media/kcms/gbs/patient%20consumer/images/2013/08/26/10/41/mcdc7_pectus_excavatum_jpg.jpg 
Luckily mine is not that severe.


Here's some images of my chest I took tonight. It's hard to really get the depth from a picture, but at least it's something.

     For much of my life, my doctors, my parents, and I thought it was for the most part cosmetic. There wasn't significant evidence to show that it affected me beyond that. I definitely didn't want surgery just to "look better", so we never went through with anything. It wasn't until this past year when my best friend expressed concern when I was struggling to breathe and getting really sick and dizzy when I went to the gym with him that he urged me to get it checked, and so I did.
     I found a doctor who specialized in dealing with chest issues (known as a cardiothoracic surgeon), and set up appointments with him. He scheduled different tests for me, and the tests confirmed that my pectus has been causing me a lot of physical limitations. They ordered an MRI and CT-scan of my chest, and I asked the doctor to print me out one of the images. While it's not the best image, here's what I got:
The white bone on the bottom is one of the vertebrae in my spine, and the top bone that is indented downward is my sternum. The grayish lump in the middle is my heart, and the black areas inside my chest are my lungs. Basically, my heart in pinched between my sternum and my spine, so any time I work out, my heart can't beat hard enough or fast enough to provide adequate blood flow and oxygen levels, hence why I get so lightheaded and dizzy so quickly when working out.
     Now the surgery I'm getting is known as the Nuss procedure. It involves inserting metal bars through the ribs, under the sternum, and out the ribs on the other side. The bars are bowed, and go in with the edges protruding out of the chest. Once in, the surgeon forcibly flips the bars. The bars hook onto the rib to hold them in place, and once they are flipped, they push the sternum into place. The bars are left in for at least 2 years in order to fully reshape the chest cavity. After the two years have passed, the bars are then removed and the bones in almost every case retain their new shape. In some cases, only one bar is necessary. For me, I'm old enough and my pectus excavatum is deep enough that I will be getting two bars.
     I'm honestly terrified. Not really for the surgery, but for the recovery. I've heard recovery is a very painful experience.  I will likely be in the hospital after surgery for 3-5 days, and then I was recommended to take off work for about 4 weeks. As someone who will freely admit that I have a low pain tolerance, I'm definitely nervous. Right now, I'm just trying to tune out my anxiety, and just accept that it's out of my control. Will the surgery likely be worth it? Yeah. Will I likely look back and be so happy I did it once the misery of recovery is over? Yeah. But right now, I'm just so nervous...
     Beyond just the pain, it in a way feels like I'll be losing a part of who I am... For me, I usually like things that make others unique. I find them intriguing and fun to learn about. I enjoy the things that make me unique, and my pectus is one of those things. But it will soon be gone... And I've only been able to use it as an excuse to get out of heavy work for the past year... Truly unfortunate that it must be corrected so soon so I can no longer play the "I'm limited, I can't help with (insert project/activity name here)." card after surgery and recovery.
     I got a really good blessing from the missionaries this week, though, and I'll get one from my dad before the surgery as well. I've already heard from a lot of people who have said they will be praying for me, and are thinking of me. I've been told my name has been placed on the list in the temple prayer roll. I'm feeling really blessed and loved at the moment. I'm just hoping God can pick up the rest because there's no way I can handle the stress and misery of this by myself. I'll get on and write a Post-Op once I'm feeling a bit better.