Shortly after I published my book, The OCD Mormon, in the fall of 2017, I went to Utah to do some events to publicize the book. One of my old roommates from BYU came to one of the events, and we went out for dessert afterwards to catch up and chat.
She had left the Church in the years between BYU and 2017, and in the course of discussing some of her experiences and some of my mental health journey (that led to my writing my book) she casually recommended that I write about the mental health of those who have left the Church.
When I got back from Utah, I continued to think about our conversation. I decided that she was right: I should write about the mental health of those who left the Church. Members of the Church tend to write off those who leave, dismissing them from their lives or trying not to think much about them. Also Church-PTSD is a real thing.
However, we are taught not to engage in “anti-Mormon” conversations, read “anti-Mormon” literature, or support groups that go against our beliefs. But after hearing some of the stories from my friend, I began to understand that sometimes in our fervor to “stay strong” in the gospel and support the Church, we end up hurting others—friends, family members, and acquaintances—and causing them and their mental health harm. I thought that this couldn’t be right or good. This isn’t what Christ would want us to do or be like.
I began my research by crafting an online survey that I shared and asked friends to share about leaving the Church. On the survey, I wrote:
“I am hoping to compile the answers to write a book addressing how leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affects a person’s mental health, specifically in relation to how leaving a community and ideologies you may have grown up with can affect your emotions/stress level (positively or negatively) and how the reactions of family or friends can affect your mental health as well. The “why” you left the church is so personal, and that is not really what I’m interested in for this project—more how the shift from active to not active in Church has affected you and your mental health for good or bad or both.”
- Was making the decision to leave difficult or easy? Did it affect your mental, physical, or emotional health? How so?
- What has been the reaction of your parents? Spouse? Children? Fellow Church members?
- Who has been the most and least supportive of your decision?
- What has surprised you the most about your emotional or mental state since leaving the Church?
- What has been the most difficult and most beneficial thing about leaving the Church?
- What do you wish current members knew about interacting with or talking to/about those who have left the Church?
I had over 150 individuals respond to the survey. Even now, I find it hard to describe how I felt when reading their answers. Shocked? Surprised? Horrified? Sad? Embarrassed? Amazed? It changed me, reading those answers. And then I felt bad that it changed me because according to Church leaders, I shouldn’t be reading things from “anti-Mormons” or “post-Mormons,” right?
But I had read them, and I couldn’t go back to a time I hadn’t. And I did feel shocked that members of the Church in many cases had treated family members and friends who left so horrifically. I was surprised that most people reported better mental health having left, many almost immediately. At Church, we are told so often that life is miserable or certainly not as joyful without the Church, but that was not what people actually living that life reported. That was not how they felt.
There were terrible stories of how they were treated after leaving, but there were also beautiful and hopeful stories. There was sadness at not having the community, the songs, and the certainty anymore. But there was also freedom and stories of people taking control of their own lives and learning how to accept their spouses and children as they were.
I spent the fall of 2017 writing a book aimed at members to teach them how to support and communicate with those who have left, tentatively titled “No Offense” and then “Moved with Compassion.”
Probably not surprisingly, no Church or Church-related publishing companies I queried wanted to take on my book. The project got shelved, and I felt as if I had failed that community. They had changed my opinion, but maybe that was as far as it went.
However, after I opened my bookstore, I found myself sitting at the counter in slow moments with a notebook, writing poems based on those stories. I brought the notebook to Church and jotted poems down during Sacrament meeting. And then I wrote to BCC Press to see if they would publish a poetry book based on the surveys.
BCC Press never responded, so I put my poetry project on the shelf too. Another year passed. We moved twice. I sold and started a new bookstore (this time online). But one Sunday I took out that notebook and started reading those poems. I took to twitter to ask if anyone would be interested in reading them, and people were.
Once again, I read those surveys, opened that notebook, and wrote more poems. I decided that I would publish it myself and sell the book on my bookstore website.
On my own
And so I am. I’m working on the layout and printing options. It’s going to be simple and beautiful, and hopefully a worthy offering to those who shared their stories and experiences.
It is a book not only for those who have left the Church, but also for current members to understand their point of view. It is not necessarily going to be an easy book to read emotionally or spiritually, but I feel like it is important.
How can we truly love others if we refuse to hear their stories and understand their point of view? How can we comfort and mourn with those who mourn if we don’t know how or why their pain was caused? Wouldn’t Christ listen to their stories? Wouldn’t He want to hold their pain? Doesn’t He?
Right now, the “book” (it is going to small, pocket-sized most likely but over 100 pages) is on sale for preorder. I expect to mail them off before September 1. If you would like a copy, please order online (and use code ZINESHIP for free shipping). Also feel free to share this post and the book itself with friends and families.