028: Mental Illness and Religious Discomfort

Mental illness and other mental health issues are common among the human population, including among those who attend church and wrestle with religious questions. Sufferers may struggle to feel beloved and “seen” within their faith communities. In this episode, Susan Hinckley and I talk about our experiences growing up in homes deeply affected by mental illness. We also discuss the ongoing challenge of navigating these illnesses in our personal lives, as well as ways we each feel blessed by our unique difficulties and the wrestles into which they have led us.

We explore some of the reasons mental illness is perhaps considered more taboo and something to hide within religious (including Mormon) communities. What theological hurdles does mental illness bring into play? How might it create real or assumed distance from other members of our congregations?

We talk about bright spots that indicate an effort to normalize these struggles for Latter-day Saints, but also dive into the challenging effects of mental illness on personal spirituality and one’s sense of connection with the Divine.

This is a very personal episode but one we hope you’ll connect with, and share with anyone who might benefit from an open discussion of this topic. We’d love to foster increased awareness and conversation—in our homes, church communities, and within ourselves.

Links to items mentioned in the episode:

“Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!”, Sister Reyna I. Aburto, October 2019 General Conference

“Like a Broken Vessel,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2013 General Conference

Mary Jane Woodger, “‘Cheat the Asylum of a Victim’: George Albert Smith’s 1909–12 Breakdown,” Journal of Mormon History 34:4 (Fall 2008). This link is to a PDF of the entire issue of the journal the article is in. You’ll have to scroll to find it (starts on page 113).

Mary Jane Woodger and Joseph H. Groberg, From the Muddy River to the Ivory Tower: The Journey of George H. Brimhall (BYU Studies, 2010)

Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (Vintage, 1996)

Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (Free Press, 1996)

Barbara Taylor Brown, Learning to Walk in the Dark (HarperOne, 2015)

Dan Wotherspoon, “Seeing Beverly,” Sunstone, May 2003
Searching for a copy to post here. Will be up soon

Information and Registration for Upcoming Latter-day Faith retreat:

RETREAT: Understanding and Navigating Healthy Perspectives and Journeys Within Mormonism

A Latter-day Faith Retreat

LED BY:
DAN WOTHERSPOON, Ph.D.
NATASHA HELFER PARKER, LCMFT, CST
JANA SPANGLER, IPC

February 28 – March 1, 2020
Salt Lake City, UT

Many of us find ourselves a bit outside the Mormon norm but still feel committed to continue our journeys as engaged members of the church, or we are committed to a spouse who chooses this. This retreat is focused on building community among and strengthening Mormons like us in the following ways:

  • Navigating faith development in adulthood, including the integration of new and enriching perspectives within a less-traditional Mormon paradigm
  • Creating and nurturing healthy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, especially in light of faith and worldview differences
  • Finding ways to full and healthy sexuality
  • Raising children in ways that encourage them to have confidence and depth as they negotiate various Mormon terrains
  • Finding friends/community who have similar outlooks and can offer support

Cost$275 per person; $425 per couple (even two friends or family members deciding to register together). Click below to register:

SCHOLARSHIPS:

If you cannot afford to pay to attend, or can only swing some of the cost, please inquire abut partial or full scholarships and volunteering. We are working hard to encourage people to donate funds for others to attend, and we are happy to put you on a waiting list to see what might unfold.

If you would like to donate toward scholarships to those who cannot otherwise attend, please click below! Thank you!

SCHEDULE:

Friday (28th): 6 to 10 pm

Saturday (29th Leap Year’s Day!): 9 am to 9 pm or later
(includes lunch and dinner, and entertainment afterward—much of it starring you!)

Sunday (1st): 9 am to 5 pm (lunch included)

CONTACT AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

To learn more about retreat content, purposes, logistics of the venue/meals, etc., what to expect, or to inquire about possible scholarships that would allow you to attend:
Dan Wotherspoon: dan@latterdayfaith.org
Natasha Helfer Parkernhelferparker@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you at this event! We know it will be something everyone will really enjoy as well as receiving great perspectives, renewed energies, and making new friends!

027: Characteristics of Religious Experiences and Down-to-Earth Ways of Talking about Them

With quite a bit of help from the early twentieth century intellectual giant William James, in this episode I introduce two framings that assisted me greatly when my faith first began to shift. One is a model that contains four characteristics of religious/mystical/direct experience and helps differentiate such events from emotional experiences or other day-to-day moments when we feel close to God, feel God or the Spirit is “with” us, comforting us, etc. The second is the down-to-earth way that James, a skeptic by nature (but an empiricist who chooses to go where ever the evidence seems to lead rather than trying to fit what he sees and experiences into already-circumscribed and confining boxes), speaks about religion and its power in human lives. And he does this without feeling the need to get specific and express the dynamics of religious experiences in terms of “God’s” actions in the world and in us. In this presentation, I introduce James’ term, the MORE, as a very broad and yet very powerful category to elucidate that “something” that is beyond what our physical senses and intellectual faculties can touch. James speaks of an “intimacy” with this MORE that far exceeds that which we can experience through other means. It’s beautiful, and it’s very helpful for anyone who feels uncomfortable or triggered by God-talk or typical spiritual/religious terminology. It can even help us explain to more traditionally believing family and friends what is going on within ourselves as we wrestle, and do it in ways that they might be able to understand and not be offended by.

I hope you’ll give this a listen!

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026: Healing Journeys

This episode takes on the topic of healing, but foremost through the sharing of two healing journeys and the new world and sense of self that can open up when we find the courage to explore those messages and wounds that we pick up through life that distort our vision of reality, and especially our own sense of self worth. Too often, we choose to keep on functioning with certain stories of ourselves and others simply because they are known to us, they form the world we know that isn’t great but at least it’s predictable. Luckily God/Life/Love keeps serving up to us invitations to go inside and figure out what is hidden in the shadows so we might heal from negative experiences and integrate in healthy ways the lessons and perspectives these have given us. Sometimes it is great love that causes us to start exploring our patterns and views, but far more often it takes great suffering and finding ourselves at the end of our own resources to deal with it that forces us to confront what we’ve tried so hard to hide from ourselves and others. That’s really not what we went to hear, but it is pretty close to universally true.

In the discussion you are about to listen to, Carma Hyde and Shelly Wilkinson, two wonderful and brave women who have chosen to risk being vulnerable about their healing journeys, share sadnesses and messages and events in their past that have led them to seek and eventually find peace through going inward, facing shadows, and trusting that light and love would be with them all the way through. Both have now emerged as healers themselves, with one of them, Shelly, formally as a sought-out healer in the Salt Lake Valley. In addition to hearing their stories, we got to a more objective view, drawing from all our experiences to reflect on aspects of healing in general. 

Please listen in! You’ll be glad you did!

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025: The Importance of Having Our Own Spiritual Connection

Kajsa Berlin-Kaufusi is a wonderful example of someone whose spiritual connection has guided her and encouraged her even through her many spiritual wrestles. She has a varied and rich background, familial as well as scholarly, and, in addition to being a mom of three, she teaches Ancient Scripture courses at the BYU Salt Lake Center. I know you’ll very much enjoy getting to know her and learning about the various ways she has come to be able to bring together in such a neat way her faith and academic understandings, in addition to her multi-cultural and multi-religious experiences.

She is powerful, and our discussion throughout highlights again and again just how vital it is that we first and foremost ground ourselves in and remain connected with the Divine. I believe you will also find fascinating the way she approaches scripture in her college classrooms, as well as those times in which personal and institutional revelations don’t mesh. She is a great model for thoughtful, prayerful, soulful wrestling alongside a deep commitment to engagement with and service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I know you will be glad you listened in!

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