Some Silver Linings

My wife and I watched “Silver Linings Playbook” last night, and it moved me to tears, though probably not for the reasons most people would expect. The beginning of the film depicts the protagonist in a psychiatric hospital, going to group therapy, taking his meds, and trying to make the best of a bad situation. I remember those days vividly.

In June of 2007 I was living in College Station, Texas. For a number of reasons I don’t need to rehash, things were not going well in my life and in my marriage. Things came to a head one night, and after my wife cried herself to sleep, I lay awake thinking of the damage I had done to our relationship and to our family. In an instant, I went from thinking that maybe things would be better if I weren’t around to actively trying to take my own life. I went into the walk-in closet, tied one end of a tie around the hanger rod and the other end around my neck. I think I would have gone through with it had it not hurt as much as it did.

Two days later I found myself in the back of a Sheriff’s car being taken to a psychiatric facility in Houston under a 72-hour involuntary commitment by court order. I’ve described the time I spent there elsewhere, but it wasn’t until I watched the film last night that I started thinking about what happened when I went home.

I don’t think I liked myself much back then. As I’ve mentioned in other threads, the combination of my family dynamics growing up and certain Mormon teachings about self-worth and guilt had convinced me I was never going to be good enough; indeed, I’ve been told by a few Mormons that I “failed” at Mormonism, whatever that means. But I didn’t like myself, and I think deep down inside I didn’t believe I was worthy of anyone’s love, though I don’t remember thinking that explicitly. My family’s love, I thought, was obligatory because I was a son, husband, and father.

When I came home, I was most afraid that I had done too much damage to my family relationships and that my loved ones would not know how to deal with me after everything that had happened. I thought maybe I’d given up the last reason for anyone to love me, and I prepared myself for rejection. But I was wrong. My wife and children were just happy to have me home. They loved me in spite of myself, in ways I hadn’t learned to love myself.

We also watched “The Wizard of Oz” the other night, and I had forgotten something the wizard said to the Tin Man:

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

I think I once unconsciously believed that, but I realize that it’s exactly backwards and quite unwise. If all that matters is how much others love you, you might spend your whole life trying to “earn” other people’s love, and you might feel you can’t be happy or fulfilled if you can’t earn that love.

I can tell you that, if you live that way, no amount of love or approval is ever going to be enough. You will always feel unloved and unfulfilled. The film I watched showed a young man trying to earn his estranged wife’s love by showing her “signs” of his love and his mental and emotional improvement. This kind of thinking seems to rest on the belief that love is a quantifiable commodity, and a certain saturation level has a cause-and-effect relationship with how people treat you. He had to learn, as I once did, that the quest to love enough so that you’ll get love in return is a fool’s errand.

What I have learned is that human beings have an endless capacity for love, and the best thing you can do is simply to love others and not worry about what you get in return. Not everyone is going to love you. Not everyone is going to be your friend, no matter how hard you try. But you can love everyone. You really can.

Love doesn’t always mean you have a bond of affection and emotion or anything like that. Love simply means treating people with love and care. And you really can do that with everyone, from the cashier at the supermarket to your family.

Yes, I know this isn’t the most profound thing ever, but I hope my random thoughts mean something to someone other than me. But it’s enough to know that I’ve learned this lesson in life, and I’m much happier for having learned it.

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19 Responses to Some Silver Linings

  1. Caroline Lane says:

    Actually, I think it IS the most profound thing ever.
    It is not what you feel; it is how you behave.

    You can’t help what others feel towards you.

    I am a big OZ fan, and I’ve always had a problem with what the Wizard said to the Tin Man.

  2. Rollo Tomasi says:

    Very poignant. Thanks for sharing.

  3. robinobishop says:

    “the combination of my family dynamics growing up and certain Mormon teachings about self-worth and guilt had convinced me I was never going to be good enough; indeed, I’ve been told by a few Mormons that I “failed” at Mormonism, whatever that means. ”

    My 33 year old son would claim the same thing. News Item: Neither of you learned anything about sustaining guilt that can be found within LDS teachings. The rest of Christendom often leverages guilt to diminish the spirit through the likes of Prosperity Gospel. The world teaches that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Guilt is, however, the consequence of not correcting a destructive path.

    Striking out against what Love is (you say affection less) only confirms the sustained uncorrected path. You seem more of a person determined to find a day when you have become so cold to guilt that you are not open to its warnings.

    There is no end to Love (the affection kind); but looking through the darkened glass reverses perception, which some of us are apt to incessantly rehearse instead of only occasionally visit (which is the unavoidable human condition). From my point of view, when reducing the threshold of Love to being affectionless, its meaning has been gutted and is achievable without real effort at all.

    Someday you may find that describing the Love of your parents as “obligatory” and therefore not real while characterizing the love from your immediate family as real and not obligatory, as a glaring contradiction.

    Your writings contain an abundance of self-deprication. Do you suppose your writings need be “the most profound thing ever” to be of significant value?

    • runtu says:

      I simply don’t know how to respond to such a complete misunderstanding of everything I wrote. Oh, well.

      OK, I’m going to reverse myself a little. I honestly don’t know how you can spin a call for love and acceptance into a demonstration of my desire to become “cold to guilt.” That is just plain bizarre.

      Likewise, I recalled my distorted thoughts–while in a mental hospital!–specifically to repudiate them, and you call me to task for thinking that way today. Either you have a serious problem with reading comprehension, or you’re just looking for reasons to attack me. My guess is the latter.

      • robinobishop says:

        I am not attacking you.

        Can you differentiate between my personal disagreements on your judgements and an “attack” on you personally?

        If I am misguided in my understanding of guilt / Love and the teachings of the Church and the teachings of others, identify.

        I would expect to see a much different blog if correcting distorted cognitions were the purpose. An internet blog provides a troubling place where shallow acquaintances and secret identities predominate when it features a secret blog leader. It’s a great place to fertilize and grow all sorts of suspicions and conspiracies.

        You are not a victim here at your place. Don’t play that card supposing some kind of sinister motive on my part because I have courage and caring nature. I am sharing my time with you over the holidays, offering up my personal experience. With your last comment, I realize I am wasting my time. Sorry to have intruded in your world. Color me gone.

      • runtu says:

        Right. Coming here and pronouncing my blog empty and dead is not a sign of love or courage. I’m not a victim, but I don’t have a lot of patience for people who give nothing but negative feedback with no substance and nothing of worth.

  4. robinobishop says:

    A further observation: do you think your peering through the dark glass, with its destructive and suicidal thinking, is unique to yourself and not to OUR experience?

    • runtu says:

      Obviously not. It’s quite common to people suffering with depression like me, for example. You seem to have missed that I don’t look at life that way anymore, though maybe you would prefer it if I did.

  5. robinobishop says:

    Caroline,
    Quite correct. The Wizard was revealed as fraud prior to his nonsense about not needing a heart. Having a heart was an obstacle to the life path of the Wizard. Just saw a local community play, “the Wizard of OZ”. LOL, the Wizard is my family’s home teacher; his wife is a professional clown with the name “Buttons”.

  6. Ray Agostini says:

    You’re not the first or only person to contemplate suicide. It’s actually becoming a major epidemic of the 21st Century, and the majority of them wouldn’t know what Mormonism is from a bar of Lifebuoy Soap.

    The least you can do is back off your incessant criticism of Mormonism, and referring to some of its beliefs as “bollocks”, for example.

    That doesn’t seem very charitable.

    You want people to “feel the love”, then you insult the religious beliefs that are closest to their hearts.

    Way to go.

    • runtu says:

      Ray, I have never said Mormon beliefs are “bollocks.” Not even once. I know you are angry with me for not being as deferential as you would like towards Mormonism, but don’t make things up, please.

      • Ray Agostini says:

        I didn’t say all. I said “some”. But in any case:

        “Empty knapsack.” That’s a perfect description. As a young missionary, I admired McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith for just the reasons you stated: they were unafraid of boldly proclaiming what they saw as truth. As I got older (and still a believer), I realized that both were unafraid to proclaim their own opinions as truth, and a lot of what they shoveled was pure bollocks. As I saw it, Maxwell focused on the “weightier matters” of the Atonement and how one lives one’s life. Unfortunately, what he was peddling turned out to be treacle tethered tenuously to trite tissues of tarnished tinsel.

        http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?p=780967#p780967

        You don’t even spare Elder Maxwell when he’s discussing the atonement, and dismiss it as “tarnished tinsel”.

        So, exactly what is left in Mormonism that you *do* believe, Runtu?

        Nothing? I think that would be an accurate guess. Except maybe for some kind of blurry general statements about “do unto others”, and as long as nothing uniquely Mormon is left – you’ll be as happy as Larry.

      • runtu says:

        I’ll say it again, Ray: “As I got older (and still a believer), I realized that both were unafraid to proclaim their own opinions as truth, and a lot of what they shoveled was pure bollocks.” Do you understand now that I was talking about people who proclaim their own opinions as truth, not about Mormon doctrine? I probably should have used a less-harsh word, but I was talking about my believing self and what I thought back then. As for Maxwell, it was my time at the Church Office Building that changed my opinion of him. My co-editors were always complaining about his writing style, and I thought that under the rhetorical gimmicks, there was something profound. It wasn’t until I was looking for material to quote and re-read Maxwell that I realized that there was very little substance in what he was saying. I’m sorry that offends you, but that is how I felt then and how I feel now.

        I’m puzzled as to why you think I should believe in some part of Mormonism, as if there’s some appropriate level of belief for an unbeliever to hold. You believe in the Book of Mormon, but you don’t believe in Mormonism. Would I be justified in demanding that you express belief in other things that you don’t believe in? I don’t think so. There are a lot of principles in Mormonism that I believe in, just as there are parts of other religions I find uplifting and correct. I’m not sure why you are angry that I’m not holding onto something specifically Mormon.

  7. Always1234learning says:

    I’m learning this too. Mormonism has a way of only teaching conditional love based on other people. The best and hard stuff is when you decide to love yourself and love others from that source of love you find within.

    • runtu says:

      Exactly. As I said, my own particular inability to love myself or love others in a healthy way wasn’t something I blame on Mormonism, but rather the way Mormonism interacted with certain family dynamics when I was growing up. And of course how I internalized those influences is a product of me, so again, it’s unfair to blame my screwed-up life on Mormonism, though obviously it was one of the ingredients. I feel a lot less screwed up these days. Sounds like you are too.

  8. vikingz2000 says:

    “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”

    This quote should read: A heart should never be judged regardless by how much you love, or by how much you are loved by others. Just as a rose by any other name is still a rose, a heart by any so-called ‘standard(s)’ is always still someone’s heart.

    When you mentioned: “I’ve been told by a few Mormons that I “failed” at Mormonism,…” it reminded me when one of my daughters was having difficultly enrolling in something at the time called, “Youth Leadership Conference” (I think today it’s called Especially For Youth). When I approached the branch Young Women’s president to ask her what the issue was, she responded very curtly, “Youth Leadership Conference is for youth who want to be leaders; your daughter’s seminary attendance record demonstrates she doesn’t qualify.” When she said this I just just stood there like a stunned ninny as she turned and walk away. I went to the branch president about this he defended the Young Women’s president stating again that because of my daughter’s seminary attendance record, HOWEVER perhaps she could have a ‘special’ interview to determine her worthiness once he checked with the Stake President. Eventually, this ‘special’ interview came about and she ‘passed’. After all of this it was a totally horrible experience that my daughter never forgot how she was treated as compared to the other girls in the branch. We had always lived a good, moral ‘Mormon way’ life style, but as a single parent raising my children, it was as though me and my family were ‘less than’ the other more worthy, intact families; it seemed as though we were always under suspicion or whatever. Attending that branch was a horrible, *heartless* experience.

    Anyway, this was a very worthwhile blog entry to read. Thank you for this. I think depression is very much misunderstood in today’s world, and especially as it pertains to the various dynamics of Mormonism. Interesting that this TED talk showed up in my email today:

    Andrew Solomon: Depression, the Secret We Share

    http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2013-12-27&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=bottom_left_image

  9. aerin says:

    Thanks for this post. I have appreciated you writing about your personal experiences with depression and mormonism.

    And some of those messages about failure are/were explicitly taught – “no amount of success can make up for failure in the home” – David O’McKay. What does that mean anyway, failure in the home? It was never fully explained.

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