Saturday, February 20, 2016

My Fist real Crisis of Faith

I can remember the exact moment it started. I was 13, it was November 11th 2000, my little brother's birthday. He wanted pumpkin pie for his birthday cake. We had Costco pizza, grape soda and pumpkin pie. Sitting there on the living room floor, leaning on the coffee table my grandfather made that was missing one leg, was the first time it happened.

I couldn't swallow. I tried, three, four, five times. The pumpkin pie wouldn't go. It's like my thought kept clamping down, and wouldn't let anything past. It scared me. I kept trying. No one noticed, because I was very good at keeping a cool facade. But I ended up escaping to the bathroom and spitting it all out into the toilet.

For the next several months, I starved as I tried to figure out a method for eating. I didn't want to say anything, because I was embarrassed. I'm actually surprised no one noticed what was going on. But eventually, I discovered if I took a drink, I could trigger my swallow. And thus chase food away with liquid. It was effective, and I got back to normal. Well, as normal as I could. My friends and family would make fun of me for being a slow eater, and I just laughed along.

At 19, it happened again. I was a sophomore at BYU-Idaho, sitting in my kitchen about to eat a salad. And the same thing happened, even though I was drinking my food down, my throat was clamping up again. Nothing would go. It was like, I'd try to swallow and the food would shoot forward instead of back. I became frustrated as I drank an entire glass of water and didn't get any food down. I tried to bypass the swallow and ended up coughing and nearly aspirating. I gave up eating. For the next two weeks, I did't have anything but milk and broth. My roommates started to notice something was up. I began losing weight. The stress combined with the frustration left me physically exhausted.

One morning in church, I was sitting, dejected and depressed wondering why god was inflicting this on me. Wasn't doing enough? Wasn't I a student at his university? I was confused and upset. I must have made angry eye contact with the bishop several times because I started feeling weird about it. He approached me when the meeting was over and asked if we could talk. In his office he said he noticed something was wrong and thought I might need to talk. At this point, the flood gates exploded and 6 years of hiding my eating problem just spilled out. I was sobbing. He ended up  giving me a blessing. He promised I would be healed, that I would be able to eat normally again so that I could one day be a mother. And then he told me he would get me an appointment with a doctor in Idaho Falls. I walked out of the office with tears still i my eyes, and saw one of my home teachers sitting there. He told me later he would have asked what was wrong, but didn't feel it was his place.

I took that blessing to heart. Walking home from church, I was filled with hope, that this would finally end and I could be normal again. First I had a study done in town, where I drank a ton of barium. Then a week later, I had my appointment in Idaho Falls. I called the only person I knew who had a car, and that was Ben Betts, my other home teacher. He happily took me to Idaho Falls and I met with the gastroenterologist. He recommended an upper endoscope just to see the structure and see if there was anything obviously physically a problem. A few days later, with Ben, his roommate Blaine and my roommates Sarah and Emma, we went to Idaho Falls. They dropped me off, I had the procedure, and then while still under the influence anesthetic, my friends took me to Walmart and let me buy an assortment of random items, including cream of onion soup.

But that was going to be my miracle. That was going to be the cure. Unfortunately, it wasn't. The doctor told me plainly, he discovered some physical abnormalities that might make food going down difficult, but nothing that would indicate a problem triggering a swallow. He referred me to a speech pathologist. They became agitated with me during a study when I refused to swallow a giant horse pill, and kept telling me to just swallow the food and they would be able to help if I started choking. I was like, are you serious? I kept trying to swallow, and it just stayed in my mouth. Until they gave me a drink, and then I eventually got it down. They had no answer, other than, bollus transfer problem. Stating the obvious with no diagnosis.

I went to see a Chiropractor, who claimed to work miracles. He sure helped my neck feel better, but did nothing for my swallowing. I found an ENT who prodded my uvula with a dental mirror. I gagged and refused to let him do it again. He prescribed me klonopin for anxiety, telling me it was a muscle relaxer and would help me swallow better. When I went home in between semesters, I went to see a neurologist, who did an MRI. He found nothing wrong. When I went back to school, I contacted the neurology department at the University of Utah and was squeezed in immediately. Before I went, I got a blessing from my new bishop. His blessing was specific. He said this will be the doctor. He will discover the problem, he will fix it, and you will be made hole again.

But just for a little extra spiritual oomph, I asked my new home teachers for a blessing too. It was an ambiguous fortune tellers prophesy, but it gave me the comfort and confidence I wanted. I went to the appointment. They told me the reason they got me in so quickly was because of a potential for ALS. Which thank goodness was not the case. I had an EMG study. And then I went home.

A few weeks later I received a hand written letter on the back recycled office paper from the neurologist at the U of U. He said I had deep rooted childhood problems and suggested a seek the professional help of a psychologist. I was irate. And confused. I hadn't made any of this up. I hadn't chosen to starve myself. I was frustrated and upset. Just because he couldn't figure it out didn't make me crazy. I kept that letter so one day I could return it with the answer.

Still, I took his advice and found a psychologist. We met, we talked, he came to the conclusion that I didn't have deep rooted childhood issues surrounding my swallowing. We did come to the conclusion though that I now had anxiety surrounding doctors and eating. Which was understandable at this point. I learned a valuable lesson in all of my doctor visits. Doctors are not created equal; if they don't know what is the problem, you are the problem; they will lie to you about what they are doing or what they are prescribing.

I also learned a valuable lesson in faith. There was no one watching out for me. I received numerous blessings, even though I only recounted a few. Each of them promised the same thing, that I would be healed. Some were very specific, this will be the visit, this will be the one. Each time I walked away from the doctor disappointed, I also walked away feeling defeated in my faith. Did I not have enough? Was the bishop lying? Did god not actually care about me? Why would he give a healing blessing and I not be healed?

It plagued me. It haunted me. Especially as I faced condemnation in every faith promoting Sunday school lesson that said if you have enough faith, nothing will be withheld from you. Nothing is impossible. So what had gone wrong? I fasted. I prayed. I sought blessings and guidance from my ecclesiastical leaders. I followed doctors advice, I went from clinic to clinic trying to do my part and waiting for god to do his.

Angry and confused, I eventually talked to my mom about it. She said, just because you weren't healed the way you thought you would be, doesn't mean god doesn't exist or that he doesn't love you. I asked, well what about those specific blessings I received? Blessings come from god, don't they? Men are imperfect.

So we rely on imperfect men for god's perfect work, and then when things don't happen the way we were promised, its never god's failing. Its our lack of faith, or the presumptuous imperfections of the priesthood leader bestowing the blessing. But it is absolutely, never god.

Against my better judgement, I put it on a shelf. I forgot about it. I convinced myself god had a different plan for me and all of those blessings came from deluded men. My parents bought me a commercial blender, and after many failed attempts, I figured out a way to blend my food. I was able to eat again even though it was far from normal. I lost faith in priesthood blessings, and I had a bitterness and skepticism towards anyone who claimed miracles. My husband gave me a few blessings actually pronouncing increased faith in blessings for me. I hated that. Blessings never did anything for me. Each and every single one I received, including the ones about my swallowing and my ridiculous patriarchal blessing, was nothing but a bunch of ambitious fortunetelling. And I was silly enough to keep putting coins on the table, begging for more.

It was my first real "crisis of faith". The first time I considered that god might not be the benevolent father I had been taught about or that he simply might not exist. But like every good Mormon girl, I put my doubts on a shelf and told myself god would let me know why after I died.

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