Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mormon Women's Perfectionism and Prescription Drug Use

This is a video about a Mormon woman, a champion, imperfect mother, and a person who has suffered postpartum depression.

A couple of friends asked me about a news report which commented on the high level of prescription drug use among women who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Their claim was that the higher use of anti-depressants by women in Utah is the result of the stress of having larger families and from trying to live up to an expectation created by the Mormon church to be "perfect".

I began to ask about this problem and received conformation that many women are taking prescription drugs for depression. Why? Some claim that trying to be perfect causes this depression. This puzzles me since my personality type is a very strong idealist. Wouldn't I feel more pressured than most women? What is really going on here?

I have experienced sudden severe depression for many years. I know the overwhelming sad, hopeless, helpless feelings and the low esteem day after day (and those long nights!). I know the exhaustion, trouble eating and sleeping. Depression is a serious condition which requires medical aid. It should not be taken lightly. If depression continues it can become more and more severe. I am grateful to finally discover that I have Addison's Disease, and with treatment, no longer have to be subjected to horrible bouts of depression. The physical causes and effects of depression must be dealt with.

Utah has one of the highest levels of education in the nation. I think better educated and more affluent people are more inclined to seek out a doctor's help when they are not feeling well. This might be one factor in the high use of prescription drugs in Utah.

I know that changes in hormones can cause depression. I think this why so many more women experience depression than men. I think most men would run screaming if they had to cope with the hormonal ups and downs that a woman does each month. I'm really enjoying reaching the point (I'm 64) where my emotions are more level and calm. Mormon women generally have more children (2.21 verses 1.71 to 1.95 for the rest of the nation). I didn't expect it to be so close. With more pregnancies, there is a greater chance of experiencing postpartum depression.

It does look like women are definitely more at risk for depression, but I think there are other factors involved. I'm wondering though, if Mormon women are really that different from other women. The American woman has 2 to 3 drinks of alcohol each day. Since Mormon women do not drink, are they getting the same anesthetizing effect from anti-depressants?

But why are women struggling to cope with their lives? Does the modern woman experience more stress? I can remember the fifties when moms stayed home and braces and lessons were things for rich kids. Most families had only one car, so women stayed home. In some ways that was restricting, but in other ways it was a simple, calm life. There was time to visit with other women and receive their support. Just think what your life would be like with no errands to run!

Now many women work. Some miss the support that women have traditionally received from other women. Mormon women continue to have this support in the form of visiting teachers; usually two women who visit with her each month and are there to assist in time of need. My visiting teachers have helped me make it through many rough days.

I think Mormon women have the advantage of a larger and stronger support network, so what is wrong? I have listened to younger women who are wives, mothers of small children, college students, and working part time. They are harried and exhausted (I was exhausted just hearing all they are doing!) I thought, "You're Crazy. You can't keep it up!" I have been through it. There is plenty of time. You don't have to do everything all at once! The time of child raising goes so quickly! It is demanding, but it only lasts a few years. I don't feel having children is the problem. Take a look at other cultures which have large families such as Polynesians. They have a very relaxed way of life and are often happier than the uptight Europeans and Americans. No, you can't blame the high stress level on children, it is the women themselves who are causing their stressful lives by trying to do more than any human being could possible do in one day. Women lead with their hearts, but I think sometimes they would do better to evaluate their lives instead of popping pills.

This brings us to the question, "Do Mormon women experience more stress by trying to be perfect?"

Yes, I think they really do have a lot of stress. The women who truly understand the principles the Savior taught, don't. These women are strong, happy, leaders. They are the most amazing women I have ever met. But there are other women who, like the pharisees of old, multiply rules and expectations til the Savior admonished them for the heavy yoke they put upon the people. He said,

28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, my burden is light. Mathew 11:28-30 (Bible New Testament)

Instead the pharisees made rules for the people. They told them what they could cook and how many steps they could walk on the Sabbath day. Christ was even criticized when he healed on the Sabbath day.

Yes, many orderly people love to make and have rules for everything; a visiting teaching visit must be an hour in the home with a set lesson read; lessons are to be given with scripts and favors. They like to measure and compare and rank. Women especially are competitive with each other. This is why we have Relief Society and visiting teaching to help us truly become supporting, loving sisters.

I know of many women both in and out of the Church who never want anyone (especially another woman) to see their homes. They even have a small Home Teaching (two men who visit each home each month) and Visiting Teaching room right off their front door (like the old fashioned just for company parlor). Thus they allow Church representatives to enter their home (fulfilling the letter of the law), but prevent them from seeing how they live and if they need any assistance (the purpose of the visit).

Mormon women know they will be checked on and some insecure women get stressed. When I was an ill young mother, my visiting teachers came and saw the my home. As I began apologizing for the mess, these older women wisely stopped me with these words, "If you could do more -- you would. If you are doing the best you can, then there is nothing to apologize for."

Do I feel pressured to be "perfect"? -- of course not. Perfection is a lifetime process. It is being finished and complete. I am only half baked. I'm not ready to be "finished", but I love seeing myself getting a little better each year. I think it is exciting to learn and progress. I would be depressed if I thought I could never change; never be more than I am now.

I don't feel the desire to do all perfectly. That is "perfectionism"-- an obsession with doing every little detail in some way that you define as "perfect". I really don't consider details such as spending hours on a stunning dinner presentation, essential. What is important is good nutrition and family unity. I get there -- simply.

I know I am loved by Heavenly Father. It is not something I have to earn. It just is. He is my Father, and He loves me as I am. It is through the power of Christ's atonement that we can progress and change. We don't, and can't, do it ourselves, but we don't have to. When I truly trust in the Savior's love and power, I have received help, strength, and peace even through severe trials. There is no need to stress over immature "perfectionism". I enjoy life and the opportunity I have, through the Atonement, to progress.

This is part of a talk by a Church leader which explains the Church's position about becoming perfect and "perfectionism". It explains it well.

Understanding the Savior’s freely given atoning love can free us from self-imposed, incorrect, and unrealistic expectations of what perfection is. Such understanding allows us to let go of fears that we are imperfect—fears that we make mistakes, fears that we are not good enough, fears that we are a failure compared to others, fears that we are not doing enough to merit His love.

Coming unto Christ  "reflects our lifelong refinement through Christlike service and obedience to the Savior’s commandments and our covenants."

The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek.

Fully accepting our Savior’s Atonement can increase our faith and give us courage to let go of constraining expectations that we are somehow required to be or to make things perfect. Black-and-white thinking says everything is either absolutely perfect or hopelessly flawed. But we can gratefully accept, as God’s sons and daughters, that we are His greatest handiwork (see Psalm 8:3–6Hebrews 2:7), even though we are still a work in progress.

A misunderstanding of what it means to be perfect can result in perfectionism—an attitude or behavior that takes an admirable desire to be good and turns it into an unrealistic expectation to be perfect now. Perfectionism sometimes arises from the feeling that only those who are perfect deserve to be loved or that we do not deserve to be happy unless we are perfect.
Perfectionism can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, procrastination, discouragement, self-justification, and depression. These feelings can crowd out the peace, joy, and assurance our Savior wants us to have.

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