Hi, my name is Stephanie

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I 100% support the Free BYU movement because I am one of those that is negatively affected by BYU’s ridiculously stringent and prejudiced policies.  I came to BYU for several reasons:

  1. My parents led me to believe I had no other options, no other colleges they would support me attending.
  2. Nearly all of my siblings (of which I have many) went to BYU.
  3. As I had never been to college before, I obviously didn’t understand what it was like, what my options were, and, more importantly, what BYU would be like if I became a nonbeliever.
  4. When I first got to BYU, I had quite a strong testimony, and I would spend a lot of time trying to build it up.  (I would carry my scriptures and a new talk with me everywhere I went on campus.)
  5. When I applied to BYU, I was 17 years old. I definitely wasn’t smart enough to make the best-for-me decision and relying on my parents for that help was a bust because they had their own agenda of me going to BYU, marrying young, and immediately having children.

When I first got to BYU, I was super-mormon.  I participated in all the activities, I read all the talks, I eagerly participated in my religion classes, and I am sure I annoyed more than one person with my excessive, in-your-face type of mormonism.  But only I knew that my eagerness and apparent zeal for life was just a mask.  I had depression that lead to having three different psychiatrists, an eating disorder, and a history of self-abuse. To the outside world, I was happy-go-lucky, golden mormon girl. I should have been happy.  But I wasn’t. As it goes, my depression worsened until I knew I had to do something about it.  I dug deep into what I thought could be the issue, the issue I had been afraid to face before: my faith (and how it paved my entire life and made every choice for me.)  As I faced that difficulty,  I lost my testimony.  It wasn’t for a lack of trying to keep it.  I studied, I prayed, I did everything I was supposed to do to be a member in good standing. But I had to come to the realization that all my praying and studying didn’t stop me from being extremely depressed and self-loathing.  I knew I had to take a chance and give my true feelings a shot. I hadn’t been willing to face my doubts before, so I would just ignore them. But from the very moment that I decided to be honest with myself, I could feel a change. I felt more relaxed, like a weight had been lifted from me. As time passed, I could feel my depression lessening.  Even my psychiatrist had noticed a difference in me. I started making goals for my future career and life and, for the first time in my life, “happy” was a pretty regular emotion for me. Before this time in my life, I thought everyone’s natural state was one of depression (and according to the church, we have to fight against depression by throwing ourselves into true happiness… aka, the church.) The point is that I was finally happy and at peace in my life, and I knew that, if there was a God, this is how he would want me to feel. I knew I had made the right choice for me. I knew I could never look back or go back to the church.

My newly found happiness was suppressed, however, by BYU’s stringent anti-ex-mormon policies. So despite me feeling good in and of myself, I couldn’t share my joy with anyone for fear of being punished for it.  I couldn’t tell anyone, I couldn’t discuss it, I couldn’t even give a hint that I was somehow drifting away from church without the paranoia of being removed from my classes, losing my credits, and wasting thousands of tuition dollars that I had to pay myself.  I considered transferring schools, moving up to Salt Lake to go to the U. But I knew I wouldn’t get in even if I applied; my GPA at BYU had faltered during the worst of my depression and I knew I didn’t have a chance.  Besides that, I knew I would upset my parents so much and I was not prepared to potentially cut ties with family of the matter.  So my option was just to stick it out at BYU. Be silent, hide who I am, and just try to blend in.  I am a pariah who pretends to be just like everyone else. Every time I mention how upset this makes me to my mother, she tells me it’s my own fault because I “signed the Honor Code” and BYU is a private school so they can “do whatever they want.” That may be legally true, but it doesn’t stop it from being emotionally and psychologically depressing and upsetting. What’s more, the stress caused by it has made me develop a stomach condition in the past year or two. I’ve gone to a couple of doctors who say there is nothing physically wrong with me, and the pain is psychosomatic.  The stress of going to BYU and being potentially punished for who I am is causing me physical damage.

I would consider myself a tough cookie.  I could definitely handle people disagreeing with me and me being a social outcast on campus.  I would be fine, if only I was allowed to be honest with the people around myself.  I don’t mind it because I’ve always been a bit of a loner and I don’t care what people think of me and my opinions.  But I could lose my job, my apartment, my credits, and my  money if I speak honestly.  Early on, right after I knew I lost my testimony, I confessed to my closest friend that I no longer believed.  This was the girl who told me she loved me unconditionally, who said she wanted me to be her maid of honor at her wedding (which, at BYU, was sure to happen in a year or so).  This girl was supposed to be my best friend, but she didn’t even blink when she said that she couldn’t “associate with people like” me.  I guess I should count my blessings that she didn’t turn me into the Honor Code Office then and there.

Since that time, I have stuck my head down, made no friends, and focused on getting my degree as fast as possible, raising my GPA so I can achieve my goals (for once in my life I have long term goals! I never thought I would and the thought makes me so, so happy!) of going into the medical field. My bishop schedules regular appointments with me where I have to tell him how my testimony  has grown since last we talked. He also informs me every time that I should be looking towards dating and getting a husband, and that my career goals should be only ones that can incorporate motherhood.  My current roommates are the nosiest roommates I’ve ever had and they question everything I do. I found out last week that one of them actually reports back to my bishop weekly on how I’m “doing” and other mormon euphemisms for spying.  I feel sick every time I have to hide or lie. I can’t be honest, even in my own apartment. I feel constantly watched and stressed that I could, at the drop of a dime, lose it all.  Everything else is looking up in my life as far as my depression, goals, sense of peace, and self-worth are concerned… and I can’t tell anyone.   Ever since I lost my testimony, my biggest wish is that I could have either applied to a different college that didn’t discriminate against ex-mormons or, at thevery least, have applied as a non-mormon.  But wishing won’t get me anywhere.Knowing how stringent BYU is about their religious policies, I don’t know if I believe they will change any time soon.  But I hope to God that they do.  I hope they realize that the very idea of “loving unconditionally” means loving people even when they are different from you or when they disagree or believe different things.  A god that loves unconditionally, like it is read in the Book of Mormon and Bible that God and Jesus do, would not punish people for not fitting in with the crowd.  God would value our diversity and that fact that we can look beyond our differences at the same time.  I hope that the Free BYU movement is successful, but I have experience in how strict and unforgiving BYU is, so I have great doubts that anything will change.  But that does not stop me from supporting a change for my own sake and for the sake of others who are experiencing similar troubles.