Whether or not going to church is something that refreshes and rejuvenates or intensely stresses me out depends on a lot of factors, including but not limited to the ward/branch itself, my personal attitude, the state of my OCD, whether or not I have children with me/at the time, and what calling I have. You probably have similar feelings.
Now, there’s not much we can do about what ward we are attending. It’s not exactly smiled upon to get a ward transfer, so we tend to go to the ward we live in and are stuck with the people there. Sometimes it may feel like the ward itself exacerbates a mental health issue, depending on the personalities of the other members and how they interact with you. But don’t stop going to church because of a ward. I know that sometimes you may not fit in with the people. Sometimes the culture is “off” compared to your likings. But its my view that you have to dig in at these times and try to change it from the inside out–or at least find your niche.
Personal Attitude and the State of my OCD
Obviously these factor greatly in whether or not church feels good on a given Sunday. When my contamination OCD was at its high peak last year, going to church was really hard. I was worried that maybe I was leaking urine because I felt “wet” and feared I was ruining the pews. I was afraid that I would have to go to the bathroom and face the germs while trying to hold my skirt up so it wouldn’t touch the toilet itself. I was in Young Womens at the time and worried about the handouts I gave them—what if there were germs from my house on them? I hand sanitized to try and prevent spreading any illness. Going out of the house felt like an exposure in itself. What if I got other people sick? What if other people got me sick?
Similarly, when I was Primary President the second time, I worried about germs, feeling sick, and interacting with sick kids in the Primary. I used hand sanitizer on Sundays and, if I remember correctly, before preparing a sharing time lesson that had papers or things the children would touch. If I mailed letters to less or inactive children, I sometimes wore disposable gloves to stuff the envelopes, address them, and put the stamp on. One time a child had a bad cough in Primary and I think I tried to find his parents to get them to take him home. If I heard or found out that one of the children got the flu or had the flu before or after Primary that week, I was on high alert, watching my children and myself for any signs of illness and doing things to prevent getting sick.
Currently I am not that extreme, but I still don’t like to use the bathroom at church and make sure I have clean hands before touching the Sacrament trays, etc. I work in the Primary now, so I am still on alert with sicknesses , but I’m trying not to let it debilitate or distract me too much. Some days are harder than others.
This is pretty self explanatory for anyone who has children. Children tend to increase church stress levels, especially if you have OCD. Whether it is them dropping snacks on the floor and eating them, leaning over the greasy or sticky pews to play with another child (who may or may not have a runny nose), allowing them to go to nursery or Primary and be exposed to whatever other children are there and their potential germs, watching them touch about five pieces of Sacrament bread before picking the one they want, having to take them to the bathroom, or any other myriad of disgusting things children find to do at church…. church with kids is a challenge.
I want to discuss more in depth in a different post about calling “stress” vs. the importance of having something to do to stay occupied, but for now we’ll just say that obviously the type of calling you have impacts your levels of OCD and maybe even what type of OCD wants to “come out to play.” Sometimes my legal/copyright OCD flares up when I’m at church—should I show this picture to my class? Sing this song? Play this game? Ward councils or activity planning meetings can also be difficult—people want to play songs that aren’t “church” music at an event or show movies that technically should require having a license to broadcast (even for a non profit). Of course, contamination OCD loves to show up in church callings, especially when they involve children or food. I’ve had issues with checking when I used my church key on off times to put something in the Primary closet: Did I actually lock the church door? Did I turn off the lights? Let me go back and check just to make sure. Saying the “right” and “true” thing also can be a worry: Was what I taught actually doctrine or just my interpretation? Overall, I’m not sure there is a calling that OCD couldn’t touch in some way or another.
Even with all these challenges, I know it is important to go to church and take the Sacrament. If I can manage to serve others while I’m there in whatever way I’m assigned (or not), that’s fabulous. But I will most likely be exhausted after church is over, so don’t judge me too harshly.
And now it’s your turn to “talk”….
What’s the most difficult thing about going to church for you? If you have a mental illness (OCD or otherwise), how do you make church rewarding and as stress-free as possible?