Too often in Mormonism, I saw people who were unhappy pretending to be happy. And why wouldn’t they? Nobody wants to feel like the Great Plan of Happiness isn’t working for them. Nobody wants to feel like an Eeyore in a congregation of Tiggers. So, people pretend to have it all together, even when on the inside they’re falling apart. The result is a “Happy Valley” full of anti-depressants and prescription drug abuse.

I sometimes see the same cultural tendency toward pretended happiness carrying into my life as an ex-Mormon. I lost the white shirt and tie but still feel the need to put on the same plastic smile I wore to church every Sunday.

The reasons are different, of course. It’s no longer about trying to conform to a system where righteousness is equated with prosperity and contentment. Now, at least for me, it’s about proving something.

I want to prove to my LDS friends and family that I can be fulfilled without the church. I want to prove to those questioning their faith that there is hope and happiness after Mormonism.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really do think greater happiness is found outside the narrow confines of the church. But the reality is that it’s not always easy to find.

Last winter, I went through a period of deep depression. Though, I’m in a better place now, I still experience a lot of sadness and anxiety in what appears to be an ongoing existential crisis. A lost job, lost friends, and a world full of suffering and complex ambiguity frequently leaves me feeling alone, helpless, and hopeless.

I see other ex-Mormons who seem to have successfully “moved on,” and who have their life together. Sometimes I wonder why it doesn’t always feel like that for me. I wonder why, even after more than a year out of the church, I sometimes feel so ungrounded, directionless, and passionless. Why is it still so hard to function?

Living in Utah, maintaining LDS relationships, and even participating in the post-Mormon community often makes me feel like I’m living in a graveyard where my old life is interred. As a writer for Zelph, I try to comfort those who have likewise come to lay an old life to rest. But in doing so, I find myself in a state of perpetual mourning.

I have occasionally written about feeling reborn after leaving the church. The part I don’t always mention is that being reborn after your brain is already fully developed can be really really difficult.

Most of us spent our entire lives trying to become perfect Mormons. Everything we thought we knew about life, love, happiness, and learning was built on the foundation of the gospel. And now that the foundation is gone, we have to learn it all over again, this time without the direction of a know-it-all representative of God. Meanwhile, our peers continue on with the lives they’ve been building all along.

Sure, I am reborn, but I’m still just a toddler. Ironically it’s just at the point in time when I’m supposed to feel like an adult. As a toddler, I’m still learning how to walk and talk and eat and drink and reason and build relationships and develop my interests and build my identity. And as a toddler, the feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and terror of the unknown occasionally make me cry… a lot.

And while, as a toddler, I’m metaphorically shitting my pants I feel like I have to pretend to have my shit together because I don’t want to give anyone an excuse to comment about “the light leaving my eyes” or about how “wickedness never was happiness.”

I feel like my life needs to be the best it’s ever been so that people can know I made the right decision to leave the church.

I guess this post is just about being done with that. I’m done pretending that ex-Mormonism is all eating, and drinking, and being merry. Things don’t HAVE to be okay all the time forever and forever amen and amen. Sometimes being an ex-Mormon can just really suck.

And I guess that’s what this post is about. I want to acknowledge that the prolonged negative feelings are normal. It’s okay to not feel okay. Yeah, it’s important to be optimistic, but there are times when we won’t feel it at all.

If you feel incomplete, lost, or broken during or after your transition out of the church, no matter how long it’s been since you left, IT’S OKAY. You don’t need to have your life all together right now. You don’t need to be the perfect ex-Mormon mom, the perfect ex-Mormon employee, or the perfect ex-Mormon friend. In fact, you don’t need to be the perfect anything. You just need to BE. And sometimes just BEING means being depressed, being angry, or being nihilistic.

You might not know exactly how to be happy outside Mormonism yet. But cut yourself some slack and realize that it’s going to take some time. Remember, most of of us are still just infants (now without thrones) trying to figure life out again. Completely rewiring our brains and restructuring our life isn’t something we should expect to do overnight or even in a year or 10 years. Usually it’s a long, ongoing process. So we shouldn’t  feel too discouraged when it hurts harder and longer than we anticipated.

I do want transitioning members to have hope in happiness ahead. But I don’t ever want my energy or optimism to paint an unrealistic picture of the process. Because it’s really hard. We don’t have to pretend it’s not, even when TBMs try to say, “I told you so.”

If you’re struggling, know you’re not alone. There are a lot of us in the same boat. And the sooner we stop pretending we’re not, the sooner we can help each other out.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland
  • BP

    Thank you so much. I really needed to read this today.

  • Deca Mommy

    What a timely piece this is, I was actually just moaning about this with my husband this morning! When I left the church 2 years ago I lost my entire support group. Some family and friends still talk with me, but we don’t “click” anymore. I was staunch TBM, and our commitment to the gospel was what we had in common. Still living in Happy Valley makes it all the harder. Leaving the church was an act of integrity for me, but talking with my husband today I wondered aloud if it would just be better to go back and pretend to believe. But honestly, I don’t think I could do that, I just know too much! So anyway, THANK YOU! It is nice to know I’m not alone in this feeling.

    • Robert Wojnar

      As someone that tried time and again to go back. Dont waste your time. The feeling of fitting in never really comes back assuming you fit in to begin with. They have been conditioned to treat people as damaged goods whether they believe that or not.

  • Nancy

    Even though leaving the church been relatively easy for me, I attribute this to the fact that I was a convert and had a life and value system before my Mormon life to revert to, And my husband left with me which was very important. Yet I have a friend who was a life long Mormon and the loss of his faith has taken a big toll on him. Depression, anxiety, and uncertainty have been his frequent companions. Trying to be a perfect whatever is an exercise in futility. Even if you were perfectly happy no TBM would really believe you anyway. We’re all pulling for you so hang in there. It gets better, but life is smooth for no one.

  • MKT

    Well said, thank you. My experience, with a TBM spouse and children, has felt so lonely and helpless and I struggle to ‘prove’ that I can be happy with the decision I’ve made to leave. I’m no expert, but I’m learning that ‘proving’ does no good for anyone.

  • Beaufie

    Thanks for this. I hope your journey has more ups than downs, but the important part is to remember it’s okay.

  • Robert Hall

    Thank you for writing such an honest piece. It takes bravery to admit the times when one struggles.

    I was reminded of the “I’m a Mormon” videos that came out a few years ago which were countered by “I’m an ex-Mormon” videos. I watched a few of each. What struck me is that both groups tried so hard to get across how happy they are. “Ever since I left/joined the church, I’ve been so goddamn happy! Seriously!, See how happy I am??? [pulls cheek skin]”

    I’m done with happiness contests. Good on you for writing this.

  • Jean Jacobs

    I’ve been a member of an Ex-Mo group for a few years. It finally dawned on me a couple weeks ago that we have these groups because we don’t have any or many friends after leaving the church, in addition to being able to talk about the things that non-members don’t understand.

  • All I can report is that it’s survivable. I never had any faith and never expected anything from God or the so-called Church so when I got nothing, it was Tuesday. I was on my own at eighteen in a large city hundreds of miles from home with a flimsy “support system” which proceeded to crumble completely within a month or two. But, I found that, if I needed to, I could pay my own rent and phone bill and car insurance and feed myself. That’s a start and I actually got a sense of accomplishment out of it. Some things creeped me out unexpectedly. I had really crappy Dime Store cookware, dishes, silverware, etc. At home, my parents were great cooks and had the finest kitchenware, so looking at my tin pots and plastic dishes was depressing. I got over it and, I’m not sure what it says about me, but I still have those cheesy utensils mixed in with my newer, better stuff. If you keep trudging, it does get better. Then you can work on entertaining yourself, which is ultimately harder but still possible.

    Be well. I enjoy Zelph on the Shelf.

  • Amanda Farrell

    Totally agree with this sentiment. I got really tired of people, Mormons and Exmormons, pushing me to “get over it,” and finally decided one day that I would just embrace the suckiness of it all. Weirdly, that’s when things started to get better. I had to to admit to myself where I was at before I could start moving forward. It feels really cathartic to let yourself FEEL THE MOMENT. The anger, the betrayal, the loneliness, the uncertainty. Putting names to these emotions didn’t make them go away, but it has helped me to move forward. 🙂

  • Allyson FrostRaven

    Well said — I love your honesty and clarity.

  • td8057

    I know the feeling. The church is like a drug. It puts you in this fantasy land where morality, perfect justice, life’s meaning, social fulfillment and the perfect imaginary friend are all given to you nicely wrapped with a bow just for you. You are taught that “in [God’s] house are many mansions” and “[you] may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” You’re taught about your divine, god-like potential that are beyond what anyone could hope to imagine (to raise your hopes up about that happy afterlife as high as you can reach).

    The church talks about “man’s search for happiness” but not man’s search for truth. You are constantly reminded every week (or every day if you’re reading and praying) that you have something to live for, in essence, the other side. And all that you value, like your talents and skills, family and friends, will all be preserved on the other side, which gives you reason to continue to live. No need to fear missing out on anything in this world. You’re reminded of how horrible and meaningless our existence would be if we didn’t live forever, and in eternal bliss for that matter, just so that they could sell you the remedy of the fantasy land to come for just 10% of your income.

    They teach you that “the world” has nothing of lasting or eternal value to offer (which is an oxymoron in and of itself). You shouldn’t seek after temporary, carnal pleasures. And any joy or happiness that we strive for in our lives only has purpose if it is preserved in this plan of salvation. By being reminded of our death every week, and “getting high” on Heaven, we see this Earth life as purposeful only in the context of a mere “probationary state”. We see humanity’s progress as ultimately worthless. “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”

    So once we drop out of that bubble of belief, once we are unplugged from the Matrix, and realize that this fantasy land beyond our wildest dreams is not a belief we can rely on, it’s only natural for these indoctrinated triggers to become untethered in our minds. We have to detox ourselves and come to understand that life really is its own reward, and that we should be grateful to exist at all. We can enjoy the world as it is. We can find the good and strive to make it that much more of a heaven on Earth for us and others. We also have the freedom to revise our beliefs and improve on our current ones. We can now value the pursuit of truth over any pursuit of belief. We are free to be a good person. And we shouldn’t worry about things we have no control over, like death. It will come when it will come and our bodies will go on in service of the universe.


    Thanks for this. I think the conditioning we recieved from the church actually makes the need to “look happy all the time” even worse than it normally would be. Instead of trying to prove to the world that mormons are SO HAPPY!, as ex-mormons we now feel the need to prove to the mormons we left behind that we’re SO MUCH HAPPIER now. Especially, when we’re surrounded with family and friends who are just sure we’re going to eventually fail and fall into ruin. I went into a wonderful group therapy program about a year after leaving the church called DBT. One of the main tenants they teach at the beginning is that all emotions are neither good or bad, but necessary and normal. They all have their purposes and we didn’t get to where we are as a human race without them. I remember sitting in that class and thinking, “no, that’s not what I was taught. If I were mormon right now, I wouldn’t believe this.” As someone who suffers from severe depression, though, it was a beautiful new way to see the world and my emotions. Nothing I felt was bad anymore. I didn’t need to feel like a failure of a mom anymore when I lost my temper and pray for the “spirit of contention” to take it away. I just needed to learn how to see my emotion, validate it, and, if necessary, find a way to move through it or embrace it. That teaching was one of many that changed my life, DBT and a good non-mormon therapist helped me take back my life. Probably a year after I graduated from the program, I was reading a Facebook post from an old tbm friend. She was lamenting her anger at her kids and how she had started get up early everyday to spend 2 hours praying and reading scriptures and conference talks to help “stop the spirit of contention” inside her because anger is only from the devil. It made me so sad. Anger is an emotion, not something bad trying to creep in and ruin your life. It’s what you choose to do with that anger that counts. Suppressing it, or any other emotion, not giving it a name and saying “this is how I feel and that’s ok” only leads to feelings of guilt and shame when you can’t “make it go away”. So, no, I’m not happy all the time since we left. In fact, I’ve had serious bouts of depression. I wish I could say I don’t still try to look happy when I’m not or feel as if I’m doing something wrong when those emotions occur. I do understand, though, that I’m only human and I’ll get through them. Satan isn’t in my head causing contention in my home. It’s just anger. How much damage occurs when you don’t allow yourself to feel without guilt and shame? I’d rather be angry and depressed outside the church any day, than inside thinking it’s my fault and I have to make it go away by being more diligent at my church responsibilities. Because, ultimately, my life is better. Whether I’m sad, angry, happy or depressed.

  • Seth L.

    AMEN! That is spot on. The pressure to be perfect after leaving is monumental. I am often worried that if anything bad happens or I stop smiling for a little bit others will say it’s a sign of my bad choices. Those teachings of prosperity gospel and cursing really mess with you. It’s hard to let go of that fear when it is beaten into you. Being human is hard and messy. Doubly so if we have to pretend it’s rainbows and sunshine. Be real and vulnerable.

  • Ben

    This sounds just like what I have already accepted. I am still holding a calling in church, and I lost my belief about 9 months ago. After the internal struggle of realizing the truth, I accepted that life just is.

    We get depressed sometimes. In or out of the church.
    But there are great moments too. In or out of the church.

    We will die someday. Accepting this is the life you get is helping me. I am able to hold on to the beautiful things that I love as my motivation. There isn’t another one where things get better. So make it better yourself. Find something to make better.

    Even my sunday school lessons reflect this sentiment. Since losing my faith, I have taught the lessons that have inspired the most change in the members I teach. I have felt what I once called the spirit more while teaching without faith than I ever did while teaching with it. I can only describe the situation as inspiring. I now only focus on topics that make me better as a person, and that inspire self reflection. It has been great for me. I hope you find that thing that still brings you spiritual (or whatever that emotion is that keeps popping up) satisfaction.

    I have two daughters that bring me that feeling. I have my lessons that somehow still bring that feeling, and certain conversations with my wife also bring it up. Find those and hold on to them as tight as you can.

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