Doug Robinson: Raised on the US Constitution, Utah woman now helping other countries write their own

Published: Monday, Oct. 21 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

She lost motor control of her legs and was unable to walk. It wasn’t the first time she had experienced such symptoms. It had happened twice in high school. She had two more episodes on her mission, the last one leaving her hospitalized, unconscious and unable to move when she woke up. She was sent home six months early in a wheelchair. The symptoms returned at BYU, forcing her to attend law classes in a wheelchair.

The symptoms mimicked multiple sclerosis. The episodes lasted anywhere from 24 hours to one month. Over the course of 11 years, she saw 33 doctors and wound up at the Mayo Clinic before anyone could diagnose the problem.

“A God-fearing, inspired Christian internist told me I needed to go to a really good psychologist, my bishop and the Lord,” she says. “He said, ‘You’re really complicated.’ ”

She saw therapists and read books “and finally I realized that I — this super high-functioning person — had a physical dysfunction that had an emotional root. It was hard to accept.”

She was diagnosed with Conversion Disorder, which causes neurological symptoms without a definable organic cause. The symptoms are triggered by stress or traumatic experiences. Toler was all of that. She had driven herself hard since her youth to the point of exhaustion — the three hours of sleep, the heavy load of AP classes, little social life. By the time she graduated from high school, she was almost the equivalent of a college junior.

“My mission president asked me why I was so driven,” she says. “He had to rein me in.”

The exhaustion in combination with several traumatic events in her life — her parents' divorce, the deaths of two of her six siblings — proved too much for her system, although she didn’t realize it at the time. In times of stress, she tended to take charge and throw herself into work while suppressing her emotions. The symptoms tended to strike when she was weakest physically — after an illness or after fasting.

“I have been symptom-free since 2008,” she says. “I was promised in a blessing that my symptoms would depart once I started a family. Through counseling, self-reflection, study and a lot of prayer, I worked through all of the underlying issues that contributed to the long-term physical illness.”

The byproduct of her intense introspection is the book. “As a high-functioning person," she says, "it was very difficult for me to accept help from others, but I was put in a situation where I had to. I starting writing the book thinking I would share it privately, but as I read a few things that were gospel-related on the subject, I thought I would have the courage to share this with others.”

The illness produced another byproduct. With the repeated onset of symptoms, she decided she wasn’t physically able to be an attorney, so she returned to her roots and pursued her real dream — constitutional legal policy. In Washington, she interviewed for jobs that didn’t exist, searching for direction.

“I wasn’t really interviewing,” she says. “I was just giving ideas of what I wanted to do so they could tell me how I could get there. Eventually, I talked to someone at a nonprofit.”

Immediately she envisioned an online constitutional library. During the next four years, she started ConSource.org., “a free online library of constitutional history that digitizes and cross-references source documents written by individuals who drafted, ratified, and influenced the creation of the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments.”

Since leaving Washington, Toler, who claims to be a homebody, has continued life in the fast lane. She married Lance Toler, who works in private equity, in 2009. A month after their marriage, she moved to London for five months to study at Cambridge and then at Oxford while her husband remained in Washington. The separation was difficult, so she told him she would return to Washington; instead, he found a job in London, two hours away.

A few months later, she started a constitutional consulting practice in London and accepted an offer to go to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2011. Lance managed to get transferred to New York, and the couple commuted back and forth between Philadelphia and New York. Earlier this year, they returned to London to raise a family and to facilitate both of their careers.

Toler is focusing on motherhood, although she is doing so in typical, multitasking style. She is working on her doctorate 10 hours a week and continuing her constitutional consulting practice 15 hours a week. Her practice focuses on countries that are in transition or in a post-revolution state that are trying to re-establish government or revising or amending their constitutions.

Early this year, while seven months pregnant, she spent a month in Libya, advising various organizations on the process of writing Libya’s own constitution. She returned to Libya again in June and plans another visit later this year.

“How it is written is just as important, if not more important, than what’s in the constitution,” she says. “If people are involved in the creation process, if those who write it are respected, if they feel they have a voice in it and the process is transparent, they will respect the outcome. The goal is voluntary compliance with the law.”

For Toler, it is a labor of love. The girl who read 700-page tomes and attended lectures and grew to revere the American Founders is now traveling to other countries, helping future founders forge their own constitutions.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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