By Sage Sullivan, former HA Community Coordinator
What does losing your mind feel like?
In a word, awful. It can manifest itself in many ways. Anxiety, depression, nausea, anger, maniacal activity, constant illness, PTSD, you name it. Sometimes it can be just one of these things. Sometimes it can be many.
But ultimately, the feeling is that you are without control. You might feel led to do things you wouldn’t normally do. You may have abstained from alcohol and suddenly find yourself worrying about being an alcoholic. You may have been adamantly against smoking and find yourself smoking at least a pack a day. You may have been rail thin and now you’re struggling with weight problems. No matter how you cope, you find you just can’t manage to get things back under control. None of these activities are inherently bad, but you are driven to excess in an attempt to fill a new void.
Whether it’s depression, anxiety, anger, or something you’re experiencing, these are unfortunately completely natural feelings. I’ve experienced a number of them myself as have many other people who have suffered through religious abuse. Even if these feelings are normal, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about them. With therapy (and medication in some instances), these feelings will begin to go away.
You will once again find yourself in control of your life and find something to fill that void.
You may be thinking right now about why there’s even a void in the first place. After all, you made the decision to depart that religiously oppressive upbringing for your own happiness. You shouldn’t be unhappy, right? Think about what you just did in doing that. In your mind, you’re a bird flying out of its cage. It’s truly a beautiful sight. However, in reality, you’re leaving behind a way of thinking and coping for something completely unknown. I’m not going to lie: breaking away at first is going to feel awful. You’re going to want to replace your way of coping with so many things to numb your feelings. It’s not an easy road, but it gets easier as you travel upon it. There is healing and happiness somewhere in the middle. As far as the eye can see after that, the road is rocky, but never quite the same as it is now.
You may have been taught otherwise but it’s a well-known fact that the activities of the mind and body are somehow connected. Constant stress compromises the mind’s ability to cope. Religious abuse is just one type of stress. Because of that fact, it’s rare for any of us to break free without experiencing some type of mental and emotional problems. After all, you’re not leaving because you’re happy with the way things are.
The good news is that we’re also learning more about the mind as time goes on. Activities such as therapy help repair some of that damage by helping us think about it differently. The brain is incredibly plastic and its ability to form new neuronal connections in unsurpassed by just about anything. Negative feelings can be turned into positive ones. Therapy is often necessary to do this. In some instances, medication will help quell some of the negative feelings so that therapy can be conducted more easily. In rarer instances, it’s actually necessary to keep things from getting worse. I fall into this last category.
I do not want you to think for a moment that you’re somehow defective or going against God’s will because you might need to take medication to help cope with some of the emotional problems you’re experiencing. Psychiatric medication is mostly just a “means” to an “end.” It doesn’t change who you are. It does help you figure out some things by constructing a sort of barrier against the negative emotions and helps them come in one at a time instead of flooding in all at once. A psychiatrist and therapist will work with you to see if you could benefit from this route and help you manage it.
You might feel a bit overwhelmed right now with all this information. You might feel that you want to be completely free all at once. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a gradual process, but it works. To me, this whole process is somewhat like learning to play the piano. You can choose to ignore the teacher and play all day, learning nothing. That’s the easy route, just banging around on the piano without direction. Or you can learn to play Chopsticks. You can learn to read the music and it opens new doors to you. You will probably never be a concert pianist, but I do think you’ll learn to play some beautiful Chopin, all on your own.
Just don’t forget this important fact: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Keep practicing.
You can only get better, never worse.