The Road to Depression: By RD
HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “RD” is a pseudonym.
I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I was abused as a child.
While an uncomfortable reality, it was necessary in order to understand what was wrong with me. To be clear, I wasn’t seriously abused (as if one form was abuse was better than another…) but it was there.
While I don’t remember much of my childhood, there are parts I do remember. If I told a lie, it was (10) spankings with my father’s belt. Same thing for if I snuck something. (Stealing only applied if I took something from a store, which only happened once. And even that is debatable; I was between 5 and 6 years old waiting in line with my mom at the grocery checkout, and I took a pack of gum and opened it. Broad daylight, no subterfuge; I think it was an action born out of ignorance than ill-intent. But “sneaking” was taking any food or candy while at home that wasn’t approved.) If I used a “dirty word” I had my mouth washed out with soap.
My mother was fond of the “wait until your father gets home” method as well.
I can remember days that I had really angered her, and she passed that anger on to my dad via a phone call during the day. As soon as I heard the garage door open that evening, I knew the first thing my father would do was smack me upside the head.
It’s a very odd thing to know you’re about to get hit very hard, but to take no evasive or protective action because doing so only increases the punishment.
This abuse works; that’s the tragedy with the Pearl’s method or other methodologies based on corporal punishment. They work. But it is the underlying psychological impacts that belie the merit of these methods. Cocaine or methamphetamines will help keep you awake, but we all know it’s not wise to take these things. So why is the value of “training” or corporal punishment still debated?
My parents were members of HSLDA. I remember their receiving the Court Report and Focus on the Family magazines and other publications that called homeschooled families to action in order to fight the government from over-reaching. I realize now that many, if not all, of these stories were extremely over sensationalized or outright misrepresentations of the truth, similar to the drama unfolding with the Romeike story.
But to my parents these stories were real and reminded them of the dangers of this world.
As I was growing up, I couldn’t play outside during normal school hours because a city official might see me, think I was skipping school, and something terrible would happen. I was told that if Child Protective Services ever had the slightest suspicion of child abuse, they would show up and take me and my brother away from our parents and put us in a foster home. I was told that psychology wasn’t really valid; a psychiatrist would try to pin all a person’s problems on the parents while prescribing unnecessary pills. All these lessons were carefully crafted to try to create a particular world view, a view that sees anything that is not Christian as evil, harmful, or detrimental.
So what does all this have to do with mental health? I’m getting to that point, but I still have a few more bricks to lay in my foundation.
I’ve mentioned in a previous piece that my parents chose to homeschool me primarily because I was diagnosed as a young child with ADD. I even took Ritalin until I was 11 to 12; I cannot remember at what age I started taking it. I do remember as I grew older that my parents began to express the belief that ADD was over-diagnosed and that children are supposed to have energy and be hyperactive and all that. I’m not sure where they picked up on that idea, if it was from some of the Christian homeschooling circles, but it served to create in my young mind that ADD wasn’t real, that parents used that as an excuse for their child misbehaving or not performing.
My father was also an extreme perfectionist.
I can remember many nights staying up exceedingly late trying to figure out some math or science problem as he berated me because I’m was smart enough that I should know how to do something or that the mistakes I made were because I was being careless.
There is nothing quite as powerful as a backhanded compliment.
“My dad thinks I’m smart, but if I was smart I should be able to figure this problem out. Therefore either 1) I am not as smart as he thinks and thus a failure or 2) I’m as smart as he thinks but I’m failing to apply myself.” This method of thinking, created by a backhanded compliment, is very destructive to mental image.
So where does all this lead?
The abusive methods advocated by people like the Pearls are akin to dog training (very loose analogy) except without positive methods. You are training a child for instant, unquestioning obedience without thought, but you don’t reward the obedience.
You excessively punish the failing.
Thus as a child grows up, as I grew up, I focused on what was wrong, not what was right. Even today when I look at something, my first thoughts are what is wrong with it. While this helps me most times as an engineer, it is a very harmful mindset to have.
When you combine this way of looking at things with the perfectionist mentality I received, it creates a very negative self-image.
When children are raised with the message that if they have faith in Jesus or live their life according to the Bible then they will be blessed, it creates a very false expectation. Anything bad that happens, any misfortune, becomes interpreted as God’s punishment for not being faithful enough, for failing in your walk with him. I’ve seen this illustrated over and over again in the stories I’ve read of people involved in the courtship culture.
Now add to that the distrust of science, society, or psychology. As these negative thoughts, this negative self-image grows in the mind, the fundamentalist worldview pops up and says “you can’t be depressed; there’s no such thing. You are having these thoughts, this self-loathing, because you realize how out of tune you are with God’s will.”
This only creates a downward spiral that leads to more depression.
In my case, this spiral was fueled by my ADD. Throughout college I still carried my parents’ view that ADD wasn’t real; it was simply children being children. While I don’t deny that there are many cases of ADD (now ADHD) that are wrongfully diagnosed, I understand it is very real. Any adult reading this who suffers from ADHD will know exactly what I mean (and if you don’t suffer from it, you can find some excellent lectures by Russel Barkley on YouTube.). I cannot focus or concentrate if there are external distractions; put simply, ADHD is an executive function failing of the brain.
As I struggled through university with my ADHD untreated, I constantly felt like a failure as my GPA slowly dropped down to a 2.9. This lead to depression and even self-mutilation for a time. It wasn’t until several years into my professional career that I began to see a counselor, and later a psychiatrist, and began to identify the problem and take the steps to correct it.
But this is the danger of the fundamentalist’s method of child rearing. By linking bad things, misfortunes, with disobedience to god and equating negative thoughts as god’s working to convict the wayward child, it establishes a tragic downward mental spiral that if left untreated can end in suicide.