Hurts Me More Than You: Clay’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


Clay’s Story

My parents didn’t spank in anger, usually.

They were convinced that they were practicing biblical discipline.

They believed that spankings were to be delivered calmly, leave no serious injury (red marks and the occasional bruise were OK), end with reconciliation and a forced hug, and be painful. As a child I was spanked nearly every day. But I got off easy.

Dad said that children in the old testament got stoned to death for rebelliousness, so it was a good thing I didn’t live back then.

Spankings ranged from three to ten swats. I remember feeling really lucky the few times I only got one or two. Mom and Dad both spanked but it hurt more when Dad did it. I think that was just because Mom wasn’t capable of hitting as hard. When Dad spanked he swung with his whole arm like he was trying to hit a home run on our butts. We weren’t allowed to keep our pants on, but usually we could keep on our underwear.

When Mom or Dad spanked it was painful enough to make me see stars. One time after getting spanked by Dad the pain was so much I almost vomited. When I told my Dad this he laughed and said that was impossible.

We were supposed to be still and quiet while receiving a spanking. If we resisted at all we got spanked more. Spankings with our hands in the way didn’t count. If we screamed we got spanked more, and told that CPS would come and take us and we’d never see our family again. We were allowed to cry, but it had to be sorry cries, not angry cries, or we would just be spanked more.

My Dad chose wooden instruments that would leave as few outward marks as possible. Usually something flat like a wooden kitchen spatula. As my brother got older Dad spanked him more, and harder. He started breaking wooden spoons and spatulas on him. Dad made a paddle out of a thick piece of wooden molding or something. It was about two and a half inches wide, half or three quarters of an inch thick, and a couple feet long. He drilled a couple big holes in it so that there would be no air cushion, that it would sting as much as possible.

I always thought I was a bad kid. We got spanked more than anyone else we knew, so it followed that we must be the most disobedient. It didn’t occur to my childish mind that maybe my parents were spanking too much. I remember when I was eight years old realizing that I had gone three days without a spanking.

I thought that was really cool because I had set a record for being good.

Maybe if I had gone on that long I’d be able to be good forever and never get a spanking again. Alas, I got a spanking later that day.

I always wished I could be my cousins. It must be easy for them to be good. I wished it was easy for me to be good. I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to be good. Impossible, in fact. My parents explained that it was because I was a sinner, but that didn’t explain why I was apparently a worse sinner than anyone else my age. I couldn’t wait to grow up, because grown-ups don’t sin — that’s why they don’t get spankings. My last spanking was when I was twelve, I think, but the threat didn’t go away. Mom would tell me that a teenaged friend of mine still got spankings for rolling her eyes, so I’d better watch myself.

My parents stated goal in all this discipline was to break our wills.

A child’s will was something evil, something that needed to be eradicated.

They never really explained what this meant in detail, but it had something to do with us never having desires that misaligned with theirs. I can only imagine that the desired result was to condition us to have a visceral reaction to the thought of going against their wishes. It worked very well on me. I learned early on that the best way to cope was just to go along with what they wanted, to say what they wanted to hear, to hold still and not resist, it would be over most quickly that way.

It didn’t work so well on my brother, he would fight. Not fight physically — he’d fight by not crying, or by saying that the spanking didn’t hurt. That’s why Dad had to hit him so hard that wood broke against his flesh.

Yet, I’m not convinced that my strategy was better. It seemed so at the time because it was the path of least pain, but there were long-term consequences. For years into adulthood I wasn’t able to act in my own best interest. Doing something just because it was the best decision for me was so far off my radar I rarely contemplated it. I lived my life with pleasing my parents in mind. It wasn’t even conscious, it just was. When I started making decisions I knew they would disagree with I had physical reactions that were so intense I would sometimes be incapacitated for days. It would start with my whole body shaking, then my throat would close up. Then my heart rate would soar, like my heart was trying to escape my chest. My mind would race, and then I would start vomiting. Even after the vomiting stopped it would take a day or so before I could eat normally again. It would take several to get my energy back.

I’m shaking just writing this post.

My parents always told me that they spanked us because they loved us. It is true that they loved us. But I don’t think that was their primary motivation in spanking.

Spanking gave them a tremendous amount of power over us: power to break and then remake us according to their will.

The Difficulty with Admitting Trauma: Kandice’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to a pseudonym at the request of the author.

My name is Kandice, and I grew up being homeschooled.

My parents were and are members of HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) but in our part of Massachusetts, there weren’t too many other homeschoolers.

My seven siblings and I were all home-schooled together; initially started using a mix of curriculum including Christian Liberty, but my parents quickly switched over to Pensacola Christian College’s (PCC) ABeka Book program. I was homeschooled from 2nd grade through 12th.

My siblings and I were raised with very clearly defined social, political, and religious ideology. Strict Calvinism, coupled with the dogma of Independent Fundamental Reformed Baptist theology was the religious perspective; politically, my father is rabidly conservative – huge fan of the NRA, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh etc. Socially, we were taught children to follow Biblical principles as my parents saw them.

We were taught the world is full of sin, and you can’t trust anyone other than fellow Christians as all others are under Satan’s sway.

Curiously enough, unlike many in Fundamental circles, my parents are not racist at all. In fact, they harbor great frustration and confusion over racism – we were taught all people are created in the image of god and therefore physical differences don’t matter; my parents explained differences in appearance and language are stemming from the tower of Babel (Genesis Ch. 11).

I have a B.A., which I got from Bob Jones University, which is private and religious.

I was raised by educated parents who valued learning highly – my mother has a B.A. in English and my father has both a B.A., and his M.Div. My father was a minister at an Independent Fundamental Reformed Baptist church – although his religious views didn’t start out there, they progressed to that point. In my early childhood we were traditional ABC Baptists, but after my father got his own church, things began to change.

My political beliefs changed before high school, largely because I knew I was gay, and then continued transforming.

My dad is an extremely conservative Republican and we were raised with that ideology. My biggest passion in life has been reading, I can’t remember not loving words, and this drove change for me. I started reading literature that changed how I saw things – several authors were powerful in this for me: John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck, Thomas Hardy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

By the time I entered high school I already disagreed with my family/father on social justice and equality matters – reading literature made me explore history and social science which really helped to broaden my view.

I knew I was gay from a young age, and in college, in my Ethics class, we were taught “facts” about homosexuality that didn’t connect at all with my experience. Such things as, people become gay through being recruited, usually at a bar (I’d never been to a bar and as far as I knew, I’d never met a gay person); or that Jesus and the Bible condemned homosexuality – well, I read everything Jesus said and he did not ever speak out against the LGBT community; the OT references to Sodom and Gomorrah are referencing the sin of lack of hospitality, not being gay. So in college, my political beliefs opened up still further to be able to fully accept myself as gay, and to be able to say that all people, regardless of religion/gender/orientation etc. should have the same rights and freedoms.

My religious beliefs went through transition as I grew older.

I stopped believing in any way that Jesus was more than a man – he existed, but he is not god or any deity. My view of god changed – I don’t have a definition for the power that some of us use the word god to describe. That power exists, and that power is more than me, but beyond that, I don’t have definitions or rules about religion. I learned to see people in light of who they were and what they do, rather than what the claim to believe – beliefs are only as significant as we let them be, and they’re so tied in to our perceptions of reality that they are often wildly flawed. And contrary to what I was raised with, I don’t think it’s my job or duty to try to “convert” anyone. I think my responsibility today is to live the most spiritual life I can, following the path I’m on, and do my utmost to not cause harm but to be of service to others.

These changes occurred because I was reading, and learning. I took what I read and compared it to what I experienced and saw in the world around me and it didn’t align. Teaching I had been taught in the Bible didn’t match up to my experience, or what I experienced from people who were deemed “sinners” or “apostate” or “lost”. And in fact, what some Christians did to me, and others, was distinctly un-Christlike; there was no logic in saying that their behavior was acceptable because they called themselves Christians, while the person who doesn’t believe in god but does amazing good is going to hell.

I would have to say homeschooling was a traumatic experience for me.

I don’t like admitting that. Because admitting trauma means addressing it beyond the bleak recitation of the facts of what occurred. Diving into how it makes me feel, or affects me, is challenging.  I think that unless homeschooling is done in conjunction with an outside schooling process, it leads to isolation, control issues, lack of contact with reality, social discomfort, low self-esteem and self-confidence, poor communication skills, and significant challenges building healthy relationships.

Homeschooling did have some lasting psychological effects on me. While this is not as powerful as it has been in the past, the scars still remain. My journey involved alcohol use that became alcoholism… that was one of the ways I coped with what I was experiencing/had experienced. I also suffered from severe depression and anxiety, leading to suicidal ideation, and this started around age 11. In college I actually attempted suicide because I just had no coping mechanism, and I didn’t know enough to know there were supports available.

Additionally as an adult, I learned that a lot of the behaviors I had as a kid that my parents labelled as “sin” and tried to punish/discipline out of me, were actually tied in to having Asperger’s and having an IQ/mind that naturally asks questions, and that needs to be challenged. It was actually hard to learn that because it hit me really hard to realize that I had spent so many years and so much time trying to change something that was neurobiologically programmed and that couldn’t be changed. Also, it didn’t need to change – it wasn’t wrong.

But the concept of Autistic persons as being sinful is very prevalent in the community I come from.

My father has repeatedly told me he would do the same thing over again, and that it’s [the way I process things] sin, not the way my brain functions.

Guilt over leaving my younger siblings behind to go to college and then leaving them again when I came out as LGBT is something I’m working through. It’s not as bad as it was, by far, because my siblings hold no animosity towards me. I just felt very responsible for them because as their older sister, I always had been responsible for them. And in big families in these environments, you sometimes feel more like a protector or caretaker than a sibling and that changes things.

Had I been in a public school setting, these experiences would have been very different.

I know this for sure since I was in public school for kindergarten and 1st grade – and in 1st grade, when teachers and administrators began to have concerns over what they saw in me, as well as my siblings, my parents shut the door on the world and began homeschooling. Getting diagnosed at a younger age, having supports in place, learning healthy coping mechanisms – yes I definitely believe this would have made a difference. I can truly say I like myself today, though, so I don’t know that I would want to not experience what I experienced because I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that.

In conclusion, homeschooling was a mixed bag for me, very much so.

I enjoyed not being held back or slowed down by anyone else, I enjoyed having no homework, and I felt comfortable (translate – safe/understood) being around my siblings. I’ve been told, as an adult by a psychologist who had done a series of IQ tests on me, that homeschooling was actually a very good thing for me in terms of my intellectual development. So I’m grateful for being homeschooled in the sense that it allowed me to really develop my mind.

Emotionally, socially, psychologically, spiritually – homeschooling was extraordinarily damaging. Not knowing how to interact with anyone comfortably that wasn’t from my family, being raised to not trust other people, not having healthy psychological supports in place or anyone in place who could say, “Wait. This is not ok” – that wasn’t good at all. Being able to learn to reach out to people for help has taken years.  And it’s also taken a lot of work. It’s still not easy. Knowing that’s it is ok to feel something other than gratitude for being one of god’s elect was another learning process; the reality that feelings of sorrow, anger, depression, grief, loneliness – these are ok, also they’re normal and they are not sin was definitely not something I was raised with. Most emotions and thoughts were deemed sinful; learning how to first say “sin is man-made, in fact it’s not real” and then say “feelings are feelings, not good or bad unless I want to assign them so”, that also took many years.

If I were a parent, I would not home school my child.

I think we exist as part of a community, a whole, and that community is so much more than a family or small homogenous group.

I think removing the opportunity for children to learn, from a young age, about differences is unacceptable. It stunts growth emotionally, mentally, and socially. I think raising children in rigid, rule-oriented, controlling and judgmental environments is harmful. Not knowing who you are, not being able to develop your own views through experiences and feelings, is not healthy and it leads to damaging behavior and unhealthy practices in adulthood.

I’m not angry or resentful that I was homeschooled; as I mentioned above I like myself and this is a part of who I am. But I can’t in good conscience recommend or advocate for homeschooling.

If I Could Wave a Magic Wand: Arachne’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Arachne” is a pseudonym. Arachne blogs at Past, Present, and Future.

A new year is about to start. I am looking forward to it.

This is a new development. I spent years making suicide plans for New Years Eve. The holidays were the worst time of the year for me. That has changed. I survived. I never thought I would, but I did. The hell is over. Gone. Done. I can look forward now and I can be happy. Breathe, even. I guess all the therapy, psychiatric medications, hard decisions, tearful conversations with friends, and general struggles have finally paid off.

I started praying again.

It doesn’t hurt anymore. Of course, my idea of prayer is now very different from what I was raised with. Not so much with the trying to atone for my innumerable sins and the sins of the world. I feel like I have a relationship and connection to Divinity. I am loved and accepted.

I have plenty of anecdotes I could relate. There was the semi-cult at a super traditional Catholic church with a whole gaggle of denim jumper wearing homeschoolers. There was being the eldest child and being female in a strictly patriarchal large family. There was the father who broke the dining table chairs into pieces when he was angry. An emotionally manipulative and unstable mother overwhelmed with the life she believed God commanded her to live. The leather belt they both used. It goes on, but for me, those days are over and those people are no longer in my life. So what comes next?

I don’t know. There’s no plan. It’s terrifying.

If I could wave a magic wand and erase the past, I would.

Trust me. In a heartbeat.  I think about it over and over. What would I have been like if I’d had a decent education? If I hadn’t been abused and controlled by the people who had total power over me, where would I be? Did I ever have a chance at being “normal”? What the fuck is normal? I will never know. At some point, I have to step away and live my life now while accepting who I am and how I was shaped.

There’s only so much I can leave behind, and I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I doubt I ever truly will. I can’t forget my entire childhood. My body is covered in scars from my struggles with self-injury. Depression and anxiety will likely stick with me, even though they are managed now. Catholic guilt fades but doesn’t seem to ever quite go away. There will be many more times when I break down and cry over the past.

All I can do now is figure out how to work with what I have now, and when I take inventory it feels incredible.

I have two wonderful kids who are being raised totally different from how I was, wonderful people in my life, a brain that has some quirky wiring but that still works pretty well, physical health, a spiritual path that has taken me places I never dreamed of going, and so much more.

I have strength. I have freedom.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

It’s a Long Road Out of Depression, But There is a Road: By Lana Hobbs

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It’s a Long Road Out of Depression, There is a Road: By Lana Hobbs

HA note: Lana Hobbs blogs at Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool.

College freshman.

Achy back, achy bones, dizziness and blackouts, inability to focus, crying at school. My head, oh my poor head always hurting. Always tired, so tired.

Sick sick sick.



Going to the doctor: exercise more, eat healthy, we can give you antidepressants to help cope with school stress.

Antidepressants? You mean witchcraft? No thanks.


Blood tests, chest x-rays, nothing looks wrong.

Is it all in my head?


Go to church: pray more, trust more, confess your sins


At home: love us more, if you loved us you would be happier here. Why don’t you sing while you work?

Dizzy, sick, tired. Will I pass out?

Blacking out again.

Just not happy. Why not happy? Trying.


In bed, listening to music to fall asleep. Going to bed late. Scared at night, sensing demons around the room, why are they attacking me?

Pray more, think holier thoughts.

Evil girl, evil, evil girl.


At school: must get perfect grades. Crying over a bad paper, afraid of failing.



Everywhere I am failing.

Failing to keep healthy, failing to be happy, failing to handle stress gracefully. Fail fail fail. I should die, i should die and stop failing — suicidal.


This is what depression looks like for me.

I didn’t recognize it because I didn’t believe in depression. I thought all one needed for mental health was faith in God and I had that. And I tried to have it more and more. I prayed and felt guilty and despaired that if I couldn’t handle school stress, I would never be able to succeed as a missionary. I also had severe anxiety — my demonic attacks turned out to be anxiety attacks, and treatable by medication and therapy.

It was years before I finally got help. If you have unexplained sadness, exhaustion, and sickness, please get help. Medication isn’t really ‘witchcraft’ and therapy isn’t ungodly psychobabble. There is help and hope for a healthy mind.

It’s a long road out of severe depression, but there is a road out.

Take it.

(For the whole story about my journey from being in denial about depression to taking meds and getting therapy, see my series, “from shame to seeking help.”)

Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

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Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Miriam” is a pseudonym.


Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of self-injury and suicidal attempts and thoughts.


“who does these things to you ?”

i do. i hate myself. and, i think i have lost the will to live. i’m tired of fighting to survive. i want to give up. i want to die.

the dark battle with the mental illness i still fight began with me.

i don’t remember a lot of my childhood. i have fragments of memories. but i’ve tried to forget the rest, the good along with the bad.

the bullying and the abuse began in junior high.

there were three adults. the first, a leader at a church. the second, an athletics coach. the third, an academics coach. they were all close friends with my parents. i trusted them. i looked up to them. i respected them. and i endured emotional abuse under each for a total of four years.

they taught me that i was worthless. that anything i tried to do was never good enough.

i can’t count the number of students that bullied me. but it came from everywhere: the church youth group, the debate team, the sports team. some were my friends. some were my role models. they were all tormentors in the end. i couldn’t escape being the victim, for four years of my life.

they taught me that i was fat, weak, gay, emo, worthless, stupid, dirty, and deserved to die.

i could only deal with so much. at age 13, i started fighting depression. it grew worse over the next two years.

at age 15, i was sad. i was tired of living. and i wanted more than anything to escape. to be happy again. i became an expert at pretending to be okay. fake smiles were second nature.

i wouldn’t let anyone close enough to let them hurt me. i couldn’t trust anyone. so no one knew. no one noticed how much it hurt.

i was alone.

may 25, 2012. i was home alone. the pain in my mind was unbearable. the heartache of the shame i felt was too heavy. i wanted to die. but i couldn’t kill myself. i wouldn’t let myself. i was too scared.

so i did the first thing that came to mind, to try and relieve the pain. i broke apart a plastic razor i found in the bathroom cabinet and i took the thin blade from it. i pressed it horizontally to my wrist. and i cut.

six small cuts. barely deep enough to break the skin, but still deep enough to bleed, to hurt. it brought relief like a flood in a way that i can’t explain with words.

i’ve tried to retrace my thoughts since then to figure out what ever gave me the idea of cutting myself in the first place. i’ve hit only dead ends.

but i had found an escape.

for the next month, i was okay. i knew i couldn’t cut my wrists because it was still summer and i couldn’t hide my arms easily. so i cut the skin across my thighs. every night. i got a little more courage. the cuts became a little deeper.

it hurt so good. no one noticed.

they taught in church that god is supposed to be the ultimate source of joy and peace.

i felt a deep shame. if god made christians joyful, why was i depressed. if god gave christians peace, why did i have to get relief from a blade.

i knew i was a bad christian. i knew that god must hate me.

they said that god loves the world and all the people in it. but he didn’t stop my bullies and abusers from hurting me.

i knew. god doesn’t love me. i stopped praying. i stopped reading the bible. i didn’t know why i should anymore. it wasn’t helping me get better. if god didn’t love me then i didn’t see why i should love him.

i didn’t love him anymore. i hated him. he made this happen to me. he made me hurt. he gave me life but then he made it so bad that i wanted to die.

i knew i was a bad christian. so i told my parents. they cried a lot. i promised i would get better and i would never cut myself again. i promised i would start loving god again. i said everything would be okay again.

i lied.

i tried hard to keep my promise. it only lasted a month. then i got worse. i broke down and starting cutting again. every night. deeper and deeper.

i wanted to die. maybe i could get enough courage to try and kill myself someday.

four months later. they found out. my parents took me to the doctor. he asked me a lot of questions and then gave me a bottle of pills to take. once a day. he said it would help me to feel better.

so they all pretended everything was okay now. i had pills. i should get better now.

i got worse again. it was winter now. i started cutting my wrists and worked my way all the way up to my shoulders. i could hide them under jackets and long sleeves. it didn’t matter anymore anyway.

the pills weren’t working. the doctor gave me higher doses of pills.

they took me to a psychologist. she seemed nice. she asked lots of questions. i told her about everything. she wanted to see my cuts. i showed her. she wanted me to talk to my parents. she wanted me to show them my cuts. she wanted me to promise to stop cutting.

i didn’t know what to do.

i said yes.

after it was over, i wore short sleeves again. people stared at the scars lining my arms. they asked me what happened. i told them a dog had scratched me.

i lied.

depression swallowed me again. the doctor gave me more pills. it was a different kind this time. he said they would help me not to feel tired.

but i was tired. i was tired of living. and i was sick. really sick.

i wanted to die. i thought i had enough courage to try.

it was 1:13AM. i couldn’t sleep. i didn’t want to live through the next day. i knew i could die now.

i thought about my knives. i got them and cut deeply into my wrist. i wanted to slice through a vein and bleed to death.

i failed. i was left with a mess of sticky blood. but i was too scared to cut deep enough to die.

i knew i would try again soon.

and i did. two weeks later. i tried reaching a vein again. i almost did it.

there was so much blood. my head hurt and i was dizzy. i couldn’t bring myself to keep cutting deeper. i was too weak and too tired.

i failed again.

i tried to keep living. i hoped that things would get better. maybe the pills would work now.

hope bred more misery.

i was brave enough to give it another shot. the knife couldn’t cut deep enough. i tried something different this time.

i found a large bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. i swallowed a lot of them. i didn’t count how many. i drank a lot of water and tried to fall asleep.

my stomach hurt. i threw up all the pills.

i failed. for the third time. i used to think that the third time’s a charm.

i was too tired to try again. i cried and fell asleep.

a few weeks later, i tried again.

this time i got scared after i swallowed all the pills.

i called the only person i trusted.

he talked to me for an hour or two. i calmed down.

my stomach still hurt. my head was throbbing. i threw up all the pills.

i had failed. i was still alive, against my will.

i felt like god was laughing at me. i couldn’t stand to live but i couldn’t even get dying right. i was in limbo. in hell.

four attempts and still alive. i was sick. i hated myself. i wanted to die but i couldn’t.

the parts in between are a blur. i didn’t attempt again. i kept visiting the psychologist. i kept taking the antidepressants.

and i started talking to him more.

he asked me about my suicide attempts. we talked about my cutting. about my depression. about my self hate. about my shame. about the bullying and the abuse. about the hurt and the loneliness.

somewhere in all of that, i found myself. i realized that, amidst all the bullshit of life, there were some things that were worth living for. worth staying alive for. he was one of them.

i stopped cutting. i found an alternative. it made him really happy.

i started to talk to my psychologist more. it made him happy too.

i talked to him frequently. no one else cared about me.

the darkness started to clear.

i stopped practicing how to smile in the mirror. he made me smile spontaneously and for real.

i have never met a more beautiful person.

and that is why it hurt so much when he walked out of my life. without a clear explanation. without a spoken goodbye. just a phone call with a vague jumble of words put together that i couldn’t quite process through the shock i was feeling.

it hurt like hell.

and life does that. life is pain and beauty and truth. and i would rather have that than comfort and happiness.

i still have major depressive disorder. i still fight off anxiety attacks. suicidal thoughts dwell in my mind every day. i have constant flashbacks of the abuse.

there are things i’d rather not remember. and things still hurt.

but even though it hurt like hell when he abandoned me, losing my best friend taught me that the outstanding pain i felt from that was worth all that he had taught me when he loved me even though i hated myself.

he taught me how to love myself. to embrace brokenness. to turn shame into beauty. to turn lies into truth. to resist the urge to tear through my skin when i wanted to bleed. to appreciate life even when i felt like i would be better off dead.

through pain, i found myself. because of him.

and so, today, as i was thinking of how to write this, i remembered the first time i told him that i hated myself and wanted to die. when i told him about the abuse.

he asked me, “who does these things to you ?”

i didn’t have a clear answer.

i do now.

i know where i’ve been and what i’ve been through. i remember all the hate and the hurt. i remember all the shame and the sadness. i remember all the trauma and the tears.

and i know now that people like me who have mental illnesses never really do recover. after an experience like this, there is no way to reclaim the person i was before. there is no way i can recover who i once was.

and so, i have decided, to recreate myself. i will create a better life and a better world. there will be pain but there will be love. and i will learn to love myself as i live.

one of the hardest things i’ve ever done is share my story.

i’ve only told a few people. it scares me like hell. it’s tangled and it’s terrifying for me to relive some of the memories. but dragging shame out into the light drains it of its power. i share my story, not because it’s easy, but because it’s needed. because it’s real.

and to the reader: i don’t know what you’ve endured, how you’ve hurt, what you’ve done.

but i am glad that you are still alive.

My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD: By Susannah

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My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD: By Susannah

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Susannah” is a pseudonym.

Writing about mental illness frightens me.

It’s a topic I don’t like to think or talk about, especially at times when it takes a lot of energy to maintain my emotional equilibrium.

My grandmother used to go through phases when she would sign our birthday cards “Snowflake” instead of “Gramma”, which always unsettled me. Other times she just took her “happy pills”, to my mother’s chagrin. My parents were opposed to “mind-altering drugs” and “worldly philosophies” of psychology. They were also followers of Bill Gothard, whose singular ideas about the root causes of mental illness are legendary. We were taught to smile to create good feelings, to force enthusiasm, to “submit” to authority even when we disagreed, and not to express “bad” feelings.

It was a recipe for disaster.

Though we knew numerous Christian people who suffered from depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and even psychosis at times, prayer–and maybe fasting–was considered the [only] acceptable course of treatment. One did not consult physicians (ours was a Catholic man who prayed with his patients and recommended homeopathic remedies) for problems with spiritual causes. One might consult a trusted pastor, but they never seemed able to offer anything but more prayer and Bible reading, which we certainly did enough of, anyway.

My sisters and I learned that it was better to keep our private internal conflicts inside our own heads.

I started having panic attacks as an adult when my other grandmother, my closest friend outside the world of religious homeschooling, died of cancer. (We used to pray daily that she wouldn’t perish in hell.) I went to the E.R. only to be told that my symptoms were a classic presentation of anxiety. Panic attacks? Me? As the eldest of eleven siblings, I had prided myself on being strong and resilient.

I was not happy to learn that my body had ways of bypassing instruction from my brain!

Like the society in Shyamalan’s “The Village”, the world I was raised in had been hemmed in by fears: fear of God, fear of  Satan, fear of persecution, fear of government control, fear of strangers or nosy neighbors, fear of vaccines and unhealthy foods, fear of ourselves. Though I had left that world years earlier, the patterns of anxiety were worn deep in my psyche. For the next eight months, I struggled with fear, insomnia, and depression. I did seek out a therapist who helped me process the fears of my past.

The fog eventually lifted, and life moved on.

Later on, the panic attacks returned with a vengeance–this time triggered by a college professor whose rude and controlling manner in the classroom dredged up numerous uncalled-for memories of misogynistic “spiritual leaders” from my past. Physically and emotionally overwhelmed, I returned to my therapist, who recognized PTSD. I was a child again, being spanked across my dad’s lap for asking one too many questions. I was a teenager trapped in his office being told my character flaws, or in his car while he asked about my sexual thoughts. I was a young woman in a fundamentalist cult organization where women had to be led, protected, and prevented from “causing” men to lust. I was walking on eggshells in my mom’s kitchen, afraid of accidentally saying, doing, or not doing something that would send her upstairs to her room in tears.

I started reading about C-PTSD, especially as it relates to adults whose childhood was abusive or neglectful. It made so much sense, and I was relieved to know my mind wasn’t “lost”, only responding normally to being bruised again and again. Medication didn’t help my situation a bit (made it worse, actually), but I found that writing and exercise would counteract insomnia and stress-induced pain, while yoga and coloring pictures calmed my hypervigilant and anxious mind. Meanwhile, supportive, healthy friendships gave me a new standard of how respectful adults interact.

Knowing people outside my family whom I can trust and talk to about my struggles means the world to me.

For so many years, I knew no one who would not defend my parents. I was socially isolated and there was no one I could turn to for objective counsel. Every major influence in our lives reinforced the fear and the pressure to conform our everyday emotions to an ideal level of contentment. But my friends and neighbors have never been judgmental; they never assume that depression or anxiety are my fault. More often than not, we end up sharing stories of feeling weak and of overcoming hard things. And when they ask me how I’m doing, I don’t feel I need to make something up.

The realization that all emotions are valid aspects of human experience was a huge relief to me. I am learning to first acknowledge my feelings without judging them, and then to choose how I want to act on them.

Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

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Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

HA note: Sara Tinous blogs at Sementifera. She “was a child of fundamentalist parents who home-schooled her and my sibilings.” The theme of her blog, Sementifera, is taken “from the fire pines that respond to forest fires by releasing their seeds… They are sementifera – they are carrying seeds that will grow in spite of their destructive environment.” This post was originally published on October 12, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Isolation was the constant experience of my ten years of homeschooling. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the adult presence in my daily life, my mom, was unpredictably angry, sad, or completely unavailable, and as time went on she increasingly avoided social situations.

It didn’t help that no one was good enough to be our friends.

After being pulled out of the fourth grade for a job change and move, my dad decided that my mom should homeschool us against her will. We suddenly spent most of our time at home and basically left the house once a week to go to church. A little non-denominational church that confirmed my parents in their belief that people outside of their own flavor of church weren’t really christians, including anyone who used the public school.

My dad’s growing attention to the writings of Douglas Wilson and my mom’s anxiety lead my parents to also isolate us from dangerous influences like the kids who went to our own church’s youth group, awana, and my own cousins. Repeatedly they would try to make friends with other families, but then essentially discard them as unworthy.

My mom couldn’t handle suddenly having us home with her all the time, and began to spend her time in other rooms away from us.

When she was feeling ok, she left us alone while she cleaned and talked on the phone. When she was not feeling ok, she left us alone while she cried, filled notebooks with cryptic spiritualized laments modeled on the Psalms, or pounded on the piano without acknowledging us if we tried to talk to her. She would throw a fit if we wanted to leave the house. My sister and I stopped asking to go anywhere, my brother started sneaking out at night.

I spent a lot of my time alone in my room trying to avoid anything that might set her off. We all felt guiltily relieved when another sibling was attracting the negative attention.

Homeschooling went mostly unsupervised, enforced only by our lack of freedom to do anything else. We were given screened books to read, many of them inappropriately difficult, but went for weeks without having a real conversation with anyone. I completely lost myself in books and gained a huge vocabulary, but could barely follow the rhythm of a basic conversation.

My little brother went for years without direct instruction, and then my parents straight up told him he was stupid because he didn’t spontaneously educate himself. That still just kills me.

As things got worse, we stopped going to even the occasional homeschool gym days and coop classes. Anything could trigger angry words that only stopped when we were in tears. The constant message we got from her was that we were in the way, we were a burden, we should do everything we could to avoid having feelings and needs.

When I was the first kid to hit puberty, the very existence of my body became a personal affront. My mother’s illness crescendoed around this time, her personal body image issues projected onto us daily. Our medical care was neglected, only the most egregious oversights like broken bones and dental emergencies were noticed by other church families and taken care of. I punished my blemished skin compulsively. Food was an area of contention, just like everything else.

My sister started making herself throw up in secret.

Growing up in this environment was a catalyst for my own anxiety and depression. I went from being an incessantly chatty queen bee elementary school kid who knew everyone at my school to someone who only ocassionaly saw one of three or four girls my age and who was afraid to use a telephone to talk to a librarian. I started to zone out so completely while reading that I didn’t hear people talking to me, and began sleeping as a safe pastime.

My voice shrank to something nearly inaudible. I started talking to myself to keep myself company and replaying my few conversations with others in my head over and over. I embarrassed the whole family, including my siblings, by constantly crying “without reason,” sometimes at church.

They didn’t know the half of it. For years, every night I wept alone in my bed at night, silently.

Mom explicitly said that “sadness” was a sign of spiritual disorder, a “heart issue.” That phrase was her favorite way to threaten and punish me (and herself) for feelings that tarnished the family’s public image.

When I was 12 or 13, I remember steeling myself to leave my room and interact with my mom, and having an epiphany. I suddenly knew at that moment that I had not done anything wrong to cause her to be angry, even that her mood existed without being caused by any immediate person or event. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe mental illness, but I knew it wasn’t my fault. Remembering this moment makes me sad for all the time lost before that realization, for the child who felt that I was to blame for what was happening to me.

As an adult I see now the pressures that my mom was under, how trapped she must have felt. She lost all her friends and freedom in one move, and must have felt powerless to actually change her situation. She religiously believed that my dad had the right to make unilateral decisions, that what should change about her situation was her own feelings, so she waged battle with her feelings every day. Intellectually, I understand and want to forgive….

But for now this is all I can do:

Say that these things really happened to me, and it was not ok.

Say that these things are still happening to other kids, and it is not ok.

A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Mental Health Awareness Series

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A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Mental Health Awareness Series

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Mental health is a fundamentally important part of our daily lives. It is as important — and as natural — as any other type of health like dental or physical health.

But when we are mentally unhealthy, we are often afraid to talk about it.

We can feel ashamed. Embarrassed. Terrified of what others might think. Alienated. “Crazy.”

Mental illnesses are real, live medical conditions that mess with a person’s feelings, mood, thoughts, ability to relate to other people, and other aspects of daily functioning that everyone else takes for granted. They can be very serious conditions: ranging from major depression to bipolar disorder, from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to panic attacks; from severe anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here are some facts about mental illness and recovery from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): 

  • Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
  • 1 in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness.
  • One in four adults experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
  • 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
  • The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders.
  • By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
  • Mental illness usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives.
  • The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
  • With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence.
  • Early identification and treatment is of vital importance.
  • Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions.

Children of Christian homeschool families are not immune to mental illnesses or disorders. Just like any other human beings, we can struggle with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and any other number of issues. In fact, the highly controlling and toxic environments that some of us grew up in can exacerbate or even create mental illness. Experiencing abuse as a child can actually prime one’s brain for future mental illness, prompting a writer for TIME Magazine to observe the following:

Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness.

While there is a stigma around taking about mental health in our larger culture, that stigma is even more pronounced within the Christian homeschool movement. There can even be scientifically invalid information being propagated, labeling mental illness as something strictly spiritual (or worse, “demonic”) that does not necessitate medical or therapeutic treatments.

We need to break this stigma around mental illness. We need to speak out, both as adult graduates of the Christian homeschool movement and as human beings.

If you are interested in contributing, here are some ideas for what you could write about:

1) Your personal story of struggling with mental illness

2) Your personal story of being a friend to someone struggling

3) Your thoughts on the relationship between your homeschooling experience and mental health and/or illness

4) Your advice, as someone who personally struggles with mental illness, to other homeschool kids who are currently struggling

5) Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness

6) Your advice, as a parent to a kid who personally struggles with self-injury, to other parents who have a kid currently struggling

You do not have to pick just one topic. You could combine several of these ideas, or bring your own ideas to the table, or — if you have a lot to say — contribute several pieces on a variety of these topics. The deadline for submission is Sunday, October 13.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.

If you interested in participating in this, please email us at

I Am Not A Victim, I Am A Survivor

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on Confessions of a Heretic Husband on June 21, 2013.

“Where are you going?” she kept asking over and over again, with defiance and a hint of amused contempt as she stood in the middle of the only doorway out of the room. I had told her just minutes before that I was leaving, and she immediately blocked the door. I had some of my stuff packed, and I was desperate to leave her home for good, but she just stood there and said I had “no right” to leave.

Was I some pouting 12 year old kid at the time? No, I was 21 years old. I was desperate enough that I was willing to leave the home of my Mom and Dad with just a few hundred dollars to my name and an old van.

What drove me to this point? It was many different things, and I should start from the beginning. Just two years earlier, I had come back from a prominent Southern Baptist college after a nervous breakdown that included severe depression with constant fatigue, muscle pain/weakness, and some bizarre panic attacks. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep it together, and had to return home.

When I did return home, I explained what had happened, and all of it was dismissed as “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with god”. You see, in her mind, my struggles with mental illness were not an illness, they showed a lack of character. Her attitude reflected much of what what can be seen in fundamentalism: that true happiness can only come from serving god, and if you aren’t happy, then that must be a sign that your relationship isn’t right.

The real kicker is that I actually believed for this for two years, and generated a lot of self hatred and frustration. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I begged god for “forgiveness”, I doubled down on my dedication to my faith, but it wasn’t working. I was beginning to realize that the relationship with god had little to nothing to do with it, and that I had a real disorder. The problem was that my mother was never going to see it that way, and dealing with her ignorance left me feeling trapped in this situation.

It was pushing me to the point that I was starting to become suicidal. For a while I pondered jumping off a local bridge during the winter, but then I started to think that if I did, I would be giving my mother exactly what she wanted: control over me for my entire life. That thought bothered me more than the thought of ending my life. I knew I had to do something, anything, to break away, but I was stuck.

At the time, I was in a local college, and I was starting to realize that they were a scam, but of course, she didn’t see it that way. I proved it to her in so many different ways, I even told her what some people in the field that my major was in told me at a summer job (that the college was a scam), but all to no avail. It didn’t work.

She told me the only acceptable plan for my life was to go to college, and she kept pontificating about how supposedly I would never make it financially without that piece of worthless paper from the scam of a college I was in at the time.

Allegedly, I would be working 3 minimum wage jobs, have no time for anything, and would be starving. She called me “lazy” because I would rather work (I still haven’t figured out the logic behind that argument). She tried to make me feel without hope, that I would never leave, and that I couldn’t make it without her. I knew that was a lie, and meant to keep me defeated and powerless. I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere while trying to reason with her. I knew that if I stayed, it would be many more years suffering under her rule, and it might just lead me to finally end my life.

So I packed some things, and was going to leave that morning, but there she was, standing in the doorway to barricade me in the room. “Where are you going?” It’s not as though she didn’t know, I explained it to her just minutes before. It was more of a challenge than a question. I had a phone sitting out, because as angry as I knew she would get, she hadn’t become violent with me since I was 11 years old. But she loved to threaten it when nothing else worked, and I couldn’t be too sure. 

She noticed the phone sitting out, and insisted to know why it was laying on a desk. She figured it out, and told me (keep in mind I was 21 years old at the time), that if she were to hit me, I would deserve it. I pointed out to her how hypocritical her statement was, due to the fact that she was always ranting about how bad her childhood was with a physically abusive father (and rightfully so). She had nothing to say for once, she simply walked away.

I realized that if I was to ever reclaim my life, and get back any sense of hope, I had to push back, and resist in any way possible. Eventually I would wear her out, reasoning sure wouldn’t work. I refused to go along with her plans, and finally won on the college front. I got a job (not three minimum wage jobs), and saved my money, paycheck by paycheck

She tried to slow me down by making pay “rent” for living in her home (the home “I had no right to leave”),  which I payed, but I kept pressing on anyway. The muscle pain and weakness came back, but I fought through it, sometimes working up to 64 hours a week, despite the pain and stiffness. She told me that I was so lazy, that even if I did get a job, I wouldn’t stay at it very long.

Guess what? I have not only been at the same company since September 2011, I have moved up within the company (thankfully to a job that is no longer physically demanding). I saved up enough money over the last 2 years to buy a foreclosure house, and closing procedures will take place next week (the week of June 10, 2013) [Note: this has happened!]. I paid cash for it, and won’t ever have to worry about house payments. My finances will be a little stretched to say the least while rebuilding it, but I never would have thought I would have gotten this far only 3 years after that day that I was barricaded in that room.

There are times, like when I’m writing a post like this, that I feel much the same way I did that day: defeated, humiliated, like a victim, but then I remember, I’m a survivor. I fought, and clawed my way towards finally getting the right to start my own life, and won. I survived the toxic self hatred and ignorance of fundamentalism, and cast it aside.  I have a long way to go to rebuild my life, financially, emotionally, and in so many different ways, but I won the fight for my freedom.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.


In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


My Home “Education”

A lot of people read this site and remark on how accomplished, out-spoken, and well-educated we all seem.  Many have remarked that it was obviously homeschooling that made us who we are.  The answer to that question is complicated because I am what I am because of, and despite of, homeschooling.  When your entire social life and community K-12 is homeschooled, of course these influences significantly impacted my life.  But much of my adult life has been spent “re-learning” everything (from social skills, to history, to biology, to relationship etiquette).  I was taught about all of these things through homeschooling.  Some subjects I was never taught properly in high school and my insufficiency handicapped my educational opportunities.

My mother was the primary instructor and, bless her heart, she only had a GED and a few college classes.  It’s not that my mother is not smart, or stupid; it’s that she was not qualified to give me a high school education.  I consider most of my educational experiences before 8th or 9th grade to be generally positive.  I excelled in spelling, math, science, and language arts.  I really had an interest in science at an early age – I can remember enjoying earth science, nuclear science, and astronomy/space.  As I entered high school, a few things happened.  First, we got involved in ATI (a homeschooling cult) when I was about 10, but by my high school years the “Wisdom Booklets” became my primary textbooks (other than math).  Second, I became involved in NCFCA/CFC when I was 13 – started debating at 14.  Third, I started liking girls and “rebelling” by falling for them and having innocent phone and text conversations.

We used Saxon math as a supplement to the Wisdom Booklets.  I excelled at geometry, basic algebra, and word problems.  I’ve always enjoyed problem solving.  As I got involved with advanced geometry and algebra II, my mother simply could not keep up.  I would call my older sister, who was pursuing an engineering degree, and she would try to help me through it.  But math-by-phone is no substitute for a math teacher.

I think about 15 or 16, when I got involved heavily in debate, my mom stopped requiring me to do math.  Debate literally took over my life and I spent about 40 hours a week researching, writing speeches, and talking to friends in homeschool debate.  I consider my friends from CFC/NCFCA as the closest thing to a “high school class” because they were the only social group that I interacted with somewhat limited parental oversight.  I excelled at debate and it fed my father’s interest in history and politics.  So for three years all I did was debate, which was vastly superior to Wisdom Booklets.  My education with Wisdom Booklets made me think that AIDS was a gay disease and my sex mis-education was downright reckless.  I “learned” about logarithms intertwined with the tale of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes.

When it came time to submit my high school transcript for college (and to apply for state scholarships) my parents sat down at the computer and literally made up my transcript.  Debate-related activities and research were labeled under lots of different titles (American History, Composition, Logic, Civics, Public Speaking, English, etc).  Of course, I got A’s in all of these categories.  Now, my parents had some semblance of ethics and they decided I needed to complete some science courses to qualify for the state’s college entrance requirements.  My science courses in high school were pathetic, with the exception of computers because my dad worked in the industry for his entire adult life.

During most of my junior and senior years, I worked full-time and debated.  There was a long-distance Latin course from PHC, chemistry, and biology course interlaced with working and debate.  I got C’s in all of these classes and I’m pretty sure I had to cheat on two of the finals just to pass.

Technically, I took a chemistry and biology course, but in reality, I learned nothing about those subjects.  My mom wasn’t that knowledgeable in sciences. I used the Apologia biology textbook.  I remember bumbling through the biology book, not understanding anything I was reading.  Mostly because there was no grand narrative, like evolution, to make sense of all the different species.  I excelled in college biology, but not until I understood the topics from an evolutionary perspective.  My chemistry course was me and my homeschooled friend learning from his father, who was a doctor.  The “classes” lasted for maybe a month or two, but then life got busy and I stopped going.  He didn’t really follow-up, for whatever reason, and my parents didn’t seem that interested either.  So I taught myself chemistry?  Nope, I suck at chemistry – on a very basic level.

As a side note, I’m great with computers because of my father, but I never took a programming class beyond Visual Basic.  He tried to teach me about things, but it always seemed like I was missing part of the story – like he wasn’t “dumbing it down” enough.  Looking back, I realize it’s because my father was trying to teach me only the practical applications of computers while never learning the scientific theory.  I know he knows all about it, but I don’t know that he was qualified to teach it to a child.  It’s not like I gained marketable skills from my computer education.

I was also a huge asshole when I began college. I’m sure you know the type: fundamentalist Christian debater.  I had no idea how to navigate relationships with non-homeschooled people and it took a year or two, many broken friendships, and loneliness to find friends.  I was also encouraged through programs like Summit to challenge my “evil, secular humanist” professors in class – to “stand up” for Jesus in the public classroom.  I was prepared to enter an atmosphere that antagonized Christians and Christianity.

College was fantastic, but difficult and filled with substance abuse.  I realized that I had ADD, but self-medicated for sometime with cannabis.  Alcohol and cannabis helped with the anxiety –social, existential, spiritual, school and parent-related – and helped me to socialize with big groups.  I still can’t socialize with big groups of people easily and I lucked into taking a lot of Honors classes with small class sizes.  I almost lost my big scholarship (which required me to keep a 3.5) in my sophomore year because I got terrible grades in science and foreign languages.  I didn’t know how grades or tests worked, let alone how to study.  I excelled in political science and history, so that’s where I stayed.  I didn’t take biology until my senior year.  I finally understood it and, since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in neurobiology, psychopharmacology, psychology, and health care issues.  At this point, I’d love another two or three years of school to get a B.S. and another three to get an M.S., but that part of my life is over now.

I remember a time in middle school when I really wanted to be an engineer and I still think I could have excelled at it, if it wasn’t for my homeschooling.  Yes, I have an MA, but I’m confident I could have a stable, well-paying job in a science-related field.  My liberal arts education came easily to me, but I would have relished the challenge of advanced science and math.  Almost every public school student has a somewhat competent math teacher and most have access to AP calculus.  Yes, debate is a great skill and it has made me successful, but I’ve always been jealous of people who excelled in math or science – like I once did – and moved seamlessly into the job market.

To be continued.