Bird Set Free: Avia’s Story

Content warning: Victim blaming, child abuse, body shaming, and religious shaming of mental illness

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

There are a few incidents in my life that pushed me to leave home.

Clipped wings, I was a broken thing

When I was nineteen years old, I fell into a deep depression. Every day was hell. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and I lost interest in my hobbies. I was always an avid reader and writer, and I dropped those hobbies for hours of trying to convince myself that I needed to stay alive. I might not get into heaven if I killed myself, and anyway, there must be some sin I didn’t know of keeping me in the depression.

I wrote down dozens of Bible verses and posted them all over my bedroom walls. I slept with a Bible under my pillow. I kept scraps of paper with Bible verses on them in my pocket. I would whisper scripture to myself when the depression was so bad that I wasn’t sure if I could keep myself from walking into oncoming traffic.

My parents were convinced it was an attack from satan. When I had anxiety attacks, my parents prayed over me. When that didn’t work, I threw out books, CD’s, and clothes that I thought might be upsetting god. When I would lie in bed and cry, my mom told me I was “letting satan win”, and that I just needed to stop thinking about it, and it would go away.

I begged god, every night, to take the depression away from me. Nothing helped. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. How was I displeasing god when I was trying to straighten up my life and do what he wanted? I had repented of every sin I could possibly remember.

I suffered through that depressive episode for nearly a year.

I finally stopped asking god to help me, and I started helping myself. I cleared my thoughts and “spoke life” (we all remember that song by Tobymac, right?) into myself, something I’d never done before, and it was powerful. I gathered all my strength and pulled myself out of that hole. The depression lessened and I was able to function again.

Had a voice, had a voice but I could not sing
You would wind me down
I struggled on the ground

When I told my therapist about this time in my life, she was horrified. I now know depression is not an “attack from satan”, but an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. I can also see that year as the onset of my bipolar disorder.
Because my parents shun all modern medicine, especially psychiatry, I didn’t see a psychiatrist until after I escaped. I had no idea that the things I was experiencing were real, and valid. I was constantly told by my parents, especially my mother, that I just didn’t have enough faith in god. If I had enough faith in god, he would take my depression away.

That was my parent’s approach to mental illness. Today I credit my strong will, the will my parents did all they could to break, for keeping me alive.

The second incident was a year or so before I left home. I wish I could pinpoint exactly when this happened, but my childhood and teen years are blurry. I remember it was a sunny, warm afternoon, and my mom called me into my parent’s bedroom. My mom was on her laptop, excitedly pointing to the screen. “Look at this! This sounds just like my mother!” She said, scooting over so I could sit on the bed. I sat down and looked at the screen as my mom continued to talk. It was a list of traits of a narcissistic mother. As my mom read the traits aloud, my heart sank and I started to feel sick. The traits my mother was attributing to my grandmother are traits she had herself. Some of the traits made my heart beat faster.

Does your mother act jealous of you? Does your mother compete with you?

My mom was very strict about how I dressed. She bought me my first real pair of jeans when I was seventeen or eighteen. I had been forbidden to wear jeans or any dress or skirt above the knee since I was a toddler. When my mom went on a diet and lost a large amount of weight, suddenly we were allowed to wear pants, because my mom wanted to wear pants to show off her weight loss. She realized she would look bad if she didn’t let her daughters wear pants as well, so jean dresses and patterned skirts were out, and pants were in.

The jeans my mom bought me were tight hip huggers. I remember trying them on and looking at myself in the mirror. My mom constantly cut down my appearance, but looking at myself in ‘normal’ clothes and not the baggy, oversized skirts and dresses my mom forced me to wear opened my eyes. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t “up and down with no shape” like my mom told me I was. All my life my mom told me I was nothing special, and she was even surprised when men would catcall me on the street. “What’s special about you? I’m still young and pretty.” She’d pout.

From then on, wearing pants or anything even hinting at form fitting, was sure to be a battle with my mother. She would wear cleavage baring shirts and I would cry foul. “It’s ok for me, I’m married!” She’d tell me.

When I’d throw on pants and a t-shirt for a lazy day or for work, she’d ask me if I had a hot date, or accuse me of being indecent around my step-dad and brothers. The fact that my mother was worried that my step-dad and brothers would see me in a sexual manner is creepy as fuck, and very telling.

That’s a different story for a different time though.

So lost, the line had been crossed
Had a voice, had a voice but I could not talk
You held me down
I struggle to fly now

Does your mother lack empathy for your feelings? Does your mother act like the world should revolve around her?  Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?

The number one person in my parent’s household is my mother. Once I hit puberty, my step-dad (my mom married him when I was three) stopped parenting me, and really any of the kids, and faded into the background. The house was run the way my mom wanted, and she ruled with an iron fist. It wasn’t just my feelings that didn’t matter, anyone who wasn’t my mother didn’t matter either. That went for all my siblings and my step-dad. My mother was ruthless towards my step-dad. She has a sharp tongue, and had no problem fighting with my step-dad in front of us kids.

It was at my mother’s insistence that our family started following the biblical feasts, covering our heads (which my mom did off and on, depending on whether or not she wanted her hairstyle to show.), and shunning anyone who didn’t believe as we did. I was a self-righteous teenager, because I was convinced we were doing it the right way, and every other Christian was following the bible half-heartedly.

What my mom wanted, my mom got. If I had something that she liked, she took it from me. If my mom wanted to sleep all day and leave me and my younger sister with the hungry, crying babies, that’s the way it was. If anyone questioned our mother, there was hell to pay. We’d endure hours of her screaming and ranting about how we were all ungrateful brats who didn’t deserve all her or her hard work.

Any time my mom would send me a text, letting me know she was on her way home, it was a scramble to make sure the house was spotless for when she arrived. Doing what she wanted, when she wanted it, was the only option we had. I would have done anything I could to avoid her wrath. If mom wanted her feet massaged for hours, her feet were massaged for hours. One of my younger brothers protested too much one time, and my mother gave him a bloody nose. She blamed him for angering her.

For my entire teen years, my entire life was taking care of my family. I wasn’t taught to drive or given a bank account, despite my pleadings. I had maybe two friends, but I wasn’t allowed to go places often. I had to beg my parents to let me go anywhere, even as an adult. I couldn’t even go outside without telling my mom where I was going. Up until I left my curfew was 10pm. I did most of the cleaning and most of the cooking. My younger brothers, also teenagers, were never forced to help. Any time I complained about doing all the housework, I was chastised for being ungrateful and disobedient towards my parents and god.

But there’s a scream inside that we all try to hide
We hold on so tight, we cannot deny
Eats us alive, oh it eats us alive

In the couple years before I left, I was growing more and more resentful and I stopped doing what my mom wanted. I stopped being available to watch my siblings all the time. I isolated myself from my mother. I stopped helping with schooling. Not that the kids were schooled even close to properly anyway—my mom was constantly pregnant and unable to keep up with the school work. Currently, my parents have a total of 13 children. Schooling even half of those by yourself is not feasible. Without my help, it became impossible.

Of course, that meant serious consequences for me. My mom would go on hours long tirades about how I was a horrible daughter, I was such a bad influence on her kids and she should just kick me out, I was never going to be anything without her, etc. She wouldn’t stop until I was crying, and then she’d quiet down and tell me she was just doing this for my own good. Sometimes the yelling would culminate into physical violence, where she would push or hit me and dare me to hit her back. I never hit back, not once.

Yes, there’s a scream inside that we all try to hide
We hold on so tight, but I don’t wanna die, no

I was newly twenty-two in the beginning of 2014, and I knew something had to change. I couldn’t stay at home anymore. Remaining under my mom’s tyranny meant I would have a mental breakdown and kill myself. I lost a lot of weight. I started cutting again, something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. I stopped talking to my mother. She used anything I told her against me anyway. She would bring up things I did as a toddler (“you were such a bad child! You smeared jelly on my couch when you were two years old!) to prove that I was a bad person. Her moods fluctuated wildly, from calling me her “special girl”, to flying into a rage and pouring hot coffee on me.

I couldn’t take the emotional and physical abuse anymore. I was worried that the next time my mother grew angry and beat my siblings with plumbing tube (my parents were avid followers of Michael and Debi Pearl), I would snap and beat her with it. Their screams haunt me. Dressing my siblings and seeing the purple bruises on their bottoms and legs was killing me inside.

February or March of 2014, my mom and I got into yet another argument. I’m never going to claim that I was the best daughter there ever was. But for a good part of my life, I did everything and anything I could to please my mother. I completely believe everything she told me, and blamed all our issues on myself—she definitely did. If I could just be a better daughter, she would stop getting so angry at me.

I didn’t sneak out, do drugs, curse, or even bad mouth my mother to my friends. I was a good daughter. I did the best I could.

During this argument, I fired back with my own insults. I was tired of her using me as her punching bag when anything went wrong. If she had an argument with my step-dad, she would make my life hell for days. Something as simple as me putting on makeup would set her off. I was done. I was going to stick up for myself finally.

My mom cornered me in my room, got in my face, and started pushing me. She kept telling me she could see how angry I was, and I should just hit her. I told her to back off, and if she didn’t, I was going to call the police. She laughed. “What are you going to tell them?” I looked my mother straight in the eyes and said, “Oh, there are lots of things I could tell them.”

Her face grew pale, and she backed off. I closed my bedroom door and sat on the floor. I ate my lunch through my tears, and for the first time in my life, I told a friend what was going on at home.

I need to tell you something. I typed up to a friend on my ancient laptop.
what? She replied.
My mom hits me sometimes.

I met a guy through a co worker a couple weeks later. I was working at a greenhouse about a mile away from my parent’s farm, and one of the girls there took a liking to me. I had talked to guys online before—without my parent’s knowledge of course. They never would have approved, and my mom was notorious for reading my private conversations and even my diaries. This guy was different. I genuinely liked him and I even made up excuses to spend time with him. The first time I met him was at a coffee shop in town.

My parents knew something was up, especially my mom. I had become so distant from her, and she noticed. My mom wasn’t in control, and that wasn’t going to stand. She decided she was going to kick me out, and got my step-dad on her side. They sat me down one night after I got home from “visiting a friend” (I had been with my boyfriend), and told me that I was rebellious (not wanting to be at home constantly, not being a second mother, wanting a job, driving license, bank account, and more freedom), and they didn’t want me influencing their other children. My mom looked so smug and happy sitting next to my step-dad. I think she thought I would leave, realize life was horrible and that I couldn’t make it, and come crawling back to her. I was working a part time job at the time and I a little under $200 to my name. My parents knew this, but they were willing to risk me being homeless to “teach me a lesson.”

I was sitting on my bed messaging my boyfriend on FB a little bit after, when my mom came in. She had such a disgusted look on her face.

“I just wish you’d leave now.” She said. “I can’t stand seeing you here.”

And I don’t care if I sing off key
I find myself in my melodies
I sing for love, I sing for me
I shout it out like a bird set free

The next day while my mom napped, I packed a backpack with some clothes, my money, and a toothbrush. I nervously kissed some of my siblings good-bye, and asked my only local friend (a girl my mom hated and nearly banned from the house) to drive me to my boyfriend’s house.

Within a week, my mom was threatening to call the police to bring me back home. It didn’t matter that I was twenty-two and the cops wouldn’t have done a thing. My mother saw me as a child, and she thought everyone else did too. So in her mind, of course the cops would agree with her.

But I was free. Life wasn’t smooth sailing after that, of course not. My mom started a smear campaign, and I lost. Friends and family members stopped talking to me. The most ridiculous lies she told got back to me in the most surprising ways. I had to be careful who I trusted and talked to.

I stopped surviving and started living, and I’ve been on a quest to find out who I am. I was told so long who I was by my mother and religion, but that wasn’t who I really was. It was who I had to be to survive.

I was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder, and working through those in therapy has been exhausting and sad. Sometimes tearing open wounds means more struggle, but in the end I’d rather have a bone broken and reset then hobble through life on a crooked leg.

Sometimes I mourn all that I lost. Not seeing my siblings or being able to talk to them has broken me the most. I confronted my mother about the abuse and lies on New Years 2015, and she immediately cut me off from my siblings. I’ve talked to my mom maybe three or four times since then. I’ve asked her to go to therapy with me every time, and every time she said no or ignored my request. I stopped asking. I stopped responding to her messages and blocked her on social media. My mom isn’t going to change, and I’ve finally come to terms with that. I can’t expect things from her that she cannot give.

The sad thing is that my mom grew up in an abusive household, and she would always tell me that she was determined to not let the cycle continue. This serves as a warning to me. It’s so easy to be blinded by the bad things I’ve experienced and adopt a victim mentality. It’s so easy to think the world/my parents owe me something for what I suffered through. I’ve seen through my mom’s sisters that you CAN break the cycle. You don’t have to be a victim, and you can rise above. It’s slow going, but I’m working towards something good and whole.

Now I fly, hit the high notes
I have a voice, have a voice, hear me roar tonight
You held me down
But I fought back loud..
I’ll shout it out like a bird set free

Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

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Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

HA note: Nancy Scott (LMFT PC) is a therapist who works with individuals with an emphasis on helping the body recover from the physical effects of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, grief and loss. You can follow her blog at http://infirm-delight.blogspot.com and learn more about her professional practice at http://nancyscottcounseling.com. This post was originally published on her blog on October 13, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Flora* walked into my office with an air of confidence.

Her light brown hair and fair complexion gave her a youthful look, even as her saucer blue eyes gave away a deep sadness within. A tattoo circled her wrist like a bracelet, a delicate design of leaves and letters. She began to tell me how she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years earlier and that she had been quite depressed for a while now. The medication she had been taking had seemed to help at first, but not so much anymore. She began to tell me about her rigid religious upbringing and her history of physical abuse, but I interrupted her. I asked if I could talk for a moment about how I work before she went much further. Because while telling her story is of great importance, how she tells it may be even more significant.

I asked her to take a moment and look around the room, to gaze out the window at the blue sky outside.

I waited in silence as her eyes surveyed the room, then moved to the tree outside my upstairs office window. At last, her eyes came back to meet mine, and I noticed a slight shift in her breathing. I said I’d like to explain some things about the somatic therapy that I offer, and asked if we could do an experiment.

“For just a moment, see if you can tune in to the sensation of your body in contact with the sofa, behind you and beneath you. Can you tell me what you notice about your sense of your weightedness?” I spoke softly, working to meet her gaze with my care.

“I feel some weight coming back into my legs. I hadn’t been aware of them a minute ago.”

I reflected her response and noticed with her that her awareness of having legs was returning. “What’s your temperature like? Is it warm or cool, or neutral?”

“I feel a little cooler. I was pretty warm there at first.” The color in her face was evening out as we spoke.

“How about your breathing? What’s your breathing like?”

“Pretty shallow. But it’s getting deeper.”

“See if you can tune in to that for a moment, breathe into it a bit?”

She paused, and I noticed with her that her body took a full, deep breath. Her shoulders moved just slightly downward.

By the end of our session, we talked easily, and I invited Flora to compare how she was feeling now with how she was feeling when she first came in.

“I feel a lot more relaxed, at ease.” She stretched her long arms out in front of her and yawned. “My breathing is deeper; I can feel it. This is really different. I’ve been to a lot of counselors and every time I’ve started therapy I’ve always had to start by spilling out all the details of my history. It’s a relief to not have to go into all that right away.”

Trauma as I define it is anything that overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate itself.

Our flight/flight/freeze response is located in the sympathetic nervous system, marked by elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, narrowed peripheral vision, and tightened muscles that are ready to run or fight at a moment’s notice. It can be triggered by any threat, real or imagined. Flora was clearly in a state of sympathetic arousal or “activation” as she entered my office and began to tell me her story.

If you’ve ever been in a near car-crash and swerved suddenly to avoid it, it was this physiological response, your survival instinct, that was triggered to help you escape the danger. Cortisol and adrenaline flood your body, and you swerve to avoid a collision. You might pull over to collect yourself and notice that your whole body is shaking. This is the way it re-regulates itself, discharging the sympathetic activation that surged into your bloodstream a moment earlier. We tend to want to shut it down, to move on, because it can be uncomfortable, but it turns out it’s important to let it finish. It’s our body’s way of dispelling the experience and recovering its innate regulation.

The body knows how to recover.

This normal response to threat is built in at the most primitive level of our brain function. It is meant to be activated quickly and then discharged or released quickly.

However, if the danger persists, for example if we are trapped in a stressful circumstance, or for whatever reason we are unable to fight or flee, the body’s next best approach is to “freeze.” People sometimes call this immobilized feeling “depressed” or “stuck” or “numb.” If this response goes on for a while, it can become more chronic, without release, and the body can become disregulated, resulting in a variety of symptoms including anxiety or panic, depression, insomnia.

If it goes on longer, still louder symptoms can emerge, perhaps even those of bipolar disorder or dissociation.

With our experiment, I invited Flora to notice her body’s response in order to help it regulate itself before we went further. Sometimes people can do this, and sometimes they can’t, depending on the kind of trauma they have experienced and how their body has responded to it. If they can’t, then I take other more indirect approaches, still openly working to find some regulation in the body. I might work with someone for several sessions before moving toward their story, simply helping to “resource” the body, finding sources of comfort in daily life, or places in the past that brought them a feeling of wholeness, of “being themselves,” grounded in the experience of the present moment.

For Flora, we discovered that there was a place where she grew up, largely in isolation, a field near where some cows grazed. She could walk far into the pasture and lie down under the shade of some trees. She would stare up at the sky and notice how blue it was. Whenever we began to slowly move toward talking about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her fundamentalist Christian parents, we could change gears and put her back, in her mind’s eye, into that pasture. Her body would begin to shift, to release, as she recalled the vibrant color of the sky, the sound of the breeze moving the leaves, the fragrance of the blossoms nearby, and the warmth of the sun on her skin. It was a source of deep regulation for her body.

Over time, Flora’s body began to discharge the physical elements of the trauma stored deep inside her.

She worked hard to integrate the emotional and spiritual components of her life’s narrative as well, and to cease being a victim of her past. With the oversight of her physician, she was able to wean off of her medications. As the symptoms of her bipolar disorder resolved, she came to see them as pointers to her trauma rather than lifelong mental illness. By the time we finished our work, the flashbacks were fewer, and if they did arrive, she was able to separate the past from the present. She had tools on board that she could employ to process her feelings, thoughts, and sensations.

Flora and I worked together for two or three years, moving back and forth in each session between body “resources” like the pasture near her home, or her love of the ocean, or the feel of her dog curled up next to her, and the deeply painful memories of the abuse. We explored the sensations in her body of activation and regulation, and moved toward the careful expression of the dark memories, which had been so overwhelming in her previous therapies. We worked to balance it with things that brought her life, groundedness, hope. The memories became less intense over time, more integrated, physically and emotionally, as we paid close attention to her body’s ability to move back and forth between a certain level of activation and the deep regulation she was beginning to experience.

I’ve worked as a therapist for about fifteen years now, “somatically” with people like Flora for about ten.

I have found that working with the body is essential for resolving traumatic memory.

I have been helped tremendously by the work of Christine Barber, Peter Levine, Maggie Phillips, Dan Siegel and Bonnie Badenoch, to name a few. I have come to believe that the complexity and variety of mental illnesses described in the DSM-5 (my profession’s diagnostic manual) reflects how individual bodies respond to their respective traumas. I have seen the symptoms of these various diagnoses largely eliminated by working with sensations in the body and moving toward integration of implicit and explicit memory, sensation, emotion, mind and spirit.

I have worked with a number of people who were diagnosed bipolar, like Flora, and who were able to move beyond their symptoms toward substantial healing.

They are the real heroes.

* “Flora” is a composite of people from my work in private practice as a Marriage & Family Therapist. I have made her unrecognizable in order to protect confidentiality.

For more information about this kind of therapy, or for a referral to a practitioner in your area, you can go here or here. For further reading, you can go here.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part One: I Am Bipolar

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, 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. The following Intro and Note were originally published on June 3 and 5, 2013.

In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

Introduction to Series

I have an announcement: I’m bipolar.

I almost used the word ‘confession’, but that has a strong connotation of admitting wrongdoing. Bipolar II is not a wrongdoing, or even shameful. Well, it sort of is shameful, but it shouldn’t be.

There is a stigma against admitting you have a mental illness, like it’s something that should only be talked about in whispers, behind closed doors; check over your shoulder. I think it’s especially bad in conservative Christian circles, where people talk as though faith in God, repentance, and choosing to be happy are all you need to be mentally healthy – like it’s really all in the head and the spirit, except for maybe a few people with really severe problems.

But mental illness is real, it’s commoner than we want to believe, and it won’t de-stigmatize itself. We have to talk about it, and we have to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help.

So, yes, I’m bipolar. That’s one, currently large, aspect of my always complex personality.

After what has probably been (in retrospect) a lifetime of intermittent depression, and several years of especially poor mental and physical health, I finally started medication and therapy last month. Both my therapist and my medication NP think I present bipolar II, and I had already wondered that myself for years, ever since I first heard it talked about in an open way that didn’t make me think ‘bipolar people are locked up for being dangerous’.

I had been ‘down and stressed’ (aka in denial about a serious depression) for awhile at that point, when my very nice Rhetoric teacher had us workshop an essay she wrote about being bipolar. This was the first time I thought, Maybe I’m not just doing life wrong. If Dr. R can be bipolar and have a job teaching, maybe I also have a mental illness.

I felt both more alive and more guilty than ever, like it was prideful to consider dumping the idea that I was just a really bad Christian.

I still had years of stigma to overcome, and years of unhealthy guilty feelings and bad ‘biblical’ teachings until I was finally ready to seek professional help, but I feel that my journey to healing began when I first allowed myself the thought, I might be mentally ill. This might be depression, which seems to exist after all.

Depression is real, bipolar disorder is real, mental illness is real, and there is help.

I’m not healthy yet — but I’m finally getting help. It’s a big step.

I’m going to do a short series about my journey from doubting mental illness was real, to finally getting help.

I hope it will be helpful for people with depression and for people who love someone with depression and wonder why they don’t just go to a doctor; there may be more to it than you know.

If you’re having trouble because of the stigma against seeking help for mental illness, then I hope that sharing my journey will help you reach a place where you are also able to seek help, or that it will at least be another voice saying ‘you are not alone – we are here’. The more voices there are, the more chance we have of breaking through the clouds.

Note

I will get on with my story [in tomorrow’s post], but first i would like to post this video of President Obama’s speech at the National Conference on Mental Health.

I was able to watch some of the conference live, and follow other people on twitter and their conversations about mental illness and seeking help. I realized that the stigma that makes it difficult to talk about mental illness propogates itself and makes people feel alone.

We are not alone.

I appreciate the President’s acknowledgement of people who have long been fighting for mental health care and against the stigma of mental illness – and moreover i appreciate those people, who slowly broke through my mental block and allowed me to get help. Bloggers like samantha at http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/ who wrote honestly about seeking counseling (and problems with the kind of christian counseling that heaps guilt on people – the ideas behind that kind of counseling had informed my fear of seeking help).

There are people who don’t have mental illness, but are passionate about it. But I wouldn’t be writing about this now, or be informed, or be passionate about mental health care and bipolar disorder, if i didn’t have a brain that wanted to keep me from getting help, and if i didn’t know other people do too.

Sometimes i think my brain wants to kill me, and i have come so close to deciding to end it all. But there is a bigger part of me – my brain, my soul, i’m not sure, that wants me to live a full and abundant life. With medication, therapy, and the support of friends and my husband, that part of my brain is winning right now.

And if you think you might be depressed or have a different mood or mental disorder, i speak to that part of you that desperately wants to live past the darkness: talk to someone. Get professional help if you can, and if not, call a helpline or a friend.

And watch the above video and remember:

We are not alone.

*****

To be continued.

I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part Two

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

< Part One

Part Two

My mother probably has both undiagnosed bipolar and borderline, but her symptoms then were not as bad as they have gotten to be. She also is extremely intelligent and manipulative. Unless you know her, it’s very hard to see.

Appearance was huge in the church. They harped on gluttony as a major sin. Almost all of the girls in my family growing up were rail thin. My sister, who we later found out had a food allergy and intolerances, was not overweight by any means but just slightly heavier than all of us. My mother, who had been slightly overweight growing up, saw this as one of her greatest disappointments — a visible sin for all the church to see. She would get my sister up early in the morning to run on the treadmill, watch and restrict her diet, and spank her if she didn’t lose weight. My best friend, who also went through the loss of one of her closest friends and was big-boned but not overweight, would also be harped on her by her family for what they saw as sin.

The year before puberty — when fluctuating hormones cause bloating — was the worse for all of the girls at church. We would be sat down by parents and told that they were afraid we were gaining weight and that we needed to exercise more and watch our diet so that we weren’t sinning.

Almost all the girls in my family or in my best friend’s family have struggled with anorexia or bulimia at some point in time.

My mother would tell my sister that no one would want to be around her if she was fat and that people wouldn’t find her attractive. My sister became very reclusive — hiding in her rooms behind books or playing with animals, not people. When in public she would almost look down on others before they had a chance to tell her anything my mother said they would. My sister also hated all the ditzy little girls her age who played stupid to get attention, she hated attention and could not understand why they would want to attract it.

When I was 16, my best friend’s older sister (who I was close with) invited me to a birthday party she was having and didn’t invite my little sister. My mom believed in almost complete inclusivity and anytime our friends came over, we had to allow anyone who wanted to be with us in the room all the way down to the babies.

My mom took this exclusion personally and took all her anger at the other family out on me. She would get mad at me if I saw my best friend without taking my sister, even though my sister didn’t really want to go. She would tell me how I was in sin for not confronting my friend and her family for excluding my sister and then tell me I couldn’t tell anyone in the church about it because it might “embarrass” my sister. I was told that if I had a problem with her I could get “help” from my great-aunt who got offended and hurt for my mother if I said anything assertive or had any problem with my mother. After two or three years of this, I finally caved and told my best friend’s mom who ended up becoming a second mother to me. My mother left the church at this time and I kept going alone because my best friend went to this church. I didn’t have any other friends (as children we were told to tell people about 1 Cor 14 church and, if they didn’t immediately convert, it was sin to be spending time with them).

During this period of time, I started struggling with depression.

To deal with my father I had to turn off all emotion and feelings or he would sense it and use it against me. I couldn’t ever talk to him in any way unless I was challenging his actions toward my mom or my mom would become hurt and guilt us. My mother would become offended if I had any personal feelings and preferred me as her emotional caretaker than as her daughter. The church taught us that any negative feelings were a sin and it was our job to “take them captive.” Depression was viewed as a sin and medication the epitome of not trusting God – that it stemmed from some unknown root of bitterness that we were supposed to work out.

My mother’s swings became worse and worse and I started seeking an escape from that house. I was taught in church that we are under our family’s authority and if there wasn’t a bible verse contradicting what they were telling us to do, than we were supposed to do it. My mother didn’t want me to leave, so I felt chained down.

One thing that I am glad about is that all the fighting led my mother to both hate men and fantasize about them. She believed all of her girls needed to have a stable career as soon as possible so that they didn’t have to rely on men. She also believed that the school system repeated the last 2 years of high-school in college. So, when I was 15, I CLEP 5 college classes and, when I was 16 began prerequisites for nursing school. I finished at the age of 21 with a BSN in nursing and to this day, at the age of 26, I have had 8 years of hospital experience, 6 as an ER/ICU nurse. I am a hard worker and I can have a steady, self-supporting job anywhere I want at any time.

I met a boy through one of the extracurricular activities and we became close. He was a good, homeschooled, Christian boy who was very outspoken. He didn’t live in the area and, therefore, didn’t go to my church he just went to a regular church. He was very opinionated on what sin was and what it wasn’t and, after church, his whole family would stand around and talk about how the other members in the church were hypocrites and in sin. I had saved all of myself, first kiss and everything. We began “courting” or hanging out with each other’s family. But one thing led to another and he leaned in and kissed me one night despite my trying to wiggle free. I was 21 at the time and felt so guilty for kissing him, for tempting him and not staying strong enough, for being alone with him.

I didn’t tell anyone because I knew it would be my fault and I wouldn’t be allowed with him again.

Part Three >

I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part Two: By Slatewoman

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I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part Two: By Slatewoman

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

< Part One

My inability to function in the big bad world has led me to do some stupid things.

Most recently, I went and got myself addicted to heroin. I’m a functional junkie, but a junkie nonetheless.  It helped me stick with my last job for much longer than I would have because it turned my brain off. The only upside to becoming an opiate addict is that all other intoxicants pale in comparison. I no longer drink alcohol or chug Nyquil. It’s taken the special edge away from listening to music, but I assume that will come back with time as I slowly kick this stupid habit I managed to get myself into.

The worst part of it is, that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

One of my best friends has been using for years and I would hang out with him, clutching my bottle of 2-buck-chuck and watch him shoot dope on the weekends. I would never partake though, because I knew I would instantly become addicted and have no way to support my habit. When I finally tried it, I was in a somewhat stable place. I was making more money than I needed to pay my bills and feed myself with and I was on the emotional upswing, a place where you never consider the downfall.

Homeschooling and mental illness are a terrible combination.

And chances are, if a parent is mentally ill, the child might as well be too — and this cycle can go on for generations.

My way of ending it is to not have children.

I don’t want them anyway and I would be a terrible parent. But I don’t want to spread my genes and the proclivities that go along with them. Other people solve it by breaking out of the cycle with superhuman strength of will and resolution. I do not posses those things.

Eventually I’ll find a way out of those stupid hole my mother dug for me and that I petulantly stay in because I know nothing else. I need to make some friends, get an intimate partner or two and build myself a support system because as it stands, I’m alone. And nobody can get by alone, no matter how big and strong I might think I am.

It’s difficult to make friends when I’m distrustful and afraid of people, even ones who are clearly ‘on my team’. Once I get into a relationship or a friendship, I’m great at keeping problems to a minimum and resolving ones that do arise. I can give people space and I am not a jealous lover which is a rare and extremely valuable trait among non-monogamous people.

People seem to see a caricature of me though, all they see are my neuroses.

I tend to hang out in a rather large but close-knit social group. I’ve been around long enough that people have seen me have public freak-outs (either incited by drunkenness or anxiety) and have heard tales told by one or two of my ex’s. I’m not sure that anyone has a fair picture of who I am beyond my flaws and unfortunately, one of my defenses is to be prickly and standoffish in social settings.

It is helpful in many ways, but it makes it tough to make new friends.

My only ways of coping with all this is to remind myself that my life is not,  in fact, the giant shitheap I usually think it is. I don’t know how to drive, so I get around town by bicycle and I live about 10 miles from anything interesting, so I try to go out and ride instead of taking the bus and regardless of whether I actually have anything I need or want to do.

Exercise is extremely helpful in combating depression. You’ve all heard it a million times, but I promise you it makes a world if difference.

Additionally, I’m genderqueer, maybe even transgender. Don’t know and I’m perfectly happy in the in-between realm. I’ve been that way since I was a kid, since before I knew it was “a thing”. I also try not to make it a defining aspect of myself because it’s unhealthy to fixate so strongly on a single aspect of one’s self. However, because of that I have a lot of discomfort surrounding my body. Keeping in good shape and exercise makes me feel a lot better about my body and biking especially puts me in tune with my body in a really enjoyable way. I go hiking in the huge natural park behind my house.

Physical activity is a good way to keep chemically regulated and also to stay positively in touch with my body which I often feel alien in.

I write incessantly about everything. The music I’m, currently obsessed with, I rant and rave about things that piss me off, I dig around in the back corners of my brain, I write about my basic feelings for the day. Writing is a good way to deal with negativity, but in my experience it can also serve to pick apart, over-think and catalog every negative aspect of my life. Being so isolated growing up, I’ve had so much time to stew alone in my own self that I’ve developed some pretty intense narcissistic tendencies.

It is perhaps better for me to not focus on myself as much as I do.

For some, they need to focus more on themselves.

Mostly I just retreat to nature and to my universe of mostly inhumanly abrasive music. I love aggressive music, metal, oldschool industrial, experimental stuff, droney stuff, I just love music. I can’t talk too much about it because once I start, I’ll never shut up, but music has and always will be my biggest saviour.

I find companionship in it, I relate to it, often in ways that I’ve never been able to relate to another human and it can concentrate all my bad feelings into a single compact unit that I can let go of when I go to concerts, or at home if I’m intensely enough into whatever I’m listening to.

When i was 10-13, we lived in a 2-story duplex that had a closet under the stairs. I ‘renovated’ it by putting couch cushions on the floor of it and running extension cords in so I could lay down comfortably, listen to music and read in there. At the time I shared a room with my sister which I deeply resented, so I often slept in there too. When things were going poorly around the house, I went into my closet, shut the door and put on my headphones.

To this day, my response to negativity in the world around me is to hole up and block it out.

I feel like this is acceptable to a point. If that’s what it takes to recharge and calm down or whatever you need to do, so be it, But don’t stay in there. You have to come out eventually and deal with people, with the ongoing and ever-recurring job hunt, with conflicts and even the terrifying adventure of going to buy a carton of cream before you’ve had any coffee, let alone done anything else to prepare yourself to go out into the world.

This is not a story of the past or the future.

It’s the now.

I can’t offer any suggestions (except maybe “don’t do hard drugs, kids”) or write you a happy ending.

But the call was put out for stories about how mental illness has affected your life, and I decided to write one. I have no filters. By the time anyone told me it was inappropriate to be a certain way, to say certain things or act certain ways in general, let alone all the variables of places, circumstances and people around you, I had already done all kinds of damage. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I can’t seem to learn how to adopt filters into my life and I have little desire to try because I just want to be me. I feel that if anyone has a problem with it, they’re best left out of my life because I don’t want people to become friends with a facade. No matter how idealistic that sentiment may be…

“There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word ‘person’ to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for ‘persona’ really means an actor’s mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role.”

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part One: By Slatewoman

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I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part One: By Slatewoman

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

Mental illness and addiction play a huge role in my life from childhood until now, and in the failure of my Homeschool Experience. (I wanted Homeschool Experience to sound like some kind of 70’s psychedelic progressive rock opera.)

My mom has been bi-polar for as long as I can remember, but she was diagnosed when I was 10. I remember when she started taking medication for it and things got bad. Real bad. This was back before many long-term studies had been done on the medications she was given, and she was given just about every one under the sun between then and now. Before she used to be unpredictable, she would stay in bed for days at a time and sometimes get a lot more angry than should have been expected for whatever the situation was.

I remember her staying up late with me when I was of pre-school age, teaching me how to read.

Those are the last positive memories I have of her.

Somewhere in 3rd grade, she dropped the ball and officially gave up on my homeschooling (my dad is out of this story almost completely because he was self-employed during most of my childhood and not involved in my schooling or as I’m starting to learn, not even aware of the things that went on when he was at work). I tried to keep it going on my own, with a card table set up in the back room of my grandma’s house where my family was currently living (we were in the process of a semi-long-distance move), dicking around with my multiplication flash cards and never really picking anything up.

Without guidance, I floundered and was unable to make any progress. I became frustrated and quickly gave up on learning and maintaining self-discipline. I just turned 30 and I’m still sketchy with multiplication and long division makes me cry. I’ve worked out some kind of bizarre system using fingers and break-downs to figure every day math, I can go grocery shopping and estimate almost to the dollar.

As a family, my mother’s mental issues… well, we are starting to suspect that she has borderline personality disorder, something I frequently dismiss as a thing to slap on unruly teens so they can be prescribed something to make them more docile and less annoying to their parents, but my mother is in her late 50s and has displayed the same behaviour her entire life. As far as I can tell (I’m an armchair psychologist, one of the few things I’ve studied seriously on my own time), she’s a “textbook case”. She self-medicated with marijuana which I believe is detrimental to her ability to learn to manage her issues.

My childhood is crammed full of memories of my parents fighting and what I now recognize as my mom manipulating me to turn against my father.

She thrives on conflict and wants everyone on her side. My younger sister and I have been enemies for most of her life. Recently we’ve reconciled and become good friends, we go out and do things together frequently. Mom sees this and is angry because a long time ago, she decided that I’m the Antichrist, his own bad self (in recent years she’s become hyper-christian and she knows I’m now an athiest, which doesn’t go over well) and that I’m going to turn my sister against her.

What our mom doesn’t know is how deeply she traumatized my sister and that she has been against her long before she and I ever became friends.

My mom is, as far as we know, dying of terminal cancer. She’s well outlived she life-expectancy  and we’re beginning to wonder if the doctors are wrong in their diagnosis because she’s been stagnating at this low level of functionality for so long.

It may seem like I’m demonizing her when she’s actually a sick person, but there has to be a line drawn. I can’t think of any illness that would excuse the level of emotional trauma she has inflicted on my sister and I and the way she’s tried to tear the family apart. Ironically, it all backfired on her and the dynamic now is that my sister, my dad and myself have formed a protective, non-judgmental pod against her attacks.

 I would assume that any regular reader of H.A would understand this  highly dysfunctional dynamic and not blame me for writing unkind things about my dying mother.

As a result of a difficult childhood and bad genes, I’m also full of problems. I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was 12, been self-harming since I was 10 (which I’ve stopped in recent years because my mom started to do it herself, thereby ruining it for me.) and am almost unable to function in normal society.

When I was 16, I was taken to a psychologist and given one of those fill-in-the-bubble forms. I can’t recall how many pages it was, but it felt like I was taking one of those online tests to find out which elemental fairy best represents me. Well, turns out that this test said that I was clinically depressed, had an enormous problem with anxiety and was on the paranoia spectrum. Low, but on it nevertheless. I’ve been tracking my mentality for years now and I see definite patterns.

I will be at the end of my rope, ready to go take a fat OD out in the woods somewhere, and a job will appear! A place to live will appear! Everything will be ok! And eventually life will begin to wear on me again, I’ll rage-quit my job and have to move back into my family home which I both love and loathe.

See, my family is not religious, but we are old-fashioned and we want to look after one another.

I love my sister and my dad, I want to be with them. Last time I lived on my own, I was massively depressed because I was not with them and felt like I was being forced away by my mom. Unlike a lot of homeschoolers, that doesn’t manifest in a harmful manner and apart from my brain problems, I can get by fine in the outside world, I just don’t like it. I can have healthy relationships, both platonic and intimate, sometimes a mixture of both…  the fact that I’m close to my family doesn’t make me the 30 year old creep living in the My Little Pony bedroom of their childhood.

I’m not a big fan of self-diagnosis, but after tracking things for so long, it’s fairly apparent that I’m bi-polar and that the paranoia (the paranoia, not my paranoia) has ramped up considerably. It’s not so much that the little green men are listening to my brain waves, but that everyone is turning on me and what many people consider conspiracy theories don’t sound so outlandish to me.

I can sense it.

Sometimes I know when i’m being irrational, sometimes I can’t tell because the things I worry about are so boring and every-day. My boss doesn’t like me. They’re all trying to push me out so I quit instead of them having to fire me. And you know, it’s worked. I’ve never been fired from a job because I’ve left before anyone had a chance to. Perhaps if I had just not listened to my own brain and my own senses, I would still have a job. Perhaps I might have moved up to a better position.

But see, I’m starting to rant a little bit and I’m trying to keep this concise.

I have no life skills because I never went to public school and learned how to play the weird games society plays and didn’t learn them anywhere else.  

I don’t know how to deal with authority because neither of my parents are authoritarian types. In fact, I absolutely loathe any sort of authority and am a borderline anarchist. It’s just that I see that an anarchist reality would quickly collapse upon itself and hierarchies would become established, like it or not. Therefore, I mostly see myself as a nihilist, if you really want to know.

My inability to function in the big bad world has led me to do some stupid things.

Part Two >

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 homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, 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. Part Seven of this series was originally published on June 19, 2013.

Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

This is the final part of my story. For the introduction and the list of all previous posts -and any recap posts I might do – see here. 

Trigger Warning for descriptions of suicidal thoughts.

After Christmas 2012, which was more stressful than usual due to having left the Church and not knowing what I believed or what was trustworthy, I was a bit blue.

In early January 2013, mild post holiday blues turned into a full-scale serious depression with severe pain, emotional darkness, suicidal thoughts, and on occasion the inability to get out of bed. No will to eat, read, or tell any friends I was depressed. Due to the changes in my beliefs and my depression, I wasn’t even sure I had friends. Frequently, getting out of bed and getting dressed was all I accomplished. I moved to the couch or floor and lay by my children while they played.

Sometimes instead of a deep sadness or an apathetic depression I experienced a raging, drive-the-plane-into-the-ground, furious depression. I sometimes would read short blog posts or play quick games on my phone, when I had furious depression, to distract myself from it.

For months, I felt nothing but depression and self loathing, with tiny blips of less-sad that i struggled to feel and pass off as happiness, mostly for Luke’s sake and our children’s sake.
I stayed as strong as i could during the day and after the boys went to bed I broke down (you can imagine what this did to our sex life. Basically obliterated it. Making me feel even guiltier.)

I was also dealing with leaving the faith and coming to terms with some things my parents had taught me – I was trying to salvage my faith while getting rid of the self-righteousness and legalism. Trying to thresh out beliefs while your brain wants to kill you is plain hard.

And the suicidal thoughts – they were just there; the wish to not-live was almost constant. I wanted to cut myself so bad, but I was afraid of being caught, especially by my children. I banged my head against the wall in a twisted (but sensible, at the time) attempt to feel better about myself, to punish myself for being a miserable, depressed person.

Gone – or pushed aside – were my beliefs that ‘this isn’t my fault’. To Luke’s frustration, all my progress seemed lost in the fog. The self doubt and hatred from my college days all came back, but now I had the words to combat that. It was a battle; a near-constant battle between self hatred and the wish to die and acknowledgment of illness and the wish to really live.

At one point, I decided to get help, but I shook and gagged when I held the phone to make the call. Luke called the place we had decided on, and they weren’t taking new patients without referrals. There were a couple other places to call, but we didn’t. It is hard to find mental health care around here and I was still fighting — ‘yes i need it, no i refuse it won’t help but it might but i don’t need it I’mabadperson!’

One night, I decided to kill myself. I purposely tried to stay awake until Luke slept. He noticed and asked why. I decided to tell him so he wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised at finding my dead body. I considered myself a very thoughtful person. I can’t remember my plan (some things I don’t want to remember, I hardly like to remember this) but I had one. I felt as happy as I had felt in a long time.

(Wow this is hard to write. It all made so much sense at the time, you see. This depression-mind feels so far away, although not as far as this somewhat healthier brain felt then.)

I literally couldn’t remember what it felt like to be healthy or happy, or what my personality was like when everything didn’t make me sad or panicky. So I was ready to end it.

When I announced my plan, Luke was… mad. As mad as I had ever seen him. I tried to explain that we would all be much happier if I were dead. It was the ultimate solution. My depressed self finds that Luke rarely understands my brilliant depressed logic. He was angry. He yelled , ‘This cannot be happening!’ He hit the wall beside the bed with both fists. I have never seen him so angry, but I wasn’t really scared, I was mostly sad for him, that he didn’t realize how brilliant my plan was and how happy he could be. He assured me it was a stupid plan and he wouldn’t be happy and our boys would not be better off without me.

I didn’t want to die. i just didn’t want to ruin everyone’s lives by being alive and being a terrible depressed mom, and I was tired of fighting. I was tired of trying and feeling like I was failing at life. Tired of being miserable. And just tired. Always so tired.

But Luke didn’t care about that. He furiously challenged my logic, but more than that he reminded me of promises I had made to never kill myself. Something in his anger reached through the superficial happiness of my final decision. I held him to my chest, whispered ‘shhhh’ and I angrily and sadly remade the promise. ‘I won’t, Love. I won’t kill myself. I’ll stay here for you. Why are you doing this to me? You’re a jerk. But I’ll stay. I promise. shhhh. it’s okay. You’re mean. But I promise.”

I was pissed off, but I was not going to die.

The next weekday (I think it was a weekend at the time, days are fuzzy when you are depressed), he made a call and made an appointment for an initial evaluation. The appointment was scheduled for Friday, that week.

I was nervous. It was at an inpatient mental health hospital, with lots of locked doors and old faded carpets. We waited forever, and when I went in, I was by myself and frightened, but the man who did my evaluation did his best to put me at ease. I cried while answering questions – they should keep tissues in there.

The evaluator recommended considering medication and therapy and told me I’d be getting a call to make an appointment for each.

That was the beginning of the official journey to seek help, although my journey to mental health really began 4 ½ years before that when I finally allowed myself to think I might have a problem beyond just not being good enough.

During this depression, while I was hunting for the truth and what to believe, and how to heal, I was slowly coming to realize I really had issues and I really could get help. When I was in bed but could concentrate, I read a lot of stories of people – women especially – who had grown up in fundamentalist circles and left. They were often scarred, and some of them have mental illnesses. They got therapy, they talked to friends, they took meds, they admitted that they were not mentally healthy and that praying it away wouldn’t help.

Whether they were blogging about therapy or just about leaving fundamentalism, these strong women helped me realize i could get help, and they helped me occasionally see a glimmer of hope through the fog. SarahSamanthaLibby AnneSarah, and Shadowspring were all helpful.

I was mentally ill, I had been mistreated and misled in the name of Jesus, but I could get help. Maybe, someday, I could be healthy.

We made appointments, I had to wait 8 weeks because mental health care is apparently hard to come by where we live and everyone is booked, and then I finally got to see a therapist and a nurse practioner, both funny, good listeners, and Christians, and both saying I present as bipolar. My med-lady, C, had heard the pharmacopeia/witchcraft argument before (I brought it up as making me hesitant to take medicines, to partially explain how long it took to get help), and flourished her pen like a witch’s wand when writing my prescription.

If I ever feel like a terrible person when I take my medicines, I picture C flourishing her pen to write out an order for my magic potion, and I laugh, and I take my medicine with gratitude that I am getting help for my brain’s struggles.

I’m learning things in therapy, and I’m taking meds every day and we’ll work on dosages but I think the mood stabilizers started helping right within a week. I have stabilizers, anti-depressants, and something to take for anxiety when i need it.

I have a new self-help tool that is all about changing my thinking. So now I have decided to view it not as fighting my brain or hating on my brain, but as working with my brain and my body, with therapy, meds, and a lot of thought-changing, to become a healthy individual.

I’m still pretty messed up. I still deal with depression and hypomania. I still struggle with the stigma and other unhealthy ideas from my fundamentalist upbringing. I will always be bipolar, and I might always have to fight against the negative self-beliefs in my brain since childhood. But I will learn to handle them better.

I have always been brave and strong, and I think that some day, it will show up for everyone to see.

In the meantime, I know it. I am bipolar. I am depressed but I am getting help. I am strong. I will raise my children and I will live my life.

I am Lana Hobbs the Brave.

*****

End of series.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, 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. Part Six of this series was originally published on June 17, 2013.

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In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

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Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

This is the next part in my story of over coming shame and stigma from my fundamentalist christian upbringing, and finally being willing to take medication and get therapy for bipolar disorder – which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time. For the introduction and list of all previous posts, see here. The following section doesn’t deal with depression, but with another problem that required a solution which many people I knew would have been opposed to, and therefore wound up being closely linked to my later decision to take anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

In spring 2012, I began having worse health problems than usual. They seemed to be, ahem, lady problems. I’ll not be very explicit, but it is actually an important part of my story.

I had severe pain and dizziness during different points in my cycle, and irregular periods. After a several months of suffering, with days at a time that I was so dizzy and cramping so badly that I was practically immobile, I made the connection with the pain and my cycles, and then finally made an appointment with an ob-gyn.

I had some blood tests done, but nothing came back irregular.

My ob-gyn wasn’t sure what to do besides prescribe birth control pills. They would stop me from ovulating and supress my natural hormones. She figured it would give me relief and perhaps when I went off them, my cycles would be better able to regulate themselves.

One problem: I was taught that birth control pills are a sin, because they are abortifacient. Still, I wanted to be physically healthy to take care of my family.

I was in a pickle. So I turned to Google. I spent hours online looking for answers. I hoped to either find another way of dealing with my problems, or else find that certain pills were less risky, but my research actually led me to believe that evangelicals have generally blown the ‘abortifacient’ thing WAY out of proportion.

After much reading and emotional wrestling, I decided pills weren’t abortion, and that it wasn’t my job to make sure that my womb was constantly ready for children I didn’t plan to conceive, at the expense of caring for the children I already have (and my husband and myself). My pain and dizziness was putting me out of commission about ten days each month at that point.

I took the pill. For about a month, it made my emotions crazy. The hormones were nuts. Then it began to help with the pain and the hormones screwing up my brain gradually quieted down. I wasn’t really better, but I was better than I had been and on the road to improvement. I was told to give it three months and during month two, I began to feel hopeful.

I had a friend over during the time that the crazy symptoms of starting birth control were abating. We talked about my health a little, and I told her I was getting better compared to the first month, and I was hopeful this would really help my strange health problems.

Sometime shortly after, I had a rather emotional weekend involving a bit of family stuff.

We got to church late that Sunday. I was tense already. The sermon was about stress. The pastor repeated over and over the things that make people stressed. (I think the point was we should trust God?) At one point he shared an anecdote about how ‘stressed’ people in Walmart are when their kids pitch a fit, but that’s all because they never taught the kid to behave by spanking it like God said. That really made me angry. I was nauseous from being so angry at the judgemental attitudes Christians often have towards other’s parenting, when they have no clue what is going on with the family. (We don’t spank, by the way. Non-spanking is frowned on at our old church.)

Plus the word stress, over and over, made me feel even more stressed.

After the service, I was surrounded by a horde of women telling me they had prayed for us earlier in the service; my friend had shared a prayer request and they were all so glad I was doing so much better, praise God!

I was bewildered and felt betrayed by a trusted friend sharing about me to the whole church without permission.  Besides, I wasn’t really ‘better’ and if I were, what would all these women who were praising God say, if they knew the pills so many of them called evil, abortifacient, and ‘not pro-life’ were what were starting to help me feel better. Prayer had done nothing, the pills that were off limits for so long due to my religious beliefs had done something (and by the time the three months were up, they had helped immensely! I still take them).

I felt like all these people were flocking around me to praise God, without really caring about the state of my mind, body, or heart. They just wanted to hear a testimony.

There, with the stress, the frustration at church, and the knowledge my solution was a villified little pill, I had a panic attack in the middle of all those women. I retreated as soon as I could and hugged my knees to my chest in a dark room, while taking deep breaths.

Then I stood, gathered myself, and walked out the door with dignity, nodding goodbyes to everyone.

I sat in the car with a smile on my face. Luke caught up with me with the kids.

‘Well, dear’, I told him, ‘this is my last time at church. I’m done and I am very happy with my decision. You go wherever you want for church, but I am deciding to be my own person, and I am done until I am ready to go back.’

I’ve been to my in-law’s church a few times since (have I mentioned Luke is a PK?), for special occasions, but most of those have triggered panic attacks.

I need more time, and I may never go back to any church.

The evil pills helped me more than the prayers. Despite what I had believed about medical professionals being money-grabbers, the doctors cared more about me really getting better than most of the people seemed to. I realized if I wanted to get healthy I would have to embrace the medical discoveries, because prayer, herbs and trying to have a perfect attitude and a perfect diet were not solving my problems.

My last time in church was early fall 2012. The birth control pills helped me feel healthier, and taking pills I had once thought were wrong to take made me more open to both doctors and possibly taking medications for mental illness some day.

I was doing better than I had in awhile, and i felt lighter from leaving a church where people seemed to judge anyone making different choices. By this point i had tasted ‘grace’ – or understanding of differences – in a few friends and my mother in law and in books like Grace based Parenting, and I thought the church should have more of that. I’ve found a lot more kindness and love outside the Church than inside it.

I continued to have my usual mood swings, but nothing I couldn’t cope with. But then came winter.

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To be continued.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, 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. Part Five of this series was originally published on June 14, 2013.

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In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

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Part Five: Fighting the Shame

(This is the next part of my story of how i went from doubting mental illness is real to getting help. For the intro and full post list, updated as parts are added, click here.)

Our firstborn, Aiden, was born in october 2009. Life continued with general ‘sickness’ and many emotional ups and downs, some obviously caused by life, and some seeming random.

While pregnant with Aiden, I discovered I had low blood sugar issues. I expected that after recovering from birth, a good diet would solve all my problems. But while eating more protein helped a little with daily mood and energy shifts, I found a perfect diet as elusive as a perfect attitude for solving ‘my sickness’.

When Aiden was six months old, I got pregnant again (we were into the ‘quiverfull’ movement at the time so didn’t want to sin by ‘limiting our blessings’.)

I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy and a safe home birth in a birthing pool. Kieron was born in the last hour of February, 2011.

With Aiden, I had needed an emergency induction and the birth took awhile to recover from, with Kieron I recovered quickly.

In the following weeks, I was energetic and exhilarated. I could have been hypomanic but I think I was just really happy, surprisingly bubbly. I was confident, I already knew how to breastfeed and take care of a baby, I was a pretty good mom.

The new-baby-high slowly faded into a new routine of pleasant, tiring life.

Then in the summer, depression hit again. This time, I knew it was depression – when I would allow myself to admit it.

I wanted help this time. Or I almost did.

But Luke had lost his job and was working a paper route, and my only insurance was through my dad.

And even with thoughts of getting help, I hated to ask for it. Even if it was real depression, I thought I should be able to manage it myself. Besides, there is something about depression that makes a person help resistant. I’m not sure why but depressed people frequently don’t want to go get any help.

I admitted to my mother in law that I was depressed and she told me a story: she had once suffered from post partum depression. It interrupted her whole life. She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t really sane. She finally realized she needed help; she took pills for awhile; she went back to normal. Her moral was, despite what people say, sometimes you need medication and you take it thankfully.

I was still against medication, but this helped me get up the nerve to look for somewhere to make an appointment, and to find insurance information.

So in a slightly clearer moment, I decided I would try to get help. but first, I had to call my dad for insurance details, and he didn’t provide many. Instead, I somehow ended up mentioning I thought I was bipolar and needed meds, and despite my intention to just get the insurance details, I found myself defending my belief that I was bipolar. I told him about depression, hypomania, suicidal thoughts I tried to talk about since childhood and never could, the words spilled out now that I believed someone was listening.

Dad was confident I couldn’t be bipolar (a coworker’s ex was really bipolar so he knows about BPD), and he suggested that I was just immature, had trouble dealing with some things from my childhood because mom was so difficult (i think that was the word he used), and that although suicide was evil to think about it is fairly normal. He suggested Christian Counseling to help me forgive. He didn’t think I’d be able to afford psychiatry even with insurance, and was hurt that I had only discussed this with him because of insurance. Of course, the fact that he might try to talk me out of it was exactly why I didn’t want to discuss it with him.

He also said that I shouldn’t go to a diagnosing therapist and say I thought I was bipolar, because they would automatically diagnose me and I would be stuck with the stigma my whole life and he indicated I’d have to tell people i was diagnosed.*

My mom was seriously depressed at the time and my dad told me if I ever did get diagnosed bipolar, to not tell my mother because… something about how it would make her feel really bad. It didn’t make much sense to me as he had already made clear that they wouldn’t believe it if I were diagnosed, so I wondered what difference it would make.

When the conversation ended, my head was spinning. Was I really so immature it looked like bipolar? Suicidal thoughts aren’t a sign of mental illness but are ‘normal’? Was the real reason I couldn’t get out of the fog because i was lazy, unforgiving, and selfish? Should I want to avoid a diagnosis? Would my entire family hate me? They would, at any rate, not believe a diagnosis. I felt that my Dad thought I was just neurotic, not trying hard enough to be healthy, and wanting to be ‘special’ instead of dealing with my emotional issues. (btw, therapy DOES involve dealing with emotional issues).

I felt at this point like I probably shouldn’t be so selfish as to want to spend our very limited resources on counseling. I was back to thinking it might be wrong of me to have ever thought I might have a mental illness. Selfish, lazy Lana, wanting to be special by getting diagnosed bipolar but really just a bad person.

Doubting whether I should even try to get help at this point, and not wanting to, I talked to luke, and he said that even with a sliding rule fee at a local nonprofit mental health clinic, we couldn’t afford anything at all. We never called. (I should have at least tried, perhaps it would have been free for people as broke as us, but the conversation with my dad renewed my self doubts and it didn’t take much to shut down my little will to get help after that.)

But I was still in the middle of a severe active depression (I’ve heard it described as driving a plane into the ground instead of it just falling, sometimes I call it ‘furious depression’), and needed help.

I had a toddler and a baby and was fighting to be present for them.

I read all the books the library had about coping with bipolar disorder. I had Luke read the most helpful books so he could help me help myself.

I couldn’t focus on what I was reading all the time, but I slogged through the information and took notes and applied what I could manage.

It helped some, I learned about a few coping mechanisms – mostly writing truth to myself, arguing with my negative self, and trying to stay as active as I could with depressive pain.

I knew I was doing my at-the-time best to fight for sanity, and I had to slowly write my own story, choose what words I would accept to myself. I had to cut myself off emotionally from my parents’ view of me as unloving, immature, and lazy, because I didn’t feel, deep down, that it was really me. Luke insisted it wasn’t.

I had to accept other words for myself – hardworking but depressed. Struggling. Strong but needing help. Probably bipolar, or having something that mimics it closely. I felt trapped in my mind but at least now I was arguing to myself that this wasn’t my fault.

By the time Luke had a new job with health insurance and enough money to pay the electric bill on time, I was out of the big foggy depression.

My mother in law was – I realized recently – a little disappointed that I didn’t get help then. She had done her best to let me know it was okay and had even recommended someone to call. But she didn’t know about everything else; my parents, how incredibly broke we were, how deep the stigma ran in my soul.

Still, she didn’t push; she’s good at that. At that point, anything resembling pushing me to get help, would have been harmful, as I was doing the best I could, both emotionally and financially.  The steps I did take, at the time, were huge. (If you can’t get help, relax and do what you can. Books aren’t the same as meds and therapy but they can give you some help!)

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed much about how I coped with that depression. It was a very difficult few months for me, but I grew a lot emotionally; I became more of my own person, and I learned a lot about how my brain works.

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*I panicked a bit when he made these claims, then I did some research and logical thinking. For one, there are specific criteria for diagnosis and the doctors are trained. They don’t diagnose just everyone. For another, if I ever got a job, I wouldn’t have to disclose bipolar disorder unless I needed accomodation. And if I needed accomodation, it wouldn’t be because I was diagnosed bipolar, but because I am bipolar. The people saying bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, etcetera aren’t real or are so rare you aren’t likely to know anyone with it, or that try to dissuade you from treatment are probably not well educated on the subject of mental illness.

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To be continued.