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.


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 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.

A Few Leave, But Others Stay

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 29, 2013.

I recently read a post by Lana that made me think about everyone I left behind when I left my conservative evangelical patriarchal homeschool upbringing.

With all the [ex] conservative homeschooler blogs out there nowadays, people may be under the impression that homeschool fundamentalism has virtually disappeared among homeschool alumni. To be sure, this Christian movement among homeschool graduates is dying a very slow and painful death. But it is so far from over, and I have so many friends still trapped in the ideology that I constantly feel the tension with old friends and old hangouts.

I don’t spend as much time in my old hangouts as Lana, so I don’t feel quite as much of the tension that she feels, but I’d like to echo what she says about not assuming that the thriving ex-conservative-homeschooler blogosphere means there’s some sort of mass exodus going on.

Sure, there’s an exodus — but in my experience most stay.

Out of the half dozen girls I was closest to in high school, only one has left. You know her as Kate. Two others are still living at home, under the authority of their father, having never left home even as they are now in their mid- to late twenties. One married young, going straight from her father’s home to her husband’s and has begun to fill her husband’s quiver with arrows. The final two left home with their fathers’ blessings and attended college in traditionally feminine pursuits, only to return home to live once again under their fathers’ authority afterwards.

Both were Gothard girls.

One now attends Vision Forum conferences with her family.

When I widen the net to the dozen or so girls I knew as acquaintances and saw only from time to time, the numbers don’t get any better.

Of the four girls who were in a Gothard Bible study with me, only one has questioned and left. Others I don’t know about—they just drifted away after I left. Two girls I knew are divorced, having married early to men who turned out to be abusive. Others, I really can’t say.

When I widen the net still further, to the teens I participated in debate with or saw at homeschool camps, I can point to a few more. One girl I met at a homeschool camp left home and wound up pregnant. Things were hard with her family for a time, but she made it through and questioned some things along the way. Another girl I met at a homeschool camp also questioned and left. One guy I knew through debate turned out to be gay. He came out and headed for the big city. But of the dozens and dozens others I knew through these venues? I have very little idea.

Of the guys, it’s really hard to say, and for a very interesting reason.

It’s easy to tell when a girl leaves. There are angry sparks and an extremely visible rift is torn. When a guy leaves? In my experience, the process is generally not quite so fraught with trouble, and is sometimes invisible on the outside. No one is going to be telling that guy that he is supposed to submit to his father, or that it’s his role to follow, or that he shouldn’t be pursuing a career. The family expects him to go off on his way and forge his own way, even if they also expect him to maintain a specific ideological viewpoint.

When a guy leaves, 4 times out of 5, it just looks like he’s doing what he’s supposed to do—leaving home, going to college, getting a job, and starting his own life. When a girl does those things, she’s often seen as stepping outside of the box she was supposed to contentedly inhabit.

There really isn’t any way to get at exact numbers, but Lana is right.

We left plenty of people behind when they didn’t walk the same path we did, and some of them are now repeating our parents’ patterns.

From Bullying to As You Like It: Skjaere


From Bullying to As You Like It: Skjaere

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Skjaere and was originally published on Patheos on January 27, 2013.

I was home schooled full time in eighth grade, and part time in ninth and tenth. Up until that time, I had been enrolled in our local public schools, where my dad was a teacher.

I’d been having problems with bullying at my middle school (both by my peers and by teachers, WTF?!).

When my mother asked me if I wanted to try home schooling, I jumped at the chance. It sounded almost too good to be true. I could choose my own reading lists and projects? Sign me up!

We were not a terribly religious family by any definition at that point. We attended the Episcopal church a block from our house because it was closest, and I had a lot of friends who went there. Our home school curriculum was not based on conservative politics either. We did things like visiting the local National Park and helping them plant seedlings. We went whale watching. I researched my family tree as a history project, and read Lewis and Clark’s journals.

It turned out the promise to pick my own reading list was too good to be true.

I loved to read, but my interest was mostly limited to fantasy fiction. I was allowed to choose books from a pre-selected list, however, which included such classics as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mocking Bird, as well as various works by Mark Twain and William Shakespeare.

We also frequently got together with other home schooling families for Latin classes (our parents let us choose what language we wanted to take), and they all fell more into the hippie home schooler mold than the religious as well. One of my best friends was part of that groups, and we hung out together a lot. Many of us also took ballet classes together and participated in the Girl Scouts, so I don’t feel like I missed out on socialisation, especially when compared with the experiences I had suffered at my middle school. At the end of my ninth grade year, we organised a dramatic reading of “As You Like It” with an all-female cast and a five-year-old Duke. It was pretty awesome.

I was lucky to have two educated parents, and a mother who was able to stay home and teach my sister and me.

My dad was a math and science teacher at the local high school, and my mother had an English degree, so we have most of our major bases covered right there. I also took some correspondence courses through the University of Nebraska, did a year a our local community college through the Running Start programme, and then went to the high school full time my senior year. By the end of all that, my transcript was a confusing mish-mash, and it was pretty much impossible to calculate my GPA, but I did well on the SAT and was accepted to some wonderful univerisities.

After almost twenty years and some major shifts in my personal politics, I still feel pretty good about my home school experience.

When Mennonite Stories Are Your Only Literature: Sean-Allen Parfitt’s Story

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Sean-Allen Parfitt is a a gay software engineer, who dabbles in creative writing, music composition, and fashion design. He lives with his boyfriend Paul in Schenectady, NY. Follow Sean-Allen’s blog at Of Pen and Heart, or on Twitter: @AlDoug. The following post was originally published on Of Pen and Heart on August 9, 2013 and is reprinted with the author’s permission.


HA note: The following is the first of a three-part series by Sean-Allen that we will be posting. This post explores the negative aspects of his homeschooling experiences; the other two posts will explore the positive aspects and will be included in next week’s positives series.


Recently I wrote about how the church keeps us in, because we don’t know any better. This is a concept I call Control Through Ignorance (CTI). Today I’m going to approach it with more detail from a different perspective: homeschooling.

I am the eldest of 8 children, all who have been or are still being taught at home by my mother.

Our parents decided to teach me at home before I was in first grade, so I never went to public school. Everything I came in contact with was carefully selected for my growth and benefit. There are several areas I would like to address. These are places in my life where my access to outside influence was restricted or completely cut off.

The first area was social interaction. Just about the only friends I had were from our church, and that’s the only time I saw them. I never made any friends who had a radically different upbringing that I did.  I never met Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or atheists. I never went over to my friends’ houses for sleepovers. We were often reminded why certain things my friends did were wrong. We were very much kept in the shelter of our own home and my parent’s rules.

Because of this, we actually learned to believe that almost everyone in the world was wrong about something. We were the only ones who had it all right.

Why would we spend time with people who might influence us to back-slide into some sort of sin?

Another way in which we were tightly controlled was through the prohibition of any kind of entertainment except that which my parents approved. Basically, this meant that we were allowed to read Mennonite stories.


The end.

Here is a list of story elements which were particularly banned, with examples.

  • Animals that talk/wear clothes
    • Winnie the Pooh
    • The Little Red Hen
  • Any sort of magic
    • Narnia
    • Lord of the Rings
    • Harry Potter
    • Any Fairy Tails
  • Anything violent
    • Oliver Twist
  • Anything non-Christian
    • The Bobbsey Twins
    • Sherlock Holmes
    • Good Night Moon

"the only reading material we had were story books published or sold by the conservative Mennonite publishing house Rod and Staff."
“the only reading material we had were story books published or sold by the conservative Mennonite publishing house Rod and Staff.”

There were a very few exceptions to the last rule, such as Children of the New Forest. Generally, though, the only reading material we had were story books published or sold by the conservative Mennonite publishing house Rod and Staff. I generally enjoyed them, but there was a very religious/indoctrinating theme in many of them.

In the last few years I lived at home, I saw the Mennonite teachings from these books make a serious impact on my mother and brothers.

When we lived in England,we studied British history as part of our home school curriculum. However, the books we used were all published before 1980, because our parents didn’t want us to be influenced by modern thinking and interpretation of the facts of history. Thus, we learned very little about the last few decades of history.

We were not allowed to watch TV or movies, either. We watched a few Christian movies till about 2003, when our TV/VCR broke. If we were at a friend’s house, or at a party with the cousins, we were forbidden to stay in a room with the TV or a movie playing. We were not allowed to play video games, because they supposedly teach violence, besides wasting time. Any time on the computer was closely monitored. When I was 24 and still living at home, I had to have my computer set up on a table in the living area, so that I could not visit any site that was not appropriate for school, work, or little children.

As you can see, we were very much isolated from everything around us. I did occasionally wish I went to school, but mostly because I wanted to play video games. We thought we were right and nobody else, so we even judged other conservative families at church.

Ours was one of the most conservative and uptight families.

I am so glad that I’m out of that now, but I ache for my siblings. They are still stuck in that environment, in which they have no opportunity to learn about who I am, that I’m not an evil person! That’s the hardest thing about this. I didn’t know that I was OK. What if one of my siblings is gay or lesbian? What if one is transgender? What about my siblings who want to go to college, but can’t because Mom won’t let them?

And I can’t go back and show them these things.


Because I no longer fit into the category of acceptance. Thus I am excluded from my family.

And that really hurts.


Part Two: Not Well-Rounded, But Excellent >

The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts

The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts

The 6 years I spent involved in the NCFCA changed my life.  I would wager, however, that my life was not changed in the way that many of the adults in NCFCA leadership wish that it had been.  The dream, espoused to us students many times over the course of our competitive careers, was that we would leave that league trained to do battle against the evil influence of the world, to defend our beliefs, and to convert people to Christianity.  It was, in essence, a conservative (and at times fundamentalist) evangelical pipe dream: a veritable army of thinkers and speakers to fight the good fight and defend their view of the Bible, Truth, and God.

Well, I came out of the league a pretty good thinker and speaker, but I’m also out of the closet, a mainline progressive Christian, and a moderate liberal.  And I am all of those things in large part because of those parents and leaders, some of whom are probably quite disappointed that I didn’t use my influence for their specific idea of what was “Good.”

But before I expound upon my NCFCA experience, I must preface with this: When I set out to write this piece, I did not set out to talk about anything negative.  My experience is one that I normally recall quite fondly (mostly because of the friendships that came out of it), but in reading the other posts this week, some very vivid and painful memories have returned to the surface, and I feel the need to discuss them.  These negative memories center around the league leadership, not the coaches I worked with or really even the parents I knew.  The few criticisms I have included are not intended to be directed at any person’s integrity or reputation.  Many of the adults in leadership while I was competing and coaching are people I have a great deal of respect for.

So, here are six things the NCFCA gave me, including some lessons that I don’t think they intended me to learn.

  • The NCFCA gave me peers, for the first time in my life.  Growing up, I was always “the smart kid.”  I hated that term, but as it was the only way I knew to get respect from both my peers and the adults in my life, I worked hard to perpetuate it.  As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, had very few close friends (but the ones I did have were wonderful), and spent a lot of time alone.  I wasn’t unhappy by any means, but I think that was only because I didn’t know what it was like to have peers.  The students in the NCFCA challenged me.  Collectively, they are some of the most intelligent, dedicated people I have ever met, and I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have met and grown to know and love so many of them.
  • The NCFCA taught me that communication is key.  More than anything intellectual, my time in the league developed the innate passion within me to be in relationship with people.  Communication was prized above anything else, including research and academic prowess.  It didn’t matter what you knew unless you knew how to talk with people and not at them, in a way that they could understand.  This tenet influences decisions I make and endeavors I undertake to this day.
  • The NCFCA taught me how to ask questions.  Whether through cross-examination in debate, extemporaneous speaking, or impromptu, I learned how to ask powerful questions both to gather information and to test the information I had already gathered.
  • The NCFCA taught me that adults are not superior to adolescents just by virtue of their age.  I guarantee you that this was not the lesson that I was intended to learn, because the league leadership rarely empowered us as young adults outside of the debate rounds.  We were looked at and spoken to like children while we were expected to think, speak, and behave like adults.  Even as legal adults, alumni were placed in a special category of judges, being the only ones to have our ballots read for legitimacy, regardless of our reputations.  On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many adult arguments and feuds I saw during my time in the NCFCA, but I can tell you that there were just as many as between students.  My time in the league removed any illusions that communication and maturity became easier as adults, which prepared me for the “real world” in a huge way.
  • The NCFCA taught me (but didn’t mean to) the value of both transparency and trust.  More specifically, it taught me that answering the question “Why?” may be one of the most important things I can do as a leader.  This was due in large part to the lack of transparency and trust between the league leadership (especially the board of directors) and many of the students.  In this area, our questioning skills were often cast in a negative light and we were dismissed.  I remember speaking with a friend about this and saying that it felt we were on a Christian Soldier assembly line, and the adults in the league were trying to control how we behaved and thought at the end of the process.  What they didn’t realize is that much like in the film I, Robot, that method of control provoked exactly what they sought to minimize.
  • The NCFCA taught me that getting know a person’s heart and individual situation is of paramount importance to the development of relationship.  I saw relationships ruined time and again because legalism got in the way of true listening and understanding.  The integrity of the “assembly line” I mentioned earlier often seemed more important than the individual students and parents involved.  This was not as much a top-down issue as it was ubiquitous: most rule violators were problems to be dealt with.  This continued through our time as alumni, dovetailing with the way that we were categorized and talked down to mentioned above.

The people I met during my time in the NCFCA are dear to my heart, including many of the people in league leadership that I knew.  Many of these issues are issues that would likely develop in any institution like NCFCA, but as it is NCFCA we are discussing this week, it is NCFCA I have written about.  Nobody involved in the league leadership was ever a “bad person,” and they all gave so much of their time and energy that it’s a wonder they don’t all have grey hair.  But the league was not perfect, no matter how much I want to remember that time in an entirely positive light. And it’s important to talk about how we perceived both the great and the not-so-great because those things have clearly contributed to who we (as authors) are as people.

So, when people who were or are involved with the league read this, I hope you know that I bear you no ill will. I still to this day recommend the league to students I work with, because it helped make me who I am today.  And I think that’s pretty awesome…even if that person isn’t exactly who the league hoped I would become.

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

Libby Anne blogs at Love Joy Feminism on Patheos.

As I prepared my debate briefs, scouring the internet for evidence, there were two places I always looked first—the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. A good quote or two that could be applied in argument against a given plan was generally sufficient for my purposes. I filed my briefs carefully in my box and prepared for competition.

I honestly think my participation in NCFCA, known colloquially as “homeschool debate,” was the best thing about my high school years. I participated for four full years, attending debate competitions across my region. I loved it—the buzz of people, the feeling of purpose, and the heady rush I got when stepping up to speak.

Homeschool debate was one of the social highlights of my high school career. At the time, my main socialization events were church, AWANA (bible club), and a weekly arts and music co-op. Homeschool debate gave me one more weekly opportunity to see friends (or at least, the ones who were also in our local debate club) and, wonder of wonders, an opportunity to meet people outside of our local social circle. Debate tournaments were amazing—they served as the gathering points of dozens or even hundreds of homeschooled teens just like me, comprising the largest gathering of young people I found myself in outside of our annual homeschool convention.

And here is where we come back to the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Homeschool debate was an approved activity for me and many other teens like me because our parents considered it safe. Homeschool debate was founded by Christy Shipe, the daughter of Michael Farris, founder of HSLDA. The goal of homeschool debate was to train up a generation of young people for public speaking and political involvement in an effort to restore America to its Christian foundation. We were those young people.

NCFCA was unabashedly Christian. To participate in homeschool debate, we had to sign a statement of faith. This meant that the teens filling the halls of a given debate tournament were, like me, growing up in Christian homeschooling families. They were there because they shared the mission and vision of NCFCA. They too were being trained to be culture changers—they too were being brought up to embrace their parents’ vision for the restoration of a Christian nation.

As I’m sitting here, all my memories from homeschool debate are pouring over me. There were the long car trips in which we carpooled with others in our club and spent hours singing, talking, and playing games. There were the hotel stays where we congregated with the other debaters late into the night, sipping hot chocolate in the hotel lobby and swapping stories about tournaments and life. There were the times when we stayed with host families and made new friends in the process. There were the tournaments where disaster struck—a car problem, an illness—and memories were made. There were the times I stood up without a shred of actual evidence and used simple logic to overturn the other team’s carefully laid plan, basking in the heady rush I felt as I did so. The conferences, the tournaments, it all comes rushing back, along with the time spent on the homeschool debate forum cracking homeschool jokes with other debaters (When can the principle kiss the teacher without facing a harassment lawsuit? When you’re homeschooled, because your father is the principle and your mother is the teacher!).

And once again I’ve lost track of where I started this essay—with the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. My parents and the parents of the other students in homeschool debate thought they were preparing us to go out and take on the world, but they had a curious way of doing so. Namely, homeschool debate was like having pro-lifers debate each other about whether abortion should be legal. One year the topic was protectorates, and my partner and I created a plan to get rid of the D.C. gun ban. Watching the other team when we got up and presented our plan was always amusing. After all, how could they argue against the second amendment? They couldn’t! Not only would it be hard for them to argue against their principles, but also the judges were generally chosen from among homeschool parents and their church friends, meaning that the audience was one-sided as well. Generally, the other team would get up and argue that because of a case currently working its way through the courts, our plan was not inherent—in other words, the problem was real but was already being solved.

And beyond just this, we all knew that the best sources to use came from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. If you quoted one of them to back up a point you were making, you were golden. In college, I learned something I hadn’t known before—that those centers leaned right and were generally taken with a large grain of salt. In homeschool debate, no one was going to argue that. In homeschool debate, no one knew that. We accepted the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute as fair and balanced and objective—and our coaches weren’t about to challenge that. The same was true of just about everything about homeschool debate.

Homeschool debate took place in a bubble. Within that bubble, it was great—I learned a lot about rhetoric, logic, and argumentation—but it was still in a bubble. You can’t raise a group completely outside of a culture and then send them out into it expecting them to change that culture without even accurate knowledge about that culture. Individuals raised in a bubble like we were are simply not equipped to do that—and indeed, our understanding and perspective was limited because we were never encouraged to really question and think outside of the box.

It’s funny, I actually think homeschool debate is what started me thinking my way out of the entire belief system. The introduction to argumentation and logic that I received during my participation served me well once I got outside of the bubble and subjected it to questioning. It was that very foundation in argumentation and logic that kept me going, somehow naively unafraid of what I might find or where my questions might take me. I suppose I might say that homeschool debate gave me the tools I needed to think myself out of the bubble, but that I had to recognize the existence of the bubble before I could do that. But of course, none of this is what my parents intended when they involved me in homeschool debate, eager to train me as conservative culture warrior.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood

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 Two of this series was originally published on June 7, 2013.


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


Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood

(trigger warning: depression and suicide shaming and suicidal thoughts)

I don’t believe we are born believing that our negative emotions are wrong, i think this shame is something that we learn.  I believe we can learn to use our emotions as guides to show us warning signals and lead us towards the next healthy steps (of course, with clinical depression, those emotions might be liars, i’m not sure how that works).

But many of us learn that normal emotions like sadness, anger, fear, and distrust are things we need to repress, for the sake of keeping the peace around us, being ‘godly’, and making our parents and others happy.

I struggle with depression. For years, probably for most of my life, I have struggled with depression and physical pain caused by depression and stress.

I never would have recognized it as depression though. I would have called it ‘feeling a little stressed’ or ‘having a bad attitude but working on it’, when secretly I felt like there was no hope and if I loved everyone around me, I would kill myself and rid them of the burden of dealing with me. I remember being around eleven, after doing something that upset my mother – i didn’t even know the word suicide yet – crying on my bed, believing that I was a major screw-up and a terrible daughter no matter how badly i tried to be good. If I weren’t so scared I might go to hell for murder (I was a christian who was afraid of losing her salvation at that point), i would murder myself so my parents wouldn’t be disappointed by me anymore.

I was twenty-three before it occurred to me that these are not the normal thoughts of a healthy preteen child.

I brought it up once – only once that i remember – in childhood.

It wasn’t something i could talk about, because I quickly learned suicide was a taboo subject.
I don’t remember what I said, I didn’t say that I was thinking of it but tried to bring up the idea of killing oneself. My mom declared suicide very evil and nothing to be considered or talked about, and that was that.

I was afraid my selfishness kept me from doing it, but others considered suicide the ultimate expression of selfishness*. I felt most of my life that I was damned if i did and damned if i didn’t.

I also had unexplained pains and aches, and periods of ‘attitude’ where I just couldn’t feel happy and cried for no reason. I was sad that i was such a poor example of Jesus’ light to the world** My parents lamented once that i wasn’t even PMS (i wasn’t sure what they meant). I frequently had trouble making friends at school, my teachers once said i wasn’t adjusting well, and i went to the office to be checked for sickness regularly because of tummy aches – i still get stomach aches and joint pain when i am very stressed or depressed.

In retrospect, I believe a lot of this was partially because of undiagnosed childhood depression. now that I know what depression feels like, I can remember that I did feel this way many of those times, all the way back to age 7.

In 7th grade, I was homeschooled for the first time. My homeschooling continued through graduation, and while there were some benefits, one cost was that I lost any of the ‘psychobabble’ from school counselor classtime that might have taught me how to cope with anger and that sadness was okay and how to deal with it. Also my family ventured deeper into fundamentalist Christian teachings, where we believed we would find out how to live and all turn out faithful because we trusted God and served him. My parents wanted very badly for their children to grow up to be strong soldiers for Christ, and I wanted that for me too. I wanted God to be happy with me, and not sad because of me. I wanted to hear ‘well done, good and faithful servant!’ when I died.

When I was sixteen, I took a great interest in the human brain, staying away from psychotherapy because that was ‘psychobabble’ by people who denied God could heal. I was actually very interested in psychology, and learning how the brain worked. I had an old college textbook I read in my spare time.

I also dreamed of being a christian counselor, to help people. Maybe even to help myself with my very big negative feelings I couldn’t seem to control – and by control I meant get rid of.

My parents encouraged me by buying a me a course on mental health from a respected Christian teacher. I ‘learned’ that suicide was the ultimate expression of ‘self love’ (which means ‘selfishness’ in the language i learned as a fundamentalist christian), and depression was either a failure to trust God, guilt, or an evil spirit that god visited on you for sinning – like Saul after God disowned him as king.

I had heard somewhere that depression was a medical problem, but this was generally dismissed as a lie perpetuated by people wanting to drag others away from God, while medicines that ‘supposedly’ helped with mental illness – depression especially – were even called witchcraft by a pastor at my church – who used bible verses to support this claim. I cannot find an article arguing this right now, but the general claim is that the word translated ‘witchcraft’ is pharmokopeia, which they say refers to psychotropic medications. By this logic, taking any medication that might help mental illness is actually trusting to ‘witchcraft’ and sin, instead of trusting God, forgiving, asking forgiveness, and living right.

I would like to point out that I am not saying the bible is against mental health care, simply that I was taught it was, and the Bible was used to teach me this. I no longer agree with these interpretations or usages of the Bible.

By the time I was done with high school, I didn’t admit I’d ever had depression (I believed I didn’t have repressed guilt and I knew I did pray and trust God, so how could I be depressed?), but I did believe that if I trusted God ‘enough’, he would give me peace and mental health in my life, and that if I worked hard, I would be such a good christian I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the dark sadness and suicidal thoughts again.

Unfortunately, I was never ‘made perfect’, although I had many long periods of happiness in my childhood and young adulthood (and probably periods of hypomania), the emotional difficulties, attitude problems, and unexplained sickness came back the worst they had ever been, when i was in college….


(disclaimer: my whole childhood was not depression and repressed feelings. there were many good days and fun times. but this post is about my history with depression, and mental illness shaming, and the warped beliefs i held about mental illness)

*the link to a reb bradley PDF is a note taking guide/companion to the tape set The Biblical Path to Mental and Emotional Health. the section on suicide as self love is striking. My parents got the set for me when I was about sixteen because I was  interested in becoming a therapist to help people. I didn’t listen to all of it, the suicide and depression shaming filled me with very uncomfortable thoughts, and led me to put the tapes away until i trusted god enough not to be depressed. That day never came.

** I ‘got saved’ at age 5. I felt a great pressure to ‘be salt and light’ so that people around me would love Jesus and not go to hell. This ‘burden for souls’ and pressure to be Christlike added extra guilt onto me my entire life. For many reasons, both of reason and heart – and hurt – I no longer identify as Christian.


To be continued.

Torching All That Is Sacred: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

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


In this series: Part One | Part Two


Something people should know about me: I am a fighter. Now, I am not an obvious fighter, and if I was put into the ring, I guarantee nobody would put money on me; but that does not change what I am by nature. See, I am a quirky fighter.  I am weird.  I am unpredictable, though not always intentionally so.  For a while, I simply took what my parents dished out and did not question it.  I do not mean what they intentionally dished out; I mean that I adopted a victim mentality and pitied myself for being in the situations I found myself in.

As I grew older though, I started wanting to change things.  I would still take things timidly, but if they pushed too hard, a fire would flare up in me and I would push back.  Harder.  Through this, I learned that I am much stronger than I had ever previously thought.  I am not a victim; I am the one in control.  If my parents would chide me for engaging in foolishness, I would keep it coming and even ramp up my efforts.  What could they do?  I was invincible.  My foolishness knew no bounds; there were no depths which could be plumbed, no dregs that could be drained.  I could out resource them, outlast them, and outsmart them at virtually every corner until they admitted the futility of their efforts to make me into the cookie-cutter Christian homeschool child.  I had another advantage: the sibling just under me was much more openly defiant (although he used vastly different tactics), thereby allowing me to get by being just slightly less troublesome.

Since being in college, my mom has several times equated my academic success (completed undergraduate honors program with a GPA of 3.92) to having been homeschooled.  This is quite possibly true, but I have never quite had the heart to tell her the truth: her perceptions of my homeschooling experience are much different than my perceptions of that same experience.  If I was to be completely honest, what I enjoyed most was the freedom of homeschooling.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and pursue whatever caught and kept my attention for as long as I wanted without interruption.  For me, at that point in my life, it meant creating Redwall cards that played similar to the Decipher Lord of the Ring’s trading card game.  I would spend hours reading the books, creating workable game mechanics and themes for each culture, and then drawing and coloring the cards.  I was an artist, and a not-too-bad one at that.  I was also an avid reader, but only if the book was of interest.  Many history books and other required readings were simply not to my tastes, and since there was no way to prove if I had actually read the book, I occasionally lied about how much of the book I had read in a particular day (or, at my worst, simply did not read the book while claiming I did).  I did this so that I could spend time doing what I wanted to do: Redwall cards.

I was also notoriously bad at science.  For a while, I thought I simply sucked at science.  Since then, I have realized I did not understand how to study at that point in time.  I would shove a bunch of scientific definitions in, then output them for the test.  On tests where there was more information to memorize, I would earn lower grades.  This measured nothing about my ability to actually understand science; it measured how well I could replicate 15+ definitions word-for-word, with each definition containing several sentences and sometimes looking more like paragraphs.  My junior year, she threatened to kick me into public school for my senior year if I failed a particular science test (since I wouldn’t then be able to pass that grade of science).  Needless to say, I took the ethical high ground and cheated my ass off.  I did not (and still don’t) think it is fair to both at once tell your child that public school is essentially hell and then threaten to send your child to that hell if they do not perform to your liking.

I mention these two aspects of my homeschooling life because they would later get me in trouble just when I thought I was home free in college.  After attending college a few years, I casually joked about how I sometimes wasn’t the best homeschool student as a kid.  To me, it was funny.  Look how well I’m doing in college despite goofing off the last few years I was homeschooled (11th & 12th grade).  My mom, on the other hand, broke out crying at even the hint that I had cheated or lied.  To her, my not taking some aspects of school seriously somehow reflected on her.  It told her she hadn’t done well enough homeschooling to make me care, even though not caring about school is typical for teenagers at that age and I had proven I could excel in college.  She had not failed in any sense of the word, since I was prepared for college and doing well.  But she did not see it that way; only saw that I was admitting homeschool had not been the perfect picture of happiness she thought it had been.

Secretly, deep down, I suspect the true reason she cried is because my goofing off the last 2 years I was homeschooled sent a clear message that I did not need her and homeschooling as much as she thought I did.  Did not need her as a teacher, that is.

This gets to the crux of the matter; it ties together this up-until-now rather bizarre and random story of my childhood.  I think that despite whatever reasons my mom thought she was homeschooling us for, her true motivation was to never have to be alone again after living her entire childhood virtually alone.  Homeschooling, while it may have been about us not getting hurt by others in public school, was also about her not getting hurt by nobody needing her.  It was about making us dependent on her, so that she felt wanted.  Needed.  Ironically, she sometimes lashed out when we expressed the very dependence on her that she had fostered in us.  More than a true need for us to be homeschooled was the need for her to have an identity outside of her children.  An identity that should have come from her relationship with my dad, and with friends her own age.  She needed to escape the burden of parenting for a time instead of embracing it even more fully and homeschooling us all.

I am not saying we should not have been homeschooled; but rather, homeschooling us should not have been the top priority.  She often screamed, “What about me? When do I get to do what I want to do?!?” when she got mad at us for needing her.  But the truth of the matter is this; she was too scared of nobody needing her to ever wander off and do something she wanted to do.  She was afraid that if she did wander off, she might return and find everyone had forgotten her, or worse: never even noticed she left in the first place.

This, then, is what I want to communicate: my entire childhood was shaped by events driven just as much by my mom’s need to be emotionally fulfilled as it was trying to give me what I needed in an education.

Possibly more.

The worst part is knowing she did not do this consciously, she simply failed to recognize what was going on and intervene.  This is not a ‘Fuck you, mom! Fuck you, dad!’ letter.  This is not an article to be used for arguing homeschooling is psychologically harmful and should therefore be overseen, controlled, or prevented by the government.  There is no political message here, no hint of animosity towards anyone; no purpose for saying any of this other than that it is the truth.

The truth.

Truth is never something I was good at hiding, or even wanted to hide.  I tell everyone who will listen that I would rather have a ‘fuck you!’ screamed in my face and punctuated with physical blows than have someone pretend to be my friend.  I do not care if I am physically assaulted; I care if I am told the truth.  Asshats are a dime a dozen; but honest people are virtually impossible to find.  Bluntness, that is.  People who throw social politeness under the bus in favor of calling it like it is.  The ‘ain’t no bullshit here, captain!’ kind of people.  There many honest people in the world, but few who will be blunt with you.

That is what I mean.

In order to avoid ending on a downer note, I will fully self-disclose that things have gotten so much better over the past few years I have been attending college.  Only my youngest brother and sister are still homeschooled, with my oldest sister having attended public school since 9th grade.  I do see my youngest brother struggle with many of the same things I did, but I know I am here to guide him through the confusion and pain that accompanies his upbringing.

More importantly, I know what helped me cope and have given him access to these means at a much younger age.  When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to reach out to about this.  My youngest brother can talk with me about this all; about how sometimes although our parents love us both very much, they do not act rationally and instead resort to violating their own rules and taking their emotional issues out on the children and use us to meet deep needs that we can never fullfill.  He can question me about why most people think the earth is billions of years old but he learns it is only several thousand.  I do not provide him with ‘the answers’, but ask questions to help him think through the issues on his own.

That is what true homeschooling should be: parents providing their children with an outlet to escape the biases and politics of public school without imposing their own biases and politics.  Because ultimately, that’s what homeschooling is: freedom.  Freedom to question authority, to question rules, to question the ‘no tolerance’ policies that are a virtual shitstorm in public schools.  My story is one of that freedom being unconsciously abused, but that same freedom can be used to free others from the abuses they may receive elsewhere.

As hinted at in my opening paragraph, eventually my parents figured a lot of their issues out and loosened the stranglehold conservative Christians had on their throats.  This legalism went to hell when our family became the black sheep of the congregation and the pastor and elders treated our family like shit.  We were accused of much, and treated like enemies instead of brothers and sisters in Christ like they claim to treat all believers.  What they failed to mention when you sign up is that their interpretation of the Bible only tells you to treat people as human if they think as you do and do not question what you demand of them.  Anyone who threatens their reputation, who is similar enough to them and then suddenly appears less than perfect, is quickly either intimidated to fall back into line or else cast out into the cold world to die a lonely and painful death.  Fortunately, our family pulled together and told them that while we appreciate their willingness to spend their entire lives with their heads on vacation in the wonderful world of Up-Your-Ass, our family preferred to admit we are living, breathing, feeling, fallible individuals who must address our shortcomings and forgive each other.

So yes, our family is no longer the perfect Christian, homeschooling family we once were. Thank God. And I mean that; I am both relieved to leave the bullshit and small-mindedness, and thankful to God for rescuing us from the bullshit.

As you can tell, I still believe in God. But not the Orthodox Presbyterian Church God that requires men to dominate women, for children to obey their parents without questioning what they are told to do, and for His followers to spend their time prior to dying and enjoying their life in blissful paradise feeling like shit because they believe happiness is automatically indicative of falling into sin.  Focusing on how fucked up you are, or others are, does nothing to solve the problem.  Even their own book tells them that much, but they still do not see despite claiming you do not see.  Slowly, their God died to me (not for me), and I can personally attest that this death did not occur on a cross.  It took place in my mind, after years of watching my family suffer the consequences of sucking it up when things got hard and pretending everything was alright.  However; this god did die at a cross.  Crossroad that is. The death of the OPC God was a crossroad where I switched paths.  Where our whole family switched paths.

I have never been more proud of our parents than when they essentially told our old OPC church to go fuck themselves. (This message was not communicated quite as bluntly, but the effect was the same).

In closing, I am not mad at my parents. I hold no bitterness for them, or anyone else, including the OPC church and their members.  I am still friends with many of them, and see the pleading looks in their eyes to come back when I occasionally visit.  But I see more than this.

Underneath the pleading for me to return to them I see another kind of pleading; a pleading for someone to rescue them from themselves.  As for me, I am never going back. Not permanently, although I do visit every once in a blue mooon. Having now experienced life in the open — in the sunlit world having emerged from Plato’s cave with the totalitarian forces striving to keep individuals locked away in the cave — I know what it is I will spend the rest of my life doing:

Fighting to free others from the blindness, from being emotionally used and feeling helpless to escape, whether it occurs while being homeschooled, public-schooled, or not schooled. Because using others, even unconsciously, to meet your needs is not right; and having gone through this myself, I find that I cannot wish it upon anyone else either.

We are Anonymous.

We are Legion.

We are Homeschooled.


End of series.

Torching All That Is Sacred: Alexander Anon’s Story

Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story

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


In this series: Part One | Part Two


As I start, I wish to be clear that this story is intended to convey my experience of the complex phenomenon that was my homeschooling experience, not make broad claims about homeschooling in general; and that within this narrative I perceive not villains but instead numerous individuals that were products of factors they either did not understand or were helpless to change.  What follows is a tale of how homeschooling efforts collided with conservative Christian values to create the perfect maelstrom of do’s and don’ts, and the resulting insecurities I was left with in the wake of destruction caused by the brain-washing and intimidation tactics utilized by the primarily homeschooling congregation of the local Orthodox Presbyterian Church our family attended.

I guess the best place to begin this story is to discuss the dynamics of my parents’ relationships with each other, their seven children, and their parents growing up.  My mother had a hard life growing up, with her parents fighting constantly and physical violence prevalent.  Her experiences in public school were not much better, as she has mentioned on various occasions that she felt isolated, unwanted, and ignored.  The three main things she learned growing up were: (1) you keep fighting even when nothing is alright; (2) if nothing is alright, you shut up and pretend everything is alright; and (3) people will never give you what you want unless you trick them into giving you what you want.  My father, on the other hand, appears to have had a much healthier childhood, although certainly no childhood is ever without its scarring moments.

Although they are virtually mum on the circumstances surrounding their dating and eventual marriage, as best I can surmise my mom wanted to escape her emotionally damaging life at home and my dad possessed the perfect combination of charm and wit necessary to distract her from her emotional wounds.  Underneath his charm and wit; however, was an anger that would flare up from time to time and remind my mom of the dad she was forced to accept ‘loved her in his own way’, but certainly never expressed it in a manner that made her feel loved or accepted by him.

It was into this environment, sometimes wonderfully loving, other times frighteningly turbulent, that our parents brought seven children, of which I am the second oldest.  For the most part, we grew up in a stable, loving place and had the typical American childhood everyone longs for.

We were also homeschooled.

Much of the driving force behind my mom’s decision to homeschool us, I believe, was wanting to shield us from the horrible experience she had with public school.  Although our family never really talked about it, there was an unspoken understanding that people in general are mean, morally bankrupt, and frightening.  While never outwardly communicated, I tuned in to this message that people do not care about you and will ridicule you, and internalized it so that my self-confidence was (and still is, in many areas) virtually non-existent.

To this day I struggle to believe people in my college classes, on the street, in church, and everywhere else I go could find something to like about me.  Because people just don’t like or accept others.  People were monsters.  They were the unknown, and the unknown was frightening.

Our parents were overprotective of us.  Out of love, of course; but still overprotective to the point of being constrictive.  Even as teenagers, we were prohibited from riding our bikes further than a block away from our house.  This severely limited the number of friends we could have.

I can only remember a handful of times our parents had non-family members over to our house, and we certainly were not allowed to go to others’ houses to play unless they lived only a few houses away.  From this all, the message was clear: people are scary.  Something to be avoided.  I still have high social anxiety to this day because of our mom’s fear of being hurt by others.

One particular incident stands out to me.  My older brother was watching over a couple kids at a summer camp as a counselor for several weeks, and had made several friends (he was always more outgoing than I).  After the first week, one of the female friends he had made at camp returned to her home and sent a friendly email to my brother, who was still at camp.  I remember our mom flipping out to our dad because she thought my brother had a girlfriend.  I read the email myself; it was harmless.  The girl was just being friendly.  Even worse; why was the idea of my older brother (at that time in his teens) having a girlfriend something to freak out over?  Why did this idea deserve such a harsh, negative reaction?  I still do not understand to this day, and yet the message could not have been clearer: people are something we avoid.

To be clear, I am not trying to suggest that all homeschooling families are like this; this is certainly not the case, as I personally know family after family that encouraged their children to have as many friends as possible.  However; in our family, having friends almost always seemed bad.  There were a few exceptions.  A homeschooling family moved in down the street from us when I was a young teenager, and our families became as close as possible without being related by blood.  To this day, the two oldest boys in their family are my best guy friends.  Their family moved away after less than a year in our neighborhood.  A few years later, I met another homeschool family at our church and eventually became good friends with the two oldest girls.  Being friends with girls was new to me, since the only previous female friend I had made attended a homeschool co-op that our family left just a few weeks after I finally started feeling comfortable interacting with her.

Besides unintentionally (I truly believe my parents did nothing out of bad intent) restricting my access to friends for the greater portion of my childhood, several other areas of my life were censored out of a need to please God.  This was most noticeable in the music I was allowed to listen to.

I had no interest in music until our local church offered to pay for one cd for every 20 Westminster Shorter Catechism questions I memorized.  Being a homeschooler with little else to do, I beasted this mental feat.  Every time I recited 20 catechism responses, our mom would drive us to the local bookstore, listen to music samples from the cd’s we wanted, and read printouts of the lyrics.  Almost nothing was Christian enough for her tastes.  Newsboys’ Thrive, with its song ‘It Is You’ and lyrics “holy, holy is our God Almighty/ holy, holy is his name alone” was not good enough.  Relient K’s Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek, with lyrics such as “Never underestimate my Jesus/ You’re telling me that there’s no hope/ I’m telling you you’re wrong” (For the Moments I Feel Faint) was not good enough.

You get the picture.

I used to cry every time we returned from the bookstore with my 10th choice cd; or worse, empty-handed after killing an entire afternoon in the store reviewing lyrics.  The point of mentioning this isn’t to generate pity, or talk bad about my mom who I love very much; I bring this up because I learned several very important lessons through this experience:

1. Persistence

If a cd was shot down, my mom would agree to listen to it the next time we went.  Several times she would cave on the third or fourth listen simply because I kept making her listen to it again.  This was not always the case, as Skillet’s Collide album was shot down no matter how hard I tried to get her to accept it as Christian rock.

2. Self-Motivation

No one was going to get me the album I wanted to listen to unless I put in the hard work, constructed arguments my mom was willing to accept for why I should be allowed to have it (usually revolving around why the lyrics were “Christian” lyrics), and didn’t stop the barrage of arguments until I had won or was shut down completely.  Even when a particular album was shot down, I would pick a similar sounding album and push for that, because I suspected that while she claimed to be judging albums based on lyrical content, her genre preferences were also a significant deciding factor.  In other words, I became a social scientist formulating and testing hypotheses because of this process.  I am currently a first year Master’s student studying forensic psychology, and intend to pursue a Ph.D. in criminology.  The skills I learned as a result of these unpleasant music-judging trips have been invaluable to me throughout my academic journey.

3. There Is Always A Way

After trying for several years to get specific albums and failing despite all my best hypothesis testing and revising, I finally stumbled onto the perfect solution without even intending to.  My parents gave us the opportunity to play music, and after a few failed years of learning piano (I did not appreciate the teacher’s mechanical playing style and wanted to play a specific genre of music she did not let me learn), I took up guitar.  The guitar teacher was amazing in so many ways, the most important of which was he alternated between learning how to play and teaching me how to play the songs I wanted to learn.  For this, it was necessary to bring in a recording of the song for him to play along with and figure out the notes.  At first, I would bring in Christian music my mom had let me get.  Then, because I was embarrassed that the guitar teacher did not know any of these songs, I started bringing in more “secular” songs I had recorded on a cassette tape from the radio.  One day, I got the bright idea to search online to see if I could listen to the songs.  Quite accidentally, I discovered a place to illegally download mp3’s of the any song I ever wanted.  Needless to say, I secretly binged and downloaded hundreds of albums this way.  After years of secret listening to music this way and fearing being found out, I finally broke the silence and reported that I had access to any music I wanted and desired to pay the artists money to actually legally own the cd’s.  After the shock wore off, my mom reasonably agreed that the Christian thing to do was to pay money to own them legally since she couldn’t stop me from listening to them anyway, as long as I didn’t buy any “Eminem.”

One of my pet peeves growing up, and that will still get me fired up when I hear my dad tell my youngest brother this, is the phrase “just stop the foolishness.”  This phrase was the buzzword for enjoying yourself, reveling in the absurd nature of something, or presenting something logically impossible.  In other words, it was the response used to prevent a child from being a child and utilizing their imagination.

Foolishness was a concept derived from the Bible (particularly Proverbs), and foolishness was to be avoided at all costs.  Six year olds laughing at farts was “foolishness”; but it was not “foolishness” when my dad wanted to crack a joke about farts.  It was only foolishness if a child tried to add something on to our father’s joke that our dad did not find amusing.  Then, magically, what was not foolish only a moment ago became foolish.  I know my parents did not intend to link enjoying yourself or being happy with punishment, but they did.  One minute I was laughing and having a good time, the next I was being rebuked for foolishness because I had tried to add something of value to the conversation.

Not only did this make me fearful of being happy; it discouraged me from speaking up, because speaking up can inexplicably lead to being punished.

To be continued.

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

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

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


Why It’s Not Just About the Past and My Bitterness

"Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians."
“Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians.”

As I sat down to a steak dinner with my parents after my MA graduation ceremony (8-2012), the conversation drifted to my younger sister’s future plans.  She is being homeschooled much in the same way I was, except with a hefty dose of Victorian ideas on gender roles and sexuality. (She is truly brilliant and reads tremendous amounts of literature. She could likely score a 30+ on the ACT and receive a scholarship.) I asked her if she still intended to go to college — she used to talk of being a veterinarian – and she replied that my father gave her a choice. She could either have him pay for her wedding or her college. I said that giving a young girl such a choice was cruel and my father replied that he had “lost confidence in college since [my] education obviously failed me.” And I said, “Well, I guess it failed [my older sister] too.” He said, no it hadn’t, because she is now a Christian, homeschool mother who generally agrees with them religiously. So basically, he said college failed me because I don’t believe what he does. 

Throughout my years at college, in a rural town in the Bible Belt, he has used this line of thought many times. I discovered in conversation with my extended family that he led them to believe I’d been “brainwashed” at college by my professors. I’d confronted my father numerous times about how insulting this was, but he really didn’t get it. Not until I told him that my being a liberal was actually going against the grain did he begin to respect me.

They continue to expect me to be a person that I’m not. I’ve written about how there are two versions of me and I want to focus on a few occasions during and after college that illustrate how their beliefs have continued to hurt me. Nearly every time we get together, conversations devolve into arguments about politics because their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians. They insult my beliefs by saying that they are just a phase – when I am living in the “real world,” I will surely be conservative like them.

When I tried to explain that their twisted worldview makes nearly every minute political and social issue into a religious issue, my father simply did not understand. He responded…“Yes I try to live my life in obedience to the Word of God in the Bible. That means these beliefs inform all I do in my life. If that insults you then truly Jesus was correct in stating that those that followed Him would enter into conflict, even with their own family.”

When I visited home for Christmas with my then-fiancé, my mother started a conversation on Christmas morning about how the rise of feminism ruined America. To give some background, my wife is incredibly close to her mother, who divorced when she was young. My wife’s mother worked extremely hard and worked her way up the corporate ladder. My wife draws a lot of inspiration from her mother. Now to the conversation. My mother said that women should never have been given the right to vote, that birth control broke down the American family, and women in the workforce was simply not the proper place for women. My mother subscribes completely to the submission doctrines of fundamentalist Protestantism and, suffice it to say, my wife is very empowered. Like most Christmases with my family, it devolved into a heated argument and my wife was very offended by what my mom said. My mom was literally saying women like my wife’s mother were ruining America.

Nearly six months after my graduation-fight with my parents, my mother finally decided to weigh-in. My father and I sent a barrage of emails back and forth, because I cannot control my emotions when we get into arguments.  After a lot of small talk, the conversation turned to my sinful lifestyle. My mom asked me if I was “pure” on my wedding day. I told her no I wasn’t and I didn’t want to talk about my sex life with her. She reminded me of a pledge I made to her at the age of fourteen, promising abstinence until marriage. I told her that was very unfair to bring up something like that. Then she proceeded to tell me how I would face “consequences” later in my marriage because of my sins.Then she told me the reason we fight is because I just “feel guilty” about all my sinning. She never said anything about my living with my fiancée before our marriage. Only after we were married did she choose to judge me. She didn’t even understand why her comments were judgmental – to her she was just imparting some righteousness. It’s like she forgot to judge me two years ago, so she did it then. But to my mother, it’s not “judging,” it’s just telling the truth – she likes to call herself a prophet.

So I told her some truth. That I think they raised me in a fundamentalist cult and that’s why I don’t get along with them. Especially because they believe all the same things they used to. She tried to say they believe differently now, but couldn’t name a single area where they’ve changed their minds, except they watch more TV now. So when mom is crying on the phone telling me that “we don’t get along because your conscious is guilty” or that I broke a promise to “stay pure” that I made to her at 14, I go to a very dark place.

Whenever we go back to arguing about the things we’ve literally been arguing about for a decade, I am physical affected. The sort of panic attacks I used to have come back and I have a lot of trouble controlling my emotions. They still think rock is evil, they are going to push my sister into courtship like they did me, they are going to fuck her up.  My only twisted hope is that I can reach out to her when they start to become senile.

I don’t enjoy spending any time with them because I just leave feeling shitty. I’m so sick of it. It’s emotionally and intellectually exhausting. They say things like “we’re proud of you” but they only ever talk about my accomplishments. When it comes to my intelligence, morals, or ethics, I’m just a dirty liberal sinner to them. The fact that, after seven years of this, they still refuse to see past my political beliefs and have made no real efforts to get to know me is incredibly discouraging. I have made a lot of efforts to be more reasonable, less argumentative, and I try to never bring up an issue that would spark an argument.  The reason it’s still hard for me is because they aren’t over it and they still inject it into my life. In the past, it was easier to pretend like it didn’t bother me and I figured mom and dad would grow out of it (like almost all of my friends’ parents).

It would be different if my parents made an effort to get to know me – instead of the me I used to be. They still give me Lamplighter books for Christmas, which are out-of-print works of fiction, re-printed by Christian Book Distributers because they are explicitly Christian. I have no interest in these shitty books – I will be reading Harry Potter to my children. I recently moved across the country and they have taken literally no interest in my safety or my new home. Part of why I moved was to get away from them. I don’t want to be obligated to see them – ever.  Maybe after years of space, I can start to forgive them. It feels like every time I make myself vulnerable, usually against my better judgment, it ends in pain. Every time I let things go, more gets piled onto me.  It’s unfortunate, but the less time I spend interacting with my parents, the happier I am.

To be continued.