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.

Our Courtship, Part Seven: Engagement and Marriage

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 29, 2015.

< Part Six

Part Seven: Engagement and Marriage

As the wedding date approached, my parents got more frantic to prepare me to be a wife. Dad tried touching me more, even putting his fingers in the belt loop of my jeans in a very possessive way. When me trying to pull away wasn’t getting the hint across, I finally told Mom (why not Dad? I don’t know, unhealthy relationship dynamics I guess) that it felt very creepy. Dad stopped, but explained at one point that he was worried I wouldn’t let Luke touch me enough and so was trying to get me more comfortable with being touched.

My dad, for his part, was just trying to be a good father-in-law and present not only a sexually pure daughter, but a sexually responsive one (my mom’s big advice was ‘don’t say no too often’). This caused me to enter marriage with a warped view of my own (and Luke’s) sexuality.

My parents, again, were worried that Luke and I were too emotionally intimate for an engaged couple. One thing they did to keep this intimacy from growing was not allow me to go to church with Luke. Church was a thing I was supposed to do with the family, and for now I belonged to my dad, not Luke. My parents grudgingly let me attend Luke’s church once when he was preaching, and maybe for another couple special occasions. After we were married, I was expected to go to Luke’s church three times a week, and be a contributing member of the congregation (Luke’s dad is a pastor), and know everyone and hug everyone and there was no easing into everyone’s expectations of me. I wish I had been allowed to gradually get to know everyone there without suddenly being ‘family’ to them. We ended up leaving the church a year after we got married.

There were many other issues during this time of courtship and engagement, including but not limited to squabbles between our mothers, which I was in the middle of, and many expectations of how courtship was supposed to function. Also Luke’s mom (with whom I get along quite well nowadays) seemed to be hanging on to her firstborn for dear life, which caused still more issues. Courtship was easily the most stressful time of my life. Add in the fact that I was undiagnosed bipolar 2 (mostly depressive) and you have a recipe for misery.

As the wedding drew nearer, I was nervous about getting married (after being infantilized during my teen years, I was being thrust into adulthood and responsibility). I was in turns mocked and criticized by my mother for these nerves, with threats of canceling the wedding because I was worried/stressed. This didn’t strike me as a kind offer but rather a ‘you better shape up’ threat.

Dad, on the other hand, was concerned. He told me we could cancel the wedding if I wanted to. I didn’t want to, but my response was actually ‘no, we can’t’. In my mind, I had given up to much of my heart to back out, even if I wanted to, because according to what they had taught me, I thought I would be unfit to marry anyone else, and as a woman my value was in getting married and having babies. He was really disturbed by this ‘no, we can’t’ response, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. He was the one who taught me all that.

Luke and I got married May 23, 2008, exactly nine months after we started courting. We had a beautiful ceremony – my mom is an excellent decorator. Luke and I held hands for the first time during the ceremony, and shared our first kiss at the end of the ceremony. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – the pictures are alright.

We had an awkward wedding night (not quite this bad), but the cuddling was special.

I’d like to say we lived happily ever after and all the drama was over, but it wasn’t quite.

My mother-in-law still had to learn to let go. My parents were still controlling. I was still sick. Church was a problem. Luke and I had to figure out how relationships work without parents quite so involved. We had to figure out, like everyone does, everything physical and how to work around different sex drives and expectations, which have changed several times throughout the years.

My parents continued trying to control me (and Luke) for years — I think they loved me, but maybe they loved owning me more. Eventually there came a day that they chewed me out yet again, but now I was done being controlled, so I talked back more than I ever had (I called them abusive, but I don’t regret it). After that, they stopped inviting us over or contacting us.

We still have a good relationship with Luke’s family.

My parents said several times in the courtship days that we should write a book about our courtship — they had, at that point, a different view of how it went down than we do. I think this is probably as close as I’ll get to writing a book, and it’s not quite the courtship-lauding masterpiece they were picturing.

Luke and I did everything ‘right’ in our courtship, and still had a marriage with stuff to figure out. We didn’t automatically have the perfect relationship we were promised, but that’s ok.

If we could survive courtship together, we think we can survive anything.

End of series.

Our Courtship, Part Six: Courtship by Committee

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 28, 2015.

< Part Five

Part Six: Courtship by Committee

The first hints of courtship drama started when Luke wrote a post that began ‘Word is getting around the church that Lana and I are engaged.’ For one, this was his way of leading into an explanation that we were courting, not technically engaged. For another, in our minds, we were practically engaged. Well in his parents’ minds, we were not. His dad called him on the phone, about as mad as Luke had ever heard him, saying he didn’t know we had gotten engaged.

Each parent had specific expectations for our courtship, and they were not clearly communicated to us or to each other, and often the expectations conflicted. It was stressful for me to be in the middle of all these expectations, one of the two people actually in the relationship and the person with zero agency in the relationship.

About a week into our courtship, there was another meeting. I was actually invited to this one, which was also attended by Luke and all four parents. This was the meeting when we were going to decide what our courtship would be like, and part of that was whether or not we’d hold hands. Yes, that was decided in committee. My parents said we shouldn’t hold hands because we would either ruin our natural sex drives by not having sex after holding hands, OR we might have sex before marriage and ruin our marriage (whereas if we waited, God would bless our marriage and we would avoid many common marital problems). Further, if we did hold hands, they probably couldn’t trust us to ever be alone together, because who knows what else we might do physically. But it was our choice. Riiiiight. Of course we decided not to hold hands. I was so disappointed — I thought that now that we were a couple, Luke could comfort me when I cried, but he still couldn’t do that, not by touching me anyways. I cried right then, feeling utterly alone. My parents were upset at me for crying.

Throughout the courtship I was still expected to email through my mom’s email account. One day, I was searching for something I had written but not sent to Luke, and accidentally found a letter she had written to Luke giving him permission to email me privately, but it was never sent. I always wondered if it was because she was disappointed with the way courtship was going.

According to my parents, Luke didn’t spend enough time with my family, and I spent too much time with his family. This is a feud that continued well into our marriage.  (At the time, Luke was coming over at least every Tuesday, or some day of the week. I was going over there to film the movie or work on the magazine, and occasionally for dinner).

I really, in my parents’ opinion, shouldn’t have been going to Luke’s house at all, because I wasn’t courting him, he was courting me.

Luke and I were deeply in love, and couldn’t express it any way but through words and gazing into each other’s eyes. It kind of upset people. Luke once said in an email that no one had ever been as much in love, and the shit hit the fan. Mom, who was still reading every email, felt personally attacked by this declaration, and I was the one that got yelled at for it.

My parents also thought that maybe we were too emotionally attached, since we didn’t even have a wedding scheduled. There was talk of transferring me to a different university.

Our families began to not get along so well. My parents were pushing for a marriage very soon, while his parents thought things were moving a too fast. My mother-in-law has said many times since that she didn’t think we should have married so young or so soon.

There was a little confusion, too, about who had authority over who, now that Luke and I were basically betrothed.

So there was another meeting. Dad likes meetings.

At this meeting, Luke and his dad showed up to listen to my dad talk. Dad had been given a revelation from the Lord. Dad told them that they were like chiefs of their little Indian tribes (yes, this is a bit racist), and that Luke was becoming a chief but he didn’t have a squaw (I’m the squaw). There was a diagram to go with this analogy. It showed Luke coming out of his dad’s ‘chiefdom’, but I was still under Dad’s chiefdom, with something like a dotted line between me and Luke. So basically, Luke’s dad had no power over the relationship, Luke had very little power, and I had none. Dad, who didn’t especially want the authority, he said, had all the power. Dad was very excited to share this message from God, to help solve all our courtship problems.

Furthermore, this dotted line connected Dad to Luke through me, so Dad had authority over Luke through me, for the time being. Dad also used this diagram to excuse him talking to me about things he really needed to address to Luke (like when Luke needed a job, and Dad asked me daily what Luke was doing to find one). Triangulation anyone?

I wasn’t at the meeting but Luke filled me in, and Dad shared the diagram and analogy with mom and me also.

The Hobbs came over Christmas evening 2007, so Luke could give me his present. We were in the dining room with our mothers, while everyone else was gathered around the computer watching a video. Luke gave me a CD he had made of songs that reminded him of us. I was a little disappointed, as my little brother had told me that he told Luke I wanted a ring, but I read the list of songs anyways. While I was distracted, Luke got down on one knee reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a jewelry box. He asked me to marry him and I was like ‘duh.’ (but I think I said it more graciously than that.)

I put the ring on my own finger; not exactly like how I had pictured it when I was a little girl.

My parents later complained that Luke hadn’t asked their permission to get engaged, or told them when so they could prepare something special (Luke tells me they knew he was buying/had bought a ring, so I’m not sure what the problem was). But of course, they didn’t complain to Luke about that, only to me.

So we were engaged. It was a little anticlimactic. The only real difference, at that point, was I had a flashy new ring, and we could refer to each other as ‘my fiance’. A week later, we set a wedding date for after the spring semester ended in May.

Part Seven >

Our Courtship, Part Five: It Begins

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 27, 2015.

< Part Four

Part Five: It Begins

The summer of 2007, after the first semester of college, I finally got my driver’s license. Luke, several friends, a few siblings, and I began filming a movie we had been working on writing. Mostly Luke wrote it and I made criticisms that he sometimes listened to.

I got to know some of his friends from church pretty well while filming. When he introduced me to them at the readthrough of the script, there was a distinct note of pride in his voice.

My parents knew all along I was intending to do the movie with Luke (I hadn’t realized at first that it would be a huge production, which we’d never actually finish), but apparently I never actually asked permission (I was 19 by now), so I got a few angry lectures about that, especially because Mom relied on me to be at home during the summer to help her with the housework and the kids. It was enough of a sacrifice on her behalf to let me go to school, but for me to be gone ‘for fun’ so often made her angry. I, however, was having the time of my life, spending so much time with friends.

Then came August, and the beginning of the fall 2007 semester. At some point before the semester began, another meeting that would be important to my future took place, and once again I was not present. This time it was Luke and my dad, and Luke was asking to court me ‘with intentions of marriage.’ Dad anticipated the question and bought him a watch to welcome him into the family.

The first day of school, Luke and I got lunch like we usually did. It was kind of a tradition by then, and so I didn’t even think to ask my parents. We just went about a ¼ of a block from the school — barely off campus — and got some fast food. I got in so much trouble later, because Luke and I weren’t yet courting and we certainly weren’t married, and yet here we were, going on a ‘date’, without asking permission from my parents. It was impure and inappropriate, according to my parents. Of course, Luke had already announced his intentions to court me, but I didn’t know that yet, so I couldn’t use that to justify our lunch.

At the end of the first week of school, Luke and my parents hatched a plan for him to pop the question.

It was a beautiful moment. I was in love before, but I finally felt free to feel all those feelings. I was so giddy from these new feelings of loving and being loved that I was clumsy and nearly sleepless for several days.

I thought that everything would be pretty smooth sailing now that Luke and I were an official couple. I was not correct.

Part Six >

Our Courtship, Part Four: Falling in Love

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 26, 2015.

< Part Three

Part Four: Falling in Love

In August 2006, we started college, took a few classes together, and met each other between classes to walk to our next class together. I’m sure everyone on campus thought we were dating.

At the very end of 2006, I got sick. in 2007, I went back to school still sick. I was so miserable that semester. I still didn’t have a driver’s license, so I spent most of the day at school, because Dad dropped me off a couple hours before my first class, and picked me up at the end of the workday. Luke came to the rescue though. On MWF, we shared our last class of the day, so he took me home every day that he could for the whole semester.

I gave him gas money because he went out of his way to take me home. I slipped it into his backpack once a month when he wasn’t looking. He saved it up and gave it back to me on my birthday in late April, with a note that all but said I love you. Of course I didn’t read it that way at the time; I wouldn’t allow myself to see what should have been obvious, because I was so invested in making sure there was nothing romantic between us. I kept the note anyways. If that’s not a thing ‘just friends’ do, I didn’t want to know about it.

He was there for me that semester like no one ever had been. He loaned me his coat on a cold day (I didn’t have a coat). He listened to my problems. He bought footlong subs to share with me because I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise (self-care was not something I was taught). He even carried my backpack when I was too sick to carry it without a great deal of pain.

He was there the day I failed a paper around midterms and cried about it all through the next class. In fact, I later learned, that was the day he fell in love with me. Sitting next to me while I was crying, he was wishing he could do something to make it better. He realized he loved me and wanted to marry me.

Of course, he didn’t SAY anything to me about it at the time, or to my dad, so the conversations with my parents about me being ‘too far into the woods with Luke to go back now’ continued.

During that semester, I always said goodbye to him before his class in the music building. And every day before his class, an attractive girl would come sauntering out in her high heels, bat her eyelashes and say ‘hi Luke’ in what I thought was a flirtatious tone and sashay away. I hated that girl.

Also that semester, I got red highlights in my hair over spring break. They looked super coppery at first but i knew they’d tone down and look amazing in a few days. Well, I didn’t know I’d see Luke during spring break. “What have you done to your hair?” he hissed when he saw me. When we went back to school, a classmate complimented it. I think Luke turned green from jealousy — I felt triumphant. Then after class Luke told me it looked good — the first compliment he’d ever given me. He’d been in love with me for weeks at this point so you’d think he’d have been pouring on the compliments, but he actually seemed slightly more distant. It was very important to him that I not know he was in love with me until we were courting, because of purity and all that. It seems so silly now.

One day, at the very end of the spring semester, I was feeling particularly stressed and vulnerable about something. We were sitting on a little wall outside by the library — our wall. I told him what I was worried about, and he just listened. And then I don’t know exactly what happened in my heart but suddenly I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. That was the moment I think I fell in love, and I both felt guilty and wonderful, but I was also in denial about how deep my feelings went, because I simply wasn’t allowed to be in love before courtship.

Part Five >

Our Courtship, Part Three: Missing Him

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 23, 2015.

< Part Two

Part Three: Missing Him

In order to do the magazine, Luke and I had to email back and forth.  Luke got to use his own email, as his parents had no problem with him having a private email address, but I had to use my mom’s email. She read every single email I sent and received, as a way of chaperoning us/making sure things didn’t get romantic, I guess. Our words were scrutinized and sometimes used against me.

Luke and I finished our first issue of our magazine at the end of 2005, the middle of our senior year of highschool, and in January 2006, I went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico for 9 weeks. I talked to Miss S on the phone regularly, but sometimes called when she was too busy so I talked to Luke instead. I was lonely so I just yakked his ear off. He talked very little. We were not particularly close at this point, but I think we grew a little closer while I was gone. The Hobbs all sent me mail when I was away, and Luke and I continued work on the magazine from a distance.

At some point in the spring, after I got back, I took the SAT, and was thrilled to see a familiar face. Luke and I sat at the same table, and finished the last part of the test at about the same time.

I couldn’t drive yet, so I had to call someone to come pick me up when the test was over. Luke waited with me and I felt so safe and cared for. He didn’t offer a ride home because I wasn’t really allowed to ride with other teens at that point (though mom complained to me that he could have just brought me home if he was going to wait with me, so I was puzzled).

A couple weeks later, we went to a preview day at our future university together, a couple homeschool students in a sea of public schoolers. He’s tall, I haven’t mentioned it yet. I’m only average height. I would have felt intimidated by all the unknown people (I hate crowds), except I stood right by Luke the entire time. His presence was large and it made me feel safe and I treasured that. We were starting to get much closer. I had a major crush by this point.

I turned 18 and we graduated from high school in April. Our homeschool group did a graduation together. In late June, I went on another mission trip, this time to Bogota, Colombia.

I read some book on purity on the plane, I think it was Before You Meet Prince Charming, and I felt very ashamed to have such a strong crush — it wasn’t holy and pure to give so much of my heart to someone else before we were even courting.  The trip was only 2 weeks, but I missed Luke so bad it hurt, and I hated myself for it. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to miss him, since we weren’t courting (which is silly, because even in that culture, people are allowed to miss their friends). I didn’t really miss my family, things were often stressful at home and if you haven’t noticed by now, my parents were somewhat controlling. Being far away was a nice break, I just wanted someone to share it with.

I also felt ashamed of missing Luke so bad, because I didn’t know if he missed me. I knew I’d be brokenhearted if he ever married anyone else, but I didn’t know if he felt the same way. So I knew I was in trouble deep.

While on the trip, trying not to be so attached to Luke and trying to make friends, I flirted with some of the guys at our host church. One night, near the end of the trip on the bus, one of them that I had gotten kind of close to reached out and took my hand. I felt cared for. Safe. So I let him hold it until I had to get off the bus. And then the guilt and shame came. I had never held a boy’s hand before (unless you count the awkward dance when I was twelve). I had meant to never hold anyone’s hand until I was courting, maybe even until the wedding (I had read some books about no-touch courtships), and I had ruined it. I felt like I was trash.

When I got home, I confessed to my parents. They were livid. They wailed, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ They threatened not to let me go to college since I obviously couldn’t control myself around boys. Dad asked me ‘What will Luke think of this?’ What would Luke think of me now? I was basically a slut — if he had ever wanted me, he might not want me now. But amidst my shame, I felt a little indignant. After all, Luke and I weren’t a couple. He didn’t own me.

It was around this time, both before and after the trip, that my parents started talking to me about being too close to Luke. They weren’t sure exactly what I should do about it (and Dad’s frequent talk about how I should marry Luke was NOT helping anything), but it was bad, and it was apparently all my fault. If I married him eventually, it would all be ok. But he hadn’t said anything yet, and of course as the woman, I couldn’t say anything (please remember, Luke was still 17 at this time, I was just barely 18). If I didn’t marry Luke eventually, I was basically dooming my future marriage because my parents were convinced I was in love with Luke — which according to purity culture, meant I was impure in my heart. I don’t actually think I was in love yet though. I probably could have been, had I let myself feel it, but I hadn’t. I certainly cared about him a great deal and loved him as a friend, and but I wouldn’t say I was ‘in love’. That came later.

Even so, I felt a great deal of shame and frustration over my emotional attraction to Luke, even over our friendship. But that was mostly when my parents were fussing at me about it. And it didn’t stop me from scheduling classes with him or continuing the magazine. (Not that my parents requested that I stop either of those things. I think they just wanted to vent their frustrations at me.)

Luke, by the way, had no idea any of this was going on.

Sometime in that time period, I had a dream. Luke and I were alone, and he was holding me up in the air, like I was pretending to fly, and I felt so peaceful and so happy. It was a simple little dream, but I woke up with a smile on my face. I felt embarrassed, but I treasured that dream, like it was a prophetic thing.

Part Four >

Our Courtship, Part Two: Boy Meets Girl

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 22, 2015.

< Part One

Part Two: Boy Meets Girl

When I was 15, I met the Hobbs family when they came over to our house for lunch one day. The way my family generally did friends, my mom would make friends with another mom, and the kids would be our friends, whoever was nearest in age to each of us, usually.

I became friends with the middle child and only girl (I was at the time also an only girl), Hannah, and wanted to become friends with the oldest boy, about a year younger than me, named Luke (spoiler: I married him).

He seemed quiet and distant and intelligent.  He seemed like a Darcy type and I, like most homeschool girls, thought Pride and Prejudice was quite possibly the greatest love story ever written.

He also seemed lonely, so over the months that followed, I took every opportunity to befriend him. I didn’t really have a crush on him at this point, although I did consider him a prospect for marriage, because I considered pretty much every intelligent Christian guy near my age as a prospect.

At this point, I think my parents were intending I marry one of the Hobbs boys – Luke has a brother 2 years his junior – at least my dad certainly talked about it a bit. It didn’t seem to matter to Dad which one. Also Miss Susie, Luke’s mom, seemed to like me a lot and Luke’s youngest brother, who was two at the time, loved me. So there was the potential for a perfect match (after all, in courtship, you basically date the family).

At some point I did start crushing on Luke but I didn’t really talk about it (guarding my heart, remember?) and I can’t really remember when, because I was pushing those feelings away so hard.

At some point in 2005, I got the idea to start a Christian magazine for teens — none I had seen were radical enough for me. Brio by Focus on the Family was way too liberal.

Luke wrote a family newsletter and I was impressed, so I enlisted him as my co-editor. We were very devout fundamentalist Christians, extremely entrenched in purity culture, and hesitant but sincere evangelists, both being shy and extremely introverted.

I soon learned, after beginning the magazine, that Luke’s parents had fallen in love while working on a Christian magazine. I was a little worried after this, that maybe the magazine would lead to something romantic if we weren’t careful (and maybe I was secretly excited about it) but my devotion to emotional purity was steady.

We started the magazine when I was 17 and Luke was 16.

Before our first issue was written, there was a night our families got together and our parents went out for dinner. Our brothers played while Hannah and I cooked dinner and watched the littlest kids. The patriarchy was strong with all of us.

I found out years later that when the parents had gone out, they were actually having a secret meeting to determine if all parents were okay with Luke and I getting married eventually.

Apparently they were. I guess if it wasn’t okay, they would have pulled us apart — let me reiterate that we knew NOTHING about this meeting that basically determined our future. Also we were teenagers.

As it was, we continued being pushed together (not that I’m complaining, we liked being together). Knowing my parents, this meeting was probably all their idea. Dad is big on meetings.

I believe that, from this point on in my dad’s mind, I was basically Luke’s property that he was holding on to for awhile. Many future conversations made it clear that Dad felt it was his duty to present Luke with a emotionally and sexually pure wife.

Part Three >

Our Courtship, Part One: No Dating

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on January 21, 2015.

Part One: No Dating

What follows is mostly just story, with very little commentary. All memories are mine, aided a little by Luke for parts he was there for. Everything I wrote is true as far as how I remember it. I didn’t try to make anyone look any better or worse than how I remember them acting. 

When I turned 12, my parents threw me a dance party for my birthday. I was in the sixth grade at the time, for what would turn out to be my last year of public school. At the party, my best friend, who was a boy, asked me to dance. We stood at arms length, awkwardly holding hands and swaying to the music.

That boy and I never went out, although I had a different boyfriend later that year. I think we ‘dated’ for about a week (talked to each other once in that time period), then the last day of school he sent me a note saying we needed to break up. I was crushed — even more crushed than when Mikey dumped me in the second grade for a girl because she was taller.

The following summer, my parents decided to homeschool us starting the upcoming school year. My parents had been reading and listening to a lot of new material. I think maybe they’d gone to a homeschooling conference by then. They became convinced that the way we had been living was not as pleasing to God as it could have been, and that meant changes were coming, but mostly for their children.

One evening that summer, my dad told me, “You’re not ever going to date.” I assumed this was a joke, along the lines of his “You can’t get married until you’re thirty” jokes.

I laughed, and he looked at me seriously, almost angrily, and told me he wasn’t joking. I was stunned. I didn’t know how I would ever get married if I didn’t date. The answer, I soon found out, was courtship.

What exactly courtship is, I wasn’t sure. It’s not a well-defined term, and people use it many different ways, but my basic understanding was that it’s a relationship that is intended to end in marriage, and in which the families, especially parents, are intimately involved.

Why I would be courting, my parents (and books they gave me) made very clear in the weeks, months, and years to follow. It was the only way to keep my heart safe for my future husband. I learned all the typical things here and there: dating was practice for divorce; giving away your virginity (or even your ‘emotional virginity’) would make you like a rose with petals torn off, a wadded up piece of paper, a candy bar that someone had licked. My dad told me that when you date someone, you knit your heart together with their heart, and if you break up, it’s the same as divorce – it tears all the knitting apart and breaks the yarn. It leaves you broken, and not whole for your future husband. Many marital problems, they said, were caused by people being broken by dating.

I didn’t want my heart to be broken.

I felt guilty for the boyfriends I’d had in grade school; I wondered if I had already ruined my future marriage.

Seeing as I was only twelve, I was far from marriage, so for the next few years, nothing much happened that’s relevant to the story. I just felt happy that my parents were going to protect my heart. I had a few crushes, which consisted of me wondering if THIS was the person I was supposed to marry, but nothing very serious. (I tried very carefully to ‘guard my heart’ which basically meant shutting down the romantic part of myself as best as I could.)

(Libby Anne talks about her crushes here, and I expect many formerly homeschooled women have had similar experiences.)

Part Two >

5 Reasons Conflating Mental Illness with Demon Possession Hurts People

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on April 18, 2014.

Conflating demon possession with ‘madness’ hurts people.

That may sound harsh, but this is a real problem. I have been hurt by this in the past, and in the present, and others have too. When people talk about an (apparently) mentally ill person and say ‘He was definitely demon possessed’ that hurts me as a person with a mental illness. When people tell the Bible story about the ‘madman’ with demons, when they use that word ‘mad’, they are saying that the mentally ill person has demons. I have never heard this Bible story told with a caveat that mental illness often has a biological cause. I have, however, heard it told to prove that mental illness is caused by demons.

Here are five reasons you shouldn’t use the word ‘madness’ when talking about demon possession, or imply or say that mental illness is caused by demon possession.

Reason 1) It keeps people from getting help.

Who, especially a Christian, would seek help for mental issues if they know it will be attributed to demons? I was in denial about my depression for years because of the teaching that mental illness is caused by demons. Further, I didn’t get help for my panic attacks because I believed they were caused by demonic presence and would go away if I prayed enough.

Reason 2) It ‘others’ and dehumanizes mentally ill people.

It makes them out to be possessed by absolute evil, instead of treating them as regular humans who happen to have a sickness.

Reason 3) It ignores the physical reasons for mental illness, and the social reasons, such as past trauma or abuse.

Reason 4) It takes stigma to a whole new level.

Again, we’re confusing a chemical imbalance in the brain, or a misfiring of neural pathways, with the person being possessed by entirely evil beings. Anything bad you can say about stigmatizing mental illness, you can say about this concept.

Reason 5) It prevents us from trying to understand the person.

It’s a conversation ender that keeps us from looking further into the person and why they think and act the way they do.

I want people to stop using words that mean mental illness to mean demon possession.

I want people to stop assuming demon possession when the far likelier explanation is mental illness. I want people to be more careful how they talk about mental illness. I want people to be aware that 1/5 americans suffer from mental illness, and 1 in 20 of americans suffer so much that it adversely affects their lives at work, at school, and at home. I want people to realize that they need to be careful how they talk about it, because chances are good that a mentally ill person is listening. In a room with 100 people, it is statistically likely that 20 of those are dealing with some form of mental illness, and that 5 people have a severe case of it. Those people need to feel safe and like they will be treated as humans, they need to be listened to, they need to be loved, they need to feel safe enough to seek treatment.

They do not need to be made to feel as though they are infected with utter evil.

Chaste Courtship and Ethics

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on March 12, 2014.

I read this post yesterday, and it made me mad: “Jessa Duggar Will Have a Chaste Courtship — and My Kids Will, Too” by Kacy Faulconer.

Luke and I had a “perfect” courtship. No holding hands even, until the wedding.

After several year’s retrospect, I don’t really think it set us up any better for marriage than dating would have. In fact, dating would probably have been a lot simpler. We would have dated earlier, with less pressure, and more of a feeling of choice (it was by choice but also under intense pressure of ‘purity’). We wouldn’t have gained some of the baggage we did by having a complex, parent-involved relationship. I, especially, would have been my own agent, instead of my wishes being submitted to everyone else’s (and the triangulation in our families during that time was mind-boggling).

Had we dated, Luke and I would have been able to let physical closeness progress more naturally, and I don’t necessarily even mean sex before marriage — but just leaning on his shoulder when I was sad, that kind of thing. I can’t tell you how much it hurt not to be able to do that. Because I have negative touch in my past, it would have been really nice to have gradual healing touch. And sex before marriage? Had we done it, I’m sure we would have survived. The only difficulty would probably have been the shame, and that was something we were taught.

Chaste courtship, the writer of the piece claims, won’t repress her children:

I’m not repressing them. I’m freeing them. I have sons who need to learn restraint and respect. I have daughters who will be empowered by abstinence because they can simply sidestep the issues, pressures, problems, and pitfalls of promiscuity.

Look, just because you claim something is freeing, doesn’t make it so. Her ‘empowered’ daughters, like myself, won’t be able to safely learn about consent or their own bodies until marriage, at which point they’ll be expected to have sex every time their husband wants it. My big advice from my mom was ‘don’t say no too often’ (my dad did a better job with ‘the premarriage talk’). They’ll never feel like they own their bodies, because before marriage their bodies are owned by their parents, who feel it is their duty to keep their children pure, and after marriage they’ll feel like they belong to their husbands.

Parents who raise their children this way are trying to do what they think is best.

The problem is, they are motivated by fear to control their children. Fear that their kids will have sex, fear that their kids will ruin their lives somehow. They raise them to get an end result, it seems, because the end (a promised good marriage) justifies the means (intense control and denying their children bodily autonomy). I’m studying Ethics in my Philosophy class, and realized that many fundamentalists probably operate under a consequentialist system of ethics. (See also, spanking children to get godly offspring, or to not be embarrassed by fussing kids in public. I think it’s consequentialism.)

I operate under a more deontological view (also called ‘duty ethics’), there are acceptable actions, and unacceptable actions, and you should do what is right because it is right, and not because of the end result. One big rule of deontological ethics is that humans should never be treated as a means to an end.

And regarding the subject at hand, I believe it is wrong for a parent to control their adult child, no matter how good an end they hope to achieve for them. I think women should be able to own their own bodies and be touched only on their own terms, not their significant other’s terms, and certainly not their parents’ terms.

For another takedown of Mrs. Faulconer’s post, see Libby Anne’s post.

P.S. I’ve heard people saying that ‘parents can’t control their adult children’. Well actually, I think they can, especially when they’ve raised their children to mindlessly obey, and have kept them from taking steps towards independence like having a real job. It’s hard to go against your parents when they are the only way you have food and a place to eat. It’s also hard when you know that independence, or ‘disobedience’ could get you cut off from your family and everything you know. Would my parents have done this? I don’t know, and they didn’t when my brother dated against their approval. But I was still trying to please them and never would have tested it.