Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

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Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body knows how to recover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are the real heroes.

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

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

Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

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Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

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

I’ve been reading Homeschoolers Anonymous since the very beginning and really love this community.  Perhaps now I can give a little back!  I want to tackle the writing prompt number five:  “Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness.”

My background in mental illness involves a family riddled with various mental health challenges, all exacerbated by the isolation of homeschooling, poverty, and living in another country.  

My personal “mental health profile” includes OCD, Tourette Syndrome, general and social anxiety, recurrent episodes of depression that at one point led to several months of being suicidal, and many years of disordered eating.  I’ve never had access to therapy, but the last few years have seen steady progress toward greater and greater quality of life for me.  There are so many variables and things you can try and I love the way the internet gives access to so much support and knowledge and research, though it can be overwhelming at times!

The things that have been most helpful for me personally have been:


1. I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were normal reactions to extreme stress and trauma.  

It was okay for me to be in pain and not functioning well, just like it would be okay for me not to be capable of running with a broken leg.

2. I started learning to celebrate small, even minuscule, victories. 

It might seem ridiculous in the grip of depression-fueled cynicism, but keeping a daily gratitude journal or literally patting yourself on the back for, say, going outside on a one-minute walk, can over time add up to big improvements in self-care habits.  As a former fundamentalist, I had to get over the habit of bashing myself for my deficiencies and weaknesses.  Instead, I just recognize that if I am struggling and still manage to do something beneficial, then that is awesome and time to celebrate!

3. I learned some things about diet and what my body needed.

Vitamin D3 supplementation is what I credit with getting me out of the suicidal hole I was in.  Since then I have learned a lot more about what my body needs, including that I can’t do gluten and that as long as I eat a balanced, no-grain diet I no longer struggle with binge eating.  It turned out that most of my eating disorder was physiologically-based and getting over that has had many ripple effects on my happiness.

4. Living simply but in a consciously hedonistic way, that is, simple living in order to promote pleasure, not deprivation, has been and continues to be one of the ways I care for my mental and physical health.  

It has helped a lot with my OCD and Tourette Syndrome, though leaving my parents’ house several years ago and no longer being constantly on edge from emotional abuse also helped erase most of my symptoms.

5. I consciously try to treat myself well.

If I would not yell at a stranger or child or friend for doing something, then why yell at myself for doing it?  This helps a lot with my social anxiety and the guilt I tend to feel when I make faux pas, which has in turn helped me gain more and more confidence and make a lot more and better relationships.


These are the main things that have helped me.

It’s been four years now since I hit rock bottom and thought life would never get any better, four years since everything looked black and despairing, and now I’m pretty damn happy.  I never knew it was possible to be so consistently happy and resilient — and I purposely am not using the Christianese “joyful” here — I mean happy, not gritting-my-teeth-determined-to-be thankful.

I hope that if you are struggling my story gives you a little bit of hope.

Be excellent to yourself.

Help is Worth Getting Because You Matter: By Kierstyn King

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Help is Worth Getting Because You Matter: By Kierstyn King

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on July 17, 2013. This is the third of Kierstyn’s three-part series on mental health. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

It’s worth mentioning, in 2010, my parents all but disowned me and I spent 2 weeks crying, in my room, with the lights out, dealing with an amount of intense pain that I had only dealt with once before. That was in 2008 when my parents told me that I couldn’t see or talk to my husband anymore. This time, they cut off my relationship with my siblings. I came out stronger on the other end, but that reminded me, acutely, of my previous bout with near suicidal depression and thankfully, I wasn’t suicidal this time, because I was (for the first time) in a loving relationship with someone who cared.

After getting off the pill (health reasons) in 2011, my hormones started raging and I had horribly debilitating bouts of depression every 2 weeks (thanks, ovaries). I was angry and volatile and mean (which I’m not usually) – it started affecting every detail of my life and how I interacted with the people I most cared about. I tried every herbal supplement I heard helped with PMS and hormones. I eventually came to the conclusion that I had PMDD (like PMS but with depression and on steroids) which, upon thinking about it, and my relationship with myself – especially my menstruating self – made sense.

I struggled for a year, taking herbal supplements every day with no help.

I talked to self-proclaimed herbal experts who said progesterone was a good bet – it wasn’t (but I did get one lotion that smelled nice and helped on that level).

Last August I’d had enough. It was hard – working up the nerve to talk to my doctor about this weird phenomenon was really hard, I was terrified. I’d been told my entire life that doctors were evil and that they just handed out antidepressants like candy, and also, those were bad. But I couldn’t keep living with that, every two weeks being trapped within myself, being a shell, and trying to not hurt the people I loved because of things I couldn’t control.

So I talked to my nurse, I told her about how debilitating my periods were, how I hated myself, how I felt it hurting my relationships. She suggested wellbutrin.

She said it may be a drastic step and I said, no, I’m ready to try medication.

Shortly after that talk with my nurse, Wil Wheaton wrote about his depression on his blog – which really helped normalize it for me. Because for the first few weeks following the start of my medication I felt a little afraid and a little ashamed because of the stigma that comes from treating depression/mental illness and having it. The shame from my past because I was one of “those” people now.

Wil Wheaton’s story helped me feel better about it. Then Hyperbole and a Half’s Adventures In Depression was so spot on (so is part two), I realized that I wasn’t alone. That it’s a real thing (not a spiritual one) and that it’s okay, and that also —

— I don’t have to live in suffering like I thought for so long.

I didn’t realize that I had been depressed since puberty, with bouts of really really bad rounds of it, until I started taking antidepressants and was introduced to actual emotions and feelings. It was overwhelming at first – I had so many emotions, all of them, I didn’t know what they were, how to name them, or how to deal with them. I just had to sit there and wait and learn what they were.

I feel things now.

People think that if you’re depressed you just feel sad all the time. But what happens is you just eventually feel numb, melancholy. You miss the actual feelings.

Negative ones stick and make homes in your brain and never go away.

Now I know, when I feel sad, angry, or depressed even (yes, I still feel depressed sometimes) that they are only emotions and they. will. pass. I will feel happy – actual happiness, and then I’ll feel normal – which is not melancholy, but a perfectly okay everything is fine feeling.

The difference between my emotional and mental state now, a year later, and last year is huge. I can’t start to describe how many ways it’s changed, helped, and made me feel more in control. It’s just so nice to be able to live outside of my head, to not feel trapped inside of my brain, or inside of my body.

Help is worth getting because you matter. Intrinsically.

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

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

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

< Part One

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

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

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

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

Homeschooling and mental illness are a terrible combination.

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

My way of ending it is to not have children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For some, they need to focus more on themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the now.

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

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

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

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Recovering…: By Lana Martin

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Recovering…: By Lana Martin

A while back, I had a vivid dream.

I am standing in my parents’ house. The house I grew up in. The house that, in my waking hours, sends shivers down my spine at the mere thought. Police have ordered an evacuation of the area.

Something terrible is about to happen.

I tell my parents they need to leave the house. Get in my car and drive away with me. They seem to not hear me. My dad is sitting in his chair, watching a muted TV. My mom is sleeping in bed. No, really, I tell them: we all need to go. I feel panicked. I’m responsible for moving them to safety. As they fail to look at me or stir, I realize that I have to leave. Their bodies seem trapped in a soundless chamber. There’s no hope for us to escape together. If I stay, I will die. I go back to my car. As I pull onto the highway, I feel deeply sad and guilty. I feel as though I’m abandoning my family and that I should to go back for them.

As I drive on down the highway, I sense a giant explosion behind me. The house I grew up in has disappeared into a massive, fiery mushroom cloud.

This dream took place at a point in my life when I was actively confronting my past.

I was coming to terms with the physical abuse, the emotional abuse, the spiritual abuse. I was trying to shed the deep shame I had long carried about the way I was homeschooled for eight years. I lived, for the most part, in isolation and received no parental education. I read and “graded” my own workbooks. I assumed domestic responsibility and took care of my mother, whose mental health and functionality deteriorated as our years spent homeschooling progressed.

The house that exploded was my prison for eight years.

The living room was where my mother slept on the sofa all day. The kitchen was where my slapdash dinners of canned and frozen food were consumed in uncomfortable silence. My parents’ bedroom was where my father beat me as a small child. The family bathroom was where I nursed the bruises and welts.

My bedroom was a sanctuary, almost shielded from my mother’s overbearing scrutiny of my thoughts and emotions.

The field behind this house, it was the true oasis. Freedom could only be found in the open prairie grassland. Trees, unlike my distant father, do in fact hug back.

Children who are homeschooled in the fundamentalist Christian subculture are particularly vulnerable to the effects of unmanaged mental illness. Stigma surrounding mental health problems is particularly strong when one’s wellbeing is tied to a positive relationship with God. Fundamentalist Christians often avoid psychiatric help and effective talk therapy due to their skepticism of scientific and humanistic thought. Learning disorders are seen as malevolent inventions of the public school system. Violence toward women and children can be normalized and justified with authoritarian, patriarchal ideology.

Black-and-white thinking and paranoia-driven behavior nicely fill the Reconstructionist mold.

Adolescent depression is perceived not as a medical condition or experiential phenomenon, but as a sinful teenage rebellion. The imposed isolation characteristic of many abusive homeschooling situations only worsens these problems for both parents and children who are struggling to identify and manage a mental illness.

I used to see myself as just another survivor of child abuse and family dysfunction, another piece of collateral damage in the Christian fundamentalist “culture war”. My homeschool situation was a failed social experiment, a delusional fantasy of my mother’s quite realized, a convenience for my father. These are clinical, academic terms and they reflect the stark lens through which I rigidly viewed myself, my history, and the psychiatric symptoms I experienced as a young adult.

And, so I thought, my depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypervigilance, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, and explosive anger might be easily resolved once removed from the toxic home in which I grew up. I should be able to get over the past and move on with life once free, employed, and college-educated. But it didn’t work out that way.

Ten years later and 1500 miles away, I still felt like an awful person, permanently damaged, incomplete.

I still drowned in shame when I thought about my past, but couldn’t shed a tear over my injuries and losses. And I still experienced quite a few undesirable symptoms of unresolved stress and trauma. I judged myself harshly for this perceived failure.

Fast-forward to a point in my life, five years into therapy, when this stoic attitude begins changing. I see my parents more clearly for who they are: selfish, exploitative, and severely maladjusted. I know that neglect impacted me perhaps more so than abuse. I struggle to feel present because I was not seen, valuable because I was not respected, calm and centered because I was not protected. I cannot remember a time when I did not feel responsible for my parents’ welfare, simultaneously fearful of my dad’s anger and my mother’s psychotic delusions.

In working with these memories and feelings in therapy, I have gradually let down my defenses. I have peeled the proverbial onion down to the part where, if I was hurt by the other person in the room, my usual defense tactics of denying, rationalizing, dissociating, and, perhaps, hissing and growling would not be enough. But the other person in the room has not hurt me, and deep vulnerability has in fact not been unpleasant.

My instinct to fortress my soul is quite strong; my desire to regenerate and heal is yet stronger.

Reacquainting myself with buried emotions has led me to feel more fully human and deserving of kindness. Through the years of sorting through my fragmented memories with my therapist, through time I remember, feel, and react to them in a new way. A way that resonates in some deep place I hadn’t known existed. That feels more relieving than triggering. That clears self-doubt from my narrative.

My therapist demonstrates empathy for me through each of these developmental phases; in turn I feel compassion and forgiveness for myself in the past and present. Because of this experience, I’m hopeful that one day I will feel comfortable discussing my past outside of that oasis.

I want to believe my therapist is not the only person capable of appreciating my true self and the strange experiences of my childhood.

Hindsight tells me that my intuition led me to this place because I wanted to see what it would feel like. I spent a young lifetime fearing authority, internally fighting coercion, and managing my image to please others, prevent conflict. I was curious what it would feel like to let go, to allow someone else to do the fixing, the soothing, the pushing, thinking of the right words to say and being most concerned with how I might feel in response to them.

At some point I began to sense this happening. It felt incredibly, intoxicatingly good.

Some days I feel really sad without knowing exactly why. I often dream of losing something very dear but not actually knowing what it was. Now I know at least part of this loss. And now I grieve my injuries and losses, in words and tears, alone and with others.

At the end of my dream, I did not mourn the shattered house.

I kept driving away, without looking back.

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

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

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

College freshman.

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

Sick sick sick.



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

Antidepressants? You mean witchcraft? No thanks.


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

Is it all in my head?


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


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

Dizzy, sick, tired. Will I pass out?

Blacking out again.

Just not happy. Why not happy? Trying.


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

Pray more, think holier thoughts.

Evil girl, evil, evil girl.


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



Everywhere I am failing.

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


This is what depression looks like for me.

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

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

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

Take it.

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

The Road to Depression: By RD

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The Road to Depression: By RD

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

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I was abused as a child.

While an uncomfortable reality, it was necessary in order to understand what was wrong with me. To be clear, I wasn’t seriously abused (as if one form was abuse was better than another…) but it was there.

While I don’t remember much of my childhood, there are parts I do remember. If I told a lie, it was (10) spankings with my father’s belt. Same thing for if I snuck something. (Stealing only applied if I took something from a store, which only happened once. And even that is debatable; I was between 5 and 6 years old waiting in line with my mom at the grocery checkout, and I took a pack of gum and opened it. Broad daylight, no subterfuge; I think it was an action born out of ignorance than ill-intent. But “sneaking” was taking any food or candy while at home that wasn’t approved.) If I used a “dirty word” I had my mouth washed out with soap.

My mother was fond of the “wait until your father gets home” method as well.

I can remember days that I had really angered her, and she passed that anger on to my dad via a phone call during the day. As soon as I heard the garage door open that evening, I knew the first thing my father would do was smack me upside the head.

It’s a very odd thing to know you’re about to get hit very hard, but to take no evasive or protective action because doing so only increases the punishment.

This abuse works; that’s the tragedy with the Pearl’s method or other methodologies based on corporal punishment. They work. But it is the underlying psychological impacts that belie the merit of these methods. Cocaine or methamphetamines will help keep you awake, but we all know it’s not wise to take these things. So why is the value of “training” or corporal punishment still debated?

My parents were members of HSLDA. I remember their receiving the Court Report and Focus on the Family magazines and other publications that called homeschooled families to action in order to fight the government from over-reaching. I realize now that many, if not all, of these stories were extremely over sensationalized or outright misrepresentations of the truth, similar to the drama unfolding with the Romeike story.

But to my parents these stories were real and reminded them of the dangers of this world.

As I was growing up, I couldn’t play outside during normal school hours because a city official might see me, think I was skipping school, and something terrible would happen. I was told that if Child Protective Services ever had the slightest suspicion of child abuse, they would show up and take me and my brother away from our parents and put us in a foster home. I was told that psychology wasn’t really valid; a psychiatrist would try to pin all a person’s problems on the parents while prescribing unnecessary pills. All these lessons were carefully crafted to try to create a particular world view, a view that sees anything that is not Christian as evil, harmful, or detrimental.

So what does all this have to do with mental health? I’m getting to that point, but I still have a few more bricks to lay in my foundation.

I’ve mentioned in a previous piece that my parents chose to homeschool me primarily because I was diagnosed as a young child with ADD. I even took Ritalin until I was 11 to 12; I cannot remember at what age I started taking it. I do remember as I grew older that my parents began to express the belief that ADD was over-diagnosed and that children are supposed to have energy and be hyperactive and all that. I’m not sure where they picked up on that idea, if it was from some of the Christian homeschooling circles, but it served to create in my young mind that ADD wasn’t real, that parents used that as an excuse for their child misbehaving or not performing.

My father was also an extreme perfectionist.

I can remember many nights staying up exceedingly late trying to figure out some math or science problem as he berated me because I’m was smart enough that I should know how to do something or that the mistakes I made were because I was being careless.

There is nothing quite as powerful as a backhanded compliment.

“My dad thinks I’m smart, but if I was smart I should be able to figure this problem out. Therefore either 1) I am not as smart as he thinks and thus a failure or 2) I’m as smart as he thinks but I’m failing to apply myself.” This method of thinking, created by a backhanded compliment, is very destructive to mental image.

So where does all this lead?

The abusive methods advocated by people like the Pearls are akin to dog training (very loose analogy) except without positive methods. You are training a child for instant, unquestioning obedience without thought, but you don’t reward the obedience.

You excessively punish the failing.

Thus as a child grows up, as I grew up, I focused on what was wrong, not what was right. Even today when I look at something, my first thoughts are what is wrong with it. While this helps me most times as an engineer, it is a very harmful mindset to have.

When you combine this way of looking at things with the perfectionist mentality I received, it creates a very negative self-image.

When children are raised with the message that if they have faith in Jesus or live their life according to the Bible then they will be blessed, it creates a very false expectation. Anything bad that happens, any misfortune, becomes interpreted as God’s punishment for not being faithful enough, for failing in your walk with him. I’ve seen this illustrated over and over again in the stories I’ve read of people involved in the courtship culture.

Now add to that the distrust of science, society, or psychology. As these negative thoughts, this negative self-image grows in the mind, the fundamentalist worldview pops up and says “you can’t be depressed; there’s no such thing. You are having these thoughts, this self-loathing, because you realize how out of tune you are with God’s will.”

This only creates a downward spiral that leads to more depression.

In my case, this spiral was fueled by my ADD. Throughout college I still carried my parents’ view that ADD wasn’t real; it was simply children being children. While I don’t deny that there are many cases of ADD (now ADHD) that are wrongfully diagnosed, I understand it is very real. Any adult reading this who suffers from ADHD will know exactly what I mean (and if you don’t suffer from it, you can find some excellent lectures by Russel Barkley on YouTube.). I cannot focus or concentrate if there are external distractions; put simply, ADHD is an executive function failing of the brain.

As I struggled through university with my ADHD untreated, I constantly felt like a failure as my GPA slowly dropped down to a 2.9. This lead to depression and even self-mutilation for a time. It wasn’t until several years into my professional career that I began to see a counselor, and later a psychiatrist, and began to identify the problem and take the steps to correct it.

But this is the danger of the fundamentalist’s method of child rearing. By linking bad things, misfortunes, with disobedience to god and equating negative thoughts as god’s working to convict the wayward child, it establishes a tragic downward mental spiral that if left untreated can end in suicide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the last positive memories I have of her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can sense it.

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two >

That Selfish Depression: By Quick Silver Queen

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That Selfish Depression: By Quick Silver Queen

HA note: Quick Silver Queen blogs at The Eighth and Final Square. This story is reprinted with her permission. Also by Quick Silver Queen on Homeschoolers Anonymous: “All My Fault, Not Good Enough” and “My Regret”.

Depression, in my folks’ house, was deemed “selfishness”.

It was a result of thinking too much about yourself and not enough about other people. (All mental disorders, according to my parents, were just a product of bad/selfish choices.) Of course my dad was allowed to be depressed, but nobody else was…we were supposed to put on a happy mask all the time, regardless of our true feelings.

I thought when I left my parents’, everything would be great. And it was, for about ten months. For those ten months I was the happiest I can ever remember being. Then I got unexpectedly pregnant when I didn’t want to be (I wanted to wait a few years), and I immediately fell back into depression. Partly because of the pregnancy hormones I’m sure, and partly because that wasn’t the direction I wanted my life to go at that time.

I felt guilty because I shouldn’t be depressed; life wasn’t as bad as at my folks’, so I didn’t have a right to be depressed, right?

After Ari was born my depression got even worse… it was so bad that I didn’t even want to move or get out of bed. Ari was literally the only reason I got out of bed in the morning, because I had to take care of her. I realized that something was seriously wrong and I needed to get help, so I set up an appointment with a “therapist”, who I never went back to — she spent half the time talking about her kids, and half the time actually talking about me.

After that I was really skittish about trying to go somewhere else.

Unfortunately, depression is a disorder where one of the symptoms is also the lack of motivation about getting help! Partly, I was afraid that I would go and they would tell me I was fine, since everything that happened to me at my parents’ was supposed to be not as bad as whatever happened to everyone else! Everything just felt useless, and I just barely got through the days. I wasn’t suicidal (like at my parents’), but it was still really bad.

About two months ago I just got fed up with it.

I was so tired of feeling tired and depressed with no energy or motivation.

I was always frustrated and irritated and I cried frequently. I just got sick of it. So I got up at 6 am to be at the Family & Children’s building at 8. Family & Children’s helps low-income people with many things including mental disorders. I went through the orientation and intake, and went back three days later to talk to one of the doctors. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD, or just clinical depression), and given Zoloft.

I’ve been on it for six weeks and the difference has been amazing!

I have energy, motivation, and the ability to actually feel happy. I’ve lost 10lbs so far. I’ve been cooking more and keeping the house clean. I’ve also been less irritable and frustrated. Of course I still get depressed sometimes, but it’s not nearly as bad, and it never lasts as long.

When I do get depressed now I think to myself “holy shit, how did I ever live like this for years?!”

The thing is, people like my parents don’t understand that mental disorders are actual physical differences in someone’s brain. Most times it can be helped through medication, just like other physical ailments. It has to do with the balance of chemicals and hormones in one’s brain, and that’s nothing you can consciously fix any more than my dad can will away his ankylosing spondylitis (which he takes medication for). It’s nothing to be ashamed of, though many people are because of the culturally negative connotations of a “mental patient” and people being “crazy”.

As for me…it’s a part of me, whether I like it or not.

I unashamedly take medication for a physical condition I can’t fix. Just because that condition happens to be in my brain and affect my emotions and mood doesn’t make me any less of a whole person than anyone else. I’m writing about this today so hopefully someone will see it and be encouraged to get help for their own mental disorder.

It’s not your fault.

I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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

Growing up in a fundamentalist family is a unique experience for everyone.

For my ten siblings and I, we were consumed by an “attitude of gratitude” that our parents instilled in us from an early age, and any lack of gratefulness was a rebellion that had to be beaten out. They also taught us that an illness was God teaching us something, and intervention was only acceptable under dire circumstances.

Due to this mentality, we were blind to the mental sickness that was creeping slowly into each and every one of us, accepting it as “normal” and “God’s will”.

Though we all suffer from varying degrees of mental sickness, one sibling experienced hardships that surpass anything the rest of us have faced. When my oldest sister was a little girl, our grandmother (we called her “Nana”) noticed that she was adopting a passive state and not acting normal for a girl her age. When Nana pointed this out to our parents, they just brushed it off and were offended that anything could be wrong with a child under such “attentive” care.

Another factor was that they didn’t (and still don’t) believe in health insurance, so any medical expense was out-of-pocket, and only mild care like dental health was taken care of due to the impoverished lifestyle our parents adopted for all of us. This selective blindness allowed our parents to see my sister as a girl in perfect health and focus on building character and obedience.

Years passed, and my sister became more and more withdrawn, putting on a face to keep our parents happy.

Her life was becoming a miserable mess, but she didn’t show it for fear of punishment and rejection. When she went off to Harvard (something that didn’t happen without a big fight), she was still marred by the view on healthcare we were raised with, and didn’t see a professional to start working through her issues, mostly because she didn’t see them herself. A life of neglect was all she had ever known.

Upon graduation from college, she moved to Germany for business and to be with her husband. She would visit home once or twice a year, trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of us at home even though her relationship with our parents was crumbling. She was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw. As everything she had tried to smother surfaced, she was overcome by the depressive state our parents modeled as “normal”.

She stopped coming home.

We kept up by email over the next two years, but she stopped that also because I, in my naivety, had become the synapse between her and our parents. I was hurt then, but looking back, I see that it was the best choice given the situation.

In early 2009, my family came home from vacation to hear a phone message from her (my sister’s) sister-in-law. My sister’s husband had committed suicide. When our parents successfully contacted my sister to express their deepest sorrow, she was very upset that they knew, and replied via an official stamped letter from her lawyer stating that she was changing her legal name so we couldn’t find her. My understanding is that some siblings were in contact with her after that, but those communications were eventually cut off as well, and none of us have seen her in over 6 years, or heard from her in over 4 years.

My family was seen as the pinnacle of perfection by most, and what happened behind closed doors was viewed by select individuals who couldn’t do anything to help.

As I begin to realize how neglected my siblings and I were, it frustrates me even more that our parents think it isn’t their fault. Observing the individuals my siblings and I are becoming, they are blind to the reflection our instability has on them, thinking it’s our fault for leaving the community they created. As some of us seeked out therapy and realized that communicating with our parents regularly was hindering our ability to heal, they compared us to my oldest sister, assuming that the months will turn into years for the rest of us as well.

I hope that I get to see my sister again someday, but I am now starting to understand why she cut off contact.

I can’t hate her for that.