I Am Not A Spartan

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on May 18, 2013.

Write the hard thing.

I have not been able to write the hard thing this week because I have not been able to figure out what that hard thing is. As I am writing this, I am listening to a conference call for my Story 101 class and we are talking about writing the hard things.

I feel like there is something that is sitting right under the surface for me.

There is something floating right there about my emotions, something about not blaming my parents but being in deep emotional pain. Something about being made sick with memories that I don’t want to face because they hurt so very much. I don’t want to face those memories because they continue to tear my heart up even though it’s been years since those first happened.

It is overwhelming because I don’t want to blame my parents, I don’t want to blame my mom, but I have pain.

I have excruciating pain that makes me physically sick as I remember being left at the MRI clinic. I have pain when I wanted — no, needed — comfort from my mom, I needed my mom and she wasn’t there. I needed that comfort and the tight hug accompanied with a whisper of “it’s going to be okay, I’m here.” I hate this pain, I hate the depth that is reaches because it kills me every time I face those memories or something triggers them. I hate that I feel pain when I face my mom, I hate that my heart breaks all over again when I look at my dad and remember the pain of finding out what he had done.

I feel shame.

I feel like I am a terrible person, and I feel like this deeply emotional shredding of my heart is something I should feel guilty about, like it is something that is disgusting and makes me worthless.

Facing these feelings of shame, guilt, and worthless and hearing my therapist softly tell me that no, I am not bitter, I am not blaming, I am feeling the pain I should because I have a heart and it deeply feels and that is good.

My heart is soft, my heart is easily broken, my heart beats to help others heal, and it seeks to comfort and protect those from the pain it has felt already. Some of my deepest fears involve fearing a stone cold heart, and fearing the bitterness and blaming that comes with a hard heart. I have always felt frustrated as I feel the pain, I have felt anger when something strikes my heart with resounding accuracy because my heart is easily reached. I used to think that setting up guardrails or those walls to keep the arrows out was okay.

I used to think that that was more important than letting myself feel.

I used to fight the feelings and try to be stoic and unfeeling. I felt like feelings were dirty, shameful, and something we should fight, not allow in, and certainly not allow out.

Friends use to tell me that I was being too emotional whenever I had some sort of emotional response to their words. They would tell me in such a way that it seemed like they looked down on me for emotionally responding, good or bad, to what they were talking with me about. They were the friends who first made me feel like I had to shut my emotions down. They were the ones who first told me, in their own stoic, spartan way, that emotions were not acceptable. Emotions were disgusting and worth very little.

Emotions were a failed sinful part of our human bodies and not to be trusted or allowed a voice.

Those friends were the ones who made me feel ashamed of the glorious, beautiful, redeemed emotions that the Lord of the Universe has created within me.

Hear me say this: I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

It has taken me a long time to accept the emotions that bubble up within me as a good and beautiful thing. It has taken hearing my therapist’s gentle words of reminding me that I should be feeling this pain to accept the pain. It still totally sucks, and I find myself drained after a wrestling match with those memories. It still is difficult when I feel something so acutely and feel like I have to be a spartan and hide my feelings.

The hard thing is accepting the truth about myself and reveling in the beauty of a torn heart. Yes, there is beauty in a broken heart. There is a certain amount of glorious vulnerability that comes from allowing the broken to be revealed.

There is an astounding amount of release when I acknowledge the pain that has driven me to weep time and time again.

I no longer fight this pain but simply let the tears flow, the pain wrenching my heart. It is my way of healing, it is an act of letting the tears bind up a deep and bleeding wound. Those tears are my heart’s way of telling me yes, I can still feel, I am not a spartan robot, I am a redeemed emotional woman.

I believe that women are created specifically to feel the hard things, the painful things, the gut wrenching things. I believe that I am supposed to feel the pain deeply, I am supposed to and should cry because I have been deeply wounded. To not cry would be killing the specifically designed voice I have deep within me that allows for those feelings to be let out.

I am done killing my “wild voice.” I am done hiding the emotions I once felt ashamed of.

I am ready to stand up and point down to the feelings I once turned my nose up at and called dirty. I am now ready to announce them beautiful and precious.

My hard thing is accepting the emotions that course freely through my heart and soul. My hard thing is allowing for my eyes to be overwhelmed with tears as I feel the pain and am reminded of what I have faced.

Crying, weeping, letting the Holy Spirit decipher the deep groans for which we have no words is a beautiful, glorious, healing thing.

I Will Listen: Emily Maynard’s Thoughts

I Will Listen: Emily Maynard’s Thoughts

HA note: The following post was originally published by the author on February 8, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission.

About the author: Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She likes Twitter, vegetables, fashion, Harry Potter, mentoring college students, and new information on anything. Emily is passionate about questioning, exploring, and growing alongside great friends. Her work has been featured on Prodigal Magazine, A Deeper Story, and Crosswalk, and she enjoys speaking to diverse audiences. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. Follow Emily at EmilyIsSpeakingUp.com.

*****

Last week I had three precious girls in my home.

They lounged on my couch and chairs, eating snacks and drinking warm cider, talking about their days at school and work and home.

And then we started talking about modesty rules and sexuality and shame. They asked if they could come to my house and talk about those things. I said yes. They showed up.

We told our stories.

And every single one of us, in our own ways, had negatively experienced our bodies, relationships, and sexuality. We all had painful experiences because of the ideas well-intended parents or or pastors or youth leaders taught us. We are all broken because of the subtle, harmful ways we learned to relate to God, ourselves, and others. We all grew up in fairly normal American Evangelical churches, with good families, at average Christian summer camps.

We are all struggling against shame. We are all seeking healing.

There was a lot of talk about The Modesty Rules on the internet recently. And then The Purity Rules. And I love all of it, this opening up and fighting shame and telling stories. But this isn’t something that happens on the internet, in comment sections that we forget in a few days.

These harmful ideas are hurting real people. Real women. Sitting on my real couch. Unraveling real lives.

This isn’t a problem just found in “legalism” or particularly heavy-handed churches. It’s not an “out there” or “just find another church” situation. This is everywhere. Based on the way it’s defended and excused by “church leaders,” it appears to be a central tenant of our faith culture.

And I can’t change that. I can’t control anyone. I’m not in charge.

So go ahead.

You can keep trying enforce The Modesty Rules or The Purity Rules. You can continue the body shaming for girls and giving us impossible standards and responsibilities. You can talk about how lust is only a problem for boys and shame every bit of sexual attraction they naturally experience. You can talk about “godly” living in a way that destroys the Image of God in real humans. You can leave out people who experience gender or sexual attraction in a way that doesn’t exactly line up with yours. You can refuse to see a correlation between your shaming ideas and so many of your children leaving the church. You can accuse me of not following scripture or of overreacting or being bitter. You can keep saying that bodies are a temptation, like alcohol. You can keep shouting that there isn’t a problem, with your hands covering your ears.

I can’t stop you.

But I will listen to your sons and daughters.

I will open up my home and my couch and my fridge and and my email inbox and my story to them.

I will try to make a safe space in my life for their voices.

I will protect their individual, precious stories because they are precious individuals.

I will let my heart hurt with theirs. I will celebrate redemption with them.

I will write out my experiences of trying to live at peace with my sexuality and my neighbors. 

I will commit to listening, to the best of my ability, not because I can save anyone, but because I want to lean in and watch Jesus save us all. 

I will be a safe person for your children hurt by your church, by your rules, by your shame. I will watch them learn to sing of grace and freedom in their own way. I will promote communities that allow healing to be messy. I will announce that we are not alone and that Hope has come. I will watch for sacred births in dirty straw and signs in the heavens.

I will see the imago dei in each of your children.

I will keep speaking up against The Modesty Rules and sexism and silencing and shame. I will keep speaking up for listening and letting the love of God overwhelm us and asking questions and taking healthy responsibility for our actions and walking out healing.

So you can keep shouting shame, go ahead.

And I will love your daughters and sons.

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

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

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Seven of this series was originally published on June 19, 2013.

Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

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

Trigger Warning for descriptions of suicidal thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am Lana Hobbs the Brave.

*****

End of series.

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

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

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Six of this series was originally published on June 17, 2013.

*****

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

*****

Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

To be continued.

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

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

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Five of this series was originally published on June 14, 2013.

*****

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

*****

Part Five: Fighting the Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted help this time. Or I almost did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

*****

To be continued.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Four of this series was originally published on June 12, 2013.

*****

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

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Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

This is the next part in a series about my journey from doubting mental illness exists, to finally getting help. For introduction and post list, see here. And if Dr. R ever reads this, I would just like to say, ‘thanks’. Thanks for writing honestly about a mental illness that still has a heavy stigma on it. You changed my life, and gave me a shot at happiness.

Luke and I married in May 2008. Luke worked during the summer but neither of us took classes. We had a beautiful summer in our little apartment on campus. I was pretty happy, homemaking for two in an apartment was much less stressful than big-sistering for a crowd. Cooking was a delight because Luke was sure to eat everything and love most of it.

I still felt sick frequently and had periods of intense mental fogginess and confusion I now recognize as being caused by depression, but my life was pretty easy during the summer.

I planned a Spanish class to teach for homeschoolers during the fall and prepped for that. I cooked and cleaned and kissed Luke passionately when he came home. He came home for lunch every day and I loved it. On rough days, i just slept extra and took a long bath to relieve achy muscles, no pressure from Luke to get anything done.

Then came school, and concentration was not optional any more. I was soon deep into my junior year.

Then the fog came back hard. The emotional stress was less, without all the courtship stuff going on, but the mental fog and exhaustion were worse than ever. I now recognize those as trademarks of deep depression, but at the time it was just more ‘sickness’. I felt guilty for ever marrying and tying Luke to a sick woman; I sat at the computer in intense pain with a blank mind; I slept a lot. I felt, again, like the world, and especially the people I loved, would be better off if I were dead. Only now, with Luke, i could talk about it. He disagreed.

I didn’t understand why my brain wasn’t working like normal. I felt foggy and frustrated and like a complete failure.

And then one day, a breakthrough. A teacher, Dr. R, had us workshop a paper she had written. It was about bipolar disorder – her bipolar disorder. I squeezed back my initial, automatic reaction of ‘mental illness is rare if it’s real at all’ and read it.

And… while I could put all my struggles aside as me not being a good enough Christian, I couldn’t do the same for another person. She wrote about her struggles, her diagnosis, her management of her life after diagnosis. She wrote with honesty, seriousness, and hope about bipolar disorder. I thought that bipolar was something that got people locked into mental hospitals. But the truth, from people who experienced and knew about mental illness and bipolar disorder, was slowly opening my mind. I read more about it afterwards, searching on google when no one was looking because I was embarrassed. What i read felt so familiar to me; except I had never had a severe manic episode. (in later years,I discovered bipolar 2 and cried. It felt so familiar).

While not all of her experiences with bipolar fit me, the depression as she described it, the mood swings, the not feeling right inside your own head, the times of high energy and grandiose thought – i could identify with all of that, and i believed about her what i never believed about myself, that mental illness was real, and treatable – not something requiring shame and more prayer.

And I thought the thought I never allowed myself before: maybe I have a real mental illness. And I hated myself for daring to think that I wasn’t just a horrible excuse for a Christian. The shame of my uncontrollable feelings was huge, but I thought I was supposed to feel it; the shame would spur me on to Godliness. The idea my problems weren’t my fault had no room in my mind. But Luke, he latched on to it. He believed about me what I never let myself believe; that I was really a kind, good, hardworking and loving person with problems I couldn’t control. He took those words ‘mental illness’ and he used them like a balm.

“I know you’re frustrated you can’t manage this, but we’re pretty sure you have a mental illness like bipolar. So it’s okay, just rest.”

Sometimes I welcomed his words, but more often the old response came out. For years.

Sometimes, ridiculous as it is to say them while taking medications, I still say it: “no, I don’t, I’m just a bad person!”

I quit school that semester. I wish i’d gotten help then, maybe I’d have salvaged my school year. But for then, it was right to limit my stress. Luke was afraid the stress of school was slowly killing me, and I just didn’t know how to continue, so against my parents advice, I withdrew from most of my classes, thereby losing my scholarship and therefore ending my college career (though someday I might return, I had no intention of returning at the time because we were so immersed in patriarchal culture at the time that educating me, a woman, wasn’t really worth the money. Until I quit, I’d been paid to go to college because of my scholarships, but spending money on my education was unthinkable.)

In February 2009, I got pregnant.

Pregnancy was tough, both physically and emotionally.

I remember an email that made me very angry. Not irritated, which I knew it merited, but furious. I-want-to-punch-through-a-wall FURIOUS. I was shaking with rage. I had never been so furious in my life before – with so little provocation – and I was frightened of myself even while feeling the fury. For weeks my sleep was bad and I kept getting angry at little things.

Luke didn’t tell me to get over my anger, although he was sad to see me so upset and confused about it. He just let me feel it, uncondemned. I didn’t want to feel it, but I had no choice.

It was a very unhappy, unproductive hypomania.

I still regularly hated myself for depression and for daring to think I was clinically depressed instead of just incredibly sinful, but there was something about this anger, the fact i’d seldom felt the same level of anger before, that made me feel okay about saying “This isn’t my fault. I can’t control this.”

All I could do was make sure I did no harm, and that was enough. There was a little secret in my mind, slowly growing until I could believe it more often and the secret was this:

“Mental illness is real. You are not a bad person. You are a person with a mental illness”.

It started very small, with that confusing anger and the word ‘bipolar’, but first of all with Doctor R’s story, her truth. And eventually it would become my truth and set me free.

*****

To be continued.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Three of this series was originally published on June 10, 2013.

*****

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

*****

Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

When I began to write about my college sickness and depression, I found it emotionally difficult to recount some specific stories. My writing teachers always say ‘show don’t tell’ – meaning in part that specific stories are better than generalities. I hope you will forgive my generalities in this part, because the stories are difficult. Also my parents… are good parents in many ways, but they did not understand my depression and frequently added to the stress and shame of depression while trying to help me be a more godly person. They didn’t intend to hurt me — except when they thought I needed it for my own good — but despite their intentions to be godly parents they did hurt me deeply, and I cannot avoid that fact in this section especially. I wonder sometimes how my life would be different if we had believed depression existed. I write this series and hope that people will understand the damage that can be done by denying mental illnesses.

I became sick with a bad cold during Christmas break 2006, my first year of college.

It never went away, and became all-over body aches and exhaustion before January ended.

I was a high-stress perfectionist student on top of that.

I was weepy, home relationships were strained (which became cyclically both a cause and effect of emotional pain), and I threw myself deeper into praying and schoolwork, and fighting to feel happy despite the stress. My unhappiness at home had my parents claiming I didn’t really love them. I once tried to explain that I was trying very hard to be happy, but that further offended them. I suppose they thought if I really loved them I wouldn’t have to fight. I didn’t know why it was such a struggle, but it was. I know now it was partly depression and partly that I didn’t feel safe in an environment where I was judged for the emotions I did my best to control but never could.

I was full of sadness and had trouble coping with everything. I was always tired and had trouble concentrating on my work frequently. I felt sick constantly. Luke, now my husband, was my best friend at the time. He was both a source of comfort and trouble — trouble because, in purity/courtship culture, mixed-gender friendships are frowned on as emotionally impure, unless you plan to get married.

I didn’t want to throw away my best friendship I had ever had, so I didn’t end it (best decision ever), but I prayed and prayed God would protect us from emotional impurity. At the same time, I didn’t confide in Luke and get as much comfort from my only friend who seemed to understand, because of that fear of ‘giving away a piece of my heart’. (I think now that most of this ‘emotional purity’ stuff was useless worry and stress. Would a male best friend really wreck my relationship with any other man if I didn’t marry the best friend? I think that’s unlikely. But at the time I was terrified he would marry someone else, and frustrated because I felt that flirting or taking initiative in the relationship was sinful.) My parents were very invested in my emotional purity, heaping on me an extra layer of shame and fear of messing up; they were counting on me to stay true to the purity teachings, and I was terrified to fail them.

I was dealing with fear about ‘emotional impurity,’ plus I was trying to get straight As in college, cope with family stress and help a very emotional pregnant mother, do chores, help with my siblings, all while dealing with depression and periodic hypomanic/depressive mixed episodes with no understanding and very little support.

In retrospect, I think I did a pretty awesome job to still be alive.

But at the time, I didn’t understand why I handled everything so poorly. Why I couldn’t just feel happy. Why I cried so much. Why I couldn’t help but hit myself hard where bruises wouldn’t show, why I wanted to kill myself, why the future looked so bleak when I had a big strong almighty God I was supposed to be trusting.

What was I doing wrong?

I prayed for joy. I prayed that God would reveal to me any sins I had sinned unknowingly so I could repent — I wondered if I was being punished for something I didn’t know was wrong. Everything I knew about God indicated he worked like that.

I sometimes had panic attacks at night — only I didn’t know they were panic attacks. I thought I was being attacked by demons, either as a test for God to strengthen me, or because I’d had an evil attitude and invited them into the house (giving the devil a foothold).

I didn’t understand why God didn’t care more about me — in a way that felt caring. They say God disciplines and tests (refines) the children he loves, but I wanted a God who would hold me and cut me some slack. I thought perhaps if I could just fight harder to be happy, just trust more, just worry less, then I would be happy. I had dreams of being a missionary and didn’t know how I would manage living a deprived life when I was handling college so poorly.

The most understanding advice I got was that everyone got discouraged sometimes and God is good, hold on. The least encouraging advice was that I didn’t really love God or trust him at all.

But I knew I was trying so hard. Since it obviously wasn’t working, no one would believe I was, but I was doing the best I could. If God was merciful and graceful and loving, I would have thought it would have been enough. My parents — and people in general — often judged how hard I was trying by results, but they made serious assumptions about my starting point. And I was starting pretty far behind when it came to happiness.

The misery continued. The depression, which I never imagined was real, made me sicker. I didn’t get better over summer break, like my mother expected.

I did in fact go to some doctors after eight months of being sick. One doctor thought I was stressed, that there was nothing really wrong with me, and she offered anti-depressants for the stress. Of course I refused, medication being evil and me being sick, not depressed — or so I thought. I took antibiotics, which only made me feel nauseous. I went on a strict, almost carb-free diet because my mom suspected candida was behind everything. I had no more yeast infections for years, but it didn’t cure me of my many symptoms, it only made me weaker from lack of nutrition. Friends began worrying about my weight, although only Luke’s mom said anything at the time.

At the beginning of the second fall semester, Luke and I began courting (for us it was like engagement, but the ring came later, at Christmas). It was a very happy time, but also stressful. Courtship brings your parents and families into your relationship more than usual, and while my parents felt like they should be more involved, we felt like there were a lot of extra fingers in our pie. But what can you do, that’s what courtship should be, right? I didn’t even consider objecting when my mother continued to read all my emailed correspondence with Luke. The new relationship and my parents’ continued concerns for us to be ‘godly’ added new stress to all family dynamics. I feel sorry for the pressure my parents felt, although they invited it on themselves. As the young female, I had the least agency in this confusing circle of relationships and felt like I was stuck in the middle. Plus, relationships are just hard sometimes. Depression compounded all of this, and I was frequently sad when I was expected to be happy.

Furthermore, my parents, my mother especially, were very strongly in favor of a no-touch courtship to protect us from impurity. They felt very strongly they should protect us from ourselves and indicated they wouldn’t be able to trust us alone if they knew we were touching. God designed touch to be a fire that quickly led to consummation, said my mother. (My mother-in-law, to my surprise, recently pointed out that this would not have been anything near the end of the world.) Frightened of what romantic touch might do to our judgement, and of requiring constant watching, we agreed to a no-touch courtship and engagement.

I missed those loving man hugs, even though I had never experienced them. Just a hug, an arm around the shoulder to be comforted during my many tears during that difficult courtship and depression.

Writing this reminds me of the terrible feeling of loneliness and confusion. I keep getting up to find Luke for a hug, because my mind feels like I am trapped there again, but I know I’m not.

We finally got married May 23, 2008, after nine months of courtship and two years of college.

It was a very good time for us, even though I still was ‘sick’ and struggling with intermittent depression. Although I’ve only had a few really deep depressions since then, I have had very few periods of health and full mental clarity that were longer than a couple weeks since I first got sick my first year of college at age 18. I’m 25.

I wish I hadn’t been taught what I was taught about depression. I wish I had believed depression was real, chemical, and not my fault. This section of my life that could have been happier (but still would have been difficult) was clouded by depression, dark fogginess, and pain caused by stress and depression.

We couldn’t figure out the sickness, but the sadness I knew about — I just wasn’t a very good person, and I was lucky God loved me as much as he did, even if he didn’t love me the way I wanted.*  I wanted to feel loved, but I took it on faith that God did love me, and squashed my doubts with the Bible.

The idea that I had a highly treatable mental illness never crossed my mind.

One day, though, I would read something from someone actually admitting, not condemning or denying, mental illness, and that would begin a very slow change.

*****

*As noted in other sections, I no longer identify as Christian. I also do not believe the Bible teaches what I believed about depression and God making it go away. People differ on what the Bible actually teaches about God, but let’s not debate that here. The point is, with the things I’d been taught about God and depression, and with God not helping me with my unrecognized depression despite all my praying and trusting and trying to do my part, you can imagine that Christianity doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

*****

To be continued.

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

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

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Two of this series was originally published on June 7, 2013.

*****

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

*****

Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

To be continued.