On being a broom (and why I can’t just relax and enjoy shit)

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 10.18.46 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 31, 2013.

I realized why I have a hard time relaxing and taking actual vacations and even enjoying the holidays. 

As a child all of the times that most children have “off” to play and relax and do their own thing, I never had. We never had summer break.

We took Nov-Jan off every year instead, and during those two months we never rested. During those two months, my mom made lists, my mom kept us running ragged either baking or crafting or “ministering” to other people, or doing deep seasonal cleaning. I remember, vividly, begging, all of us, begging to keep one day in two months free so we could just watch a movie and relax and not make cookies (or make cookies that we actually got to eat instead of for everyone and their aunt).

We had “parties” that I don’t ever remember being fun, because the entire time leading up we spent deep cleaning, and cooking, and setting up, and then when it was party time I had to help mom keep the party and the guests organized and on-schedule, and I had to make sure the dessert came out of the oven at the right time, and often was interrupted with some kind of care-taking need in the middle of a group activity.

My mom hated it when I planned my own (graduation) party and I told her she couldn’t do anything and that I had no plans, and we were just going to hangout, maybe watch a movie and order pizza. Even then she still tried to dictate what happened when. I was still pulled aside. It was still stressful.

All I remember my mom doing during breaks, and actually for the majority of my childhood, was sitting in her recliner: writing us lists of things to do, and getting upset when we didn’t do them all fast enough for her.

Her version of helping and “being productive” was sitting there, after giving us our lists, watching us do the things on the list and telling us what we were doing wrong or should do differently, or coming up with more things to do simultaneously.

There is no pleasing my mother.

We had “breaks” solely so we could do chores and things we couldn’t have done while we were “schooling”. Forget that we didn’t school on Fridays, because Fridays were intense cleaning days, you know, on top of normal cleaning all week.

Even my dad, my mom would write huge “honey-do” lists for on his one week off (you know, when we kids just wanted to play and have him rescue our toys from the packaging). My mom was a slave-driver who bred her own slaves.

And yes, I do feel like I and all my siblings are just slaves in my mothers eyes. She wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s exactly how they live(d) and practice(d), and people wonder why I have horrible self esteem issues.

I mean, I was told, outright, for years, that my purpose and job in life (while I was home) was to serve my “family” (i.e. mom). I felt, literally (I cannot emphasize this enough) like I was just a broom with arms, legs, and a heartbeat. I remember standing in the kitchen one day, fighting back tears, devastated as I was doing two things at once, that I didn’t have 8 arms, because I could. not. keep. my. mother. happy. I could not physically clean, and cook, and hold the baby, and do the laundry all at the same time. I was human, I ONLY HAD TWO ARMS, and yet, there was my mom, in her chair in the next room, berating and harassing me because while I was cleaning the dishes and cooking and had a toddler draped around my leg, I hadn’t yet started the laundry, or brought her snack.

If I was “caught” doing anything that loosely resembled “relaxing ” that was immediately rectified with other tasks (unless it was bedtime, or the like 90 minutes of “free time” I had that rapidly shrank). I feel horribly guilty if I am not doing some kind of mundane work when I could be, because I was never allowed to breathe.

I wasn’t a person until I ran away.

Before that, I was nothing more than a breathing, walking, broom.

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.