Story of a Homeschooler

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tori Wright.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog Laurie Works. It was originally published on May 25, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

I grew up a homeschooler.

The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for a while, but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.

That’s right. I wasn’t just –a– homeschooler. I was one of –those– homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.

People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable. But the truth is I had moments of misery the whole time.

Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home.

There’s no way out.

I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.

I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us.

I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.

Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.

I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.

What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.

My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old.

I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.

Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.

If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry.

We couldn’t win.

It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager or to get a job.

There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.

Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).

What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life than he ever spent asking us about ours.

My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.

I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22, and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.

The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation.

I understand family secrets, far far too well.

I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.” I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.

All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean.

I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions.

Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.

Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.
I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important.

I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable.

Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.

I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt, and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.

Hurts Me More Than You: A Poem by Jessica

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional content warning for Jessica’s poem: intense descriptions of emotional and verbal abuse towards a child.


“Daddy Loves You,” a poem by Jessica

“Bless us, Oh Lord…” we all sit to pray,
But you neglected to do it well.
She scratched her nose and you opened your eyes.
Children like you two are going to hell.

Now you may eat, but just as I say.
Don’t take a bite so big!
If you stuff your face you’ll end up like mommy,
A nasty, big, fat pig.

Don’t clack your fork. Don’t smack your lips.
Don’t finish your dinner too fast.
But don’t still be eating by the time I am through!
You’re a fat, ugly cow if you’re last.

You are mean. You are nasty. And so full of hate.
You are retarded and dumb.
None of your friends actually wants to be near you.
Nope. Not a single one.

You make stupid choices, and I know you’ll end up,
Marrying a loser who will bail.
Oh, you’re going to be a horrible mother,
And your children will end up in jail.

You are rude. You are mean, and a horrible person.
So full of anger and hate.
You should be ashamed of all that you are.
I don’t care that you’re only just eight.

You’re retarded.
You’re lazy.
You’re going to hell.
You’re a liar.
You’re a loser.
You’re going to fail.

You just disappoint me and make me recoil.
I don’t even want you in sight.
Now come here and give me a kiss on the cheek.
Remember, Daddy loves you.

I Am a Survivor: Elizabeth W.’s Story, Part Two

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< Part One

Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical and verbal abuse.

Part Two

Looking back, I can see that after we moved and no longer had immediate neighbors to hear the screaming when she beat me or my brother, she felt much less restrained and the violence increased in frequency and intensity.

If I was quiet and withdrawn (which was pretty much always) and mom decided my quietness was “rebellious” or “disrespectful”, or if I forgot to say “ma’am” after addressing or answering her she would begin screaming at me, calling me a disrespectful whore/slut/tramp/bitch, while simultaneously slapping me across the face hard enough to knock me down. She began to use bigger and better weapons than her hands and the bristle side of a hairbrush. I was beaten with length of copper pipe, pieces of two by four, a thick wooden yardstick (which broke on me eventually), thrown down stairs, had my wrists twisted until she forced me to my knees, screaming in agony, was dragged around the house by my hair and my head bounced off any and all hard objects. She tried to suffocate me several times, held me down and forced a pillow onto my face with all her weight, while screaming she was going to kill me and she wished I would die. I had my head and face forced under a pouring tub faucet and held there until I thrashed my way out of her grasp.

These things happened at least several times a week, sometimes more than once a day, interspersed with the verbal abuse, and her refusal to address me by name, but rather as “bitch” or “slut’. I was regularly told I was “ugly”, “fat”, “disgusting”, “crazy”, and “stupid”.

For those who think I may have been a “difficult” teenager from 11-16 or so when this pattern really took off – I never raised my voice to my mother, never cursed at her, never had friends over or snuck out, never wore anything other than black, baggy clothes (which is hardly slutty), never disobeyed a direct order, never did an illegal drug, smoked or drank, and only ever argued by politely stating I didn’t want to do something, or I thought she was mistaken. The latter two always resulting in a beating or several, so rarely did I dare say no to anything.

In public, my siblings and I were always perfectly behaved, rarely speaking, never making noise of stepping out of line. Mom only had to give us that angry glare that promised later retribution for us to think twice about doing anything at all. There was no one around who knew us beyond the brief homeschooling afternoons with the LEAH group who could have possibly known that anything was terribly wrong in our house. We were so isolated, there was no one I could have spoken to, even had I found the courage to do so.

We’d been trained to fear the authorities and Child Protective Services and had no friends or family to speak of.

Mom “volunteered” me to go work at St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen once a week to win points with the local Catholic church she dragged us to once in a while. At first I was furious that she had volunteered me without even asking me, but after a while I realized it was a few hours a week out from under her thumb and grew to enjoy it. Mom also signed me up for confirmation classes at the local Catholic church, after she had begun attending workshops run by a fundamentalist Catholic homesteading family who also homeschooled their twelve children.

Mom decided it was time for all of us to get more “spiritual”, and began three times a day “prayer circles” where we would all be forced to sit and read aloud from the Bible and sing hymns that the “Fahey’s” (the Catholic family she was imitating) sang. She instituted a clothing change, head-coverings for the girls (I refused), she began making ankle length dresses for herself and us (I also refused), and only long sleeved button down shirts for the boys. She threw out our shorts and t-shirts, started getting rid of her college feminist lit, and any and all of our books she found too “worldly”. Mom sold the computer my grandparents had bought for us, got rid of our tiny video and cd collection, and began instituting even stricter rules for us to follow. So during these changes I attended confirmation classes at the local church, which I despised and between the forced Bible study there and the forced Bible study at home quickly grew to despise Christianity and the confining, narrow-minded tenets the Bible espouses. I never spoke my thoughts aloud, but my mother could tell from my face when I wasn’t agreeing or complaisant enough and my face invariably led to new beatings and verbal abuse.

Mom began to use the Bible as an additional weapon, quoting the “Thy shall honor thy father and mother”, and telling me that God said I must be obedient and respectful to her. (Even though I was always obedient and never voiced any disrespect.) This just furthered my disgust for the Bible, although I now see that, like homeschooling it was simply being used by my mother to her ends, not necessarily bad unto itself.

I was falling deeper and deeper into a depression that seemed like it was swallowing me whole. I started sleeping really late every day, shuffling through my duties with my head down and my mouth shut. I began snapping at my siblings when mom wasn’t looking, I had no patience for their demands for my attention or their quarrels. My brothers began fighting viciously with each other, first when mom was out, later even when she was home, resulting in beatings for them as well as me. I knew my mother hated me, I didn’t know why.

I tried so hard, for so long, to be what she wanted me to be, obedient, respectful, responsible, but never seemed to find her approval or even a respite from her rage.

I am, at my core, fundamentally an honest person, having no talent for acting, for pretending to be happy when I am not. This was my downfall. If I had only been a better actress, perhaps I could have fooled her into thinking I was, in fact, what she wanted me to be, rather than merely doing whatever I was told with my face betraying my misery and despair.

I tried to kill myself twice.

Once, at summer camp, I stepped in front of an oncoming semi truck with a feeling of exultant freedom and calm. A boy who liked me happened to be standing nearby and turned around and yanked me out of the road as the truck went by. The second time, my brother Alexander and I were coming home from the paper route and I decided the easiest way to end my misery would be to poison myself. I picked a handful of deadly nightshade berries and was about to throw them down my throat when my brother jumped up and slapped them out of my hands and started screaming and crying hysterically.

I felt sad, resigned, and guilty for terrifying him so, and didn’t try to kill myself again.

1997, was the last year of my paper route as mom decided it was allowing me too much freedom and she wasn’t making enough money off of it/me to be worth the trouble, so she called my boss and “quit” for me. I was devastated by this, as it was among my last outlets for momentary respite from the hell that was my home.

The following year I got my first real job, washing dishes at a local pizzeria for minimum wage. I was ecstatic at being able to get out of the house a few evenings a week and being allowed to save a little money to buy a puppy for my sixteenth birthday. After about six months, my mother called and told my employer that I could no longer work there because I was sleeping with a married 30 year old man who was a coworker there. All this because I had spoken to him on the phone (about a dog) while she was listening in, and she said she could tell we were having sex by the tone of his voice. Really. There was no other evidence for her accusation, that was it. Mom convinced herself that this was true even though both he and I told her she was mistaken and crazy. She then beat me, off and on, for the next two days for this delusional belief until I could stand it no longer.

I packed my things and lived on the streets of Buffalo for next three weeks.

I camped out in the basement of an abandoned apartment building, slept in a refrigerator box when I could, and mostly just tried to process what on earth to do next. Going home was not an option, if I stayed another minute I knew I would kill myself, I felt as if I was being slowly crushed by my life and there was only a spark of life and spirit left. After a few weeks, I found a runaway shelter who helped me track down my biological father who came and got me.

My mother’s insults and degradations became ever more creative and hateful, designed to wound. They did. To this day, simply recalling these things makes me shake uncontrollably and I do not believe that my littlest sisters should have to wait until things get as bad as they were when I was driven to the streets before someone should step in. I have only waited this long because I had hoped that mom had changed her behavior as she claims, and because she is still my mother and I was, (and still am) hesitant to speak the truth and have her never speak to me again.

Contrary to what I’ve been told by DCS when I made a statement regarding my two sisters still trapped there, physical abuse is not the only threat to a child at home. Emotional and verbal abuse leave damage far deeper, with myriad consequences to a child. Emotionally fragile, sensitive teenage girls do not need to have what little self confidence and self respect they have destroyed by the one person in the world who is supposed to support them, believe in them, and give them strength to take on the struggles of life. My mother does not, and never has provided any of those things.

On the contrary, her words tore me down to the ground and I have spent half my adult life rebuilding my self image and confidence solely because of the things she said every day of my childhood.

End of series.

I Am a Survivor: Elizabeth W.’s Story, Part One

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Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical and verbal abuse.

Part One

My name is Elizabeth and I am a survivor.

I am the oldest of seven children, two of whom are still trapped in the isolated, abusive world created by our mother. My mother began “homeschooling” in the fall of 1993, immediately after three of her four children were returned to her by the state of New York. I had been placed with my biological father for the previous nine months, while my siblings were in a foster home as both their biological father and our mother were in jail.

Our mother had been charged with child endangerment and was mandated to attend counseling.

I am unsure whether she did or not, however, her abusive and violent behavior continued only to escalate after this time. I had been miserable being placed with a father who was virtually a stranger to me, and over a thousand miles away from my brothers and sisters. In October of 1994, I finally convinced my dad that I wanted to be with mom and my siblings, so he took me back. A decision I would live to regret in many ways, but looking back, would not have chosen differently at the time.

My mother informed me that from now on we were all going to be “homeschooled” so that no more nosy teachers would be interfering in “our” (her) lives. One of my youngest step-siblings had made some mention to a teacher of the rampant domestic violence that routinely rampaged through our home. (Thus the subsequent investigation and arrest of both our parents.)

Homeschooling was the first step my mom took to make sure no one could get involved through children’s loose tongues ever again.

While mom had always been explosively violent with me I didn’t remember quite so many constant beatings and verbal abuse before this all happened. After my return from my dad’s house, mom began to turn on me with sudden and unpredictable rage. She slapped me across the face multiple times, knocked me down and dragged me around by my hair, repeatedly slamming my head off the floor or walls. All the while screaming that I was lazy, stupid, ungrateful, “just like your father”, “you’re a traitor, you’ve betrayed me”. Often the attacks seemed to be triggered by her simply looking at me, and not liking my facial expressions, she would look at me and say that I was looking “rebellious” if I happened to be unhappy and withdrawn that day. I often heard that I looked just like my father, which also seemed to set her off. We stayed in the new apartment for another month or two before mom and my stepdad got back together and moved into a new place in Buffalo, New York in December 1993.

Mom and my stepdad together were a volatile mix, two different kinds of mentally unwell and two different kinds of violence. My stepdad beat her and she in turn beat us, mostly me. She often told us that if we ever spoke to anyone about what was going on that we would be separated and sent to foster homes and juvenile detention centers for bad children where we would be beaten every day.

She also taught us to fear the police and whenever she saw one or they were called to the house to investigate all the screaming, she would freak out and tell us to hide and keep our mouths shut.

Once in the new apartment, mom continued to “homeschool” us, which consisted of buying a few textbooks (sometimes grade appropriate, sometimes not) and telling us to go to our desks and “do school”, for a few hours a day. Many, many days I was interrupted by mom telling me I needed to “watch” the newest baby for several hours while she talked on the phone or went and did errands. I spent so much time caring for my newborn sisters that two of them actually called me “ma”, until mom heard. This was one of many things that set off her punching, kicking, pulling me by the hair and trying to break my face routine. I can honestly say that was the extent of my “schooling” for the next six years until I left. Mom did the New York State required “quarterly reports” on our progress, usually late and always false. We also took the mandatory annual CAT tests and usually scored fine on some subjects and poorly on others. Mom officially enrolled us in the Clonlara Homeschool Association that year, which meant she bought “curriculums” from them (which we never used) and we went to their annual conferences a few times.

Spring of 1994, my mother arranged for me to work a large paper route that covered 12 city blocks on our street. I worked that route for the next four years, eventually adding another 12 blocks. I was robbed twice in two years, first when I was thirteen and a guy in a football helmet jumped out of the bushes and held a gun to my back and demanded I hand over the money (paper route money). My mother took all of the money I earned except for what I needed to buy dog food for my dog. She also pushed me to take other jobs. I mowed people’s yards, did landscaping, house cleaning and babysitting. I was never allowed to keep any of the money – this was how she was supplementing the family budget, as she never worked.

Soon after we moved to Buffalo, Mom joined a local homeschooling chapter of born again Christian homeschoolers, LEAH (living education at home). Aside from the one or two weeks a year I was allowed to go to a local YMCA camp, and the occasional summer soccer games with the kids on our street, LEAH was the first regular social interaction I’d been allowed since I left public school in 1993. None of us kids were thrilled with the group, being very religious and preachy and we were not (yet). However it was a few hours a week that we got to leave the house and be out from under mom’s constant supervision and iron rule, so we made the best of it.

The winter I turned 14 our car was repossessed and mom began sending my little brother and I to do all the errands during “school” time.

We walked miles through the Buffalo snow to get groceries and the mail (at the post office) every few days. I was also expected to do nearly all of the housecleaning, mopping every room, sweeping, dishes, folding laundry (for seven people) as well as most of the babysitting. There was very little time I could have done “school” even had I been brilliant enough to teach myself a sixth thru tenth grade school education. As it was I spent my free hours immersing myself in books I borrowed from the library, ranging from fiction to history, anthropology, classic literature to feminist studies. I credit the natural inclination of my curious and inquiring mind combined with my access to a library with my ability to survive any and all later academic pursuits.

Before long the constant screaming of our mom and my stepdad echoing through our apartment drove our neighbors crazy and they asked the landlord to evict us. Winter of 1996, we moved a mile down the road into a HUD (low income fixer upper) house, the first my parents had ever owned. Outwardly, things continued much the same, I had my myriad jobs, housecleaning and babysitting duties and mom sat at home and talked on the phone or did “bills” all day. We still attended the LEAH group, though not regularly, and often escaped for a week or two of summer camp.

After the move, we didn’t make new friends, so spent even more time in the house, and grew gradually ever more isolated. Mom slowly alienated her family although her parents and sisters made a valiant attempt to stay in touch long distance. Mom had an unparalleled ability to say cruel and hurtful things and make people recoil and stay away. My stepdad’s family was not accepting of the biracial aspect of our family and with the exception of one uncle, made no attempt to be part of our lives. Neither mom nor James had a single friend that I knew of, no one ever came to our house. We weren’t allowed to have friends over, talk on the phone, use the computer, listen to music, or even have uncensored mail.

This quickly put a stop to any attempt on our parts to have even casual friends.

Part Two >

To the Students of PHC: Talitha’s Story

Homeschoolers U

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

I came to Patrick Henry College as a girl with big dreams and a go-getter attitude. Maybe my dreams were too big, but I was prepared to work hard to get where I wanted to be. After surviving a life of poverty, I realized that nothing comes free in life. During my high school years, I never knew if I was going to have food on the table the next day. My experiences with being low-income motivated me to do well in life — both for me as well as for the people I loved and left behind to attend school.

It was ironic, then, when I stepped on campus and people automatically labeled me: “Oh… that rich girl.”

At first I was flattered that people thought my thrift-store business casual wardrobe was akin to designer fashion. But I soon realized it wasn’t about my clothes at all. Sure, they judged me by the color of my hair and the fact that I wore high heels. But eventually it became clear it was more about my attitude than anything. I was too assertive. I raised my hand in class when I had something to say. I ran for student senate. I actually talked during senate meetings. I attended all sorts of club meetings. I helped run several clubs, in fact.

I did these things because, for me, this was a second chance at life. I had an opportunity to be a part of something regardless of my financial status. Through good grades and test scores, a crap ton of volunteer hours, and demonstrated dedication to several part-time jobs, I was able to attend PHC alongside the sons and daughters of millionaires. I was thrilled to get the educational opportunity of those in the top bracket. I dove in head first, because I was so grateful to be a part of the campus community. I wanted to make the most of my time there.

But apparently, people (especially boys) didn’t like that.

Be involved in the community, but not too involved, otherwise by default you’ll be smeared by people envious of your success.

Something PHC people don’t realize is that the moment you say something bad about someone behind their back, it’s as if you’ve said it to that person’s face. The gossip travels so quickly that it’s bound to get back to the person you smeared. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “hey, guess what so-and-so said about you?” and “oh, you wouldn’t believe how she talked about you.” “Guess what he said about you during coffee??” I lived with the rumors every day, and I was called atrocious things by people who said they were my friends.  They thought I didn’t know, but the echo of the rumor mill ensured that I heard the same things they did.

I was called vain, a flirt, a suck up, a fake, a slut, bulimic, insecure, too ambitious, and disingenuous.

There finally came a point where I couldn’t believe they were “just rumors.” Something about them had to be true, right? Even though sometimes — when I walked into a room — I could see people look at me and start to whisper, I just tried to push on. Success never comes easy.

I couldn’t keep my head up, though. Despite all my efforts. I began living constantly terrified of what people thought of me. Without realizing it, I allowed the rumors to isolate me. People didn’t understand me, because I didn’t let a lot of people in. Although I looked okay, I had a wall up — and instead of getting to know me, people were quick to make accusations and judgments.

The next year wasn’t much better.


Because my professors recognized that I yearned for more responsibility, and gave it to me. I was put in charge of numerous projects and clubs, but with that, a level of authority my peers were unwilling to accept. I had “Christian” classmates calling me a “bitch” because they didn’t want me in a position over them. I had close friends call me “unapproachable”, one going so far as to personally smear me to professors so they could get the position they wanted. It was unbelievable, and I was deeply wounded.

I struggled severely with depression the entire year. But my classmates were too busy resenting my work-ethic that they didn’t notice.

Everything I did, someone questioned my motives, or called me a name. It got to the point that I could barely ask a question in class, without someone rolling their eyes at me or looking at me strangely. Every day, I wanted to crawl in a hole, and disappear. No one came to me to ask if the rumors were true. I felt completely isolated and alone.

RAs, tasked with enforcing dress-code, seemed to take a special liking to me. I would get dress coded at least once a day, and I lived in fear of “sending the wrong message” that I was a rebel. I wanted acceptance, but I began realizing that it would never happen at this place.

There comes a time when success in school isn’t enough to get you through the day. It’s not worth losing friendships over. It’s not worth the pain of people’s jealousy. At the point where I spent three days in bed, not getting up to eat or do anything, I realized I was done trying.

Congratulations, PHC, you broke my spirit.

The girl who was once confident, secure in herself, and goal-oriented is now confused, shaken up, and alone. She feels like the world is against her, simply because she wanted to make something of herself and make the world a better place for those who come from similar backgrounds of poverty and abuse.

On a campus that encourages excellence, I am, to this day, shocked at the hate people get when they succeed. The name calling is like they’re still in high school.

To the students of PHC: You, and your small comments and judgments, could be pushing someone deeper into depression every day. The person you see as an object of gossip also has feelings. The person who looks successful is actually torn apart inside because of your mean words.

I guess I was an easy one to pick on, but I hope no one else has to go through this. As I return to PHC this fall, I’m still wrestling with isolation and depression. I have panic attacks thinking about returning and I worry about what dramas await when I walk through the doors into my first class of the year. I will not be participating in the clubs, events, and senate that I have in years past. I’m withdrawing, but not altogether. I am crushed, but I’m not a quitter.

I need a semester to heal.

Depression and Spiritual Abuse: By Kierstyn King

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Depression and Spiritual Abuse: 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 second of Kierstyn’s three-part series on mental health. Read Part One here and Part Three here.

Looking back, it’s no wonder that all of the feelings and self loathing that lead to my depression, brought depression. I was taught that I was worthless, that I should never think well of myself, that I needed to be humble, I was never allowed to show any emotion that was not a plastic smile.

Perfection was constantly demanded, and perfection is what I was incapable of.

I am, and was, keenly aware of my failings, of the places I don’t measure up, where I don’t meet parental wishes or requirements — those were held over my head, brought up in arguments to coerce me further into being my family’s slave.

I remember times when my parents would sit there and berate me for hours (under the guise of “concern” and wanting to “help my [spiritual] walk”) and tell me that because I missed doing laundry one day, misheard or misunderstood a demand, that I was a bad sister, a person going down a path of destruction, away from god, if I kept up this “rebellious” attitude.

I remember being bragged about to people (when convenient) only to be later pulled aside in private and told to shape up. I remember dismissal and invisibility.

I was a pawn, a tool, a broom.

I related strongly to cinderella and everyone thought it was cute, but they didn’t realize that I felt as worthless as the dirt she was mopping. That I believed I was as worthless as the dirt she was mopping — to know and be told in actions that I am only loved and approved of when I do things in a certain way, with a certain demeanor regardless of feeling, ill, tired, or stressed. When I was imperfect (as all humans are) I was punished — verbally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, mentally.

I internalized their words of my failures and believed that I was a failure, who didn’t deserve any good.

This was aided by the fact that my family explicitly believed and taught that it was better to live a life of suffering (by god’s hand, of course) than to live a happy life. That god did not want us to be happy (and by unspoken extension, wanted us to be miserable or persecuted).

It’s no wonder that between the bullying because of my imperfections, and the toxic theology of my parents, that I internalized at the most impressionable ages, my total and utter worthlessness and the only way to deal with that, was to hate myself as much as I perceived I needed to be. It’s no wonder that it escalated. It’s no wonder I shut down, became numb, stopped feeling, and felt robotic.

It’s no wonder I was, and at times still am, utterly ashamed of being a woman (someone who is less because of different anatomy)*.

*by people like my parents, the tendency of republicans in positions of power, and people who perpetuate the theology of “equal but different” where differences justify belittling.


To be continued.

It’s Going to Be Okay: By Isabella

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It’s Going to Be Okay: By Isabella

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


This is all your fault.

If you were only a better Christian/Person/Sister/Brother you wouldn’t be dealing with this.

Try to help others more, then you will feel better.

Taking a pill to help is of satan!

Mental Illness isn’t real – it’s all in your head.

This is a result of your sin. Repent; and you shall feel better.


Hello dear friend.

Thanks for meeting me at this small coffee shop to chat. I know you’re nervous about something, that’s okay, I’ll try to do most of the talking. I’m sipping my coffee, and thinking. Today I’m having a quad (four shots of espresso) hazelnut white mocha. Heaven in a cup. I should know. I escaped to coffee houses a lot growing up to “study”.

Didn’t everyone fear their father and try to get out of the house as much as possible?

You’re being quiet while you sip your coffee. Not making eye contact. I get that. Maybe you think what you are dealing with is normal. Dear, it’s not.

I thought my growing up was normal.

The spankings, the yelling, the verbal abuse, all that was normal. Crazy thing is, I thought I was the one messed up. You know, because I was depressed. And dealt with self abuse. And had panic attacks. I must be really messed up if I made dad mad enough to throw my laptop on my bed and threaten to send me a mental hospital. There they would lock me up so I could never see my siblings again. I wasn’t supposed to talk about my self abuse — my depression — my panic attacks. That would make dad even angrier and make him send me away for sure.

Oh honey, I see the look in your eyes. This depression you are dealing with is not your fault. Just because someone tells you something, it doesn’t make it true.  You might be told to shove those feelings aside, that your feelings are wrong. If you hear it enough you might start wondering if it’s true. You might even start to believe it. Even if you have a “perfect family”, you might still deal with depression. It’s not your fault. No one wants to feel sad. No one wants to think about ending their life. No one thinks it’s a great idea to injure yourself or have panic attacks.

That’s not you. That’s not your destiny. Maybe you’ve tried “everything” and still deal with this stuff. That’s okay. That still doesn’t mean you are messed up, a bad person, or deserving of hell.

Dearest friend, this belief that I was messed up because I was dealt with these issues (let’s call them what they are — mental illness) and that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it is a huge lie.

Are you being told that lie? Let me tell you the truth.

The government won’t lock you up for being depressed. They have bigger issues in their hands. You won’t be locked up for talking about it. Talking will probably help you the most. Find help. If all you see is darkness, think of those that you love. I know you don’t think you will get through today. Tomorrow is even more uncertain. I get that.

I totally bawled at my high school graduation because I didn’t think I would be alive to graduate. Really. I was that suicidal.

If you cannot talk to anyone, talk to yourself. Write it out and burn the paper. Tell yourself you will be safe for five minutes, and then five more minutes. Play a game. Listen to music. Knit. Go for a run. Anything really will do, as long as it’s mindless and distracting.

Friend, if you have been out of the abusive situation for a while and are still struggling you might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have it, and sometimes I do slip into that dark hole.

I almost didn’t talk to you tonight. I thought that if I was quiet it would be better for everyone.

That’s what our abusers want.

They want us to be quiet about mental illness. God forbid that someone would come out of the perfect homeschooling family with PTSD! But the truth needs to be told.

Mental illness is never your fault.

You will survive this too, and be stronger for it. Find someone you can trust, and talk to that person. You will get through tonight. Deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes. Right now, deal with the next five minutes. It’s okay if that’s all you can do. I don’t expect anything else out of you.

You are perfect just the way you are. Hold onto that hope.

It’s going to be okay, dear one.

Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

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Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

HA note: Sara Tinous blogs at Sementifera. She “was a child of fundamentalist parents who home-schooled her and my sibilings.” The theme of her blog, Sementifera, is taken “from the fire pines that respond to forest fires by releasing their seeds… They are sementifera – they are carrying seeds that will grow in spite of their destructive environment.” This post was originally published on October 12, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Isolation was the constant experience of my ten years of homeschooling. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the adult presence in my daily life, my mom, was unpredictably angry, sad, or completely unavailable, and as time went on she increasingly avoided social situations.

It didn’t help that no one was good enough to be our friends.

After being pulled out of the fourth grade for a job change and move, my dad decided that my mom should homeschool us against her will. We suddenly spent most of our time at home and basically left the house once a week to go to church. A little non-denominational church that confirmed my parents in their belief that people outside of their own flavor of church weren’t really christians, including anyone who used the public school.

My dad’s growing attention to the writings of Douglas Wilson and my mom’s anxiety lead my parents to also isolate us from dangerous influences like the kids who went to our own church’s youth group, awana, and my own cousins. Repeatedly they would try to make friends with other families, but then essentially discard them as unworthy.

My mom couldn’t handle suddenly having us home with her all the time, and began to spend her time in other rooms away from us.

When she was feeling ok, she left us alone while she cleaned and talked on the phone. When she was not feeling ok, she left us alone while she cried, filled notebooks with cryptic spiritualized laments modeled on the Psalms, or pounded on the piano without acknowledging us if we tried to talk to her. She would throw a fit if we wanted to leave the house. My sister and I stopped asking to go anywhere, my brother started sneaking out at night.

I spent a lot of my time alone in my room trying to avoid anything that might set her off. We all felt guiltily relieved when another sibling was attracting the negative attention.

Homeschooling went mostly unsupervised, enforced only by our lack of freedom to do anything else. We were given screened books to read, many of them inappropriately difficult, but went for weeks without having a real conversation with anyone. I completely lost myself in books and gained a huge vocabulary, but could barely follow the rhythm of a basic conversation.

My little brother went for years without direct instruction, and then my parents straight up told him he was stupid because he didn’t spontaneously educate himself. That still just kills me.

As things got worse, we stopped going to even the occasional homeschool gym days and coop classes. Anything could trigger angry words that only stopped when we were in tears. The constant message we got from her was that we were in the way, we were a burden, we should do everything we could to avoid having feelings and needs.

When I was the first kid to hit puberty, the very existence of my body became a personal affront. My mother’s illness crescendoed around this time, her personal body image issues projected onto us daily. Our medical care was neglected, only the most egregious oversights like broken bones and dental emergencies were noticed by other church families and taken care of. I punished my blemished skin compulsively. Food was an area of contention, just like everything else.

My sister started making herself throw up in secret.

Growing up in this environment was a catalyst for my own anxiety and depression. I went from being an incessantly chatty queen bee elementary school kid who knew everyone at my school to someone who only ocassionaly saw one of three or four girls my age and who was afraid to use a telephone to talk to a librarian. I started to zone out so completely while reading that I didn’t hear people talking to me, and began sleeping as a safe pastime.

My voice shrank to something nearly inaudible. I started talking to myself to keep myself company and replaying my few conversations with others in my head over and over. I embarrassed the whole family, including my siblings, by constantly crying “without reason,” sometimes at church.

They didn’t know the half of it. For years, every night I wept alone in my bed at night, silently.

Mom explicitly said that “sadness” was a sign of spiritual disorder, a “heart issue.” That phrase was her favorite way to threaten and punish me (and herself) for feelings that tarnished the family’s public image.

When I was 12 or 13, I remember steeling myself to leave my room and interact with my mom, and having an epiphany. I suddenly knew at that moment that I had not done anything wrong to cause her to be angry, even that her mood existed without being caused by any immediate person or event. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe mental illness, but I knew it wasn’t my fault. Remembering this moment makes me sad for all the time lost before that realization, for the child who felt that I was to blame for what was happening to me.

As an adult I see now the pressures that my mom was under, how trapped she must have felt. She lost all her friends and freedom in one move, and must have felt powerless to actually change her situation. She religiously believed that my dad had the right to make unilateral decisions, that what should change about her situation was her own feelings, so she waged battle with her feelings every day. Intellectually, I understand and want to forgive….

But for now this is all I can do:

Say that these things really happened to me, and it was not ok.

Say that these things are still happening to other kids, and it is not ok.

I Was Beaten, But That’s Not My Primary Issue With Homeschooling: Rebecca Irene Gorman’s Story

Rebecca Irene Gorman. Photo used with permission.
Rebecca Irene Gorman. Photo used with permission.

I have a past.

Those I tell about my past find it tragic, unbelievable, and hard to understand.

I want them to understand my past so that they’ll know that I am an intelligent, social, motivated, hardworking woman, not the misanthrope slacker I may appear to be to the casual observer. I want them to know that I’m making positive life choices and tackling challenging issues everyday, even if they are not immediately visible to the outside world, due to the cruel grip of past violence, reaching through time.

Japan progresses into the future with the complex issues of radioactive waste ever-present. Development and renewal in Haiti includes rebuilding after the earthquake.  The America we build today for our children and grandchildren is built upon an America that experienced 9/11 and the Patriot Act. We may forgive the past, but it always continues to exist in the way it molds the present.

My preparations for sleep include putting a band-aid on my nose, threading floss through an oral appliance and braces, rinsing with hydrogen peroxide and oral wound care, turning on a white noise machine and a HEPA air purifier on high, propping myself up on pillows in hot-washed cases, tightly binding a strap around my chin, and attaching an air-blowing tube to my face.

If I’m lucky, I’ll wake up before noon, without sleep inertia, and untraumatized by any lingering nightmares – an encouraging start to my day.

My evenings and mornings – my evenings and mornings now – could have been like your evenings and mornings. But someone made a choice for me, more than twenty years ago, that this instead would be my life today.

Today, I can stand in line at the grocery store. I’m no longer sitting on the ground, in an ankle length dress, while I wait for the sales clerk to ring up my purchases. Today, as long as I remember to take my morning and afternoon medication, I can clumsily attempt a game of volleyball or tennis without needing to sit down between serves.** I can stand long enough to conduct my business professionally. If I were to join a tour through a museum or town, I would probably seek out a chair only once or twice. But this isn’t the way I lived for twenty years.

I make a note on my calendar on days I don’t have nausea, night sweats, dizziness, or hot flashes.

I know that if I go out for a Friday night of teetotaler fun, I’ll still be recovering on Monday.

Sometimes I skip a meal because I don’t have easy access to food that won’t make my symptoms worse.

I embrace the joys of being twenty-nine. The friends I can spend an evening with, or email or Skype. Beautiful afternoons in parks. The companionship of two quirky felines. The occasional party and obscenely long recovery period.

But when I meet a stranger at an event, and he inevitably asks me ‘What do you do?’, the answer resonates in my mind: ‘Not as much as you.’

Not out of lack of ambition. Not because I was born with a disability. Not because I was in an accident. Only because the individuals that the state gave complete control of my fate decided that my pain and the limitation of my life and potential wasn’t worth preventing or treating. My captors, in designer apparel, would corral me into their luxury vehicle, to be paraded before their high net-worth clients, boosting their social equity and enlarging their income. I must perform as a trained animal, smiling through my pain, submitting to verbal abuse when I sat before I fainted, suppressing my personality and self-identity and playing my role perfectly.

I lived in a dirty, dust-bunny-colonized room, with antique furniture, floral curtains, mold plated windows, and spiders between my sheets. If I read, I could mentally block out the sound of yelling, until its source burst into the space – and my face. I learned that the appropriate response was to immediately cower and obey: the longer I delayed, the more ensuing punishments would accumulate.

More than once a week, I was allowed the exercise of a supervised quarter mile walk. More than once a week, I was allowed an hour or two of supervised co-existence with children my own age in a structured educational context. The phone and television were off limits, but I was provided with instructional material in mathematics and grammar with which I could, and did, provide myself with an education.

The age of majority didn’t apply to me. I would live with my masters indefinitely, servicing  their home and work and satisfying their needs for intimacy and emotional support.

Today, when I look a little awkward at that party, or move a little strangely when we do business, it’s because I’m still assimilating into your culture.

And assimilate I must. I do not have a native culture to return to or celebrate.

Is my story tragic, unbelievable, and hard to understand? That’s because you didn’t come from my world. I’m glad for that.

** This was true only briefly. A year after gaining my mobility, I lost it again to wrongly developed hips. Until I go under the knife and complete the ensuing recovery, volleyball and tennis, as well as moderate walks, are off the menu for me.

How Not To Homeschool Your Children: Judith’s Story, Part Two


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

< Part One

I didn’t know why I couldn’t focus.

I didn’t have answers, just tears and shame and frustration that I couldn’t seem to make myself get things done. I was convinced that I had no self-control and that if only I could try harder, care more, something… maybe it would stop. (But probably not, so who cares.)

I would go to bed at night and math problems jumbled up with random digits would float around in my head; grey-ish white numbers on an endless black background… and I would want to scream and pound my pillow because I could never seem to get away from it.

My brain was numb.

I became continually tired and listless. “Privileges” were taken away—I didn’t care anymore if I never saw my few, kind-of sort-of friends that I tried to cultivate in my pitiful excuse for a social life. I didn’t care if they took away desserts. I didn’t care if I had to stay home from some outings. It seemed sort of embarrassing when I was threatened to be made to take my schoolwork with me when we would go over to someone’s house for dinner, but trying to get it all done in time was stressful and made me feel sick and mentally exhausted, so I resigned myself to the shame because I didn’t see any way around it.

I did get raving mad on the inside when my music lessons were threatened—the one thing that I actually enjoyed and people said I was good at—but nothing registered on the outside.

I cried myself to sleep several nights out of a week, but I couldn’t explain my feelings, and I was constantly questioning myself and swinging between giving up and guilting myself into more tiresome, useless effort.

Finally, eventually, I had scraped by until I had gotten through Algebra 2, barely getting a passing grade, despite the fact that I easily passed tests for concepts I had never studied when placing for college classes. My parents “graduated” me at 17, and I was told to either get a job or go to college.

Since I had no work history and no degree or training, I picked college—and the program that looked the easiest, didn’t take four years, and had minimal math requirements, anything that would just get me a job so that I could earn money and move out and not be around my mom any more.

I didn’t know how to function in society because I had basically been closeted away in a little pocket of Christian subculture until that point.

Interacting with other people was scary, awkward, and frequently embarrassing. I was still depressed and didn’t know how to express my needs to anyone; I didn’t know what exactly my needs were. I felt angry sometimes, but didn’t know whether it was justified or what exactly sparked it.

I got good grades, I tutored other students even, but I didn’t believe it when my professors told me I was good at what I did. After all, I was just opting for the easiest way out. Miraculously, I made it without a major public meltdown. Unless you count the time I cried unashamedly in the cafeteria because a creepy guy had asked me out and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back on that particular day. Or the time when I started yelling at my sister to stop telling me about how global warming was going to flood India, because I didn’t care. I had too many things of my own to worry about and was just barely keeping it together as it was.

Today, three years after having graduated with my measly little degree, I am not even working in that field.

I haven’t touched anything academic until very recently, because my love of learning was completely stripped away. I did what I had to do to survive, and spent my spare time watching the “stupid” movies and television shows that I never saw, hiding from society because I was too emotionally exhausted to deal with people. An avid bookworm in my childhood, I stopped reading anything except for brief stints where I would read the first chapter and then never picked the book up again.

I have read on the internet a lot—cathartic bits that helped me integrate my thoughts and feelings and put words to my hurts and angries. Things that helped me decide what was wrong and what was right about what happened. Things that have helped me learn not to beat myself up or be scared to do something new.

I still have a relationship with my family, albeit a “safe” sort of one—I see them once or twice a month as my schedule allows, but I keep my dreams and goals and personal life to myself. My parents presumably have no idea that I consider my homeschool career to have been hellish. They have not asked my thoughts on the subject, and I am loathe to bring it up unnecessarily. But if it did come up, I would want to ask: why?

Why did they make me waste those years of my life like that?

From their perspective, I suppose they do not think they “made” me do it—but why, why did they handle things the way they did? How bad did it need to get for them to decide to try something different than threats and punishments? Why did they not try a different curriculum? Why did they not make more effort to work more closely with me, instead of relegating me to work in the loneliest corner of the house on my own? Why didn’t they get me a tutor?

If public school wasn’t ever actually evil like I assumed they thought it was, why didn’t they send me there for someone else to hassle with? Why was the busywork involved in “preparing for college” so important that they let “preparing for life” slip to the wayside?

I still love homeschooling as a concept. I think it is a great alternative to public school and I currently plan to be involved in homeschooling in the future.

But I also consider my home school experience to be a valid example of how not to do it.