Browsing Tag



panic at the dentist: on moral neutrality

“I have a lot of hangups” would be a most profound understatement.

I was thinking that again on my way to the dentist this morning. To explain why dentist = hangup, you’ll need some context. My family never misses seeing the dentist, and I mean never. Dental hygiene was a monumental deal– one of the most memorable spankings I received was the one night I tried to lie about brushing my teeth (the spanking was mostly for lying, but also a little bit for not brushing my teeth). Hygiene in general was important, but somehow I got the message that having clean teeth equated with being a morally good and responsible person.

So, you can imagine how incredibly proud I was of the fact that I’d never had a cavity. Every time the dentist would joke “if everyone had teeth like yours I’d be out of business!” and I’d say something about drinking three glasses of milk every day. That record lasted until a) not seeing a dentist for two years in graduate school, b) while I was drinking buckets of coffee every day, c) had an diagnosed vitamin-D deficiency and d) was not regularly flossing. The first time I saw a dentist after I got married, I had ten cavities. Ten. Flash forward two years later and one of them needed a crown.

Needless to say, I now dread going to the dentist.

This morning’s appointment was the first one I’d had in a while since I’d had to cancel my last appointment unexpectedly (as in: I was standing in the waiting room obviously about to throw up and they sent me home because they are nice, considerate, lovely people and I was being a little silly). All week I have had nightmares because I was utterly convinced that they were going to find cavities in all my teeth and I was going to need at least six root canals. At least. I was actually up until 3 am Wednesday night because I couldn’t stop feeling anxious about my dentist appointment that wasn’t for another two whole bloody days. I also kept having intrusive thoughts about the hygienist somehow picking all my fillings out (it’s happened before, with a filling that didn’t set properly).

Turns out I was freaking out for literally no reason (something I already sort of knew, but this is how JerkBrain works). The cleaning went fine, none of my fillings fell out, and they didn’t find any new cavities. I was in an out in twenty minutes, and I even got a compliment for having practically no tartar buildup.


I’m obviously having trouble deconstructing the idea that developing a cavity is a moral failing. If I were a good person, I’d floss twice a day and use mouthwash every night. Instead, I rarely use mouthwash and I floss maybe once or twice a week, which means that I’m a bad person. Bad people let all their teeth rot of their head, which is clearly what I’m doing when I don’t floss every single day.

However, this isn’t just about dental hygiene. Growing up, there was absolutely nothing that didn’t have a weighty, moral significance. Everything we did, saw, ate, read, or went all had eternal import. I heard a few verses tossed around to support this concept, notably one from Philippians:

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel …

That word “conversation” is politeuomai, and it basically means “living as a citizen.” In the context of this verse, our entire lives, all of our affairs, our conduct, were supposed to be lived as a citizen under “the gospel of Christ”– and in such a way that you’d have a reputation for living that way. There wasn’t a single aspect of our lives that wasn’t evaluated for whether or not it was a “Christian” thing to do or be or think or say.

Including, apparently, brushing your teeth.

I was talking to a friend recently and, in trying to be encouraging, I stumbled into something that I think could be helpful for a lot of us:

Not everything is meant to be received as a comment on your character.

Some things just … are. They just exist. You do them or not, you say them or not, you read them or not, you eat them or not, and none of it says anything about who you are as a person. A doughnut is just a doughnut, regardless of how your body is perceived by our culture. Curse words are just curse words, and saying them doesn’t actually mean you have a shallow vocabulary. Cavities … are just cavities, no matter how much your dentist might tsk at you about flossing.

Last night my small group met, and we got to this passage in our Bible study:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable … “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Aside from the hilarity of hearing Jesus say (roughly) “you eat then you shit,” this passage has a place in my heart because it’s the exact opposite of what Christian culture generally communicates. Don’t watch R-rated movies. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t listen to “bad” music. The implicit idea is these things are capable of defiling you … except Jesus says they can’t, that it’s only defiling actions that matter, and he lists some pretty obvious ones.

I especially loved this passage last night, the night before my dentist appointment, because Jesus is responding to the Pharisees freaking out about him not washing his hands. Jesus is saying “look, y’all, whether or not I wash my hands has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good person. The only thing that matters is whether or not I do good, loving things.”

Whether or not I have a cavity can’t say anything about my character. Whether or not you exercise, or clean, or diet, or whatever,  doesn’t say anything about yours.

Social Issues

the radical notion that children are people

I was in a conversation a few days ago that has stayed with me, and I think what I noticed is important. A few moms brought up how their children respond to church services, and as a part of that discussion, one mother mentioned that her son said “the music gave him a stomach ache.” Responses were along the lines of “well, no wonder, rock concerts in church aren’t very restful.” It seemed to me that they were chalking up this toddler’s “stomach ache” to a general distaste with evangelical worship services, but when I heard the phrase stomach ache, instant red flags went up for me.

As I shared with you a little while ago, I’ve had problems with anxiety for most of my life, starting from when I was fairly young. I didn’t know the word anxiety described what I felt; what I did know was that “worry” and “anxiety”– anything less than “rejoicing in the Lord always,” really– was a sin. Anyway, when I heard that this child used the word “stomach ache” to try to explain how he felt, I instantly connected with it: my anxiety usually starts with shaky, nervous flutterings before escalating into full-blown clammy skin, heart palpitations, and, lastly, nausea. I didn’t know how to communicate “heart palpitations” to my parents, though, so I almost always settled on “stomach ache” when I’d experienced a trigger for too long and ended up nauseated.

One of the things guaranteed to set off an episode? Live drums and heavy bass. Which are heavily featured in modern church worship services. I have always skipped the music portion for this reason. But, it took me twenty-five years to understand that the reason why I avoid loud rock/pop music like the plague is my anxiety. I knew a lot of different people didn’t enjoy concert-style worship, and I was happy my partner was willing to arrive late every Sunday because of that, but what I didn’t know is that “concert style music makes me feel like my rib cage is about to burst open and my heart explode” isn’t normal. Most people don’t want to lay down on the floor and cradle their head, or fantasize about shoving their head into a bucket of ice.

I suggested to the mom that it might be a good idea to ask her son other questions geared toward figuring out if he was experiencing other anxiety-related symptoms– like “does your chest hurt?” or “do you feel hot or cold?” or “does your neck hurt?”

What has stuck with me about this particular conversation is the reaction I got: it had never occurred to these moms to wonder if their kids might be struggling with anxiety– social anxiety or otherwise. These moms are wonderful, loving people. They adore their kids. They’re responsible parents.

And yet, “maybe he doesn’t like XYZ because he has anxiety” just wasn’t an option they’d considered.

This isn’t their fault. It’s our culture’s fault. A culture with two glaring problems:

1) Mental illness is stigmatized, ignored, reviled– and so are the people who have it.
2) Children are expected to be in the default state of “cheerful” at all times.

A little while ago I was able to meet up with one of my favorite bloggers, Libby Anne from Love Joy Feminism. She brought Sally and Bobby with her, and something that happened that day is seared into my brain. We were in a museum, and it was loud, and crowded, with people bumping into each other all day. Several of the exhibits were filled to the brim with bright colors, flashing lights, and a screen with a different video every few yards. To say that it was a “stimulating environment” would be an understatement.

At one point, Sally (who was five years old at the time) was starting to spin up– anyone could recognize that she was heading toward a meltdown. But, suddenly, the most amazing thing happened. Sally turned to her mother and said “I need to go sit down.” And she did. She found an alcove– one of those darkened rooms that play short documentaries– and sat down on one of the benches and put her head in her lap. I studied her, and she was obviously focusing on breathing slowly, on calming herself down.

I was … amazed. A five year old had figured out something about herself that I still struggle with. She realized that she’d become overstimulated, was getting tired and stressed, and she knew what to do to handle it. She knew it was the noise, the people, the press, the displays, and so she found an environment with the least amount of stimulation possible– somewhere dark and quiet. I stared at her with my mouth open, and turned toward Libby Anne and whispered “how in the world did you teach her that? I don’t know how to do this!”


One of the things I’ve learned from Libby Anne is the radical notion that children are people. I wish that wasn’t such a startling statement, but for our culture, it very much is. Our culture doesn’t recognize the full humanity of our children. In fact, in order to be a good, responsible parent, many people think success comes when children are utterly controlled. Every single second of their lives is managed by us– including their emotional lives. Meltdowns, crankiness, sadness, melancholy, moodiness, anger, frustration, irritability– these things are strictly not allowed in “well-behaved” children. Only spoiled little brats have “negative” emotions.

Except we don’t think the same thing of adults. Granted, none of  us enjoys it when our friends or co-workers are cranky, or irritated, or frustrated, but we make allowances for it because we understand what it’s like to “wake up on the wrong side of the bed.” However, children don’t get to be grumpy because things in their day have just been going wrong— not well-behaved children, at least.

This is exacerbated in Christian culture. While we might think “children are to be seen and not heard” is an archaic phrase, Christians still tend to operate by that, especially when it comes to the emotional spectrum. Children are to be joyful. Children are to be peaceful. Children are to be pleasant. Children are to be polite. When they are anything less than that, it’s a sign of a problem that needs to be corrected through whatever discipline method that parent subscribes to.

A “shy” child– who might actually struggle with social anxiety or are extremely introverted and have used up all their energy already? NOPE. NOT ALLOWED. We coax, we cajole– we might even command our children to ignore their own emotional health because we want to introduce them to someone they’ll never speak to again. A child that hates highly stimulating environments? Too bad. They are going into that Sunday school room with bright primary-color murals on every single wall and the teacher who shout-talks the entire time and they had better not be a “problem.” Could they have anxiety, or be highly sensitive? We’re not even going to ask that question.

We are given tons of education and information about a host of other things– we all know to look for signs of lice, or chicken pox. We know what to do to treat a cold, we understand the difference between the common head cold and what could be the flu.

But how many of us know what the symptoms of anxiety or depression are? The real ones, not the ones we see in movies? I believe that being able to recognize when our children might be struggling with anxiety or depression is just as necessary as knowing when they have the chicken pox. If we don’t see it– if all we see is a “spoiled brat” or a “problem child,” then we’ll never be able to get them treatment. I grew up not knowing how to manage my anxiety, so I’m having to learn all the tools and coping mechanisms now, as an adult. I have trouble recognizing when I’m about to over-stress myself, because that threshold is so invisible to me.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I believe it shouldn’t be this way.

Photo by Stefan Montagner

fundamentalism and the emotional spectrum

[content note for discussions of depression, anxiety]

You may have noticed that posts have been a little sporadic over the past few weeks. Part of that has been holiday traveling, but the biggest reason is that I’ve been depressed. It took me a while to fully admit that to myself, so here I am, saying it out loud, in front of all of you.

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I haven’t often struggled with depression, but at the moment I’m wondering how true that claim is. After years of putting it off, I finally made an appointment with a psychologist and have been able to go a couple of times, and one of the things that has come up is how emotionally stunting my experience with Christian fundamentalism was. In the specific culture I was raised in, any emotion that couldn’t be described using the words “happy,” “joyful,” or “content” wasn’t allowed  (with the exceptions of shame and guilt). Melancholy, sadness, anger, rage, fear — none of those could be expressed by a good and faithful Christian. Christians rejoice in the Lord always. Christians are not given a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind.

Because of that, as well as my ISTJ discomfort with emotional expression, I have deeply set problems with handling, responding to, expressing, and processing emotions. That is a statement that doesn’t make a lot of sense to people who know me superficially, as I can come across as wildly emotional and passionate; however, if I’m expressing an emotion in front of people, chances are I’m not feeling it as much as I’m expressing it. I’ve learned a sort of mimicry where I know that people are supposed to react a certain way, but I don’t allow myself to truly experience the emotion that’s on my face. Anytime I actually start to feel something? POOF. I shut down or disappear.

Today I was journaling through some of these thoughts, and I articulated something to myself that feels very, very true: if I was depressed as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, I probably would have felt like I’d finally managed to achieve the Christian fundamentalist’s ideal emotional state for a woman. When I watched The Stepford Wives, one of the things that resonated with me was how completely blank the women were. Sure, they were apparently smiling and cheerful, but we the audience knew it wasn’t real— that they didn’t actually feel anything and had only plastered a programmed smile onto their face. That was the image I had inside of my head of a “good godly Christian woman.” That was what she was like: emotionally empty.

When I’ve experienced depression as an adult (something I only allowed myself to recognize once I could be honest about the trauma I’d experienced. After all, it’s typical for trauma victims to be depressed), my ability to connect to the entire emotional spectrum is broken, and I usually end up defaulting to a numb sort of apathy, a numb sort of sadness, and an impotent form of rage. I feel sad, but it’s sort of … fuzzy and ambiguous. I feel anger, but it doesn’t feel directed at anything or purposeful.

Growing up, all I knew about the emotional spectrum was that women are supposed to be meek, quiet, complacent, and submissive, and I think that, to me, I probably conflated being depressed with being meek. Considering that I constantly struggled with conforming to fundamentalist expectations about being “ladylike,” the fact that I was probably able to achieve it if I was depressed probably got written up as “finally, success!” in my brain.

I am, and always have been, rambunctious and rowdy and sassy, but … not right now. Right now, I do a lot of sitting with my cat. I could be blogging, or playing Skyrim, or doing laundry, or tidying my room, or organizing my closet, or sending out pitches, or working on the article that’s due in January, but … I’m not. And, looking back, there were times when I was a teenager when I could not bring myself to do anything except sit and pretend like I was paying attention to the conversation.

Was I depressed? I’m honestly not sure. My memories aren’t sharp enough to really say. But I think it’s possible.

What I have discovered is that I definitely have struggled with anxiety my entire life. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through tumblr, and I ran across a poem that described the author’s childhood experiences with anxiety, and it hit me like a load of bricks. My brain sputtered, then stopped and just sort of … stared. Wait … what? was all I could think. Feeling like that isn’t normal? I started doing research, and so much of what I read was so true. I didn’t have a name for panic attacks until graduate school, but I realized that I’ve struggled with them my entire life, and suddenly my childhood made so much more sense.

As a teenager, my brain would freak out in the middle of the night and all of a sudden the only thing I could think was oh my God I’m going to die right now. I’m going to die. I’m going to have an aneurysm and die. My throat is closing up– I’m going to die. I must be inexplicably allergic to the detergent on these sheets because I’m going to die. I’m dying. Right now. If I fall asleep I won’t wake up in the morning because I’ll be dead.

Apparently, that’s not something everyone goes through a couple times a week. Who knew.

But, I was so very good at hiding it. I learned how to function even when my brain was wigging out– I covered up the restlessness with cleaning and dusting and vacuuming and, when no was around, with pacing. And when I was going through it I would berate myself. Samantha, stop it this instant. You have not been given the spirit of fear but of a sound mind.

I didn’t know how to tell the difference between worry and anxiety and fear. All I knew was that every single pastor I’d ever heard put worry and anxiety right next to each other in a sentence and said that both were sin. And, because I thought that anxiety was worry and whatever you called it, it was a choice, I never had the opportunity to learn about things like triggers. I never gave myself the chance to understand that extremely intense movies and scenes (especially violent ones) are triggers, or that caffeine is a bad idea because it makes my heart race and that starts me thinking that I’m going to die, or … it goes on. I couldn’t separate out an emotional experience like fear and what I experienced with anxiety.

Compound all of that with the typical condemnation of all mental illnesses as “spiritual sin” and you’ve got yourself an interesting environment for a little girl growing up with something she doesn’t know how to identify or control.

Photo by Ryan Melaugh

self-care, depression, anxiety, guilt, and laziness


I’ve been struggling.

When I first started blogging, I realized I was entering a brand-new world. I was excited about it, but it terrified me, too. As I started learning about feminism and spiritual abuse and violence against women and egalitarianism and the oppression of women in the church, and as I started writing about it, becoming passionate about it, I always knew something was coming. I knew when I started wading even deeper into these issues– and the people these issues represent– that I was going to burn myself out. It was just a matter of time.

This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop blogging, or that I’m even going to slow down my posting schedule (which, right now, is every weekday), but I do have to give myself permission to not put something up every day. It’s weird– I’m not doing this for money, this isn’t a part of my job, blogging is completely voluntary, but on the days when I don’t post?

I feel guilty.

I always feel guilty.

When I was a child, I started poking around at the Casio keyboard my mother had. I picked it up pretty quickly, and my mom decided that I needed to start taking lessons as soon as I was old enough at 6. I took lessons from that point forward, pretty solidly, for the next 16 years. And, all growing up, my mother would joke about how she “couldn’t pry me away from that piano with a crowbar.”

When my father got out of the military when I was 12,  and we had a little extra cash for the first time in years, he bought me a piano to replace the keyboard I’d been using all that time. A real, honest-to-God piano– a beautiful Kohler & Campbell. I threw myself into practicing, and it got to the point when I was practicing for anywhere between 5 to 10 hours every day. I was constantly, constantly playing. When I was at a summer music academy, one of the visiting preachers complimented a few of us on our talent. In a rare burst of confidence, I firmly asserted that “it’s not talent, it’s work. You do something for 5 hours a day for 10 years, you’d be good at it, too.” I was proud of myself when I was in college years later and the same preacher used what I’d said as a sermon illustration.

It’s not talent, it’s work.

During those 16 years when I was endlessly, unceasingly practicing the piano, I always claimed that I was doing it because I loved it. And, that was partially true. I did love playing the piano. I still do, although I have a hard time thinking about it now. But the reason that my mother couldn’t pry me away from the piano with a crowbar wasn’t because I loved it just that much– it was because every second I wasn’t playing the piano (or doing something else “productive”) I felt guilty. As long as I was playing the piano, I was working on something important. I was improving my ability, growing my talent, and making sure I had the ticket I needed to get into college as a music major. That was my only way out.

Practicing piano became the the only way I had of avoiding . . . anything, really. As a homeschooler, there was always more homework, there was always more, there was always a project, a book, a report, an essay, a homework assignment, a review– there was always something I could be doing. But, as long as I was playing the piano, I could forget about the weight of all of the undone work that felt like it was crushing me. As long as I was practicing, the fact that I could be doing more, working harder, finishing the year early, graduating early, getting an A on every single assignment… I didn’t have to think about it.

That just became more intense when I hit college. I scheduled 18 or 20 credits every semester. I was in class from 8 am until 5 or 7 pm every single day, every single semester. Any open slot I had that wasn’t one I needed to eat, I filled with with something. Usually I filled that empty slot with accompanying for a voice lesson. The second I was out of dinner, I was working on homework, or I was practicing. Usually I was practicing until the halls closed at 10, and then I’d work on my homework for an hour before lights out. And I’d get up the next day to start it all over again.

When I got to my senior recital, I was completely burned out. In the minutes leading up to taking the stage, I almost went berserk I was so stressed. My piano instructor had to grab me by the shoulders and literally shake me out of it. When I finally finished, I didn’t even make it three steps off stage before I was a quivering, silently sobbing mess on the floor.

I haven’t played the piano since then. Oh, I’ve dabbled. I’ve played around a few times, but I haven’t practiced. Not since then. I can’t. Just thinking about sitting down to practice piano makes me want to panic, curl up under my blankets, and never, ever come out again. When my mother asked me if I wanted the piano after I got married, I had to resist the urge to scream no. No, I most certainly did not want that thing in my apartment– or anywhere near me, really.

But then I went to grad school.

And instead of practicing piano, I started writing grad papers– and I started doing the exact same thing I’d always done with piano. For my first term paper– which I wrote on Edgar Allan Poe’s prose poem Eureka and used structuralism to analyze the flow between the inductive and deductive logic present in the Enlightenment and Romantic philosophies Poe was interacting with– I had 132 pages of notes. 132 Pages of Notes for what was a 20-page paper. I read Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Georg Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit for that paper. For one of the last classes that I took in grad school, I got up everyday at 4 am for three weeks to do the research and writing. My bibliography was 6 pages long. This was a pattern I followed for two years. I had one professor take me aside after a class, look me in the eyes, and say, “Sam, you have to do less work, or you’re going to kill yourself.” For the first year in grad school, I plain just didn’t sleep.  I would get 2 or 3 hours on a good night, and ended up getting horribly sick.

I finished my program, but I’ve been blogging and researching and writing for almost a year now, and it’s been at the same sort of breakneck pace that I’ve been in my entire life, and I don’t know how to stop. Anytime I try to say “ok, Samantha, you really need to quit, you really need to take a break. Just take a step back and breathe” and then I try to go do something that doesn’t have to do with researching rape statistics, and every second I’m not working on my project I feel this pressing, sickening urgency. On long weekends, I get agitated and anxious. My heart starts beating 120 times a minute, and I get nauseated. I start pacing, drinking glass after glass of water… and then I end up working, because I can’t help it.

And even when I am working on my project, there’s always something I should be doing. Always. It never stops. There’s always laundry. There’s always a dirty kitchen. There’s always dust on my floorboards or a rug that needs vacuumed or a bed that needs made or clothes that need put away or dinner to make. There’s always the fact that I need to test out of two years of college French in order to get that piece of paper that says I have an MA.

So every single time I try to stop, to take a break… the entire time I’m not frantically working, I feel guilty. I feel lazy. I feel ashamed.

I wish I knew how to make it stop.

Social Issues

learning the words: disorder

mental illness

Today’s guest post is from one of my amazing readers, Airmid. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Having grown up in a very conservative homeschooling family, I remember certain areas in which it was simply accepted that we were right and everyone else was dead wrong. It was an atmosphere that distrusted everything conventional. Education, medicine, nutrition, politics… we believed most people were wrong. Possibly it was deliberate, possibly they were all just deceived, but either way, the conventional wisdom could never be accepted.

One of the areas where I remember this being most strongly expressed was anything remotely related to psychology. Even Christian psychology was regarded with great suspicion, and not to be trusted because psychology itself could not be trusted. In fact, I remember seeing a commercial—a rarity in and of itself, because it meant the tv was on—for a Catholic hospital advertising a treatment for depression, and the response from my mother was “it’s so sad that they proclaim the name of Jesus but aren’t offering the true solution.”

Contributed to by a number of complicated factors including family tragedies, being very overweight, and probably a genetic predisposition on both sides, I experienced several severe episodes of depression as a teenager. One in particular, lasting a year and a half, is the time I refer to as living in a black hole.

Thing is, I have to assume it was depression then. Even though I had most of the symptoms and almost certainly would have met the criteria for a diagnosis, I don’t know what to call it because I was never allowed to look for help. The message I received, whether intentionally communicated or not, was “You chose this. Yes, tragedy may have happened and you had a right to be sad for awhile, but snap out of it and pull yourself together. Don’t you see the shame you’re causing us? You have no right to be depressed. You’re just angry at God.”

And to a certain extent they had a point. To a certain extent, I was choosing to hang on to the depression. To a certain extent I was angry at God. To a certain extent. I thought it was the only thing that made me me. Looking back, I have to wonder how your child believing depression was her identity and she had to hold onto it or lose herself was not cause for even more serious concern than simply depression in and of itself.

I want to go back to the thought “you have no right to be depressed.” I believed that. I believed I had no right to the name depression and no right to call it a disease outside myself. I believed that I was at fault for being depressed because I “chose” it. Because that was the message I had always received. ADHD and every other behavioral disorder out there? Maybe real. Some of them. Certainly over-diagnosed. Depression? Suck it up and look on the bright side. Anxiety? You’re not trusting God enough. All these disorders weren’t nearly as real as the world was making them out to be. They’re taking sins  slapping a label of “disorder” on them, and suddenly the treatment isn’t discipline or prayer or trying harder and being less selfish, it’s just medication.

In some rare cases, there might be a valid point there, but all it ever did was hurt me. That mindset told me that I could never actually have a disorder. Whether it was intended or not, the message I got was that it was all my fault. Many years later, having been clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and still strongly suspicious of clinical depression as well,  causing my college years to be their own version of hell, I had a conversation with my parents about the possibility of medication for treatment, since I was still a financially dependent college student. In response, my parents told me in the strongest terms imaginable that the idea was unthinkable and not only would they not support me, I would not be allowed in their house if I chose to take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. They emphasized that accepting a diagnosis and seeking treatment would make the disorder me. Accepting the version of reality in which I was a person with depression and anxiety would make me identify with the disorders and they would become an inescapable fate.

And in that moment, I realized with utter clarity it was a lie.

Everything I had heard up to that point made the disorder my identity. The only thing to make it separate was naming it. A name set it apart. A name made it other and outside me. A name gave it an identity as something Not Me. And with a name, I could fight it.

Without a disorder, I was fighting an unknowable opponent in the dark. Or worse, fighting myself. With a disorder, strangely, I now have hope. Because something outside of me is something I can fight. Most of all, it’s something I can have hope of beating without destroying myself in the process.


living reminders of uncomfortable realities


I wrote this post a few weeks ago and hesitated to put it up, but after reading R.A. Savilla’s account at Rachel Held Evan’s blog, and the overwhelming response to it, I’ve decided that this needs to be said.

The story of Abraham and Isaac, if we’re being honest, makes Christians uncomfortable. If you’re not the least bit bothered by God telling Abraham to perform a human sacrifice and Abraham being willing to do it, I’m suspicious of your humanity. God told Abraham to slaughter his son as a sacrifice, and he almost did it, hoping against hope.

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this story, but I am familiar with what many people consider to be the triumphant ending — at the very last moment God sends an angel to step in, and he provides a ram for the sacrifice. It’s become a narrative we use to talk about our lives– sometimes, it looks like God is asking us to do something so difficult we can’t even wrap our brains around it, but he will always swoop in at the very last moment and provide a solution, or to save us from whatever we were about to face. And hopefully he’ll do this in the most spectacular, most miraculous, way possible.

Many of our narratives revolve around Abraham in this story– doing the hard thing that God asks of us, even when we don’t fully understand why. We don’t have all the information, so we just have to trust that there’s something more going on, something larger at stake.

But I’ve always wondered about Isaac.

We don’t know much about him in this story– we don’t know how old he was, we don’t know how much he understood about his father’s God, we don’t know how much God has told Isaac about the Abramic Covenant. All we have is a question:

“My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

We don’t know how he responded to Abraham placing him on the altar he had just helped his father build. We don’t know if he was begging his father not to do this, not to kill him. We don’t know if he only cried, or if he did anything at all.

Most of all, we don’t like asking the question of the moment– where is the lamb for a burnt offering?


I have a medical condition called Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome, complicated by IBS and endometriosis. This means that, for most of the month, I experience uncomfortable, but most of the time, manageable pain. It’s a dull ache that most of the time I can ignore. I’ve learned to live with it– to not eat a bunch of dairy, to make sure that I drink as much water as possible, to eat enough fiber, to walk and move even when I don’t particularly feel like it, to not jostle myself, to never run, to take things slowly and don’t push myself. I always have to sleep on my right side– if I lay on my left side, the internal bleeding caused by the endometriosis shifts to a new spot, and the pain intensifies.

But, during my period, all hell breaks loose. I live in absolute dread of my period coming. I try not to think about it too much, because simply thinking about it makes my anxiety skyrocket. I start taking anti-inflammatory meds the week before, slowly building up to 800 mg a day. During my period, I have to take hydrocodone just to survive, but it barely even touches the pain. I take it not because it actually reduces my pain, but because it helps me not care so much.

I can’t move, hardly at all. If I’m home by myself, I keep the painkillers and food I can eat while lying down next to my bed. I try not to drink that much– if I have to go to the bathroom, I have to crawl there, and going to the bathroom is so excruciatingly painful it terrifies me and I usually end up sobbing because the pain is so bad. At moments, the pain is breathtaking, and all I can do is cry. There have been times that I have actually passed out and gone into shock from the pain itself. It starts out pretty localized– but, over the first two days, it spreads all the way up to my ribcage and down to my thighs. I have trouble sleeping, and, occasionally, I’ll have cramping so bad it wakes me up– you can put your hand on my stomach and feel the spasms. Sometimes, you can see the cramps clench everything in my lower abdomen; you can see things jerking and twitching just below the skin.

I don’t usually talk about this.

Over the years, I’ve built up a c’est la vie approach to my medical problems. I shrug it off most of the time if anyone asks, which is rare, because I tend not to tell people.

I learned not to talk about this the hard way.

In small groups, in churches, when people ask for prayer, there have been times where I’ve mentioned my health problems. A long time ago, I used to ask people to pray that they would simply go away, that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I used to ask that they would pray that God heal me. But, now that I’ve been dealing with this for over ten years– about 150 periods– if I ask for prayer from anyone, it’s simply a prayer for strength.

I’ve stopped doing even that, usually– because then many people will confidently assert that no, they won’t pray for strength. I don’t need strength– I need God’s healing touch on my life. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” they’ll chirp with a promise that I’ll be on their minds every morning. And, a few weeks or a few months later, I’ll bump into them again, and they’ll inevitably ask how I’m doing. And I’ll shrug and say, “oh, about the same.”

I’m a living reminder that God doesn’t always answer prayer.

Oh, they’ll toss out the typical “sometimes God says wait,” but when you’ve been waiting for ten years and it’s only gotten worse instead of better, you have a tendency to think that’s a load of bunk. Or, their eyes will narrow slightly, and they’ll inform me that if I only believed, I would be healed.

I don’t tell them about the darkness– I don’t tell them about the fear and the terror that grips me in the week leading up to my period. I don’t tell them that, sometimes, when the pain is so bad I honestly don’t know how I can stand another second of it, that most of the time, I start screaming at God, at life, at the pain, at everything. I don’t tell them, that in my most desperate moments, that I pray for God to kill me. That I beg God for an answer– where is the lamb? Where is my at-the-last-moment spectacular rescue? Where is God reaching down in my life and sparing me from this?

The short answer– there’s never been, and he never has. There probably never will be.

On most days, I’ve accepted that.

And that makes people uncomfortable.

Because I’m the reality that life is largely a very painful experience, and, most of the time, it doesn’t go away. There’s nothing we can do to wish our lives magically better– we have to deal with the daily aches, the common pains, and move through our lives knowing that there are occasionally excruciatingly painful things outside of our control. I’m the reminder that no matter how much we think of ourselves as survivors, as fighters, that sometimes, it’s a battle with no end in sight– ever.

I’ve talked about my experience, but I’m actually rather lucky. My ongoing pain is something I can hide rather easily. I might disappear from church occasionally, but other than that no one really knows unless I tell them. But there are many, many people who can’t hide it, not really– but they try. They do everything they can to downplay their pain. They’re ashamed. They’re embarrassed. They don’t want to make the other people around them uncomfortable. Very often, these people are blamed for their pain– they must have done something to deserve it. God is punishing them. They just don’t have enough faith for God to heal them. Their prayer life must be weak. Maybe they’re not even a Christian.

And that’s wrong. Because we should be coming alongside the people who suffer, the people who mourn, the people who are in pain. And yes, it’s uncomfortable, and yes, it takes work, and yes– it necessarily means that we must accept the reality that not everything can be fixed. It means sacrificing our hero complexes and sitting down with that person in compassion and empathy– and realizing that we probably have no idea what that person is going through, but we don’t have to.

We just have to be there.


the dangers of biblical counseling, part five

[this is part of a series. Here are parts one, two, three, and four]
[trigger warning for victim blaming and rape]

During all of my plodding toward a real understanding of myself, I went about life. I taught college writing, I flew down to Florida for a wedding– I even went on a couple of dates. Life was a strange split between normalcy and panic.

Part of what kept me together during all of this were the brief moments when I could let things go. There were times I could slip into a frame of mind where I could drop my burden and escape. Sometimes, these were the weekends when I could sit in a rocking chair on my front porch, look at the mountains, and watch hummingbirds flit around the azalea bushes. They were the times I fell asleep in a hammock with a good book in my hands.

One of these times was when I drove up to the Chesapeake Bay area to visit a good friend, who announced when I arrived that there was someone I should meet. The hell with it, I thought. Sure, why not? She took me over to her boyfriend’s place, where we were celebrating another friend’s triumphant trek up the Pacific Trail from Mexico to Canada. While Matt* demonstrated making camp food for us, he walked in.

Tall, red-headed, the swimmer’s physique. And he made quips. Snarky ones. He made me laugh a good dozen times in the first ten minutes. I liked him, almost instantly.

The best thing that happened that night was that it turned into one of those “times.” When I could just . . . let go. I seal-clapped. I threw my head back when I laughed. I jumped up and down when someone suggested we watched Independence Day. I made Star Wars jokes. I burst out with “The Hero of Canton” when Adam Baldwin showed up in Area 51. I speechified about linguistic nuances. I enthused over swing dancing.

About a week later, Handsome called me. He wanted to write me letters. The first one came with roses. Our first date was in D.C., for the cherry blossom festival. We went to the Air and Space Museum, where I lay down on the floor to look at the Saturn V rocket, just to get a better perspective, and he got down on the floor with me.

That was the moment when I fell in love.


But, I was still suffering from panic attacks. The depression was easing, but I was still going through so much– and I didn’t want to saddle him with that. I wanted to exorcise my demons. Coincidentally, I received a recommendation for a biblical counselor who specialized in sexual abuse, and I made an appointment to go and see her.

The following is . . . difficult, for me. Because the title of this series is not “why you should never seek biblical counseling.” It’s “the dangers of biblical counseling.” My intention is not to dismiss biblical counseling as an approach– that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Biblical counseling can be helpful, healthy, and productive.

It helped me.

And . . . it didn’t.

The woman I went to see was gentle and kind, tender and compassionate. The first time I went to see her, I had a panic attack in her office. I was as nervous as hell the entire time. She probed me, so very carefully, and asked to hear my story. I told it to her, in broken snatches. She asked me what had finally brought me to the point that I wanted help, and I told her about Handsome. I told her about how I wanted to avoid burdening him with my baggage. I told her about the guilt I carried. For the firs time, I told all of the truth to someone. I laid myself bare.

Here is where we run into problems, although I didn’t really see it this way at the time. I want you to understand that the woman I was speaking with was so very obviously loving. She had dedicated her life to helping women like me, because she had been through it. She sympathized– I hadn’t met anyone this empathetic in a long time. She was grounded, and real. She encouraged me to open up the dark silences in my head– to confront what had kept me trapped and confused. She told me that I couldn’t afford to stunt and ignore my emotions, but that I should allow them to enrich my life instead of stifling them in the name of “temperance.”



She also told me two things: the first was that my attempt to take part of the blame for what had happened to me was healthy and correct. That I was right to look for ways I might have been responsible. Everything she said were things I had heard before– that it was good that I was recognizing where I hadn’t been a victim, that I was choosing to shoulder my choices. This was good– it meant I could stop it from happening again, if I took the opportunity to learn from it.

This is also known as victim-blaming. Oh, it sounds completely sensible. When you’re listening to this, nothing stands out as wrong– it all just seems like practical advice. Who wouldn’t want to protect herself from further damage and harm? To stop it from happening, ever again, if it could be prevented? Especially when it’s something as straightforward as “learning from past mistakes.” But, its very sensibility is the problem. It makes sense because we live in a culture that endorses and encourages rape any time we tell someone that any part of what happened to her or him was partly their fault– that he or she could have done something to prevent it. These solutions are based on a series of false assumptions– most of which have nothing to do with the circumstances that led to my rape. But they are an integral part of our discussion about rape, and it came up here.

The second thing that she told me . . . it was a bucket of ice-cold water in my face. I was a “poisonous well,” and starting a relationship with Handsome would be to his detriment. If we were in a relationship, and I was still “ensnared by my past,” I would “pull him away” from following God, that I would damage our new relationship to the point where we couldn’t recover from it.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

These were familiar phrases, familiar ideas– most especially the poisonous well. For me, and for many people, this idea is linked to Proverbs 4:23, where the heart is the “well spring of life.” When we let impurity into our “wells,” we are essentially poisoning ourselves, and we’re at risk for poisoning others. “Put another way, an unguarded heart can lead to a poisoned spiritual wellspring, one that is tainted with bitterness or self-loathing.” If I was a poisoned well, it meant that I was bitter and unforgiving, that I was holding onto anger– and this would corrupt Handsome, and our relationship. Those with poisoned wells are “toxic” to the people around them, spiritually and emotionally.

In essence, this type of rhetoric is just another form of victim-blaming, although it focuses on after-the-fact elements. Not only was my rape partly my fault, but the after-effects of being raped were also my fault. I had to keep on acknowledging one to get rid of the other. I had to be open and repentant about my sin in order to fully recover.

I continued to see her for another few months, until the end of the school year and life got busy and complicated. I never felt comfortable talking about my blooming relationship with Handsome, because I was deeply terrified of being told I was a “poisonous well” again. And there is another danger of biblical counseling. When you seek biblical counseling, you are automatically creating a hierarchy, a power dynamic. Because you’re seeking biblical counseling. You are outright acknowledging that this person is superior to you spiritually, and that they have the authority to tell you how to fix yourself.

Granted, this power dynamic is not always at play in biblical counseling– and it can certainly be present in secular counseling and therapy, too. This is not a “Christian” problem, entirely– it’s a human one. We create power dynamics and hierarchies everywhere we go. But I think that this is an area that shows up in a unique way in biblical counseling, because looking to “higher spiritual authorities” is as natural to us as breathing. And I, so naturally I did not even notice, placed this earnest, God-loving, sacrificial woman as enough of my authority to make me feel guilty for falling in love.

I will be honest– there were many things I learned through this process that were helpful. She gave me tools to help me recover, and the panic attacks rarely ever happen anymore, and the depression I suffered for three years is mostly gone. She encouraged me in many ways, and I’m thankful for that.

There should always be a “but,” however. I’m not throwing the entire thing under the bus– it is just my honest desire to bring these elements to the light. I’m not the first one, and I can only tell my story– I can’t speak to any other experience but my own. But, for me, and many of my loved ones, biblical counseling has been a harrowing process that caused untold damage to their lives and relationships.

So, it is an area that should be approached with caution. Look for someone who has a degree, and is licensed and certified. Research where they got their certification– all the major certification bodies have enough information on their website to get a general feeling. Find out what they think about biological and neurochemical processes and medication. You have the right to interview a prospective counselor– ask them about their views on marriage, what their goals are for the counseling process, and try to figure out where they stand on “the sufficiency of Scripture” — are they willing to interact with modern psychological practices and engage with modern medical research?

Sometimes, we are afraid of asking these sorts of questions because we don’t want to be seen as confrontational. I think, in general, many of us are more inclined to trust than not– and it is difficult to walk that line between suspicion and caution, but it is important for us to keep awareness in this area.

I want to hear your stories– my story, in this area, is over, but I’m eager to know your thoughts. What do you think might be solutions for some of the problems I’ve talked about in this series? What do you think about making a clear distinction between pastor counseling, which might be better focused on discipleship, and professional counseling? One of the benefits is that biblical counselors are many times free, and it can be difficult to get the money together enter therapy. Do you think this outweighs the risks involved? What are your stories?


the dangers of biblical counseling, part four


[trigger warning for PTSD, panic attacks, abuse]
[This is part of a series on my experiences with biblical counseling. Here are parts one, two, and three]

My second year in grad school, I took a poetry writing course. It was a workshop-based course, so our professor took us through a “practice” workshop session using one of his colleague’s poems. It was a beautiful, powerful, compelling work.

It also triggered me.

We read it communally, but silently, in class. By the time I reached the second page, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it hammering against my rib cage. There was a loud rushing in my ears– and blackness was circling and tightening my vision. I felt sick, and faint, and I couldn’t even excuse myself. I felt like I stumbled out of the classroom, and I barely made it to the bathroom before I vomited. I curled up around the toilet, laid my head on the tile, and tried to will myself to stop shaking. I couldn’t. I was sweating all over, and the cool tile felt both miserably ice-cold and yet soothing.

Eventually, I crawled back to class, collected my things, and slowly made my way out to my car. When I finally reached the semi-privacy of my car, I broke down. I sobbed  for almost half an hour before I could pull myself together enough to drive home. I don’t know how I made it back to my apartment without getting into an accident, but somehow I managed. I walked inside and collapsed on my living room floor and laid there for hours.

At some point, my roommate got home and found me there, cradling a pillow. She asked me what was wrong, and I explained what I’d been through. When I got to the end, I started trying to belittle it. I was being melodramatic. I had just gotten myself all whooped up. I just needed to practice more self-control. My roommate stopped me. “Sam . . . I think you had a panic attack.”

A what?

I googled “panic attack,” and found the Mayo Clinic’s entry on it– and my roommate was right. I’d experienced many of the symptoms they list. I didn’t know what to make of this, as my mental framework of all mental problems being sin problems didn’t have a whole lot of room for them.

I kept having them, though, and they kept getting worse. And the triggers could be anything– there was nothing I could do to avoid them. And they were crippling. I would have hours or full days where I couldn’t do anything. One happened in class, while I was teaching, and it was all I could do to make it through the last ten minutes.

Finally, I had to go to my boss because it was severely affecting my work. She was so compassionate– she understood what I was going through. I don’t know if she had experienced it herself or had been close to someone who did, but she didn’t dismiss me. She did ask if I was seeing anyone for them, and when I said no, she offered her psychologist’s name.

I recoiled.

Go see… a psychologist? I remember staring at her, stunned. Part of me couldn’t believe she’d just recommended a secular psychologist, even though, superficially, I understood that this was a perfectly normal, kind and sympathetic response. I shook my head. “Thank you, but if I do go and see someone, I’d prefer to see a biblical counselor.”

She opened up a little bit further, giving me glimpse of her history, attempting to encourage me. At one point, she briefly mentioned that there were plenty of options for a healthy recovery, including medication. I shook my head again and interrupted her. “I’m . . . not really comfortable with taking medication. I think I can get a handle on this on my own.” I think my response surprised her as slightly out of place– her comment had been an aside, really.

I left her office, happy that I had her support and understanding, but not any closer to a solution. I knew that seeing a psychologist wasn’t the answer– the problem I was having wasn’t one they could fix, and what was medication going to do? All it could do was turn me into a passive zombie.


Several weeks later, I wasn’t any closer to an answer. I had dedicated time to meditation and prayer, looking for guidance and illumination. I’d found Bible verses and pinned them around my cubicle, reciting them under my breath as I hid in the under-construction stairwell.

One morning I woke up and looked around my room. I thought about getting up– I needed to- but I couldn’t. Not yet. Pulling back my blankets felt impossibly huge. As I lay there, I remember wishing that I never had to move again.  That morning, a thought trickled in.

I was depressed.

I had been avoiding admitting it. It had been lingering in the back of my mind, unacknowledged. I took a deep breath, and said it out loud.

“I’m depressed.”

The admission felt loud in the still quiet of my room. But, suddenly, it was like a load dropped off my chest and made it easier to breathe. The raw honesty soaked in, slowly. I went about my day, battling with myself. I wanted to dismiss what I had said out loud that morning, but I also couldn’t let it go. There was something about the rightness of what I’d said, the trueness of it, that helped me deal with what had been happening.

It was a lesson that I’ve kept on learning since then. That words have power. That they can lock– and unlock doors. They can wound, damage, cut– and they can heal. There are some words that I grew up thinking of as friendly– but now frighten or trigger me. And there are words I was taught to fear, but now are familiar.

Words like depression.

I’d been told that the word depression was a lie. No one is actually depressed– they’re just sinners, and liars. They have deceived themselves, and they’ve bought into the convenience of pretending that they can ignore their “soul-sickness” with a diagnosis.

For me, acknowledging the truth of a word set me free. I could be depressed, and while that wasn’t a healthy thing, and I couldn’t stay there forever . . . knowing what was happening and having a word for it was the first step.


the dangers of biblical counseling, part two


[This is part two in a series. You can read part one here.]

Like most teenage girls, I did a smattering of baby sitting. There were only a few families in our fundamentalist church-cult who had young children, and most of the babysitting opportunities went to the pastor’s daughters, but I did, occasionally get my chance. One of the ladies that I baby sat for with any frequency was Laura*. Most of the time, with other families, I baby sat for “date night,” but when I baby sat for Laura it was often in the middle of the day. She would call and ask if I could come over, and then she would go out. Sometimes, she would work on getting house work done while I watched the kids. Other times, she would go into her bedroom and shut the door for a few hours.

She never asked the pastor’s daughters to baby sit. I didn’t really understand why, but I loved her kids so I never asked.

One afternoon she was visiting with my mom while I entertained the kids in the living room, and I overheard snatches of their conversation. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term bi-polar, and I had no idea what it meant. From context, I understood it to be some sort of mental . . . thing. I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about things like disability or illness. She had gone to the leader of our cult about her struggles, and he had told her to go off her medication. I remember that she started to cry at this point, telling my mom that she had gone off her medication, but it had made everything so much harder. She didn’t know how to cope, and she wanted to go back on her meds– she asked my mom what she should do. She was confused, distraught– she wanted to do the “right thing,” but she didn’t really think that her bi-polar disorder was sin in her life she hadn’t dealt with. She’d been divorced and re-married– was God punishing her for that?

My mom has never been one for giving advice– she listens, and tries to empower people to make their own decisions. It’s one of the most beautiful things about my mother, that she never gave in to the culture of elder women “teaching” the younger– in reality, giving younger women a legalistic, formulaic list. She listened to Laura, and eventually Laura decided to go back on her meds– for her own sanity.

Laura did go back on her meds. Somehow, the leader of our cult found out about it, and within a matter of weeks Laura and her family were gone.


My junior year in college I took a class called Educational Psychology– which, I found out later, was only called that so that students who graduated with an education degree could try to get a teaching license. In reality, the focus of the class was only on summarizing the history of educational psychology and giving hundreds of reasons why all the teaching methods based on psychology were hideously, perniciously wrong. Their answer to “psychology in the classroom” was just to mete out more punishments. The only project I had to do for the class was write a paper explaining my “philosophy of classroom discipline.”

The main textbook for the class was, unsurprisingly, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. I read it, and to my shame swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. At this point in my life, my mother had decided to seek counseling for depression. They had just moved across the country, and she was still deeply struggling with the ramifications of being viciously attacked in our church-cult for years. She told me this right after I’d finished reading this book, and in a fit of anxiety I told her to make sure she found a biblical counselor, and not to go to someone with a secular degree. They couldn’t help you– they’ll only make the problem worse.

The book’s jacket description is fairly vague, offering a bunch of different questions that are representative of various viewpoints. But, here’s some of the positive reviews from goodreads:

A must read for ANY Christian. It truly explains how psychology has NO business in the church or the lives of Christians and confirms completely that God’s Word alone is sufficient to help us with all of our supposed “mental health” issues. Sin needs to be called sins, not diseases.

I just love that mental health is in quotation marks.

I had to read this book for the first Biblical Counseling class I took, and it really influenced the way I looked at psychology. I had always sort of distrusted much of psychology, but this book opened my eyes to specific ways in which it is unbiblical. It also pointed out areas where it has crept into the church, to our great detriment.

From anecdotal experience and what I’ve been told, this book shows up in a lot of counseling/psychology classes at evangelical colleges, even ones that are more “liberal” than the fundamentalist college I attended. Here’s another review from amazon:

This is an eye-opener. Dr. Ed Bulkley has written a book that should be read and taught in every ministry training school, or church. As a devoted student of God’s word, I have always approached secular psychology with an air caution. Now, I have greater reason and sound documentation to remain cautious.

The overarching theme of the book that is painstakingly clear is that “psychology is unbiblical and dangerous,” and from the fact that most of the reviews were positive, most readers seem to think that this opinion is just fine and dandy. Most of the reviews reflect one simple principle:

The Bible is all we need for life.

This perspective actually has a name: solo scripturaThis theological position is different from the typical Protestant orthodox view of sola scriptura. Solo scriptura is very, very common among fundamentalists. They reject the regula fidei, they reject any notion of the creeds. They have no need to pay attention to the church fathers, or even modern, respected theologians and apologeticists. If they even acknowledge the existence of men like Clement, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Lewis, or Schaeffer, they are as passing references and treated with an extreme amount of suspicion– especially the early church fathers, who are perceived as being “Catholic.” Reason and emotion are swept aside– the only thing the matters is the Bible.

This results in a complete dismissal of the validity of things like mental illness, mental disorders, and depression. These things become nothing more than “sin problems.” Much like Job’s friends, fundamentalists view any sort of mental problem as being strictly a matter of the person not being “right with God.” You’re not really struggling with depression– you’re just bitter. You aren’t ADD– you just weren’t spanked enough as a child. You’re not bi-polar, you lack temperance and are prideful. You just need to get over yourself and learn some self-control. Or, among hardcore fundamentalists, sometimes mental illness (especially schizophrenia) isn’t a matter of sin– you’re demon possessed. Most commonly, you’ve let Satan build a “stronghold” in your life.

I believed all of these things. I pontificated about how ADD and ADHD are over-diagnosed and these kids are just a bunch of stubborn, willful, spoiled rotten brats. I believed that depression was simply a lack of self-control, and if those pansies just sucked it up and dealt with their bad feelings like a grown-up, no one would have a problem. I dismissed things like “chemical imbalances” wholesale. Rolled my eyes at PTSD. Scorned medication as merely a patch on a deeper soul problem.

While I was in the grip of these beliefs, I could not see anything in my life clearly. I struggled with mild panic attacks and depression– but they only confused me. I had no idea what was happening– nausea could stay on me for days, and I lost 30 pounds over the course of a few months. My heart would start to feel like it was about to explode, and even though it frightened me, I had no resources to understand it. All I ever wanted to do was sleep, and it took mountains of effort to even communicate with someone. Just a few words could be exhausting, at times. I felt sick, tired, and achy every single day. I was only suicidal once, but I very dangerously dismissed those thoughts as insignificant. A friend who knew better than me asked me to give her all of my prescription pain relievers– and I did, but I felt silly and idiotic for doing it.

But, I had no idea that these are textbook symptoms of depression. And because I had been robbed of the ability to identify these things, I couldn’t even see that I had a problem. This was just life now.