Mental Health: From Shame to Seeking Help Part 2

by Lana Hobbs cross posted from Homeschoolers Anonymous

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

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

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In this series: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart Seven.

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Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

About Suzanne Calulu
  • texcee

    I SOOO understand this post. No one who has NOT battled depression can understand the depths to which you can sink. I’ve had it since adolescence when I began to get the unsubtle message from my mother and peers that I was fat, ugly, stupid, and unworthy of love or being loved. I fooled myself into being “up” and cheerful, but underneath was that black pool ready to swallow me. I thought about suicide a lot on my bad days, how I would do it, which way would hurt the least (because I was a coward, too, I’d decided), and — incredibly — how I could make my death less traumatic for whoever found me! Yes, even in my darkest hours, I still had that litany going through my brain — “Jesus first, others second, yourself last.” Twice I got so close to falling off the edge that I knew I had to have help and went into counseling. The first of my therapists gave me an evaluation test and told me that the self-esteem rating was the lowest she’d ever encountered! After a year, I felt better but not RIGHT. My doctor did tests and discovered that I had abnormal neurotransmitter levels in my brain. He put me on Prozac and Xanax for anxiety attacks. I’m now 60 and still on my meds. But I still get those black days when I feel there is nothing to live for. Mental health is an ongoing battle and the fantasy that God is going to touch you and miraculously heal you is a damned lie. You have to find help when you need it, somehow, someway. I know it’s well-nigh impossible for some women to do that, but staying in an abusive and toxic religion is a sure way to keep you down.

  • Theo Darling

    RIGHT ON.

    A couple years ago, a girl from my parents’ church (actually she was a really close friend of my brother’s) completed suicide, and while I hurt for her–for how much pain she’d been in and how she’d apparently felt she’d run out of options, how the community that was supposed to love and support her had ultimately failed her–it was shocking to see the shift that everyone made. (I’m talking long-term; I know that anger is a healthy step in the grief and recovery process.) They just…turned on her. Family members and friends who had overladen her with worries and responsibilities beyond her age and maturity (yes, she raised her younger siblings) began vilifying her for “leaving them hanging,” for not being considerate enough in her pain to at least find replacement babysitters and church volunteers to fill the holes she would leave. How dare she bail on her commitments. To this day, I only hear her spoken of in terms of her “selfishness” and her desire to “not participate.” I’m still shocked, and it makes me sick.

  • aim2misbehave

    I know a messianic Jew who is always all about the “pharmakopeia = witchcraft” thing but IDK if he was applying it to all medications or just the psychoactive/psychotropic ones…

    Hell, I’m on some psychoactive meds, and holy shit, they do feel like witchcraft sometimes…. but more like I’m the one being done witchcraft on, not like I suddenly have an affinity for evil or anything.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    that’s so horrible. I have hopes that someday the church – and the world in general – will be more understanding of depression and mental illness. and will be more full of grace toward people in general… but i’m not holding my breath and waiting for it.
    I’m sorry for your brother’s loss.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    I’ve left christianity – yay for freedom from so much burdens even though i have mixed feelings about leaving…
    ” I fooled myself into being “up” and cheerful” – yes i know exactly what you mean. I can pretend, even to myself, that i am okay. but it is costly, it decreases energy and increases depression. I’m so happy for you, and me, that help is out there and that we’ve each gotten it :)

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    haha, i haven’t actually had very bad, witchy experiences with my meds. mostly i like them. well, except the weight gain. that’s of the devil ;)

  • aim2misbehave

    I’ve had emotional trainwreck moments, nasty headaches, and so on… but the really crazy stuff is at night sometimes I hallucinate a little. Luckily, it’s only when I’m still mostly asleep, so it’s no issue once I’m awake enough to get out of bed, but still when I wake up in the middle of the night I’ll be hallucinating that my cat is talking to me or something.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    Wow! Yeah I second the headaches. Sorry about the weird hallucinations. My meds are for getting rid of that kind of thing :)


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