A few months ago I was diagnosed with something called major depressive disorder. It wasn’t a surprise; I’d been battling feelings of despair, sleep loss, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts for a long time prior to the diagnosis. There was one suicide attempt made while I was in college, but the control I’d exerted over my life since then helped lull me into a false sense of security about the dangers of my illness. At that time I was diagnosed with some sort of depressive disorder, but I was able to avoid medical care. From then until now, I thought it was normal to have to just handle my own demons in silence.
Leaving to go to law school in 2009 only made what I thought was normal worse. I’d uprooted myself from a support system I’d built on my own to go hundreds of miles away. Vowing to not make the same mistakes I’d made in my undergraduate studies, I threw myself into learning the law first and taking time for myself last. Moreover I kept myself distant from my new law school colleagues and neighbors, preventing any sort of new support framework from helping me in the future. When my law school held a seminar on the abnormally high rate of depression and anxiety in law students and lawyers, I deluded myself into thinking I was fully aware of what dangers were in store for me. For someone who’d battled suicidal tendencies previously in his life, I didn’t take the threat as seriously as I should have.
When I passed the bar exam and couldn’t find a job to start paying back the mountain of student loan debt I’d acquired, things unraveled quickly. I ate little, slept less, worried constantly, and began meandering to a dark place I thought I’d never go again. Soon errant thoughts of being better off dead became more insistent, and then insistence turned into seemingly justified and reasoned arguments in favor of the irrational. Without anyone immediately on hand to help me, I became lost in preparation for the unthinkable.
Fortunately my plans at a humane end for myself did not end up successful(though not for a lack of trying on my part). Reaching out to family, I moved back home and begun the process of trying to piece together my psyche and my life. I’ve done plenty of proverbial “soul searching” for want of a better term; the last seven months has seen a deluge of uncomfortable and painful realizations, as well as several small triumphs.
What my depression has to do with Christianity.
One of the first things I recognized was that my depressive thoughts had taken over my life to the point that I was incredibly deluded in thinking I was a worthless person. Although to my depressed self I was justified, taking enough time to look at things objectively produced different conclusions. This process ended up taking control of itself, and when I was finished I realized that I could no longer entertain any unquestionable thought without risking my life.
So I turned this critical process on my faith.
The results led me to finally reject Christianity’s hold on my thoughts.
A major underpinning of Christian teaching is that Jesus died for everyone’s sins. This sacrifice occurred because everyone is tainted with sin for one guy’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. As a result, everyone is worthless and deserves eternal punishment in Hell.
When people are sufficiently cowed by this message, the proselytizer delivers the so-called “Good News.” Because Jesus took one for Team Humanity, no one has to worry about Hell as long as they believe Jesus is the Son of God. What a relief! Here’s a message that I’m doomed for an unproven eternity and a message that I’m off the hook! Naturally it’s supposed to engender relief and gratitude, followed by church attendance and more news on how God wants me to live my life.
For someone with depression like mine, the first part of the message(damnation) is all I get to focus on. Sure, Jesus got nailed to a cross to bail me out, but that only goes to reinforce how bad I am as a person. I’ll never be good enough, even if I try. Pretty soon I stop caring about the second part and just dwell on how terrible I am. Then come the implications of Church doctrine: that everything bad in my life is because of some personal failing. And when I think it can’t get any worse, I realize that the only good things in life come from God. So ultimately I believe that: (1)I’m a bad person; (2) Everything bad in my life is my fault; and (3) I’m not responsible for ANY good thing in my life.
Taking the time away from my emotions let me see how Church doctrine fueled my anger at myself. Here I was, thinking I was worthless for nothing. I didn’t give myself credit for what I’d achieved in life. My reasoning was constantly focused on how God had saved me from myself, and not on how I’d actually saved me from stuff outside my control. From that point on, it was easy to reject Church teachings.
The misery did not stop there.
It’s not enough that I had to reject the irrational belief that I was unworthy of love or mercy. I live in an area where almost everyone around me believes it. Not only do they believe it, they count on it. Like the article I linked suggests(and two other articles here and here), sometimes people use faith as a shield to justify disorders or even emotionally abusing people.
Taking a long look at my family life, I realized that I was subjected to abuse as well.
It was emotional abuse, that special category of abuse that nefariously escapes public scrutiny because it is difficult to label and examine. Christianity and its dogmas of self-sacrifice, turning the other cheek, accepting pain, and many more only served to make my growing disorder worse. Every time I was told I was worthless, a burden, guilt-tripped into doing things, punished, berated, ridiculed, and humiliated what invariably followed was a lecture on how not only did I deserve such treatment, but also that I needed to endure such treatment even if it was wrong.
In other words, no matter what I had to accept the fact that I needed to be abused.
What makes all of this worse is that the people who still attempt to use my emotions against me need me. They need me around, to talk to, to feel good about themselves. They don’t need me to talk about my problems, or sort through the wreckage of my mind. And this state of affairs is the way it should be–because Christ wants me to sacrifice myself for Him. What I still become frustrated with is that I know my family loves me, and I am grateful for what good they have done, but I still must suffer serenely. After all, I have to talk to my blog instead of them.
Eventually I came around to the notion that I had to abandon my irrational thinking, that I needed objective justification not just because it is reasonable, but because it was the only defense I had against a powerful urge to kill myself. Discarding one false idea after the next, I found my religious principles were going too. I couldn’t fathom being kind to people while chastising homosexual people for who they are, so I got rid of the hatred. I was supposed to believe God created the world in 7 days while learning how science explained a several billion year process, so I gave up on creationism. I realized I wouldn’t believe someone starting a new religion today while blindly accepting some ancient texts two thousand years old, so I stopped reading them.
Then I realized that I’d rather be called a good person than a good Christian. That thought makes me feel far better about myself than thinking God slaughtered his kid for me. Rejecting the notion that I was damaged because some schmuck ate some fruit from a particular tree freed me to finally think of myself in a positive light. The best part of this is that I don’t want to go back to ancient texts and having to associate myself with irrational hatred.
What a long, strange trip its been.
I write all of this to better understand myself and to offer some wisdom to those who may be suffering too. Communication is one of the best things our species has evolved–opposable thumbs being close with it–and sharing thoughts is better than keeping them bottled inside. If religion has helped you when you need it most, I commend you for being able to overcome your adversity. But if religion is an empty promise to you, if you realize that it protects unjust actions towards you that you cannot bear, I invite you to discard that which does not serve you.
I promise, the world will not end with your faith. Enjoy life for what it is, and I will celebrate life as well for as long as I am able.