For the longest time, I’ve been reluctant to draw a line between what I was taught as a Christian and having Major Depressive Disorder. Thinking about this is still raw for me, because I don’t want to just blame things, but I also don’t want to ignore reality. In sharing this, I hope other people might realize that the turmoil in their mind can be helped outside their faith.
My depression existed first.
To begin with, I have to say that Christianity didn’t create my depressive thinking. After doing some digging, there is some evidence which suggests it might be hereditary. In addition, my really bad depressive moods started when I was about 12, which probably coincided with starting puberty. These factors probably made the way my brain form in a manner which is prone to depressive episodes.
I’ve successfully been dealing with this using a combination of therapy and medication. While it doesn’t prevent me from having bouts of severe melancholy, it has helped my mind not retreat to contemplating suicide. Considering I had been dwelling on it for a long time and on a daily basis, this is tremendous progress. Help is out there for people with depression, and taking the first step is the hardest one. I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with depression.
Here’s how Christianity made it worse.
First, the concepts of sin and salvation locked me into believing that everything bad I thought or did made me worthy of eternal torment. Fear of that afterlife drove me deeper into the tenets, and I desperately wanted to feel the happiness of salvation. However, as soon as I’d leave church I’d get into some kind of trouble, and I’d remember what it was like to feel condemned. I lived in a perpetual state of despair that wasn’t mitigated. Worse, over time the small consolation I’d get at church was diminished.
Everyone else seemed to have a good time of things, so I kept my thinking to myself. After all, people who expressed contrary opinions in church sometimes got ridiculed or talked down. Only once did I express to a Sunday School teacher my fear of going to Hell, and I was chided for dwelling on it. I was also brought into a conference with my parents, and not a single adult present could figure out why I was so worked up.
Now, these things happened before I hit the age of 12. When I started getting depressed to the point of wanting to kill myself, I’d already practiced hiding my thoughts from everyone else. For someone who is mentally ill, this is not a good skill to have practice with. Counselors, teachers, parents, and clergy could not tell that I was young and suicidal.
Building on this, any time I had issues stemming from depression (mood swings, loss of appetite, withdrawal from people, lack of interest in things), I was actively told that getting professional help was not an option. These were allegedly problems of my spirit, and so I needed spiritual support in dealing with them. Already I’d had my problems with doing this, so I was forced into claiming that these things helped while drowning in my own misery.
Mixing mental illness with faith isn’t healthy.
Eventually I got out of the faith, but only after I’d made attempts on my own life. My mental illness had pushed me to the point where even I could no longer make excuses for it. To this day, I remember how I forced myself to accept going to Hell as a justified punishment for being depressed. No matter my beliefs, no matter how long I tried, there was no happy Christian ending for me.
For anyone out there who has problems with depression that their faith isn’t fixing, you’re not alone. Too many people suffer in silence because they’re more afraid of their fellow Christians than of what’s devouring them from the inside. This doesn’t have to happen. Nobody has to suffer alone. Even if you can only find people online to reach out to, doing so is a good step forward.
The cruelest thing about all of this is that many Christians were willing to collectively help to break me down to fit into a faith-shaped mold, but so few of them were willing to have the courage to really help. Even then, excuses are offered to explain how it wasn’t really their faith’s fault. Failure – especially of this religion – is an ugly orphan. Part of me might be angry, if it wasn’t for the brokenness I see in them.
All I can do is pick up whatever pieces I can, and glue them back together. Doing that has been infinitely more rewarding than anything I did in church. I hope that other people can find that joy and comfort too.