Early on in my life, when I first started seriously entertaining the notion that I’d be better off dead, I would get scared. The thing is, I couldn’t go to anyone for help with this – so I turned to an entity that many adults told me really existed. As a measure of self-help, I tried managing a relationship with this entity because it was supposed to do something about it. Over the years, things got a little worse, but I still felt like this entity – the Christian deity – was actually doing something.
I still believed it after a suicide attempt in college.
I believed it so much, in fact, that I took up Bible reading as a way to ease my conscience when I stopped going to see a psychologist. Within the narrative of being broken and needing divine fixing, I tried desperately to hold onto that construct of reality. For people without depression, this might be easier or more straightforward. However, for me, I realized that belief was a matter of literal life and death.
Without it, I was afraid. If none of this stuff was true, then it meant I was alone with myself, and that meant being alone with part of a brain that wanted to kill me. Comprehending this was so terrible that I simply did not push the issue too far when it happened. I could just stop what I was doing, mentally change the subject, and keep that faith intact.
And then I finally stopped believing it.
The initial fear would have been staggering if I wasn’t already mortified by other things going on in my life. Looking back on it, I’m beginning to figure out exactly how much my faith played on my anxieties. It needed that faith to remain in a state of high-pressure chaos, just quiet enough to function but ready to explode at any moment. Contemplating the divine, praying for help, reading inspirational texts all just put the caustic liquid back in its flask.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my anxiety helped fuel depression; depression for me is a release valve that forcibly shuts my anxieties down when they get too out of control. The terrible thing about all of this is that I needed my depressive moods to get back to a functioning point when my anxieties proved too much to handle. By too much to handle, I do also include those times when my faith and the things I believed just didn’t work. And because they didn’t work for so long at the end of my faith, I finally got a taste of what it was like to be completely at the mercy of a malfunctioning mind.
No deity bailed me out of it.
There are people out there who will disagree with this statement into perpetuity, and that’s fine. Those people weren’t there, and they probably need their faith to manage whatever troubles they have in their own lives. If that’s the case, you’re going to want to stop reading right now.
There are other people out there who have lives spinning out of control, and they might feel as I once did the despair of not having an omnipotent being come to the rescue. The ugly side of these beliefs is that it compounds misery; not only is life being terrible, but you must have done something terrible (or are too stupid to see the relief, or must be more patient, etc.) in order to warrant divine silence. In my own experience, I let things get way past the point I should have let them go. My only excuse was that I really did believe a deity was going to help.
Specifically, I prayed for this deity to give me an out. Then I prayed for this deity to give me a chance. Then I prayed for this deity to just give me something. I prayed for this deity to kill me before I did. From there, I prayed for this deity to make my death mean something to the truly faithful. Six months passed, and I got nothing.
I went through all of this to figure out the hard way that it’s okay to let go.
There will be times when my mind is in a bad place, but that already happened whether I believed or not. The important thing was for me to get out of the mindset that perpetually threw me into a cycle of anxiety and depression, enabling both to function more efficiently. Medicine and therapy have helped infinitely more than years of church ever did.
My outlook on life has changed drastically since I started getting real help. I’m not afraid of myself as I used to be, worrying if some divine shepherd was going to do its job or not. Best of all, I learned that people are not by default broken, smelly, stupid individuals worthy of pain and torment. Just accepting that has ended many anxious and depressive episodes before they really get going.
I’ve also learned that life has its ups and downs. How I react to them is my own responsibility, and not the job of some construct others have created. That responsibility is scary, but the freedom it brings is exhilarating.