Category Archives: mental health

Good bye, Robin Williams

I am sure you have heard the sad news by now. Robin Williams died, apparently by suicide. It was hard news to take.

There have been lots of good discussions happening about mental health, but I hate the reason they are necessary. People have been saying that Robin Williams was selfish, that he should have trusted Jesus more, things like that. As though faith solves a problem solved by brain chemistry being off. 

Depression is a serious health issue. 

It’s been tough having so many reminders that people I love would think (do think?) that I’m just lazy/selfish/have a bad attitude/believe the wrong things and that’s why I struggle with depression. It hurts. 

I’m not depressed right now, and it’s thanks to medication and time, and a bit of therapy – not because of an attitude of gratitude or any of the other things people say about ending depression spiritually. 

I feel a little bit powerless in the face of depression. Like it’s something that comes on me and steers me, or tries to. It controls how I feel and tries to control how I think and it’s a monster. It’s an illness, one i will probably have to deal with my whole life. It’ll be different now, of course. I know how to get help now. But sometimes even with meds and therapy, depression persists.

I am afraid of the next time a deep depression comes on me. What if I can’t complete my schoolwork? What if I regress in my driving phobia and can’t win the battle against anxiety any more? What if I get suicidal again? 

I have this encouragement – I’ve survived depression many times before. Yes, it’s true that I dropped out of school one of those times, but I was depressed for a couple semesters before I finally did that. And the most important thing is, I made it. I made it out of the deep depression. 

There’s a temptation, when someone dies of suicide, to say that they lost the battle with depression. I don’t like that language; I feel it implies that if they had done more, they’d have lived. But you never know what that person’s depression was like, the lies it told, or how much they overcame to get to the point they did. 

Robin Williams, for one, may have overcome depression for a very long time, and he gave people a lot of happiness and laughter while he did it. 

I’m sad he’s gone. I’m glad he lived. 

life is what you make it

My homeschool experience was a mixed bag, like most of my childhood.

I keep starting and leaving my homeschool story. My homeschool experience was as complicated as my parents were. Sometimes great, sometimes painful, leaving me prepared for the world in some ways and set back in others.

I got a great score on the ACT, but on the other hand my knowledge of what scientists *actually* believe about evolution was next to nothing coming out of high school. I thrived in college history classes, but on the other hand my knowledge of ancient history cuts out the entire prehistoric era because the makers of my ancient history curriculum believe the earth is only 6,000 years old, and my modern history had a strong Reconstructionist bias.
I read a ton of great books but had very little guided reading of literature.
I spent plenty of time with people of all ages, as my family chose other families to be friends with, but on the other hand have very little knowledge about how to make friends on my own, within my peer group. (one of those family friends is my husband, Luke, so there’s a big ‘pro’there.)

Despite these gaps, my education prepared me for life in one huge way — i mostly taught myself from books. I learned to research, to teach myself anything I wanted or needed to know. I can use books and the internet to fill in any educational gaps.

I even found a group of friends ready to welcome me when i became an agnostic by searching for atheist meetups on google!

As the oldest daughter, second child, of 7 children (now 8) I learned to take care of the house and children. I learned to manage my own schedule and fit in learning around taking care of very, very fussy babies and helping with chores. It may not have been the ideal situation, to homeschool under a hormonal and often pregnant mother, but I learned a lot about myself and my ability to work and help with children. I was able to help my mom through some difficult times, too.

My parents were demanding and often difficult to please, but I learned things even from that.

I might want to change aspects of my past, but all I can really change is my present, and my homeschool education helped give me the tools to do that. I can also change other people’s present, and my education gave me the sympathy and tools to help and love other children who may feel alone.

I think life is full of good and bad, and we can learn from the negative as well as the positive. We can, sometimes, change our past and make it a positive, by changing our current outlook on it; although it might take a lot of love and therapy. In the end I am not a product just of my homeschool education and my childhood, i am a product of myself, and what I choose to make of myself with the resources at my disposal.

Yes, I’m Am

Aiden — age three and a half — was scooping flour from the 25 pound bag into the flour canister. I go through a lot of flour when I make sourdough bread a couple times a week.
Aiden loves to do this job and wants to fill the canister any time it gets low. (‘Good initiative’ we say.)
He barely spills any flour. He worked carefully at it while I kneaded a batch of dough.
“That’s good work you’re doing”, I complimented him.
He replied seriously, “Yes, I’m am doing good work.”

I smiled at his confidence.
I feel guilty sometimes. I’m bipolar and there is a chance I have passed on some of my problems. Luke and family have good tooth enamel and good mental health (really crooked teeth though). I feel like my genetic legacy is cavities, good facial structure, and mental illness. But I’m so much more than my genetic legacy alone. I’m a loving mother who is intent on learning. I can look for signs and get help early and teach them coping techniques and learn coping techniques myself. I can explain that sometimes, if I get upset, it isn’t them, it’s that mommy has bipolar and her feelings don’t match what happens sometimes.
I don’t have to pass on all my problems.
So when he replied to my compliment with the calm acknowledgment that it was so, I smiled even more because, while I may not be able to keep him from mental illness or even a nasty inner voice, I can make sure the mean voice doesn’t sound like his Mom.
And I can give him plenty of ammo of truth to use against it.
You are a kind, hardworking boy, my Aiden, and you are so very loved.

Self care thoughts

Self care is something I keep hearing about, and I think it’s important. The best analogy is that parents should put on your oxygen masks before helping their children with theirs. A healthy, peaceful (as possible) mom makes for a healthier more peaceful home.
But, sometimes you might find yourself too busy or too broke to practice self care the way you want too. Then you might end up emotionally beating yourself up over this ‘failure’.

If you are spending your days nursing a fussy baby and calming an emotional and violent toddler, they aren’t gonna end up growing up with problems because you were too busy to shower and too broke for a haircut at the beauty college.  (At least, I sincerely hope that is true!)

When my life is like this, I like to practice self care by taking moments for deep breaths and making sure to eat regularly. Then on weekends I like a long soak in an epsom salt bath while Luke takes care of the kids.

Sometimes you may be too depressed to do even the basics of self care. Then teachings that you have to take care of yourself to take care of others just adds more burden. You might be either too tired or too full of self loathing to do anything for yourself. Been there!
And I think that’s okay. The point of self care is to show yourself care and respect and love. If you can’t *do* anything for yourself, then try to show the most care you can by allowing yourself to feel that way, without condemning yourself for it.
If you beat yourself up stressing over self care, it defeats the purpose of self care.

But for the times when I can take good care of myself, here are some of my favorite things to do:

I made a scrub of coffee grounds, cinnamon, epsom salt, and olive oil, and sometimes I wrap with it (rub it into my skin then cover in plastic wrap for an hour) or just exfoliate with it before a shower.
I bought some cellulite cream and I put that on, and enjoy the smell and the affirmation that i’m worth spending a little time and money on.
Sometimes i prefer to use coconut oil as my ‘lotion’ instead.
If I can, I lock myself in the bathroom and sit in the empty tub when the boys are too loud.
My mother in law takes the boys about once a week right now – I know not everyone has access to a doting grandmother but for those who do, ask to schedule a weekly gramma day!
I take medicines – thankfully. I go to therapy.
When I’m down, I make a dinner I like, just like I would do for Luke.
I play a game on my cell phone when I’m really stressed and need to calm down.
I write almost every day when I can. Writing makes me feel alive.
I keep z-bars around for breakfast every day, so that I don’t have to cook in the morning. Boys eat z-bars, hot dogs, pbj sandwiches, or cheese sticks for breakfast.
I eat dairy free ice cream, which is special because I’m the only one who requires dairy free.
I try to keep frozen foods around to take care of my future-self when I am depressed or sick.

Every little thing I do for me, whether it’s making dairy free ice cream, doing a wrap, putting on lotion, or just eating breakfast, is a way of telling myself I am worth love and care.

And that’s a message I need to hear.

When Your Inner Editor is Actually an Abuser

I did NaNoWriMo last November. National Novel Writing Month.
The goal is to write a novel, or 50 thousand words, during the month of November. There are pep talks, and group meetings, and forums, and a bunch of geeky people rallying around each other to help us all be creative.
There was a lot of advice going around in the early days of the month about shutting off your inner editor and letting the words flow uninhibited.
I wrote a note to my inner editor that I wouldn’t be needing her around, to take a vacation to somewhere sunny, but she kept coming back to the office on her vacation.
And she would say the nastiest things, that voice in my head. “You’re selfish. You’ll never be a writer. How dare you waste time writing! This is meaningless. you are meaningless, and you can’t possibly write 50k words in time. Idiot. It’s stupid and selfish to try.”
And I realized that much of the time, it wasn’t my inner editor holding back my creative side. It was actually my inner abuser. She sounded like all the people who have ever bullied me, denied my feelings, and made me feel like a miserable excuse for a person, making me doubt all my feelings, decisions, and actions – only she was less subtle about it. She wanted to keep me from trying to make friends or write books or doing anything at all.
From making a conscious decision to shut off negative self talk for a whole month, I realized that there was a huge difference between giving myself constructive criticism and emotionally abusing myself.
One makes me a better writer, the other seeks to make me nothing.
The one works with my creativity, the other mocks me and stifles creativity.
One functions as a little guide, telling me how to behave around people, reminding me of the signals for behavior, the other assures me I am hateful, awkward, and everyone is likely to hate me unless I stay quiet and pander to everyone when possible.
I had always thought the two voices were the same voice. Both the inner editor, almost like a conscience, keeping me in line, keeping my life in order, reminding me of myself – and how terrible I am. I was mentally cutting myself, believing the inner abuse — the emotional self punishment — was necessary to make me become a better person.
But in silencing both voices I realized how deconstructive part of the inner editor actually was.
I still think it’s a good idea to silence the inner editor when trying to write a first draft of a novel, or brainstorming solutions, or dreaming big. Then you can invite the inner editor back in to refine your ideas and words and make them beautiful.
But the inner abuser? Kick her butt out of your mind for good.
And keep kicking out those inner abuser thoughts whenever they comes in, until your brain has changed shape and the places where the inner abuser resides are shriveled, and her voice is weakened so much that instead of the tyrannical voice holding you back, she’s become a mockery at herself, and you can laugh at her.
“Me, cowardly and weak and lazy? Failure? I think not. you’re a riot!”
(and for the record: NaNoWriMo? I finished my 50k word count several days early. yesssss.)

Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help: Part 6 – Lana Hobbs the Brave

(This is part 6 – the final part of the story. For the introduction and the list of all previous posts -and any recap posts I might do – see here. Trigger Warning for descriptions of suicidal thoughts)

After Christmas 2012, which was more stressful than usual due to having left the Church and not knowing what I believed or what was trustworthy, I was a bit blue. `
In early January 2013, mild post holiday blues turned into a full-scale serious depression with severe pain, emotional darkness, suicidal thoughts, and on occasion the inability to get out of bed. No will to eat, read, or tell any friends I was depressed. Due to the changes in my beliefs and my depression, I wasn’t even sure I had friends. Frequently, getting out of bed and getting dressed was all I accomplished. I moved to the couch or floor and lay by my children while they played.

Sometimes instead of a deep sadness or an apathetic depression I experienced a raging, drive the plane into the ground, furious depression. I sometimes would read short blog posts or play quick games on my phone, when I had furious depression, to distract myself from it.

For months, I felt nothing but depression and self loathing, with tiny blips of less-sad that i struggled to feel and pass off as happiness, mostly for Luke’s sake and our children’s sake.
I stayed as strong as i could during the day and after the boys went to bed I broke down (you can imagine what this did to our sex life. basically obliterated it. Making me feel even guiltier.)

I was also dealing with leaving the faith and coming to terms with some things my parents had taught me – I was trying to salvage my faith while getting rid of the self-righteousness and legalism. Trying to thresh out beliefs while your brain wants to kill you is plain hard.

And the suicidal thoughts – they were just there; the wish to not-live was almost constant. I wanted to cut myself so bad, but I was afraid of being caught, especially by my children. I banged my head against the wall in a twisted (but sensible, at the time) attempt to feel better about myself, to punish myself for being a miserable, depressed person.
Gone – or pushed aside – were my beliefs that ‘this isn’t my fault’. To Luke’s frustration, all my progress seemed lost in the fog. The self doubt and hatred from my college days all came back, but now I had the words to combat that. It was a battle; a near-constant battle between self hatred and the wish to die and acknowledgment of illness and the wish to really live.

At one point, I decided to get help, but I shook and gagged when I held the phone to make the call. Luke called the place we had decided on, and they weren’t taking new patients without referrals. There were a couple other places to call, but we didn’t. It is HARD to find mental health care around here and I was still fighting ‘yes i need it, no i refuse it won’t help but it might but i don’t need it I’mabadperson!’

One night, I decided to kill myself. I purposely tried to stay awake until Luke slept. He noticed and asked why. I decided to tell him so he wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised at finding my dead body. I considered myself a very thoughtful person. I can’t remember my plan (some things I don’t want to remember, I hardly like to remember this) but I had one. I felt as happy as I had felt in a long time.

(Wow this is hard to write. It all made so much sense at the time, you see. This depression-mind feels so far away, although not as far as this somewhat healthier brain felt then.)
I literally couldn’t remember what it felt like to be healthy or happy, or what my personality was like when everything didn’t make me sad or panicky. So I was ready to end it.
When I announced my plan, Luke was… mad. as mad as I had ever seen him. I tried to explain that we would all be much happier if I were dead. It was the ultimate solution. My depressed self finds that Luke rarely understands my brilliant depressed logic. He was angry. He yelled ;This cannot be happening’. He hit the wall beside the bed with both fists. I have never seen him so angry, but I wasn’t really scared, I was mostly sad for him, that he didn’t realize how brilliant my plan was and how happy he could be. He assured me it was a stupid plan and he wouldn’t be happy and our boys would not be better off without me.
I didn’t want to die. i just didn’t want to ruin everyone’s lives by being alive and being a terrible depressed mom, and I was tired of fighting. I was tired of trying and feeling like I was failing at life. Tired of being miserable. And just tired. Always so tired.

But Luke didn’t care about that. He furiously challenged my logic, but more than that he reminded me of promises I had made to never kill myself.
Something in his anger reached through the superficial happiness of my final decision. I held him to my chest, whispered ‘shhhh’ and I angrily and sadly remade the promise. ‘I won’t, Love. I won’t kill myself. I’ll stay here for you. Why are you doing this to me? You’re a Jerk. But I’ll stay. I promise. shhhh. it’s okay. you’re mean. but I promise.”
I was pissed off, but I was not going to die.

The next weekday (I think it was a weekend at the time, days are fuzzy when you are depressed), he made a call and made an appointment for an initial evaluation. The appointment was scheduled for Friday, that week.
I was nervous. It was at an inpatient mental health hospital, with lots of locked doors and old faded carpets. We waited forever, and when I went in, I was by myself and frightened, but the man who did my evaluation did his best to put me at ease. I cried while answering questions – they should keep tissues in there.

The evaluator recommended considering medication and therapy and told me I’d be getting a call to make an appointment for each.
That was the beginning of the official journey to seek help, although my journey to mental health really began 4 ½ years previous when I finally allowed myself to think I might have a problem beyond just not being good enough.

During this depression, while I was hunting for the truth and what to believe, and how to heal, I was slowly coming to realize I really had issues and I really could get help. When I was in bed but could concentrate, I read a lot of stories of people – women especially – who had grown up in fundamentalist circles and left. They were often scarred, and some of them have mental illnesses. They got therapy, they talked to friends, they took meds, they admitted that they were not mentally healthy and that praying it away wouldn’t help.

Whether they were blogging about therapy or just about leaving fundamentalism, these strong women helped me realize i could get help, and they helped me occasionally see a glimmer of hope through the fog. Sarah, Samantha, Libby Anne, Sarah, and Shadowspring were all helpful.

I was mentally ill, I had been mistreated and misled in the name of Jesus, but I could get help. Maybe, someday, I could be healthy.

We made appointments, I had to wait 8 weeks because mental health care is apparently hard to come by where we live and everyone is booked, and then I finally got to see a therapist and a nurse practioner, both funny, good listeners, and Christians, and both saying I present as bipolar. My med-lady, C, had heard the pharmacopeia/witchcraft argument before (I brought it up as making me hesitant to take medicines, to partially explain how long it took to get help), and flourished her pen like a witch’s wand when writing my prescription.

If I ever feel like a terrible person when I take my medicines, i picture C flourishing her pen to write out an order for my magic potion, and I laugh, and I take my medicine with gratitude that I am getting help for my brain’s struggles.

I’m learning things in therapy, and I’m taking meds every day and we’ll work on dosages but i think the mood stabilizers started helping right within a week. I have stabilizers, anti-depressants, and something to take for anxiety when i need it.
I have a new self-help tool that is all about changing my thinking. So now I have decided to view it not as fighting my brain or hating on my brain, but as working with my brain and my body, with therapy, meds, and a lot of thought-changing, to become a healthy individual.
I’m still pretty messed up. I still deal with depression and hypomania. I still struggle with the stigma and other unhealthy ideas from my fundamentalist upbringing. I will always be bipolar, and I might always have to fight against the negative self-beliefs in my brain since childhood, but I will learn to handle them even better.
I have always been brave and strong, and I think that some day, it will show up for everyone to see.

In the meantime, I know it.
I am bipolar. I am depressed but I am getting help. I am strong. I will raise my children and I will live my life.
I am Lana Hobbs the Brave.

Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help: Part 4 – Fighting the Shame

(this is part 4 of my story of how i went from doubting mental illness is real, to getting help. For the intro and full post list, updated as parts are added, click here.)

Our firstborn, Aiden, was born in october 2009. Life continued with general ‘sickness’ and many emotional ups and downs, some obviously caused by life, and some seeming random.
While pregnant with Aiden, I discovered I had low blood sugar issues. I expected that after recovering from birth, a good diet would solve all my problems. But while eating more protein helped a little with daily mood and energy shifts, I found a perfect diet as elusive as a perfect attitude for solving ‘my sickness’.
When Aiden was six months old, I got pregnant again (we were into the ‘quiverfull’ movement at the time so didn’t want to sin by ‘limiting our blessings’.)

I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy and a safe home birth in a birthing pool. Kieron was born in the last hour of February, 2011.
With Aiden, I had needed an emergency induction and the birth took awhile to recover from, with Kieron I recovered quickly.
In the following weeks, I was energetic and exhilarated. I could have been hypomanic but I hink I was just really happy surprisingly bubbly. I was confident, I already knew how to breastfeed and take care of a baby, I was a pretty good mom.
The new-baby-high slowly faded into a new routine of pleasant, tiring life.

Then in the summer, depression hit again. This time, I knew it was depression – when I would allow myself to admit it.

I wanted help this time. Or I almost did.
But Luke had lost his job and was working a paper route, and my only insurance was through my dad.

And even with thoughts of getting help, I hated to ask for it. Even if it was real depression, I thought I should be able to manage it myself. Besides, there is something about depression that makes a person help resistant. I’m not sure why but depressed people frequently don’t want to go get any help.

I admitted to my mother in law that I was depressed and she told me a story: she had once suffered from post partum depression. It interrupted her whole life. She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t really sane. She finally realized she needed help; she took pills for awhile; she went back to normal. Her moral was, despite what people say, sometimes you need medication and you take it thankfully.
I was still against medication, but this helped me get up the nerve to look for somewhere to make an appointment, and to find insurance information.

So in a slightly clearer moment, I decided I would try to get help. but first, I had to call my dad for insurance details, and he didn’t provide many. Instead, I somehow ended up mentioning I thought I was bipolar and needed meds, and despite my intention to just get the insurance details, I found myself defending my belief that I was bipolar. I told him about depression, hypomania, suicidal thoughts I tried to talk about since childhood and never could, the words spilled out now that I believed someone was listening.
Dad was confident I couldn’t be bipolar (a coworkers ex was really bipolar so he knows about BPD), and he suggested that I was just immature, had trouble dealing with some things from my childhood because mom was so difficult (i think that was the word he used), and that although suicide was evil to think about it is fairly normal. He suggested Christian Counseling to help me forgive. He didn’t think I’d be able to afford psychiatry even with insurance, and was hurt that I had only discussed this with him because of insurance. Of course, the fact that he might try to talk me out of it was exactly why I didn’t want to discuss it with him.

He also said that I shouldn’t go to a diagnosing therapist and say I thought I was bipolar, because they would automatically diagnose me and I would be stuck with the stigma my whole life and he indicated I’d have to tell people i was diagnosed.*
My mom was seriously depressed at the time and my dad told me if I ever did get diagnosed bipolar, to not tell my mother because… something about how it would make her feel really bad. It didn’t make much sense to me as he had already made clear that they wouldn’t believe it if I were diagnosed, so I wondered what difference it would make.

When the conversation ended, my head was spinning. Was I really so immature it looked like bipolar? Suicidal thoughts aren’t a sign of mental illness but are ‘normal’? Was the real reason I couldn’t get out of the fog because i was lazy, unforgiving, and selfish? Should I want to avoid a diagnosis? Would my entire family hate me? They would, at any rate, not believe a diagnosis. I felt that my Dad thought I was just neurotic, not trying hard enough to be healthy, and wanting to be ‘special’ instead of dealing with my emotional issues. (btw, therapy DOES involve dealing with emotional issues).

I felt at this point like I probably shouldn’t be so selfish as to want to spend our very limited resources on counseling. I was back to thinking it might be wrong of me to have ever thought I might have a mental illness. Selfish, lazy Lana, wanting to be special by getting diagnosed bipolar but really just a bad person.

Doubting whether I should even try to get help at this point, and not wanting to, I talked to luke, and he said that even with a sliding rule fee at a local nonprofit mental health clinic, we couldn’t afford anything at all. We never called. (I should have at least tried, perhaps it would have been free for people as broke as us, but the conversation with my dad renewed my self doubts and it didn’t take much to shut down my little will to get help after that.)

But I was still in the middle of a severe active depression (I’ve heard it described as driving a plane into the ground instead of it just falling, sometimes I call it ‘furious depression’), and needed help.
I had a toddler and a baby and was fighting to be present for them.

I read all the books the library had about coping with bipolar disorder. I had Luke read the most helpful books so he could help me help myself.
I couldn’t focus on what I was reading all the time, but I slogged through the information and took notes and applied what I could manage.
It helped some, I learned about a few coping mechanisms – mostly writing truth to myself, arguing with my negative self, and trying to stay as active as I could with depressive pain.
I knew I was doing my at-the-time best to fight for sanity, and I had to slowly write my own story, choose what words I would accept to myself. I had to cut myself off emotionally from my parents’ view of me as unloving, immature, and lazy, because I didn’t feel, deep down, that it was really me. Luke insisted it wasn’t.
I had to accept other words for myself – hardworking but depressed. Struggling. Strong but needing help. Probably bipolar, or having something that mimics it closely. I felt trapped in my mind but at least now I was arguing to myself that this wasn’t my fault.
By the time Luke had a new job with health insurance and enough money to pay the electric bill on time, I was out of the big foggy depression.
My mother in law was – I realized recently – a little disappointed that I didn’t get help then. She had done her best to let me know it was okay and had even recommended someone to call. But she didn’t know about everything else; my parents, how incredibly broke we were, how deep the stigma ran in my soul.
Still, she didn’t push; she’s good at that. At that point, anything resembling pushing me to get help, would have been harmful, as I was doing the best I could, both emotionally and financially.  The steps I did take, at the time, were huge. (If you can’t get help, relax and do what you can. Books aren’t the same as meds and therapy but they can give you some help!)

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed much about how I coped with that depression. It was a very difficult few months for me, but I grew a lot emotionally; I became more of my own person, and I learned a lot about how my brain works.

(to be continued…)

*I panicked a bit when he made these claims, then I did some research and logical thinking. For one, there are specific criteria for diagnosis and the doctors are trained. They don’t diagnose just everyone. For another, if I ever got a job, I wouldn’t have to disclose bipolar disorder unless I needed accomodation. And if I needed accomodation, it wouldn’t be because I was diagnosed bipolar, but because I am bipolar. The people saying bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, etcetera aren’t real or are so rare you aren’t likely to know anyone with it, or that try to dissuade you from treatment are probably not well educated on the subject of mental illness.

Mental Health: from Shame to Seeking Health – part one: learning shame in childhood

(this is the first part of a series on my journey of depression and shame, to finally overcoming the stigma against mental illness enough to get help and be diagnosed as bipolar. for more information and the post list, see the Intro. 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 occured 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….

To be continued…

(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.

mental health: from shame to seeking help – intro – bipolar

I have an announcement: I’m bipolar.

I almost used the word ‘confession’, but that has a strong connotation of admitting wrongdoing. Bipolar II is not a wrongdoing, or even shameful. Well, it sort of is shameful, but it shouldn’t be.
There is a stigma against admitting you have a mental illness, like it’s something that should only be talked about in whispers, behind closed doors; check over your shoulder. I think it’s especially bad in conservative Christian circles, where people talk as though faith in God, repentance, and choosing to be happy are all you need to be mentally healthy – like it’s really all in the head and the spirit, except for maybe a few people with really severe problems.

But mental illness is real, it’s commoner than we want to believe, and it won’t de-stigmatize itself. We have to talk about it, and we have to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help.
So, yes, I’m bipolar. That’s one, currently large, aspect of my always complex personality.

After what has probably been (in retrospect) a lifetime of intermittent depression, and several years of especially poor mental and physical health, I finally started medication and therapy last month. Both my therapist and my medication NP think I present bipolar II, and I had already wondered that myself for years, ever since I first heard it talked about in an open way that didn’t make me think ‘bipolar people are locked up for being dangerous’.
I had been ‘down and stressed’ (aka in denial about a serious depression) for awhile at that point, when my very nice Rhetoric teacher had us workshop an essay she wrote about being bipolar. This was the first time I thought, Maybe I’m not just doing life wrong. If Dr. R can be bipolar and have a job teaching, maybe I also have a mental illness.

I felt both more alive and more guilty than ever, like it was prideful to consider dumping the idea that I was just a really bad Christian.

I still had years of stigma to overcome, and years of unhealthy guilty feelings and bad ‘biblical’ teachings until I was finally ready to seek professional help, but I feel that my journey to healing began when I first allowed myself the thought, I might be mentally ill. This might be depression, which seems to exist after all.

Depression is real, bipolar disorder is real, mental illness is real, and there is help.
I’m not healthy yet — but I’m finally getting help. It’s a big step.

I’m going to do a short series about my journey from doubting mental illness was real, to finally getting help.
I hope it will be helpful for people with depression and for people who love someone with depression and wonder why they don’t just go to a doctor; there may be more to it than you know.
If you’re having trouble because of the stigma against seeking help for mental illness, then I hope that sharing my journey will help you reach a place where you are also able to seek help, or that it will at least be another voice saying ‘you are not alone – we are here’. The more voices there are, the more chance we have of breaking through the clouds.

mental health series – links added as posted: