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Archived Letters

Monday, October 27, 2003                                                                                       View Comments

An Awesome Community Here

I've read the responses this community have given to the letter, "I need help," submitted by Emily, the 17 year old girl who is deconverting from Christianity, and I am overwhelmed, myself, by the kindness, compassion, encouragement, and depth of understanding in them. And what I realize is that these responses are not just words, they come from REAL people.

Agnostics, atheists, humanists, and so forth, were demonized by the Christian religion I grew up in. As I have made my own journey out of Christianity, I have met people just like you folks here, and see the lie for what it is.

I read that one of the men is bipolar, and experiences depression. I, too, am bipolar, and part of the reason I have left Christianity is because of how my church and the religion itself, responded to me.

Because of the stigma attached to "mental illness," my mother and father never talked about bi-polar mood disorder in my father's family. His father was bipolar, and his grandfather was also. But it was the great embarassment in my family, apparently, because my parents never talked about it.

Then my father experienced adult on-set bipolar when he was in his late 40's. It's a long story I won't go into here, but he elected not to take lithium, which was all they had back then (there are many more medications now), and as is true for 30% of people with bipolar who don't manage their brain chemistry with medications, he committed suicide.

There are no words to express the grief and shock and trauma and disillusionment I felt. I was in my mid-20's when this happened. Even through my father's mania and depression, my family still did not even talk about what was happening right in front of our terrified eyes -- us kids. The stigma of "mental illness" is very powerful. It has the effect of causing us to be discreditted. No matter what we do or say. We're written off.

My father was an active member of our church, and faithfully thithed from his significant income the entire time we were there, and taught Sunday School, and did anything he was asked to do. It is a non-dinominational congregational church. Your basic bible-believing church.

When it came time for the memorial service, even though this is a Calvinist church which teaches eternal security (once saved, always saved, no matter what), there was dissention in the leadership as to whether my father should be memorialized in the church lest it give the message that a person can commit suicide and go to heaven.

We did have the service at our church as it turned out, but my mother got a phone call a day before telling her that not everyone supported his memorial. So we kids and my mom cried our way through the service in which we honored my father and loved him and grieved for him, knowing that there were unknown people around us despised the ceremony.

My father had served in the Navy, and so we decided to use the bronze marker they give to veterans. We wanted to honor his military service. It had a simple cross over his name and date of birth and death. We liked it.

Not long after this marker was placed on his grave, my mother was informed that several of the men in leadership at our church had visited his grave -- for what purpose, I don't know. She was criticized for using the marker the Navy gave for him, and was told she should have given a stronger "witness."

All this time, we were reeling from the horror of his demise. He had driven up into the hills behind our city, parked his car, and walked into the shrubbery where he sat down and put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Hikers found him.

Still, no one was talking about bipolar with us kids. Nothing.

Then, my mother and we kids were invited to the home of a deacon and his wife after Church one Sunday. It was our first invitation and relational, social contact with anyone. (No one knew what to say so they pretended nothing had happened.) We were really looking forward to it. After lunch, this man proceeded to grill us as to why my father killed himself. After about 45 minutes of this, he launched into very thinly veiled intimations that he was in hell for committing suicide. We were all in tears by now. If you can imagine it. Here is a family dealing with suicide, and we're all crying around his table (his wife sat silent), and proceeded to make sure we knew that suicide is a mortal sin for which there is no forgiveness. Forget a life devoted to God and love for humanity, my father was in hell. Then he showed us out the door, single file, and shut the door behind us. We were all crying. Even my three brothers.

And it goes on.

There are two things I want to highlight in my letter to you. One is the cruelty in Christianity that is systemic. The second is the issue of mental illness and related mental anguish.

In the evangelical world we were entrenched in, things like depression or any other emotional difficulty were viewed as spiritual problems. The person wasn't completely yielded to the Holy Spirit. Or they weren't reading "the Word" enough. Or there was something else THEY weren't doing correctly in relationship with God, which was the reason for their emotional/psychological difficulty.

If only they had enough faith in the Lord, they wouldn't be depressed. If only they trusted God more and let him work in their life, they wouldn't be ill. It was always interpreted as a spiritual problem and the pastor was who you turned to. Which only further burdened the person, because now, not only are they suffering, it is their fault that they are.

There was little appreciation for such things being organic, or simply chemically produced by the brain. Seeking help through therapy or through a psychiatrist was heavily stigmatized. And "being on medication" for an emotional or psychological problem was the biggest kept secret there was.

This is the reason so many people don't seek professional help for depression or other difficulties.

The probability of the bipolar gene my father had being passed on to us children was that at least two of us would have it. But no one said anything to us about it. The way the church and my mother handled it was to just forget it. Put it behind us and ignore it.

By the time I was thirty-five I was able to look back at a pattern in my life that accounted for why I wasn't able to provide for myself. I was a jack of all trades and master of none. There was a very clear two-year cycle. I have never lacked for energy and enthusiasm and reach-for-it-all attitude. I'd start down one path in college that I got really fired up about, and then all of a sudden I lost interest and quit. Then I sat around for a while until the next burst of energy came through and I went off in another direction altogether. Then that ended.

I have been a pattern-maker in the garment industry, I have learned orchard management for citrus and avacado production, I have prepared to teach English as a second language overseas, I have intended to become an accountant (?), etc. Everything I did, I did really well. I just lost interest and quit. I relied on the energy, the enthusiasm that came from within me.

No one saw this pattern in my life, or helped me with it.

When I was 44 years old I experienced adult onset bipolar. I was manic for three months, then psychotic for another three months. When I got arrested at the local country dance place for disrupting the line dancing, my husband arranged for me to go to the locked unit of a hospital and be treated against my will. The state of California decided I should live, and be treated. I was. Five weeks later I came out of the hospital, and I have been on a roller coaster ride from hell trying to find the medications that will work for me. That experience of mania and psychosis slammed me onto the couch for two years. Literally. I couldn't move. I had drained every single bit of energy right out of my body. I rushed so hard I thought it would drive me right into the ground.

At any rate. I have left Christianity. And I have chosen to own my life for what it is and not to be ashamed or embarassed of myself. I have challenging brain chemistry to manage. That's the sum and substance of how I feel about this. I don't see myself as ill or diseased. In myself, in my inward person, I am whole.

I continue to have surging chemistry which produces all kinds of life experience, but I do everything I know to do to achieve balance in my life. I eat properly, I exercise, I sleep well, I do things and think things that inspire my spirit, and I used medications to balance myself.

All of our experience is a product of our brain chemistry. Everything we feel and experience through our senses is produced by our brain.

I don't have a spiritual problem. I carry a gene that flares up in my body.

Also, as I bring this to a close, while I was manic and psychotic, I experienced things that gave me insight and understanding that I did not have before. There are many, many good things that can come to us individually and corporately from those of us who experience other kinds of "brain chemicaly driven experience." I became truly brilliant during this time. I was able to make instant connections in my mind with all the files and folders I'd collected through my life experience to date, whatever I read I understood completely and immediately. Etc.

As we all know, many of the great contributions to humanity have come from people just like me. Music, Art, Literature, Politics, Philosophy and so forth.

I don't know that I have any great gifts to give humanity, but I have resolved many things in my own psyche that were at odds my whole life. I was split between my bodyself and my spiritself. This is the product of the Christian religion I was raised in that is anti-body, and also western philosophical materialism that says matter is separate and discrete.

So this "illness" I experienced of mania and psychosis HEALED my wounded psyche. Life can do interesting turns. It certainly has so for me.

Anyway, thank you to all of you who responded to Emily. I read them as though they were written to me. I wish you were my neighbors!! You are. Here.

Thank you.

sunlightofday
sunlightofday at netscape.net