Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Three of this series was originally published on June 10, 2013.

*****

In this series: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart Seven.

*****

Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

When I began to write about my college sickness and depression, I found it emotionally difficult to recount some specific stories. My writing teachers always say ‘show don’t tell’ – meaning in part that specific stories are better than generalities. I hope you will forgive my generalities in this part, because the stories are difficult. Also my parents… are good parents in many ways, but they did not understand my depression and frequently added to the stress and shame of depression while trying to help me be a more godly person. They didn’t intend to hurt me — except when they thought I needed it for my own good — but despite their intentions to be godly parents they did hurt me deeply, and I cannot avoid that fact in this section especially. I wonder sometimes how my life would be different if we had believed depression existed. I write this series and hope that people will understand the damage that can be done by denying mental illnesses.

I became sick with a bad cold during Christmas break 2006, my first year of college.

It never went away, and became all-over body aches and exhaustion before January ended.

I was a high-stress perfectionist student on top of that.

I was weepy, home relationships were strained (which became cyclically both a cause and effect of emotional pain), and I threw myself deeper into praying and schoolwork, and fighting to feel happy despite the stress. My unhappiness at home had my parents claiming I didn’t really love them. I once tried to explain that I was trying very hard to be happy, but that further offended them. I suppose they thought if I really loved them I wouldn’t have to fight. I didn’t know why it was such a struggle, but it was. I know now it was partly depression and partly that I didn’t feel safe in an environment where I was judged for the emotions I did my best to control but never could.

I was full of sadness and had trouble coping with everything. I was always tired and had trouble concentrating on my work frequently. I felt sick constantly. Luke, now my husband, was my best friend at the time. He was both a source of comfort and trouble — trouble because, in purity/courtship culture, mixed-gender friendships are frowned on as emotionally impure, unless you plan to get married.

I didn’t want to throw away my best friendship I had ever had, so I didn’t end it (best decision ever), but I prayed and prayed God would protect us from emotional impurity. At the same time, I didn’t confide in Luke and get as much comfort from my only friend who seemed to understand, because of that fear of ‘giving away a piece of my heart’. (I think now that most of this ‘emotional purity’ stuff was useless worry and stress. Would a male best friend really wreck my relationship with any other man if I didn’t marry the best friend? I think that’s unlikely. But at the time I was terrified he would marry someone else, and frustrated because I felt that flirting or taking initiative in the relationship was sinful.) My parents were very invested in my emotional purity, heaping on me an extra layer of shame and fear of messing up; they were counting on me to stay true to the purity teachings, and I was terrified to fail them.

I was dealing with fear about ‘emotional impurity,’ plus I was trying to get straight As in college, cope with family stress and help a very emotional pregnant mother, do chores, help with my siblings, all while dealing with depression and periodic hypomanic/depressive mixed episodes with no understanding and very little support.

In retrospect, I think I did a pretty awesome job to still be alive.

But at the time, I didn’t understand why I handled everything so poorly. Why I couldn’t just feel happy. Why I cried so much. Why I couldn’t help but hit myself hard where bruises wouldn’t show, why I wanted to kill myself, why the future looked so bleak when I had a big strong almighty God I was supposed to be trusting.

What was I doing wrong?

I prayed for joy. I prayed that God would reveal to me any sins I had sinned unknowingly so I could repent — I wondered if I was being punished for something I didn’t know was wrong. Everything I knew about God indicated he worked like that.

I sometimes had panic attacks at night — only I didn’t know they were panic attacks. I thought I was being attacked by demons, either as a test for God to strengthen me, or because I’d had an evil attitude and invited them into the house (giving the devil a foothold).

I didn’t understand why God didn’t care more about me — in a way that felt caring. They say God disciplines and tests (refines) the children he loves, but I wanted a God who would hold me and cut me some slack. I thought perhaps if I could just fight harder to be happy, just trust more, just worry less, then I would be happy. I had dreams of being a missionary and didn’t know how I would manage living a deprived life when I was handling college so poorly.

The most understanding advice I got was that everyone got discouraged sometimes and God is good, hold on. The least encouraging advice was that I didn’t really love God or trust him at all.

But I knew I was trying so hard. Since it obviously wasn’t working, no one would believe I was, but I was doing the best I could. If God was merciful and graceful and loving, I would have thought it would have been enough. My parents — and people in general — often judged how hard I was trying by results, but they made serious assumptions about my starting point. And I was starting pretty far behind when it came to happiness.

The misery continued. The depression, which I never imagined was real, made me sicker. I didn’t get better over summer break, like my mother expected.

I did in fact go to some doctors after eight months of being sick. One doctor thought I was stressed, that there was nothing really wrong with me, and she offered anti-depressants for the stress. Of course I refused, medication being evil and me being sick, not depressed — or so I thought. I took antibiotics, which only made me feel nauseous. I went on a strict, almost carb-free diet because my mom suspected candida was behind everything. I had no more yeast infections for years, but it didn’t cure me of my many symptoms, it only made me weaker from lack of nutrition. Friends began worrying about my weight, although only Luke’s mom said anything at the time.

At the beginning of the second fall semester, Luke and I began courting (for us it was like engagement, but the ring came later, at Christmas). It was a very happy time, but also stressful. Courtship brings your parents and families into your relationship more than usual, and while my parents felt like they should be more involved, we felt like there were a lot of extra fingers in our pie. But what can you do, that’s what courtship should be, right? I didn’t even consider objecting when my mother continued to read all my emailed correspondence with Luke. The new relationship and my parents’ continued concerns for us to be ‘godly’ added new stress to all family dynamics. I feel sorry for the pressure my parents felt, although they invited it on themselves. As the young female, I had the least agency in this confusing circle of relationships and felt like I was stuck in the middle. Plus, relationships are just hard sometimes. Depression compounded all of this, and I was frequently sad when I was expected to be happy.

Furthermore, my parents, my mother especially, were very strongly in favor of a no-touch courtship to protect us from impurity. They felt very strongly they should protect us from ourselves and indicated they wouldn’t be able to trust us alone if they knew we were touching. God designed touch to be a fire that quickly led to consummation, said my mother. (My mother-in-law, to my surprise, recently pointed out that this would not have been anything near the end of the world.) Frightened of what romantic touch might do to our judgement, and of requiring constant watching, we agreed to a no-touch courtship and engagement.

I missed those loving man hugs, even though I had never experienced them. Just a hug, an arm around the shoulder to be comforted during my many tears during that difficult courtship and depression.

Writing this reminds me of the terrible feeling of loneliness and confusion. I keep getting up to find Luke for a hug, because my mind feels like I am trapped there again, but I know I’m not.

We finally got married May 23, 2008, after nine months of courtship and two years of college.

It was a very good time for us, even though I still was ‘sick’ and struggling with intermittent depression. Although I’ve only had a few really deep depressions since then, I have had very few periods of health and full mental clarity that were longer than a couple weeks since I first got sick my first year of college at age 18. I’m 25.

I wish I hadn’t been taught what I was taught about depression. I wish I had believed depression was real, chemical, and not my fault. This section of my life that could have been happier (but still would have been difficult) was clouded by depression, dark fogginess, and pain caused by stress and depression.

We couldn’t figure out the sickness, but the sadness I knew about — I just wasn’t a very good person, and I was lucky God loved me as much as he did, even if he didn’t love me the way I wanted.*  I wanted to feel loved, but I took it on faith that God did love me, and squashed my doubts with the Bible.

The idea that I had a highly treatable mental illness never crossed my mind.

One day, though, I would read something from someone actually admitting, not condemning or denying, mental illness, and that would begin a very slow change.

*****

*As noted in other sections, I no longer identify as Christian. I also do not believe the Bible teaches what I believed about depression and God making it go away. People differ on what the Bible actually teaches about God, but let’s not debate that here. The point is, with the things I’d been taught about God and depression, and with God not helping me with my unrecognized depression despite all my praying and trusting and trying to do my part, you can imagine that Christianity doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

*****

To be continued.

About these ads

26 responses to “Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Three: The Shame Of Failing To Be Happy

  1. When you talk to your parents now (if you do) about the pain they caused you, do they insist that they were following scripture and it was really the best thing for you?

    • Yes. You sound like you know how this goes, i’m sorry :/ And if they might claim to recant on what they believed then they still uphold they had good intentions. Any apology is ‘sorry if we did anything that hurt you’. :/ in a way that makes me feel they think I’m wrong to have been hurt. But I was. It was a painful time. My mom even read all my emails to and from my fiancée. Lots of control in the name of purity and pleasing god – they thought I should be grateful I was ‘protected’.

      • My issues weren’t with mental health, but your comment is like reading my autobiography. I was also in a no-touch relationship with the man I would eventually marry. My parents think I should be grateful that they kept me a virgin until my wedding night, since virginity is THE most important thing you can bring into a marriage, say they.

      • Oh of course. But it sounds like I had things pretty good compared to you. I was “allowed” to talk to my fiance on the phone once we were engaged.

      • I was too! Though my parents preferred I didn’t do it in my room. Actually I was allowed to before we were courting, but there was a time limit, always…

  2. Aching to hear how you found your way, how you got help, where to turn. Though I’ve always maintained that depression/mood swings are a part of brain chemistry, and I’ve known bipolar runs in the family (grandparent/parent/aunt/uncle) I don’t know how to begin to help our teen. I know I haven’t always responded “rightly” either …but when a depressed teen lashes out does responding the right way mean you don’t tell that teen how much they’re hurting you in their hurt? Is a parent supposed to hide their feelings, bury the hurt, focus only on the teen’s hurt?

    I really want to know. For the most part, I’ve swallowed the hurt, but recently I told our teen that I was hurting, too. Did that just heap more guilt? Was it the wrong thing to do? I’m desperate to help this beloved child.

    • my parents denied anything was wrong with me though, instead of getting me help i felt that all the burden of making myself healthy was on me and my will power. I didn’t often lash out , it was never tolerated. they did often lash out and what can a child do, it was just called discipline. i bottled it up and it came out in my dreams…
      Nowadays i occasionally lash out at my husband. I usually am aware of it and apologize later. I mean, i ALWAYS apologize later if i am cognizant of what happened. and even so i guard my tongue when i am conscious enough of my actions to do it.. but he also knows that sometimes i am seriously not right in the head. this helps him. When he tells me i need to take meds and go to sleep and i say i’m healthy and he’s a big super controlling jerk – he knows that’s sickness talking.
      he usually says ‘your right, i’m very mean, take these meds and go to sleep, so then i do that. and i wake up and realize when i thought i was so sane i was really fuzzy and having an episode and i say ‘hey, i think i was mean’ and he tells me what i did and i tell him how very, very sorry i am and what is actually true about him.

      I tell the kids too, sometimes i am mad or sad (i try to NEVER EVER EVER take any of it out on them, but i still look angry or sad and they feel it), and they should know it is NOT THEIR FAULT. just mommy’s head. We also got a book on bipolar to read them, (Eli the BiPolar Bear)
      my husband is understanding. my parents were big on lectures and punishment and short on understanding.
      the thing people need to understand with bipolar and other mental issues is that to appear ‘normal’, i have to work so much harder than a nuerotypical person. A little understanding of that goes a long way. Also get help for your depressed teen, please!
      As far as just taking it… i don’t think you have to. it’s okay to say ‘this isn’t okay to treat me this way’ but i just think it should be done with understanding that your teen is going through a hard time himself.
      this is just me shooting the breeze. i’m not sure how this should look in a healthy family situation. i don’t have a teenager. I hope to figure it out, as i have at least one child who appears to suffer from mental illness and will be a teenager someday. right now i think the best i can do is to remember how hard it is in his brain and treat him like i would have wanted to be treated. with understanding and patience, helping him figure out how to manage his own brain. his own very confused and jumbled up brain.

    • I wrote a lot but i really think the big thing is understanding. trying to understand. and remember that you are the big person in the relationship even as you share that you are hurt. you have more power in the relationship by virtue of being the parents…. And get your teen counseling if possible. he/she will learn coping techniques and hopefully that will stop the lashing out. i don’t find lashing out acceptable, but if you take things as personal that might shouldn’t be (like your teen is sulky and you take it personally when it’s just your teen dealing) then try to deal with that in yourself. I know my sadness hurt my family but i truly wasn’t sad AT them, and THAT was guilt i think was unfair. it’s different than lashing out at them.

  3. Oh my gosh I identify with this so much. I love my parents and they’re good to me, but I grew up in a strict Evangelical environment and I’ve experienced exactly the same things – depression, fear, constant sickness that I was sure was my own fault. I thought I was the only one weak enough to have such struggles.

  4. As the young female, I had the least agency in this confusing circle of relationships and felt like I was stuck in the middle.

    That’s because you were just the merchandise that was changing hands by parental arrangement (or attempt at same). Was there any dowry ($$$ from bride’s family to groom’s) or bride-price ($$$ from groom’s family to bride’s) involved?

    I sometimes had panic attacks at night — only I didn’t know they were panic attacks. I thought I was being attacked by demons, either as a test for God to strengthen me, or because I’d had an evil attitude and invited them into the house (giving the devil a foothold).

    i.e. The constant terror that SATAN is going to slip his Woopee Cushion under your butt every time you sit down and it’ll all be Your Fault.

    Sounds like you were taught some “Christianese Witchcraft”, either making the Devil more powerful than God or joining both God and Satan into a tag-team against you.

    • HUG, I get the impression that you think caricaturing the people who hurt posters on this site is a way of being “on [the poster's] side,” but if I were the one posting my story, I would not feel that way. If it were me I would much prefer a straightforward response “What happened to you was wrong” without any invocations of bride-prices, Hitler, brown-shirts, the Taliban, etc. Somehow caricaturing the situation feels like treating it as less real, to me. (Or are you honestly asking if her parents literally received money for her?) I hope that I’m not being offensive by pointing this out; I think you do care about the people on this site and mean to be supportive, and I just wondered if it might be useful to raise the question of how best to do that.

      • Was he caricaturing? I thought he was serious. And actually my parents did talk about bride prices and dowries, but I think they were joking. They did, however, give us some very nice and pricey wedding presents. Haha I almost wondered if those were my dowry. It was joked about but I don’t think any of us were serious…. As far as christianese witchcraft I think that goes a bit far but I suppose we were more mystical or something than other Christians. Not sure where I got some of my beliefs about the devil but he was frequently speculated on as an active agent…

      • Possibly I assumed that because other posts of his often compare people to the Taliban, etc–only he can speak for what he really meant! Apologies if I stepped in inappropriately or anything, I had meant to mention in my post that it’s certainly not my place to assume what you would feel–I only wanted to mention that not everyone would necessarily like this.

        That’s funny about the wedding presents!

      • No worries, heather, I appreciate the care for my feelings :) I didn’t feel like you were telling me how to react. And it isn’t only my feelings that matter, but other ppl who have similar stories and read this.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I think that the Christian world needs to see mental illness correctly! It is no more terrible then any physical illness. I think EVERYONE needs to see metal health issues as important.

    I am so glad you have a loving husband and have gotten the help you need!

    I am on a similar journey with mental health. Although I grew up in a non-church going public school family.

  6. Pingback: VIDEO / The Top 10 Mental Health Videos on YouTube | Stop Stigmas!·

  7. Pingback: Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part One: I Am Bipolar | H • A·

  8. Pingback: Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Two: Learning Shame in Childhood | H • A·

  9. Pingback: Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Four: Shame Meets Truth | H • A·

  10. Pingback: Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame | H • A·

  11. Pingback: Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills | H • A·

  12. Pingback: Mental Health – From Shame to Seeking Help: Part 3 The Shame of Failing to be Happy·

  13. Pingback: Depression: Thank God for my Friends | Beautiful Niki Maria·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s