Deprexiety Soup (Or, How Religion Can Hurt Those with Depression and Anxiety)

Depression and AnxietyIt’s currently two minutes ‘til midnight, but it might as well be 2 am…or 3 am…or dawn. It’s happened at all of those times and all times in between.

It starts with that skin-crawly feeling between my shoulder blades – a tickle, and then an itch, that no amount of rubbing or scratching can make go away. Once upon a time, I’d stay in bed, tossing and turning and trying to ignore the sensation until it was too late.

These days, I get up. I’m more experienced now, and I know that if I ignore it, I’ll end up wanting to claw my way right out of my skin. Because this creepy-crawly feeling almost always signals that my brain is about to try to devour itself and recruit the rest of my body into the fight.

This is what my anxiety disorder looks like.

I went undiagnosed for years, but if I really think about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve had this disorder since I was a child. The worst of the depression and anxiety (a lovely mixture I once dubbed Deprexiety Soup) hit me when I was in about 7th grade. That’s around the time my parents divorced. The actual divorce wasn’t too traumatic for me – my parents did a decent job of keeping us kids out of the shitstorm.

But we moved out of a school district for one semester, then back to the old school district when my mom remarried (yes, it happened that quickly). I started 8th grade back in the old school…but that was the year that 3 schools merged, and suddenly my class tripled in size. It didn’t go well for me.

The bullying really got into full swing in the second half of 8th grade. Miserable and ostracized, I was extremely depressed but didn’t have the experience or knowledge to put a label on it. I just knew that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and stay there forever. And when I had to leave bed, my skin would crawl so that I felt like something inside me was trying to dig its way out.

That depression and anxiety lingered well into my adulthood; some of the darker times eventually helped steer me into, through, and out of faith. You can read that story here.

But why am I laying out this story here, and now?

I Do Have a Point, I Promise.

A couple weeks ago, I read an article on the Christian Post by Patrick Mabilog, titled “Can Christians Be Depressed?”.The title alone raises problems with the Christian worldview, but what I specifically want to address is Mabilog’s first paragraph:

It may seem impossible for a Christian to struggle with mental illness. After all, doesn’t the Bible say “whom the Son sets free is free indeed?” (John 8:36)  There are also some that think that Christians struggling with depression, mental illness or even suicidal thoughts can’t possibly be a Christian.

Now, Mabilog himself, to his credit, doesn’t seem to hold this view (though I have some pretty big disagreements with his takeaway). But plenty of Christians do.

“You just need Jesus.”

“I used to be depressed, too, but then I was born again!”

“I was suicidal until the Lord entered my heart. Now I’m free from those thoughts.”

The idea that, first of all, it’s possible to force yourself to believe something and that, second, forcing yourself to believe this particular something will magically take away your mental illness? Dangerous bullshit, to be perfectly blunt.

See, what I didn’t elaborate on in the deconversion story I linked earlier in this post was the enormous pile of guilt I felt when I said the Sinner’s Prayer with Helpful Coworker and…still felt depressed. She was of the “if you’re truly saved, you can’t be depressed” variety, so of course I must have been doing something wrong. I didn’t believe hard enough. I didn’t read the Bible long enough each night. I didn’t pray enough.

That guilt piled on top of a person with depression and anxiety is a damned dangerous mix.

Somehow, I managed to survive that time – but it was in spite of religious thinking, not because of it. And telling people who have a mental illness that they’re somehow not complete (because God hasn’t finished them yet) is one of the most unhelpful and unintentionally cruel things you can say.

2 Comments on “Deprexiety Soup (Or, How Religion Can Hurt Those with Depression and Anxiety)”

  1. Jerry, I just finished your audiobook (which I purchased from Audible), Hope After Faith. I was raised in the Assemblies of God Church, was a member of a Pentecostal Holiness church while I lived in Tulsa, OK. Then later was a member of a Charismatic/Pentecostal church which associated with the Victory Christian Center organization (headquarters also in Tulsa). There are so many things which you have said that I can relate too. This would make some people angry, but I will say it anyway. I’ve come to think of “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity Gospel” type thinking as a kind of “blab-it, grab-it”, “magical”, or “presto-chango” type of thinking. A lot of people can give unhelpful, simplistic answers. From what I have studied, it has a lot in common with the New Thought ways of thinking which began to be popular in the 1800’s. Yet it is certainly not new. Beliefs that your words are “containers” or have “creative power” do a lot of damage to people and create a lot of anxiety in people; especially when what they are taught fails. I could also relate to your experience with Perry Green and the Branhamites. One of my uncles, with his family, and one of my grandmothers were involved with the Tucson Tabernacle. We were visiting our family in Tucson the year Elvis Presley died, and Perry Green gave a sermon, the Sunday after, on what he thought Elvis would tell us (if he were able). I particularly thought of my uncle and my grandmother as Branhamites. My uncle would tell me that I needed to get a revelation (that Branham was God’s true prophet). I was introduced to a number of Branham’s sermons–then still on the reel-to-reel tape. Amazingly there are still organizations who distribute Branham’s sermons on the Internet even though he has been long dead since December 1965. Many of these things worried me for a long time. Even some people who are not Branhamites still believe Branham to be a prophet. I am still a Christian. Yet it took me a long time to be able to say that I do not believe Branham is a prophet. I have changed my mind about a number of things over the years, and I found your book to be very interesting.

  2. I have Bipolar and a history of psychosis. I do not like the medication but seem to be unstable without it. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 4 and was soon afterward baptized. In my childhood and teens I kept doubting my salvation, praying some kind of salvation prayer, feeling better then doubting again. One day I realized that I would go insane trying to figure out how to be saved so I decided I was saved for no reason at all, not for Jesus or what he did or what I prayed or believed or did, no reason at all. I believe in a loving creator but I am a sceptic. I am not sure how accurate the Bible is, especially the new testament. I have serious doubts about whether Jesus even existed. Did Christianity agitate my illness or did my illness warp my Christianity? I am not sure, my hunch is both are true.

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