Cure Me, I’m Depressed

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the UK television documentary Cure Me, I’m Gay in which a gay doctor (Dr Christian Jessen) subjects himself to a whole range of treatments and therapies designed to cure homesexuality.  Wow!  I chose to watch it because I find it interesting that some people can see their role as to judge others (who are doing no harm to anyone else).  Personally I find it sad, but that’s me.  I know many people will disagree with me, and that’s okay too (although it’s not really the point of this post).

Let me be clear that no one has ever seen the need to, or tried to cure my sexuality (that they told me anyway) but they have tried to cure my spirituality.  As I watched the Cure Me, I’m Gay programme there were elements of familiarity that sprung up unexpectedly for me.  I realised that back when I was first being diagnosed with mental illness, in some ways I was put on a journey of ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘.  It was all seeming a little familiar to me when I watched the last ‘treatment‘ that Dr Jessen underwent.  That of exorcism of evil spirits and demons.

I should add that at the age of about 15 I witnessed an exorcism of demons from a girlfriend.  I wasn’t meant to be there (judged too young to see such things) but circumstances determined that I had no choice.  The Christian people praying for this were doing so because they believed a demon was the cause of her chronic suicidal thoughts and self harm.  What happened that night was dramatic and downright terrifying for 15 year old me to watch, especially when it was my friend it was being ‘done to‘.  It was something I will never forget, and frankly wished right then that I didn’t have to watch.   Did it work?  Others there told me it did but I had no knowledge on which to base a conclusion.  That said, my friend is alive and well today and eventually overcame that part of her life.

The apparent existence of evil spirits and demons in my life was seen by some as the root cause of my depression.  I should add that I was also being treated for Anorexia Nervosa and Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but most people (including those who were taking this approach) were either not aware of that or ignored it.  I might have been literally skin and bone but mostly this was either ignored or actually praised (many thought and said that I looked great and that my diet and exercise regime must be working really well). I suspect they would have had a field day if they’d known of the other issues.

So the focus was on the depression.  As I’ve said before, I was an active Christian at the time and had grown up in a Christian family (although it wasn’t my family that were involved with this search for answers to my decline in mental health).  I knew very well that there were many people praying for me, although I had little idea of what most were actually praying for.  I appreciated their commitment (mostly) but left them to it.  I had no desire to join this prayer effort.  At the time I was sure that nothing, including prayer, would save me.  I simply knew that for many Christians to be able to tell a person that they are praying for them, absolved them of any other responsibility (is that too harsh?) and also put their mind at ease.  They’ve done something to help.  They don’t feel quite so helpless.

My (soon-to-be husband) was very anxious to find a spiritual reason for my illness (the cynical me would suggest that he took this approach to get the heat off his role) and arranged for me to see a Catholic (BTW I was not Catholic) priest who was well known in the city where we lived for having a “successful healing ministry”.  There were about five people in the room including this priest.  Before they prayed I was asked many questions in their attempt to understand the evil forces that were apparently in my life.  They were keen to know how I had sinned and how I might have let ‘the Devil‘ into my life.  They eventually found no reason why there should be such forces in my life until they started to question me about my family background.

The short story is that my grandfather had been part of the Freemasons during his life (by this stage he had died and actually I don’t think he was a part of this organisation during my lifetime).  Some Christian people believe that the Freemasons are some type of secret, evil religion and according to the people I was with that day, they were a completely evil influence.

I was told that it was my grandfather’s fault that I had Depression, and from memory I think they prayed for me that ‘the evil spirits let into my life by my grandfather‘ would be gone.  There was so dramatic exorcism this time, maybe because I was sitting thinking  ‘how the heck can my grandfather who loved me and would never, ever have done anything to hurt me… cause this?’  My heart was definitely not in what they were doing, and no doubt if I went back and questioned why I wasn’t healed of Depression, it would have been my fault.

I don’t believe for a minute that my grandfather contributed in any way to my mental illness.  He would have been devastated to be blamed for my suffering.  Furthermore I think it’s sad that they searched until they had something to hang a nail on, but never once asked me anything that might have lead to the real reasons for my mental illness.

While I do believe that there can be a spiritual element to mental illness, I don’t and never did, believe that to be the case for me.  At the time I probably couldn’t put words to the reasons for my emerging mental illness, it took years before I could even begin to find words.  Now that I have a much better understanding of my illness, I know it was nothing to do with spiritual forces and more importantly nothing to do with my grandfather.  They were grasping at straws, and in my mind were doing so dangerously.

Much like the documentary on homosexuality where ‘therapists’ seemed to be grasping a straws too.  Homsexuality was apparently caused by sin and/or abuse.  It all leaves me sad for those who must carry the weight of those straws.

Postscript
While I was an active Christian for more than half my life, I have since removed myself from any organised religion mostly because of my experience as a person with a mental illness trying to be find a place I would fit.   I still hold Christian beliefs but they are personal, and I have no desire to push them onto anyone else.

I see my own spirituality as a personal expression of belief and I respect whatever beliefs you may or may not have as your right.  All that said, I write about my experiences such as that above, because it has been a major influence in my life and I admit, some of the force behind my illness.  It’s not something I want to deny.  Nor do I have much desire to get into a criticism of beliefs different to my own.  I hope that I have largely avoided that here.  It is simply that what I have  labelled the ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘ approach to my mental illness did not work for me.  That said, if a similar approach has worked for others then I am happy for them.

This Light Of Mine

Nobody ever told me what it meant.  It was simply a song with a catchy tune (to a ten year old) that we sat around the Girl Guides’ camp fire singing.  It was one of my favourites, but I never stopped to ask what it meant.  That was until I looked at a picture that a friend had posted yesterday of a flame burning (not this picture), and something switched on in my head.  I got it.  I finally got it.

Image credit: Jerry Jacobs/Wikipedia.com

I assumed that it must have something to do with Christianity because we sang it occasionally at Sunday School.  I still didn’t know what it meant but assumed it was something to do with the Christian idea of being a light in the world of darkness.

The song?

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

What it was meant to mean in Sunday School or at Girl Guides isn’t actually important to me now, because I have been gone astray with songs in such places before.  One would think that those places would check out what meaning is being transferred by singing as a child, but some of the biggest misconceptions I have had about myself came from Sunday School songs.

But back to this song.  When I saw the picture of a flame I finally occurred to me that I am the light.  The light is me.  This light of mine is me.

The light is all my thoughts and feelings.  My opinions.  My likes and dislikes.  The characteristics of me.  The light is what makes me unique.  The light is what makes me who I am…   and I should let it shine.  I should celebrate my light.

Nobody told me to let me shine.  Nobody told me to be proud of who I am.  Actually if anything, I was told the opposite.  Pride was a sin, I was told.  And “pride cometh before a fall“.  Again I knew the words but had little idea of the real meaning.

I was taught that being proud was a bad thing, so anything that celebrated who I was had to be bad too.  I went so many years believing that this was true.  And I extended it in my own head to mean that I was bad.  For a ten year old, or younger, it makes sense to follow that line of thought but it is can only end tragically.

Through so many years of pain and heartache, there was no clue in my head that I should let me shine.  Maybe I’m a little different from the rest, but I still celebrate who I am.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m different or the same.  I am me, and I should let me shine.

Maybe for others, they got the meaning of this song as a child.  For me though it was just a nice song.  I couldn’t think that it might be about letting me shine, because I thought that was a bad thing to do.  It might have taken 40 something years, but now that I’m worked it out I’m going to celebrate me.

If I can do it, so can you.  Celebrate you!

“For once, you believed in yourself. you believed you were beautiful and so did the rest of the world.” 

― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

I Matter

One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else.  Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me?  And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them?  And will they show it by their actions?

Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself.  Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself.  As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last.  I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.

In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet.  I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning.  But then the Christian upbringing  would no doubt have listed that as a sin.

Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“.  That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me.  It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.

My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me.  I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“.  What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone.  Christian love and compassion was what was called for.  When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was.  My needs didn’t matter.  Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days.  I hope not.

Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first.  It’s okay for my needs to matter.  At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.

At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person?  I still haven’t worked that out.  I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.

I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’.  It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’.  Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“.  I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life.  I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.

Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived.  As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“.  It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“.  Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts.  Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.

What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me.  I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.

The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’  Will anyone?  Or has everyone got greater priorities than me?  I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy.  I don’t.  But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.

Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself.  But don’t we all want to matter to other people?  And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word?  It is now.)  to myself.

I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone.  I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did.  It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.

PS.  I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity.  It’s not.  All it is, is my experience.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the
person you are.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

―    Harvey Fierstein

No Regrets Now

Image credit: cutegirlyquotesandsayings.blogspot.com

Eighteen years ago, this is what I attempted to do.  It was my wedding day.  You know the one that every little girl apparently dreams of?  And every woman remembers back to?

I never really had dreams of what my wedding would be like, and as for remembering back to?  Well actually I can’t remember a thing of it.  I was so doped to my eyeballs with medication, just to get me through the day, that I remember nothing.  All that I have is images in my head, created from photos and a video that was recorded of the day.

The wedding had already been postponed once, when my psychiatrist told me he’d commit me to compulsory psychiatric hospitalisation if I didn’t postpone.  That was about the only thing that would have worked, and it did…  until I shifted and got a new psychiatrist.

Image credit: Cate Reddell

As regular readers may remember I don’t ever put photos of myself on the internet, because of some very real personal security issues from my past (and not because I am trying to hide anything from you).  But I’ve made an exception, partly because 18 years on, this isn’t how I look anymore.  I might yet remove the photo from here in a few weeks time, but in the meantime I hope that people will respect my need for this photo not to go any further.

The photo is me and my Dad arriving at the wedding.  I look happy enough, don’t I?  But moments before the photo was taken, and before my Dad got out of the car, I said to him “please don’t make me go in there.”

I don’t actually remember saying it, but it was loud and clear the day my new husband and I sat down for the first time (several weeks later)  to watch the video that a friend had made.  Woops!

Dad heard it, but he thought I was joking and I guess that’s a problem sometimes when you’re someone who has a tendency to do ‘silly’.  He also didn’t know that I’d said a similar thing to one of my brothers a few night’s earlier.  My brother hadn’t known how to respond either.  He could see how clearly upset I was but put it down to my mental health at the time.  I should say though, that while Dad and my brother heard me say this, I don’t in anyway think they should have done something other than listen, as they did.  It was my responsibility to opt out of the wedding.  I didn’t.

To cut a long story short the marriage was doomed and ended some years later.  It was very painful, but I’ve come to the realisation that it happened, it’s a part of my life, and that’s okay.

What brought me to that conclusion was when my mother was eager to throw out the photos she had of my wedding.  We had rescued them, along with many other family photos, from her home that was destroyed by the earthquakes last year.  She said to me, “you should have left these ones there, I’ll just put them in the rubbish.”  My mother has never been a sentimental person, so her reaction to the photos didn’t really surprise me.  But it did make me think.

Yes, my ex-husband and I should never have got married in the first place.  I believe that was the first mistake.  Actually I seriously doubt I was well enough, and in enough of my right mind, to be signing any sort of legal document.  I was very sick with depression, anorexia and PTSD (the PTSD was a lot to do with why I didn’t listen to my feelings).

At the time we married, I firmly believed that marriage was a ‘until death do us part’ commitment.  So I took that to heart when I realised it wasn’t going to work, and tried repeatedly to kill myself.  I seriously believed that was better than divorce.  Thankfully with some help of a very wise therapist who is now a valued friend, I eventually realised that divorce might not be the ideal, but  I needed to do something to remove myself from a situation that was literally killing me.

The marriage was a mistake right from day one, and I’m not going to go into the reasons for that, because I don’t think that is important.  What is important though, is what I do with the mistake I made all those years ago.  I read a blog recently, where the writer was saying that there are no mistakes in life.  I disagree.

The biggest mistake I made was
to not listen to my feelings…
over and over again. 

I kept calm and shut up… with the aid of a lot of medication.  And I kept doing that throughout the marriage because I gave no value to my own feelings.  I simply thought I was wrong.  I thought I was a failure of a wife, as a woman, and as a person.    I even thought I was a failure as a daughter and sister because my family would be so disappointed in me.  It wasn’t until someone taught me that my feelings mattered, that I started to see that what I thought and felt was valid, and not to be ignored.

So yes, I made some mistakes…  but at this point I can finally say I have no regrets.  Yes, it hurt.  Yes, it was very painful for all involved.   And yes, there are lasting scars for both me and my ex-husband, but I suspect we are both in much better situations now.  I certainly am and while we don’t have contact now I know enough to know that my ex-husband is also now in a much better place.

I also know that I learnt a whole lot from going through all those years.  That dreadful journey has contributed to the person that I am today, and I know that has to be a good thing.

I encouraged Mum to keep the photos.  I don’t know whether she did, but regardless of the disaster the marriage was, it was a significant part of my life.  It happened.  While it’s not something I think about much now days, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen.

Sometimes we do make mistakes, but actually good can come from those mistakes, and for that reason I have no regrets.  I need to add though that it has taken a long time to get to this point.  I used to feel physically ill when this date rolled around each year.  But this year I’ve discovered that dread and regret is past now.

So believe.  It does happen.

“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes.  In order to be free, we must learn how to let go.  Release the hurt.  Release the fear.  Refuse to entertain your old pain.  The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life.  What is it you would let go of today?” 

―    Mary Manin Morrissey

A Long Hard Journey

Music has always been a really good way for me to learn.  Give me a song, and I’ll learn is quickly, but trying to learn a poem is really difficult for me.  It’s always been that way.  I can easily remember all the songs I ever learnt.  I can sing perfectly the parts I had to learn for school choir, so many years ago that I’m not saying how many.  But I don’t remember much of what I learnt in classes at school, or even university for that matter.

So it makes sense that the songs I learnt as a child, had their impact.  I still know them word for word.  The songs regularly leap to mind and actually when I think about how I learnt how to live my life, it came from songs.  That can be good, but it depends what those songs were.  And like I spoke of in Happiness Is…, the songs I learnt in Sunday School  made the biggest impact on me.

This isn’t a theological discussion of what children learn in Sunday School, but rather an explanation of my personal experience.  I’m not saying it was wrong to use such songs.  Actually I think music is an excellent tool in such settings.  I’m simply saying that for me, they made their mark.

This is one song that perhaps left the biggest mark.  It was sung to the Jingle Bells music:

J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between,
J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean,
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.

Note that I didn’t have to go looking for lyrics.  I know this one perfectly so many years later.  Whether or not this is my, or your, interpretation of what joy might be is not what message I got from singing this repeatedly.  What I got from it is that I always had to put myself last.  My needs didn’t count, but that Jesus came first and then other people.  Actually this is a message I got repeatedly as a child.  I’m not saying it was intentional for me to learn that what I needed didn’t matter, but it is the lesson that fixed itself in my head.

That ‘yourself last’ is what I heard over and over again, right through to well into my adult years.  It was what would make me a ‘good Christian’, apparently.  And if Christianity wants to believe it, that’s fine, but for me, it was actually very harmful to learn about where I came in the world.

I was last.  My needs were last.  Actually my needs didn’t matter because it was what other people needed that did matter.  It’s an often taught principle in the part of Christianity that I grew up in, to put the needs of others ahead of yourself.

But what if I’m being harmed by my needs coming last?  On a number of occasions this idea that my needs didn’t matter, caused me great harm (physically and emotionally) because other people took advantage and it was said that what they wanted was more important than what was safe for me.

The following is an example of the type of teaching I got, both as a child and adult:

We must aim to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Matthew 6: 33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”.

If we want to know the fruit of joy in our lives we must do all we can to have a close growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must seek to be like Him And to live for His glory in our daily lives. We must put ourselves last. Too often we are taught in these life that we need to blow our own horn .We need to praise ourselves. But God tells us to be humble and not braggers about ourselves.

In humility we are supposed to seek to live gentle lives for the glory of God. In our day to day lives we are to seek to help others. We are to seek to be light in our dark world. The lives of others and their needs ought to be the emphasis of our lives and we need to seek to be extended leaders pouring out ourselves for the glory of God. We are to seek to put others in-between Jesus and ourselves. We are to seek to be magnets that draw others to you our Lord.  ( 1.)

Let me be clear that my point is not about whether individuals choose to ‘put Jesus first’.  To me, that is an entirely individual choice and it’s not what I have the issue with.  My issue is that I was taught to always put other people’s needs ahead of my own, and how I interpreted that (as a child and then an adult struggling with serious self-esteem issues) was that what I needed didn’t count.  Even my safety didn’t count, and I saw this demonstrated in a number of ways over the years as both child and adult.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs but for me this didn’t work, and I don’t even believe that God wanted me to get harmed by what I as taught was my Christian duty.  I believe it is important that we practise compassion and be there for other people, but I don’t accept sacrificing my safety and my needs in order to do that.  Let me put it this way: by having this teaching, I was harmed and I have spent many years very unwell because of that harm.  That meant that  I have been unable to be there for other people.  Isn’t that crazy?  If I had been protected then maybe my journey would have been different, and maybe I would have been able to help more people.

I totally agree with helping others, and much of my life at the moment is devoted to trying to do that.  But I can’t do it unless I put my needs first.  I have to make sure I am safe, and I have to make sure that my needs are met.  If I don’t do that, I can’t adequately be there for others.

In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me.  It’s okay for me to leave those people to someone else to help.  I have to do this or I never get free from my own past hurts.  Maybe one day I can use my experience to help, but for now my physical and emotional safety has to come first.

The lyrics of the song were harmful to me, but then I was taught this message repeatedly in different ways, and so I can’t completely blame the lyrics.  I needed to know that I was important.  I needed to know that I was safe.  I needed to know that I was loved.  And I needed to know that my service to others was not to be at the expense of myself.

It has been a long, hard journey to learn this, and actually removing myself from a church environment was necessary for me to ‘get’ that I matter.  I’m not saying anyone else needs to do that, nor am I saying that I have given up my Christian beliefs.  It’s just that these particular beliefs didn’t work for me.  Actually they worked completely against me and I was hurt by them badly.  I’m inclined to think that too often religious beliefs like these get warped by people who don’t care about what happens to others, and they simply cause harm.

“Putting yourself first is the highest level of service you can offer in the world. It allows you to serve your partner, family, friends and others with joy and generosity. As long as you put yourself first to keep your love tank on overflow, your heart knows no limits in its ability to love.”

 – Susan Blackburn

What Love Isn’t

This pretty much says it all!
Image credit: Anna Strumillo/Fotopedia.com

I grew up in a pretty traditional, nuclear family and was fortunate to have both parents, who lived together and loved each other.  I was pretty lucky really as I know so many children don’t have that experience.  I in no way want to disrespect the wonderful job that sole parents do, but I know that to have a loving relationship in front of me every day had to be a good thing for me in terms of learning about love.

I also grew up in a strongly Christian family as I talked about in Preacher’s Kid.  This also influenced what I knew about love and perhaps the strongest influence there was this Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 13
(NIV)

If I speak in the tongues[a]   of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy   and can fathom all mysteries   and all knowledge,   and if I have a faith   that can move mountains,   but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor   and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b]  but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient,   love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,   it is not easily angered,   it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil   but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies,   they will cease; where there are tongues,   they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part   and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes,   what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood   behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;   then we shall see face to face.   Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.   But the greatest of these is love.

I wouldn’t normally be quoting the Bible in my blog.  I consider myself a Christian but I do not attend church and haven’t for a long time.  It’s a personal thing for me, not anything I wish to force onto anyone else.  That’s just not me, but the reason I quote it now is that I learnt this so young, and it is so firmly drummed into my mind, that this is my first thought of what love is.  I know it’s a Christian perspective, and that’s not always acceptable to some people but it is actually some pretty sound ideals.  Maybe I don’t accept all of it, maybe not all of it is relevant, but it is what I think of when I think about what love is.

This is, of course, all fine and dandy in a perfect world, and I’d like to think I can work towards this idea.  But it’s not a perfect world and the real difficulty for me is the what love isn’t.  While I am grateful to have had this learning to create my own version of love, what love isn’t has tripped me up far too many times. Let me explain.

My parents were good, but they weren’t emotionally demonstrative people.  I saw very few displays of affection, and all that I really observed was the odd peck on the cheek.  I knew in my head that they loved each other but as a child, it wasn’t something I could see or comprehend.  Also, emotions were rarely talked about in the family.  Feelings were a completely foreign word to me until well into my twenties, because we never talked, or were asked how we felt.  How we might feel just wasn’t an issue.  There wasn’t much conversation about relationships or growing up either and when I got my first boyfriend at fourteen, I was in for more than a few surprises.

Aside from those surprises this relationship turned for me into a perfect explanation of what love isn’t.  I was excited to have my first boyfriend but was soon overwhelmed and feeling trapped.  I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing grasp of who I was, and I was being somehow swallowed up by this person.

I made my escape after about nine months.  It took that long because I had been taught to be nice, and I somehow thought being nice meant accepting something that wasn’t me.  I can remember vividly that after we split I was running down the road with my best girlfriend shouting “I’m free”.  It was the most amazing feeling (it was a feeling but I didn’t recognise it as such at the time).  I just knew I was relieved to be free.  To be perfectly honest I don’t remember a lot of the content of the relationship.  It was a long time ago and much has happened since.  I only knew I felt trapped… and that would repeat itself throughout my life in the years ahead.  Constantly trapped, always feeling like I couldn’t breathe in the relationships I later went into.

Unfortunately, life still wasn’t perfect and the boyfriend I just thought I was free from became obsessed.  I wrote about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me.  Suddenly he literally couldn’t live without me, and tried to kill himself (stating loudly that the reason for this was that he couldn’t have me).  When that didn’t work he persisted, and eventually gave me a loaded gun and asked me to kill him for the same reason (that’s where my objection to firearms comes from).  I was followed constantly and it was a regular for me to see him just waiting for me… anywhere and everywhere.   He was completely obsessed.

It occurs to me as I write this that, as I was 14, so I have a 14 year old nephew; one of my favourite people along with his younger brother and sister.  The idea of something this traumatic and damaging happening to him at 14 appalls me.  I would move heaven and earth to do all I could to protect him from such harm and make sure he was okay.  But no one did it for me, and leaves me feeling rather tearful for that 14 year old girl (me) who was pretty much alone.

I described above what my family dynamics were and that is pretty much why no one really knew the extent of what was happening to me, and no one stepped in to help me.  I just assumed this was normal post-relationship behaviour.   As a Christian I had been taught to be nice to people, feel sorry for them if they’re struggling, and to forgive them if they hurt me.  The problem with that was… what about me?  Who was looking after me?  Actually no one was.  I now just had this completely screwed up idea of what love was, let alone having any idea of a healthy relationship.

The stalking continued actively for years, and while it stopped when I left the city some 14 years later (in my last ditch effort to get away) I know it would still be an issue for him today, if he knew where I was.  My first experience of love (or a 14 year old’s version of love) was a long running nightmare and I learnt quickly to expect that with every future relationship.  Even when I married, one of the reasons I did was that I feared my future husband would do the same.  If I didn’t agree to marry him, he would haunt me for the rest of my days.  That wasn’t because he did anything to make me think that but I just thought that’s what men did.

I got two lessons in what love isn’t.  Actually more, but I won’t go into that now.  Firstly love was a trap.  Secondly, my needs didn’t count.  The people who said they loved me were more interested in Christian compassion for others (the perpetrator) than in protecting me.

It’s really not surprising that I opted to be alone eventually, if that was my understanding of love.  It was a safe thing to do.  To be alone was the best way to protect myself, and you know, in that respect it worked.  It was probably the best course of action at the time.  Nobody could hurt me, because I didn’t give them a chance.

But alone has drawbacks.  Not only can no one hurt me but I can’t experience loving someone, I know I can do the ‘alone’ thing if that’s how life works out, but do I want to?  Actually I think I’d like a chance to change my understanding and experience of love.  That has to be the healthier option and the more enjoyable one.  To put away what love isn’t, and find my own version of what love is.  It’s a chance to live again, without the fear.  This is all pretty weird for me right now.  I’m just becoming a bit more open to life (and love) than I was, and that has to be a good thing.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

―    C.S. Lewis,    The Four Loves

 

What’s Wrong With Her? Why Is She Single? Doesn’t She Want To Have Children? (Guest Post)

Image credit: Benjamine Scalvenzi via Fotopedia.com

Recently I posted Child-free Emotions and earlier, I’m Not Having A Baby about my choice to not have children.  Following my posts, someone who has become a very dear friend discussed with me her reactions to my posts, and I invited her to share those here as a guest post.  While our circumstances have been very different, a lot of the feelings she describes echo those I have had on my journey too.  Here are her words…

It seems that being single and/or being childless automatically puts you in the category of having “something wrong” with you. In other words, “You must be out of your mind!!” is what people are really thinking. What they also think and sometimes are insensitive enough to say is, “That’s not normal!!” My question to you is, who are you to define what “normal” is for me? Have you ever considered there are “legitimate” reasons why I am single or why I am childless? Or do you just judge me and label me without having a clue to what has happened in my life? For those who consider it their duty to see single people and women without children as not being “normal,” here’s something for you to consider:

I grew up in a time when the “normal” thing for young girls to expect was to grow up, meet someone in either high school or college, fall in love with him, get married, have children and live happily-ever-after. You could have a job before you got married, but once you had that ring on your finger your job was to be a wife and mother. Maybe, if your husband allowed you to, once the children were in school or had left home, you might be able to have a job. Please note that it was a job, not a career. Your career, even when your children were grown and on their own, was still to be a wife and mother . . . or now a grandmother. The only exceptions seemed to be if you’d been “foolish enough” to have chosen a “lazy, good-for-nothing” husband which meant you had to work in order to keep a roof over your heads and food on the table. In which case, it was your fault for choosing the wrong man to begin with!! These “normal” things a young girl was expected to do never took into account the following scenarios:

What if you grow up in a home where your parents despised each other and you thought this was typical of married people? What if you found out this was not typical and not the what you wanted to use as a role model for your own marriage? What if all of your sisters marriages are not ones you want to use as a role model either because one sister, determined not to be dominated by a man like her father, “hen-pecked” her husband and he allowed her to do so; because another sister used sex to get a husband so she wouldn’t have to move where the family was moving and then used sex for the rest of her life to control and manipulate every man she met in order to get what she wanted to out of life; because another sister chose a man just like her father, only angrier, louder, meaner, more demanding, more verbally abusive and who played mind games with everyone he met since he thought he was so much more clever than anyone else? What if the church denomination you grew up in never made allowances for human behavior so that you were told everything was “fine” in everyone else’s home until the day one member of the family finally has the nerve to walk down the aisle for “confession” and every member of the congregation discovers to their horror that one spouse has committed adultery, one child is on drugs, one child is pregnant and unmarried and the couple is filing for divorce? What if, in this denomination, these were all horrible sins and the family members were now torn apart because they were too ashamed to seek help from their “brothers and sisters” because they knew they’d be condemned, as a child you see these once loving and loved people being condemned and shunned — or worse, “disfellowshipped,” which is the Protestant form of “excommunication”?

What if you still believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that you would one day “meet the right fellow, fall in love, have children and live happily-ever-after” because you’re still naive enough to believe that it could happen . . . until the day one of your sisters brings home a “man” she’s fallen in love with and he starts putting his hands on you when you’re an adolescent? What if you naively believe that since he’s about to become your “big brother” that he’s just showing “natural affection”? What if this touching increases as the years go on until one day this man, being a position of power and authority in your life as he’s taken on the trustworthy role as father-figure since he’s married to the sister you trust the most who has taken on the trustworthy role as mother-figure in your life, convinces your sister to join him in laying a trap for you — a trap you don’t see because you trust these people, especially your sister, with your life? What if that trap is what he wanted from the first time he saw you when you were twelve years old: to have sex with you? What if your sister leads you to his bed? What if he never stops touching you, bothering you, flirting with you, “loving” you or simply letting you alone for the next two decades?

What if you escaped this situation as soon as you were old enough to get out on your own and began meeting men that you were still considering as “marriageable material”? What if you still didn’t know what truly loving someone and being loved by someone meant? What if you discovered that the men you met saw a beauty and a value in you that you never believed you possessed because you’d been told all your life how ugly, fat, stupid clumsy and how much of a bother you were? What if you allowed yourself to believe it for just a bit because you so desperately wanted it to be true? What if things were going along smoothly until he began talking about marriage? What if you began to panic inside because he might find out the bad thing that had happened that had been all your fault and he’d hate you for it? What if you knew that there was no way the marriage would last because even if you were able to manipulate and control everything so that he never found out your horrible secret, you still didn’t know what a good marriage looked like, you had no idea how to make a marriage work and the thought of having children, even though you’d been a great babysitter and were a good aunt to many nephews and nieces, scared you to death for reasons you didn’t understand at the time? What if that panic and fear made you run away? What if you met another man and the same thing happened, only this time you didn’t have to run away because he was transferred overseas, so now you were safe? What if you met another man, one whom you now realized you truly loved but were still terrified he’d discover your secret and blame you and hate you since it was all your fault? What if this man had the same bad characteristics as the bad characteristics of your father and you knew you’d never be able to stand up in “a house of God” and make vows before God, family and friends to do all kinds of things “until death do you part” when you knew you’d want to leave him long before death entered the picture and you didn’t want to end up divorced with a couple of children to raise on your own?

What if you had a miscarriage? What if you later discovered you had several mental and emotional illnesses? What if you’d gone ahead and married that man despite all the red-flag warnings? What if you’d been able to carry a baby to full term, but had a breakdown going through postpartum depression? Would that postpartum depression have caused a breakdown? Would that postpartum depression and/or subsequent breakdown cause you to harm your own innocent baby and/or yourself? Would your new husband, not understanding what was going on, stand by you? Would he seek help for you? Would he stay by your side? Would he divorce you because you’re “crazy”? Would he now hate you for being “crazy” and for putting his child in danger? Would he now discover the secret and despise you on top of everything else? Would he have you committed? Would you have to go to jail and then to prison for acts committed when you were “out of your mind”, because you’d never consider doing such things if you were in your “right mind”?

Now that you’ve considered these things, I hope you’ve really had a chance to think about each question, taking your time to wonder what you would do in each of these scenarios. I don’t have to wonder what I would have done because I’ve experienced every single one of these things, and many more, except that I never carried a baby to full term and I never went through with the marriage. Because of the secret shame and loathing I carried around inside of me for what two people did to me, having cold-bloodedly and pre-meditatively planned to do to me, one of those people being the one person I trusted the most in this world, my sister, I never thought I deserved a family of my own. I thought I wasn’t worthy. I was terrified someone would find out how bad I was, how despicable I was, how dirty I was, since I was led to believe that what happened and continued to happen was all my fault, and I was terrified that if the one man I truly loved ever found out about my secret and forgave me for being such a bad person, he’d go after my brother-in-law and kill him or be killed by him.

Once I discovered I had several mental and emotional illnesses, I wondered if the breakdown I had, which came about because I’d kept the secret inside me for so long it was slowly killing me and it had to come out, would have occurred earlier if I’d gone through with what the man I loved wanted and married him. I know we would have had children, if I’d been able to carry one full-term, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have had postpartum depression. Having heard many stories on the news of women who kill their children during this state of mind, I cannot help but wonder if the mental and emotional illnesses that made the chemicals in my brain unbalanced would have made me join their ranks. If I had survived the inevitable postpartum depression, I would have passed on my inherited mental and emotional illnesses and I would have, as my parents did to me, hurt my children verbally and emotionally — but I pray not physically — because whereas I might have had better parenting skills, having learned from my parents what not to do, I still might not have had enough skills to have known the best way to raise my children.

I still never gave up on the idea of marriage, until I had a breakdown and this illness-I-never-knew-I-had got out of control. In order, subconsciously, to protect myself from ever being sexually abused again, and because the secret had to come out, I began gaining weight in the years preceding the breakdown. Since then, I have gained an enormous amount of weight and have kept it on, except for a short time in my life. When I lost a good deal of weight I began to feel good about myself. I began to feel prettier. Men began to notice me again. I slowly began to panic. Then I began to eat, both for comfort and as a means of stuffing my feelings down . . . and as a safety measure. The layers of fat on my body are really layers of walls that I have built between the real me inside this body and the scary things that men will down to pretty, thin women — especially my brother-in-law who to this day still looks at me with that “knowing” look!! Apparently no matter how fat I am, he’ll still think of me as that vulnerable young girl he wants to have in his bed.

 I could never write these things on my own blog because family members who don’t know the truth would be meaninglessly made to suffer if I were to reveal my secret. My dear, kind and generous friend, Cate, has allowed me to take up space on her blog to let my voice be heard. My name is Kathy and I have been the victim of mental, emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual and sexual abuse. Due to this violence against my person and due to the genes I inherited, I now live with many mental and emotional illnesses, the two main ones being bipolar disorder and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) I’ve spent the last nineteen years of my life with these illnesses barely under control by medication. I’ve done the best I can with doctors, counselors and my God and Lord, Jesus, the Christ, to overcome my past and to place the responsibility for wrongs done to me onto those who did those wrongs and off of me, an innocent child and young woman. I am still a work in progress, because once a child is harmed the scars are on that soul forever. God, in His wisdom, love, grace and mercy has been teaching me and is continuing to teach me how to live with these things and how to live past these things. I am 55 years old. I am a survivor!! Therefore those of you who know me on WordPress know me as survivor55.

Without Hope

CAUTION: THIS POST RELATES TO THE ISSUE OF ATTEMPTED
SUICIDE AND THEREFORE MAY WARRANT CAUTION WHEN READ.

Recently I came across an old post from Natasha Tracy’s blog Bipolar Burble called People Who Attempt Suicide Don’t Want To Die.  It’s a post Natasha wrote a couple of years ago and it is written from her own perspective based on her own attempted suicide at a time when she felt completely hopeless.  I don’t want to take away from what she said but the title caught my eye and my initial reaction was ‘I don’t agree with that’.  On taking some time to reflect, I would soften that by saying that I think some people who attempt suicide don’t want to die, but there are some do.

We don’t really talk about suicide or attempted suicides very often.  And aside from not wanting to trigger off thoughts and feelings I think it is hard to talk about because there are so many emotions tied up in it, and perhaps everyone’s experience is different.  So all I want to do here is offer a bit of my story.  It’s not right or wrong, just like what Natasha wrote was not right or wrong.  This is just my story.

The first thing I did was think about New Zealand, partly because there has recently been a move here to free up the reporting of suicides by the media on the basis that perhaps the more we are open about it then the more people will seek out help.  I went to the Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand site.  It has a lot of information but not so much on the reasons people attempt suicide.  What I did find was:

“People who feel suicidal often feel as though they just don’t belong. Feelings of ambivalence about living or dying are often a central focus for those who attempt suicide.”  (1.)

“People who struggle with suicidal thoughts, there is often a debate going on in their head. They’re not actually thinking about being dead, but they’re thinking about bringing an end to an incredible level of pain and distress.” (2.)

So the experts tell me that maybe that’s right.  People don’t want to die.  The thing is that I did.  Maybe some people don’t want to die, but I think that is too simplistic.  Some people who attempt suicide do actually want to die.

Before I go further I need to state that my own experience of attempting suicide relates to some years ago and I do not feel like this now, nor do I have current thoughts of suicide.  That said, I recognise that I have a tendency to revert to that way of thinking very easily.  That’s partly just from having been there, and partly to do with the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which make it hard to get away from.  This means that there is an ongoing need to be careful, and I work through this with my therapist, as I need to.

I made two major suicide attempts as well as a number of smaller ones.  It would be fair to say that my attempts got bigger and more damaging each time.  In both major cases the hospitals where I was subsequently treated were amazed that I survived.  That said, when I survived I wasn’t relieved, but rather really angry that I had failed.  IT took a long time to get past that anger.

Perhaps in the minor attempts I was simply exhausted by the mental and emotional pain I had been in.  I just wanted it to stop and what I did was not thought out clearly, but was rather desperation.  I accept for those that perhaps I didn’t really want to die.

The major attempts though, I was quite clear that I wanted to die.  I felt completely without hope, and because of that lack, I saw no reason to living.  I couldn’t see how anything could change.  Actually I had been trying to make things change, but I only seemed to get worse.  At the first time I had even resorted to trying Electro Convulsive Treatment (ECT), which I have written about in my post ECT – How It Was For Me.  ECT seemed like a last resort.  The only problem was that it didn’t work ,and so as months went on I became more and more hopeless, and resorted to attempted suicide.

So would I have needed to change to persuade me away from this thinking?  I needed relief from my Depression, I needed an end to the constant battle of Anorexia, and I needed a way out of a relationship that I had no idea of how to get out of it.  I was married, in a mainly Christian environment,  surrounded by Christian friends and family, my husband worked for a Christian organisation… all of whom I assumed would never accept me leaving that marriage.  I was fairly sure my husband would not let me walk away either, and that I would end up stalked by him for the rest of my life.  That’s not because of the person he was but rather because of my experience of being stalked previously over a long period of time (see my post Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me).  The only way to get out of the marriage without bringing shame and disappointment to myself and D, and without lifelong consequences, was to kill myself.  I no longer believed that any of it was possible, and so chose to try to kill myself.  I wanted to be dead.  I was completely without hope. I just wanted to be finished and out of there.  There was no ambivalence by this point (either time).

The reality was that I had severe mental illness.  Both times I was depressed, I had undiagnosed BPD (which would contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions), my body weight and my food intake was so low that my brain wasn’t functioning properly anyway, and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought about by the stalking I had endured was also leading me to make decisions that weren’t logical and weren’t founded on fact.

Basically there was no way I could think straight but that didn’t stop me from making a decision that I wanted to be dead.  If I had been treated as if I didn’t want to die, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have been taken seriously enough.  I’m not saying that a suicide attempt involving ambivalence and a need to just get out of the pain is not serious.  It is, but I think that possibly different tpsychotherapuetic reatment could have ended in a different outcome in the long run.

My gut feeling about this is that you can’t make assumptions where suicide is concerned.  It’s too dangerous because there are so many different possibilities. To assume that People Who Attempt Suicide Don’t Want To Die risks some people being overlooked.  It might be true that some people don’t want to die, but in two instances it wasn’t the case for me, and that suggests to me that it’s not the case for everyone.

Does it matter?  I think it does.  Maybe at the immediate time of the attempt it doesn’t matter, because what matters is saving a life.  But there is a need to come to terms with your suicide attempt, so that you can move on towards wellness.  It took me a long time to move on, and part of that was accepting that my life had been saved contrary to what I wanted.  I needed to be treated as an individual too, who had individual feelings about what happened.  Had my therapist made an assumption about the reason for my attempt, rather than hearing it from me, I would never have felt like I had been heard.  I needed him to hear that I wanted to die.

I can’t unfortunately tell you that ‘we all lived happily ever after’ but obviously I am alive.  About a year after the second attempt I found the courage to leave the relationship that has me so trapped.  That relieved a lot of the distress, although didn’t cure the mental illness.  My husband was clearly unhappy with my decision but did not go on to stalk me, as I feared, and I think looking back now we could both say that it was a good decision to end the marriage.  Some of those people who I was scared of their reaction didn’t react positively (I don’t think they saw the alternatives quite as I did) but most people who mattered stood by me.

I was treated as an individual, rather one of the thousands that attempt suicide each year.  I believe that has been important in helping me to accept what happened and move on.

And on a lighter note to finish, I found this quote below.  I’m wondering what it is about New Zealand that would make the difference, although I agree it’s a great place to live; and I wonder where one goes if one is already in New Zealand?  But I very much like the idea of doing what one was always afraid to do.

“Anyone desperate enough for suicide…should be desperate enough to go to creative extremes to solve problems: elope at midnight, stow away on the boat to New Zealand and start over, do what they always wanted to do but were afraid to try.”

 – Richard Bach

‘Losing’ my Religion (Passions Profile Challenge #5)

“I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents
become better people as a result of practicing it.” 
~Joe Mullally

“This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples;
no need for
complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own
heart is our temple;
the philosophy is kindness.”
~Dalai Lama

Regularly irrelevant, judgemental, inaccessible… that is my experience of Christianity.

That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t see that for many people it is relevant, accepting and accessible.  For some people, Christianity has saved their lives, and setting aside my own experience, I think that’s great.  The thing is though, that I’m not just talking about Christianity.  You’ll have to excuse me for referring mostly to that, because that is where my knowledge and my experience comes from, but what I am passionate about is that all religion should be relevant, non-judgemental and accessible to all people.

I was raised as a Christian.  My father was a minister, so everything revolved around the church.  At some point (as a teen) I made a decision that Christianity was my religion too, rather than being simply what my parents believed.  That is, until I was 28 years old when I came to a conclusion that really changed my whole life.  I think it was a bit challenging for both my family and my friends (many of them being Christians) too.  I decided church wasn’t for me.

That was a radical change.  For a long time I just didn’t want to know about religion.  I felt I had been judged and deemed unacceptable by something that I had previously regarded as my life.  It wasn’t just a ‘church on Sunday’ thing for me.  It was a 24/7 way of life.  I read my Bible everyday, I prayed, I was involved in a range of church activities.  And I stopped it all.

I guess for me my mental illness was the deciding factor.  My illness wasn’t accepted by some people, who seemed to regard it as a product of sin.  I was told by people that my illness was because I didn’t have enough faith in God.  I was also told by friends that using any type of psychology (I was seeing a clinical psychologist at the time) was evil.  Actually I was even given a book telling exactly why I shouldn’t use any form of psychological medicine.  I never read the book, and I have long since thrown it out (in the rubbish) because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone picking it up and concluding they were evil too.  I was also told that because my maternal grandfather had been a Freemason most of his life, this was an evil influence on me and so my mental illness was his fault.  Thankfully he had died by this time so he never knew of this because I know he loved me and he would have been devastated.  By the way he was also a Christian.  I’m sure other criticisms and judgements were cast my way too.  I’m just glad I have either forgotten them, or never heard them

Because I was almost overly sensitive at the time, I took those judgements, from perhaps a few, as being from all Christians.  That was hardly fair of me.  But in the occasional times I have ventured back my sense of being judged was still there.  If it wasn’t me being judged, it was other people I could see being judged, and actually that was even more angry making than what was thrown my direction.

When I see people being ignored because they’re different from the norm, when I see gay people told they’re not welcome or they can’t live with the person they love, when I see gay ministers being told they can’t minister anymore.  I just think that’s wrong.  When particular cultures are judged as evil, I think that is wrong.  One thing I learnt very early in my experience of religion was to “let the one who has never fallen cast the first stone” (John 8:7).  It’s not my place to judge, nor is it the place of any other human being to judge, because we have all got things wrong and none of us are perfect.

I know people who would scoff at my attitude, and that’s okay.  The thing for me is that each person can believe their truth but they don’t need to criticise, or condemn someone else’s truth.  I still believe in a Christian God, although it took a long time before I could accept it after the judgements I’d had thrown at me.  That’s my belief but it doesn’t make anyone else’s belief in another religion invalid.

Some of what I see leads me to think that some of religion is not relevant.  In my own city, which has been devastated by earthquakes recently I am struck by the intense arguments there have been over the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral (consecrated in 1881), and the subsequent arguments over replacing it with a temporary (10 year) building until they can decide what is appropriate long term.  I have my own views on the arguments that are continuing and some of the crazy things that have been happening, but it makes me so sad that a great fuss is made of spending millions of dollars on a  building for worship when the reality is that because of the earthquake damage we have a great shortage of homes.  Some may say I’m being simplistic, but I don’t think simplicity is a bad thing.  Surely we need to address the basic needs of the people before worrying about a building to worship in.  The city has survived for about 16 months without a Cathedral, so why can’t we continue to survive without it and use the money to make sure people have housing.  That would be relevance.

I worked for a charitable trust associated with a church a few years ago.  I wasn’t involved in the church but was basically the front person for both the trust, which provided social services to the community, and the church, from Monday to Friday.  Many people came in for a range of reasons but mostly it was to meet their basic needs.  They needed food from the foodbank, a meal, and social activity and interaction. It seemed to me that not many people were too interested in the fact that this was a church, until their basic needs got meet, and they felt accepted.  Interestingly a number of different religions used the premises for various activities that some might say weren’t Christian.  I think it was great, although I admit that it took me a while to reach that conclusion, and that is because I had my mind trained to think there was only one true faith and everything else was evil.  I don’t believe that now.

Having something to believe in is important, but I think that when you’re really struggling to meet your basic needs, barely hanging onto life, there just isn’t time or energy into thinking about that stuff.  What matters is where my next meal is coming from, or how do I shut up the goddamned voices in my head.  I think we are wasting time and effort if we think that those people are not holy, are not faithful (to which ever religion is relevant).  Singing hymns just doesn’t cut it when there are real needs out there.  And I don’t want a part of it.

That said, I know what I believe and will do my best to practise accordingly without casting judgement on others.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

(Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)


Preacher’s Kid (no preaching included!)

sharperiron.orgMy first labels came as I was born.  But my next big one, which had an enormous impact on my life, came at the age of three.  Recently kiwi Oscar winner Bret McKenzie said that one of the reasons for his success was that his parents encouraged him to chase his dream.  He said that in New Zealand you could chase, and have your dream.  My father chased his dream in 1968.  He has recently died but he would said he was following his calling.  I still think it was a dream, maybe as well as a calling.

Until then my father had worked as a furnishing factory manager in Christchurch, where I now live but he always knew he wanted to be a Baptist minister.  So when the opportunity came my parents grabbed the dream and shifted us all to Kawerau, a small town (near Rotorua) in the North Island of New Zealand, so that he could become the minister of the local Baptist church.  My two older brothers and I became P.K.’s (preacher’s or pastor’s kids).

Life changed significantly, and while many times I hated being a preacher’s kid I still know that my life was better than many could hope for.  The first thing that strikes me is that Dad wasn’t around a lot.  In this first church he worked there voluntarily and was also employed full-time at the local paper mill (where most of the town’s people worked).  So he was busy.  Not just two services on Sunday, but mid-week Bible studies, visiting church people, running ‘Bible-in-Schools’ at the local primary schools, and all the other jobs that a preacher takes on.  As a child I don’t actually remember Dad being around for a lot of the time.  That said, he was always my hero and I always knew he loved me.  Mum kept things running at home.  I guess that is what she saw her dream, or calling to be – to support Dad in his dream.

Shifting north to this small town meant moving away from extended family, including grandparents and cousins.  I really never got to know any of them well as a result.  I wish I had more involvement with my grandparents.  By the time I was old enough to not feel scared of these older, strange people it was pretty much too late to really know them, and have them know me.

In place of that extended family were the people of the church.  As P.K.’s our family was the church.  Every four or so years we shifted to a new church, in a new town, and the process started again of getting to know these people.  Some of the older church people took on a kind of ‘grandparent role’ and I have good memories of some of these people who at the time meant more to me than my real grandparents.  In New Zealand we have a Maori word ‘whanau’ which is an extended family who usually live together.  From a young age I regarded my whanau as the church people, and not my real relatives.  While I missed out on my own relatives I am lucky to have had some very special people impact my life.

At that young age being a P.K. didn’t have a big impact on me but we shifted to a new church in a new city of Auckland when I was seven.  One of the costs of being a P.K. was having to make new friends, over and over again.  I did that ok this time but found there were limitations on me because of my father’s role.  There was what I call an expectation to be perfect while an assumption I was evil… and this really stayed with me until I left home.  What I mean is that some people expected that because I was the preacher’s kid then I would be perfectly well-behaved.  I wasn’t.  At the same time some people had this assumption that preacher’s kids were all terrible.  Again I wasn’t that bad.  Somehow preacher’s kids had a reputation for going off the rails, failing at school and ending up pregnant and unmarried.  My first clash with this was at the age of nine when I was locked out of my friend’s house because her parents assumed me to be a bad influence on their child.  If anything, if was the other way around, but because I was the P.K. I was judged unfairly and was not allowed to play that day.  Other times I was allowed in the house so maybe they just didn’t like Dad’s preaching that day.

We shifted again when I was 12, this time to Wellington.  This time I didn’t handle the change and actually looking back I would now say that I was extremely depressed, perhaps my first depression.  It was a very hard time for me.  Again I had to leave my friends, again I had to leave those people in the church who had become like grandparents to me.  All because my parents were following their dream (calling) but really it was not something I wanted at all.

As a teenager I came up against unwanted attention of some men in the church who had their eye fixed on the preacher’s daughter.  Again it was unwanted and at times scary.  At the time my parents only knew the slightest detail, partly because by now I had learned to keep everything to myself.  It grew into prolonged stalking which continued long after my parents had chased another dream (calling).  My life became no longer my own as two men with a common obsession left with me a lasting distrust of men.  More about that another day, but for now it is enough to say that this could be attributed to being the P.K.

So what did all this do to my own Christian faith?  Obviously I was raised as a Christian, went to church and everything related to church.  I learnt my memory verses and read my Bible, and believed in God.  As long as my mental health survived, my commitment to Christianity survived.  But as a P.K. I had seen some particularly ugly things done in the name of Christianity.  I was already concerned about the way churches portray and practise their faith, and when times got hard for me it was harder to blindly accept that everything was good, that God loved me and that other Christians really did care.  Perhaps to my parents dismay I left the church when I couldn’t find acceptance of where I was at – mentally ill and suicidal.

As a P.K. you see everything that goes on in a church and some of it aint pretty.  I got put off when I saw how some people were treated by other people, and actually that has left me with a firm belief in fairness, equality and not judging other people.  So perhaps being a P.K. was a good thing because it has made me a different person.  What I have missed out on is the moving around.  The friends I have known for the longest, I met at 12.  I don’t know anyone from before that and I sometimes wish I could still hang out with my friends from kindergarten or the like.  I just don’t have roots that go right back.