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.
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.