Home. My fingers tremble as I spell it out. Whatever sentiment it should give me is unfamiliar.
We are taught that home should be a place of safety and rest, and the word on our lips should be sweet. There are songs about returning, sermons encouraging you to be a prodigal son or daughter. If you’ve left, go back. Celebrate.
But, like many others, I cannot identify. I cannot celebrate a homecoming. My home and most of its members have never been truly safe or capable of unconditional love. My formative years were mostly spent hiding, pretending to be the girl I could not be. Now that I am an adult, I am a disappointment, and acutely aware of it.
I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian home, and I am recovering still.
Growing up in that sort of environment, I was taught Jesus is literally the answer for everything. If I had a test in school, ask him for wisdom. If I had an owie, ask him to heal it. If I had a nightmare or debilitating fear, command whatever demon was tormenting me to leave (in Jesus’ name). I could not dress immodestly, nor could I date until I was 16 years old. I couldn’t read books or watch tv shows/movies that involved magic (i.e. Harry Potter, Dragon Tales, anime) because it was witchcraft and would probably open doors to demonic attacks. If I was worried about something, I didn’t have enough faith and needed to just “give it to Jesus.”
You can imagine the hurt and even trauma I endured when I developed severe depression and anxiety.
I’ll be very honest: right now, I don’t know what I believe. I believe there is a God, but, beyond that, I’m just not sure. I’m angry, hurt, bitter, confused, and disappointed. So, I don’t mean to bash religion or what you may believe about God. But I have to address the wounds fundamentalism brought me, and perhaps even you.
I was in high school when I first began suffering from depressive symptoms. And I hid them all, believing strongly I would be a disappointment to my parents and God. I tried so hard to have more faith and surrender everything to Jesus. Everyday, I would ask for forgiveness for failing to be happy and joyful, and, once again, ask to be given rest from these heavy burdens.
They never went away.
It was my hell, and the King of Jews was right: torment certainly looked like weeping and gnashing of teeth.
When I finally confessed to my parents that I was suicidal (and sooooo sorry), they asked about whether or not I had truly made Jesus Lord of all of me. I said probably not, I will though. And that was that. For the next 6 years, they never once tried discussing it with me again.
I don’t think it was because they didn’t care about what I was going through. I think they genuinely believed, and still do, that depression and anxiety are spiritual issues. To have either, in their minds, is to lack faith; to have somehow allowed Satan to have a foothold.
But, whether they meant well or not, this was never okay.
I have spent years believing that I was a failure of a Christian, incapable of impacting the kingdom because it was my fault I was suffering so deeply. I tried and tried and tried to stop crying myself to sleep, to stop skipping meals. I tried to quit being so sensitive and thinking about death. But I just couldn’t. And I hated myself for it.
I have spent the same number of years not getting the help I needed because I was waiting for Jesus to finally be happy with what I asked and take it all away. I never considered medication because mental illness was supposedly only a spiritual issue, one I hadn’t been forgiven for yet.
Now here I am, six years later, having been recently diagnosed with severe depression and severe anxiety. Here I am, six years later, in weekly therapy. Here I am, six years later, taking antidepressants and medication for panic attacks. Here I am, finally relieved and grateful to be getting the help I have always needed. But I am doing it without my family’s knowledge. My therapist and I are always working together to address the painfully deep wounds fundamentalism left all over my mind and heart. Everyday, I have to remind myself that I am not a failure for getting help or being dependent on medication; I am not possessed by a demon. If there is truly a God, maybe the expectations that were also dumped on me don’t perfectly align with his.
But, who knows. I certainly won’t pretend to. All I know is I am better now with therapy and medication. I am better now with help. I am better now after leaving behind the conservative and fundamentalist upbringing that was so dangerous to my mental health. I don’t get to join with others when singing about home, but perhaps I’ll find my own safe place to hum about someday.