How Religion Hurt My Mental Health

This will likely be a 10-part series on the main ways religion and lack of religion have contributed to my mental illness. With so many blogs talking about the ways religion helps mental health, I feel the need to throw the opposing view out there, but not simply to play devil’s advocate. This is an issue close to my heart. It’s caused me more pain from an identifiable source than anything else. As often as “nones” are dehumanized, it’s difficult to get comfortable in a mental health support community only to be confronted with conversion attempts as involvement increases. I’ve also found the atheist community to be fraught with sexism. I think it’s time to change the narrative in these spaces separately as well as in the spaces where these identities intersect. So here’s to being a bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, anxious, panicky, female, agnostic atheist.

Now how’s THAT for stigma?

I often say the above and refuse to elaborate to save people’s delicate sensibilities regarding this subject. Perhaps it forces them to reckon with their uncertainties, or perhaps they truly believe my identity is a personal affront to their world.

Whatever it is, religious people are scared of me because 1) I’m going to burn in hell and 2) an indifferent universe with no objective meaning is terrifying long before it’s liberating. I’m scared of religious people because 1) no, god didn’t tell you to come talk to me and 2) subjecting myself to a deity of dubious morality is more terrifying than an intrinsically purposeless existence.

Obviously, the above is a vast oversimplification, but long story short, I have experience on both sides of the coin. [Insert cliché on top of cliché about growing up in a Southern Baptist church and Missouri-Synod Lutheran school and going to college only to realize everyone’s worst fears (even my own): becoming a godless liberal.] Yes, this is my story in a nutshell, but I didn’t just attend the church. I was actively involved. I was entrenched in the religious community, and I fully intended to seek god’s will for my life until, well, I reached the age where I actually faced life-changing decisions that could see my intention through to an outcome.

To individualize my cliché deconversion story, my senior year of high school and the entirety of my college years were fraught with mental health issues. I’ve been diagnosed with every form of neurosis in the book – not that book. In the past year, my team of mental health professionals came to the conclusion that I’m Bipolar Type II. I also still retain an initial OCD diagnosis.

This was and is enough of a struggle in itself, but coupled with the slow realization that I no longer believed in the one ordering principle I had left, I was being spaghettified – an actual term in astrophysics – by the void.

Now a year removed from my moment of “realization” (It was literally a single moment. I remember waking up and being like “I don’t believe supernatural stuff can happen.”), I tend to subtly bring up that religion is bad for my mental health with my incredibly devout loved ones when they passively aggressively pray over my instability or tell me going to church would “help.”

They always respond with a puzzled and somewhat hostile look that seems to say, “First of all, how could you construe our beliefs negatively in any way? Second of all, how DARE you say anything negative about our beliefs?” Needless to say, I don’t get a chance to list the ways unless I want to start an emotionally fraught debate for which I ultimately get all the blame. And perhaps that’s where I should start the list.

For the sake of not being redundant, I won’t be publishing these on the main “personal” tab. Hover over the dropdown menu on “personal” and click on the series title to read further installments, or just click here. Thanks!

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