You know, there are some not-so-great things I internalized from religion. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear, but after feeling wholly unsatisfied exploring my personal vendetta against the doctrine, I came to the conclusion most of the disdain I harbor for the teachings themselves is tantamount to how I feel about “all lives matter,” “make America great again,” and feminism that isn’t intersectional and inclusive. Sure, it’s still worth exploring because I definitely feel like publicly condemning religion is a social taboo, but on a more personal level, it isn’t religion itself that constantly gnaws at my gut.
I’ve been having a harder time than I let on. I’m much less open than I was last semester because the increased severity of my depression/hypomania cocktail was new and scary. Now it’s par for the course, and quite frankly, more often than not I felt worse after I actually opened up per many people’s request. I’m used to the perpetual emptiness/sadness combo. There’s no use harping on it any more. Honestly, doing so usually just unleashes pent up frustration, and all parties involved are worse because of it. Yay.
Beating around the bush is my new normal. My mental health exhausts people – imagine how I feel lol – so why bother telling people who act like they really want to know? They don’t. They’re just hoping to hear something different – rather, better. It’s easier to say, “I’m ‘the usual,’” because the people asking get to pretend like I’m fine, and I get spared the pain and invalidation of having everything I say misinterpreted.
So imagine my surprise when I ended up spending every night this week crying and panicking. Like, “chill out, Allie. You’re bipolar. This isn’t new.” When I actually started listening to my thoughts, however, I realized that the aggressive sadness comes from knowing that most people in my life – albeit supportive and well meaning – still attribute my decreasing sanity to a lack of religious belief. Even when it’s not explicit, I feel it in my bones.
I feel it when I say that my life has no purpose. I feel it when I say I’m an empty husk. I feel it when I say I resent being born. I feel it when people say they just want me to be “okay.”
Not to get too into my emotions, but it’s heartbreaking to think there’s not one person to whom I can tell everything without things getting combative, my feelings being invalidated, and/or my illness being viewed as some sort of rebellious political statement. I want, just for once, someone to tell me I’m sick and that it is unequivocally not my fault.
I think part of the reason I cling to my mental illness so tightly is because I’m waiting for the day someone will see it as an illness and not some failure to perform religious duties, failure to seek adequate treatment, or failure to try. Part of me only wants to recover out of spite to prove this has nothing to do with religion.
Any hostility I have stems from a deep wound of feeling blamed for the way my mind tortures me day-in and day-out. It is constantly being prodded and salted. It’s victim blaming through and through, and I refuse to feel selfish for saying that.
I refuse to feel selfish because I cry myself to sleep over feeling like no one is really listening, like no one is really hearing me. It’s like my leg is bent the wrong way with a bone poking through the skin, and people are like, “where’s it hurt? Looks fine to me. Have you tried talking to the sky? I talk to the sky all the time, and my leg is fine. Just stop focusing on the pain, and it will go away. I mean you might have to go through years of physical therapy, but be strong. Stay positive! It’ll all work out in the end. Sure, it might never work the same, but like, stop thinking about it. Be grateful you have another leg that isn’t irrevocably ruined. You’re being so selfish.” *incoherent screaming*
In the midst of excruciating pain, it’s hard to see the silver lining even if it’s obvious to everyone else, yet some people still look at me with the, “it’s all in your head” look. And I’m just like, “Okay, but how do I get it out?” Shockingly, “getting it out” is a much more arduous process than a chronically ill person feels like he or she has the energy to carry out. Healing seems impossible. It seems even more impossible when I’m constantly getting mixed signals about whether people believe I have an actual illness or just a religious-deficiency.
People say they want me to have, “peace.” Yeah, I know what that means. They want me back in their religious fold even when I tell them that would cause me even greater turmoil because of my fundamental problems with the doctrine. Also, I can’t just wish myself back into faith. That’s a ridiculous sentiment to have.
Sure, religious people pray for cancer patients, but they’d never tell a cancer patient that his or her atheism caused or worsened the disease. Plus, there are plenty of religious people with cancer, so that mentality would be special pleading anyway. Nonetheless, I fight that stigma every waking minute. I walk around knowing people don’t really believe I’m sick – at least, not in a way that’s equivalent to physically sick people.
Even as I write this, I know religious people think I’m being hostile or attacking them. I’m not. It’s a plea to stop telling me I need god again, to stop wishing me back into a faith I don’t want – a faith that no longer does me any good. I know it’s antithetical to the teachings, but what’s more important – a religious tenet or the fact that the religious response to my mental illness literally brings me one step closer to a complete breakdown? If it’s the former, just know that you’re contributing to the latter in the process.
I don’t know how many times I have to explicitly ask that religion not be dragged into a discussion of my mental health before my request isn’t completely disregarded. It’s always met with a condescending, “okay,” as if the people to whom I make the request have no intention of acknowledging it because they think they know how to solve my mental illness better than medical professionals. They think they know what’s best for my mind better than me.
Breaking news: I live with my mind. Even if I can’t give it what it needs to recover, I at least know what worsens its state of being. If you don’t genuinely believe that, I’m hurting because of you. If I care enough to tell you about my problems and/or you care enough to ask, just know how painful it is to constantly be invalidated and delegitimized because we have different systems of belief.
If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Imagine telling someone about your chronic, debilitating, physical pain but having him or her tell you to stop being dramatic, tell you it’s, at least in part, your fault, and tell you that it would be alleviated if you just believed exactly as he or she does.
Most days, I’m too tired from going through the motions of daily life to pursue any greater form of recovery. Opening up only to be completely shut down by being told I’m not trying or my lack of faith is the actual root of problem makes wanting to get better that much more difficult.
I have a wonderful support system, but when telling someone exactly what I need him or her to say over and over again and he or she still refuses to say it, I can’t help but feel completely alone and misunderstood. I want to lie in a corner and never talk to anyone again. I know I’ve said this a million ways a million times, but tonight I’m at my wit’s end and I know any attempt I make to tell people will either exhaust them, frustrate them, or make them feel like I’m attacking their belief system. They will feel like I’m harping on the negative for the millionth time, but my mind is sick. I don’t want it to be full of guilt and grief on top of that.
It’s really easy to placate people by telling them, “I’m fine,” to spare them the distress.
I’m waiting on someone to tell me the things I want – no, need – to hear in return.
Here’s a song that illustrates my exhaustion with fighting about the validity of my mental illness pretty well. (Also, can we just talk about how great Sia is?) And here’s a link to the Coleridge poem in the title.