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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So I've Discovered That (For Me) Church Culture Causes Depression

Image description: a drawing that shows one red woman lonely in a crowd of blue people
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So I've been going to a church small group. And experiencing some of the symptoms of depression.

Ai ya.

We're reading this pointless book about "spiritual disciplines." It's pretty awful. All that stuff about "you need to always have Jesus at the center of your life" and "you need to read the bible every day", which in reality means "you need to constantly feel like a failure for not having Jesus at the center of your life every second of the day, you need to interrogate your motives because if you do the right things for the wrong reasons, that's a sin too, you need to beat yourself up about the fact that you can never follow all these rules, wow what a horrible sinner you are."

I hate this book but I at least flip through the chapters we're supposed to read every week, so the church people won't say "she just wants to complain, she didn't even read the book."

And then I go to work and sit at my desk and stare at my computer, and stare, and stare, because I know exactly what work I'm supposed to be doing (related to C++ coding, yeah my job is pretty awesome) but I just can't work up the energy to actually do it. To actually move my hands onto my keyboard, to make a decision about where in my code to insert the function I need to add... I just can't.

And suddenly I realize, this is depression. This is what depression feels like.

Every week, on the day of the small group, I feel nervous for the whole day. Then when it's finally time for the discussion at the small group, I tell them what I think, and my hands shake and my heart races and my whole body feels tense. Sometimes I try to speak the language of American evangelical Christianity- using words like "legalism" rather than "this is damaging to people's mental health"- but I'm out of practice speaking that language. And I don't think there is any church-approved way to say "I don't believe in submitting my life to Jesus. I used to believe that, but now I make my own choices and everything is better."

Over the past year, I've worked really hard to find Christians and Christian groups (it's not easy in China) in the hopes that maybe someone can accept me. I spent a lot of time and energy on finding them, and then I cut every single one out of my life when it became clear that they just wanted to tell me what to do and what to believe rather than actually listen and care about me. And I'm so glad I did.

And as for this small group, I attend it because I have hope that maybe I can find a Christian there who accepts me. But the most important thing is that it will always be my decision whether I go or not. I can quit and never look back and God supports my right to make that decision.

And I go to work and stare at my computer and think, "one of the church people said people deserve to go to hell" and I can't concentrate on anything. And then, "oh my goodness, this is depression."

And then I can snap out of it by telling myself, no I don't believe that crap. I don't read my bible and I don't feel bad about it and God loves me- and by love I mean real love, which means God doesn't think people deserve to go to hell. I am good and I deserve good things. I have the right to make my own decisions about my life. I can even choose to believe in God or not.

(And I've also been reading Dianna Anderson's Damaged Goods and it's amazing. Mostly the part about how we have the right to make our own choices about our bodies.)

So I feel like I'm right on the line between depression and not-depression. And it's fascinating how obvious it is that attending this church group is causing it.

I had depression last year, because I live with my boyfriend and I'm unrepentant about that so clearly God thinks I'm dirty, and then I went to therapy and quit believing all that crap and everything got better. And now just recently, because of reading this awful book and putting myself in a setting with a bunch of people who appear to buy into it, I'm experiencing symptoms of depression again. But this time it's not as bad- I can just remind myself that I don't believe that nonsense.

(Readers: If you are all thinking, "Perfect Number, you need to quit going to this group", well yeah I'm thinking that too. I'm weighing the mental health cost against the possibility of finding Christians who support me. We will see where that calculation goes. But the most important thing is, it's my decision. I don't pray about it and obey God and all that crap.)

Of course, the Real True Christian perspective on this is that I'm experiencing conviction from the Holy Spirit. I've been avoiding everything related to God and just finding sources who would tell me what I want to hear (including a worldly psychologist who would help me justify my sin) and now that I'm exposed to God's truth again, well of course it's painful. But it's good, it's from God, and I mustn't try to avoid it. At the very least, I need to consider the question, what if I am wrong? What if I am living in sin? What if it's actually impossible for me to know right from wrong because I'm so sinful, so I just need to believe whatever the church says?

To which I say, can a good tree bear bad fruit? (And also no, I'm not going to consider any of those questions. I'm so done with that bullshit.)

And then we would come to a disagreement, because the Real True Christian does not believe depression is "bad fruit." No, it's godly sorrow which leads to repentance.

Yeah, okay. Just makes me even more glad that I don't believe that crap anymore.

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Follow-up post: Church is Supposed to Hurt

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