I’ve been talking a lot about Mental Illness in these series of stories, so for the record, I’d like to share that I’ve been diagnosed Bipolar. I’m on all kinds of interesting medications, and it’s a real fun ride. Except, it’s not fun at all, and I’m kind of annoyed by it but y’know, that’s what happens when you get Baker Acted and other people make choices for you. Good choices, I believe. But still annoying. Choices can be both good and annoying, I guess is what I’m saying.
But what I really wanted to talk about was the other side of me - the “spiritual” side, shall we say.
I’m not religious. But let’s start at the beginning - it’s a pretty good place to start. That’s what Julie Andrews tells me. I digress.
I was baptized and raised Catholic for a good majority of my young life. At some point, in my early adolescence, I was sent to an evangelical Christian youth camp where I learned to embrace Jesus and all the wonderful gifts he could give me. It was also around this time, that my depression started to develop like a budding flower ready to bloom.
Have you ever watched Jesus Camp? You should watch it. It’s terrifying and hilarious, and a pretty good analogy for my experience as a young evangelical Christian. I acknowledge this might offend someone out there - mainly because I believe there’s a good portion of people that use the internet just waiting to be offended (Hi, Hello, How are you today? Hope you’re well. Make good choices.) - but I’m going to stop right here, just to say I experienced it, so if anyone should be offended it’s me, and I’m not.
So let’s continue.
I remained active in this youth group until one seemingly innocuous afternoon. I sat off to the side, the teenager in me already growing cynical beyond what my small body could contain, listening to a sermon. I can’t remember the context of which this was said, but I remember quite clearly the phrase, “We must bring our gay and lesbian friends, so they can see the sin that they’re living.”
I think it was at that point that I decided that everything was bullshit. Remember, I was a teenager, cynical, depressed, and pretty sure I knew it all. And at that moment - and for the record, in this moment - I knew that was some real bullshit.
You see, I couldn’t reconcile my personal ethics with the ethics of this person delivering their sermon. I want to make a point to state that specifically. I know some very wonderful Christians, many of which are great friends of mine. I just happen not to be, and that’s okay. We get along fine, and they’re wonderful people. You’re probably pretty wonderful too and for all I know, you worship the flying spaghetti monster. Shoutout to Richard Dawkins.
And thus, began my spiritual journey that I’m still on today. That was almost ten years ago, and I’m still trying to figure it out.
This is relevant because most people form their beliefs about death and the “afterlife” on their religious foundations. Well, when you don’t have any - or you have too many - death and the afterlife become enigmatic concepts that many times, you (I) have to convince yourself (myself) even exist. (For the record, Death: Exists, Afterlife: Not sure yet.)
This made dealing with grief after death a very difficult thing for me. In the span of about two years (2007-2009-ish?), my aunt, two uncles, a family friend, another family friend, and a coworker all died. Cancer, heart attacks, suicide, medical malpractice, and other - in no particular order. That was tough for me. I was on the verge of failing a semester of college and trying to reconcile that death is a thing that exists. Life just stops. And that’s it. That was crushing for me.
It’s still crushing for me. But as with all things, as is my nature, I observed my surroundings to try to make sense of it all - at this point, to try to make sense of anything.
What I saw was unrelenting sadness. What I felt was emptiness. What happened was a void. One moment, a thing exists. It fills your life and it makes you happy. It completes you, the whole you, or who you think you are. And then, another moment passes, and that thing no longer exists. Existence itself ceases to be. How can this be? Why does this happen?
At 19, two years after I first seriously contemplated suicide and almost ten years ago today, I made a decision that I would never do it, no matter what. I would never create a void for the people that I loved. They mattered enough to me, their happiness mattered enough to me. Even if my happiness was non-existent, or existent and void of meaning, I would never take away theirs. I would never fill them with emptiness, because I knew emptiness and I never wanted them to know it.
That was 19 year old me.
The funny thing about time is that it changes you. Well, I should say, time moves and you change and this happens simultaneously. And you can’t be sure of who you’re going to be after so much time has passed. And the person I was so sure I was, laid broken on a bathroom floor, barely able to breathe, convinced she was already dead or dying - so far separated from the 19 year old me that was sure she wanted to live.
Time is a circle like that.
I chose to live both times. I’m still not sure why. Love, I think, is a big reason. But loving myself, I think that’s the real challenge.
I want to end this by saying that Christianity and religion in general can be a great and wonderful thing for many people. It can give them meaning, a reason to live, and a moral code by which to live their lives. I hope, and I'm sure many others hope, that the moral code always guides them to do good. I think if we all can commit to doing good, the world would be a beautiful place. I think most conflict arises because everyone thinks their definition of "good" is more valid than everyone else's. I think we can all agree, fundamentally, that loving one another, respecting one another, providing for those who can't provide for themselves, and seeing our own faults, and seeking to fix them are ways to make the world a better place. Plus, like, Hillsong United makes some pretty dope music, so whatever, we all have good things to contribute. Let's get along, shall we.