Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

I went to this churchy thing on Wednesday morning because I heard there was cheap Zumba?  Actually, free if it was your first time.  It was at a large, Mennonite-ish church close to our house, and a friend of mine goes.  So I went.  There was one hour for worship/coffee/fellowship/sermon/etc, and one hour of a variety of classes, anything from knitting to Bible study to Zumba.

The thing is that the "sermon" or lecture thing was done by a clinical counselor with 10 years experience and the topic was Anxiety.  At first I thought, wow!  Maybe God has something to say to me today that will add insight into managing my disorder, or reassurance that I'm not alone.  That's cool.  Au contraire, folks.  Au contraire.  It was a bunch of hogwash.  This clinical counselor stood before a room full of over 200 women and stated, "There are lots of theories out there about how anxiety is based on brain chemistry, has a physiological or hormonal basis, is genetic, or is a disease requiring medication, or is something you have for the rest of your life.  But all of these are wrong.  Anxiety is a fully reversible condition.  All you need is to fully give over your fears to God, and your anxiety will melt away: we just need support and the right information."

My jaw hit the floor so hard it caused a mini earthquake.  What. The fuck.  I was so mad.  I took out my phone and vented on Facebook and Twitter, because that's what one does, and I shook with anger.

After the lecture we were supposed to break into groups and answer topic questions.  The first question?  "What kinds of things make you anxious?"  The women at my table said churchy things like,

"When my house is messy I just feel so anxious."
"I can't rest until the kitchen is in order."
"When I've let too many days pass since I spent time in God's Word."


My friend went next:
"I'm not really an anxious type of person."

There's a reason we are friends.  She doesn't make me vomit, for example.

There was no way I was sharing honestly.  There isn't a swear word strong enough to express how NOT SHARING HONESTLY I felt, but fortunately the discussion time ended before my chance to share and THIS IS HOW WE KNOW THERE IS A GOD.

Everything about this bothers me, but two things in particular.  First, this (bloody hogwash) "theory" that anxiety has no physiological basis and simply needs God, was presented as a true fact, endorsed by God.  It wasn't presented as an idea among others, or a part of comprehensive treatment that may or may not include pharmaceutical drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, naturopathic treatments, support, doctors, research, etc, etc, etc.  It was presented as the replacement for all of these.
Second, this is actually dangerous.  Women in that room who have anxiety disorders may not seek appropriate or comprehensive treatment or may discontinue medication because of this type of preaching.  That puts them at higher risk of suicide, psychosis, violent outbursts, worsening mental illness, and deep unhappiness.  People in the throes of unmanaged anxiety are highly impressionable, especially about their anxiety and worry incessantly about treatment methods.

So I did my Zumba and loved it, and then went home and vented at Brent.  He was appalled too, although he figured most women listening would likely recognize hogwash when they saw it, and take it with a grain of salt.  He didn't buy my dangerous theory.
We laughed at them behind their backs and mocked the hypothetical reaction of my table if I were honest when asked what I'm afraid of:
-The death of my kids
-My husband being shot at work
-Car accidents
-improper car seat installation causing my child to become an unrestrained missile in a car accident
-Drunk drivers
-My kid getting hit by a car in a parking lot
-Flesh eating disease
-One of my kids drowning
-One of my kids being badly burned
-House fires
-Spinal cord injury
-Head injuries on my kids or myself or my husband
-Bike vs. car
-Kid vs. car
-Radiation poisoning
-My kids becoming rapists or serial killers
-Wild animal attacks

Brent kind of laughed and said, "And you've actually seen most of those happen in real life."

Sometimes Christianity is this weird festering narcissistic navel gazing ulcerated wound that breeds shit like this.  But really, I'm just neutral.  Like, whatever.


Caryn Ouwehand said...

HOLY SHITBALLS! THAT IS HOGWASH! When I read this: "Anxiety is a fully reversible condition. All you need is to fully give over your fears to God, and your anxiety will melt away: we just need support and the right information." I wanted to punch that lady in the face through my computer. And you are right, that is really scary, because THERE IS A TIME to seek out help. Can help come in the form of prayer, yes. But it also needs to come in the form of pharmaceutical and professional intervention at times. Holy crap this stuff makes me mad. The fact that she was allowed to stand behind a microphone and make a room full of women feel like maybe they just don't have enough faith is CACAPOO. I feel sorry for any of the women in there (which I'm sure there was many) that were made to feel even worse about their anxiety because of her talk... or put off treatment.


Oh, and the whole Rated G confessions of the group about dirty kitchens made me laugh out loud. Dude if I spilled my anxieties in that church group they would have been trying to cast demons out of my head for the rest of "circle time." My anxieties aren't as nice sounding as a dirty kitchen.

Mental Illness is so misunderstood. It's a step backwards when someone like that gets up behind a microphone.

kristen said...

Here here!!! I learned in retrospect just how anxious church and Christian dogma had made me for the vast majority of my life. The good ol' Christian guilt was the source of all that. The idea that God was always watching me was scary as hell. The idea that I might not be good enough for Heaven was also extremely terrifying. I was an absurdly devoted and ethical person, and always have looking back, it was all so crazy. What goes on in most churches I would categorize as psychologically unbalanced and even in some cases, emotionally abusive. I think it's emotionally abusive, for example, to put a child in church and tell them what to believe. Anyway....

I was baptized Lutheran in North Dakota, but eventually attended non-denominational evangelical churches (also in North Dakota), and then I attended a Baptist church when I moved to BC. I left the church when I was 20-21. I have always been an avid reader and thinker, and my own studies led me far outside, and away from, Christian doctrine. I began to doubt and question EVERYTHING. The dogma could not hold. I could no longer believe in a personal god. Etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, I experimented with other churches once I left my own, like the Anglican Church, the Unitarian church, etc. But just STEPPING foot in any place that even resembles church or a church atmosphere fills me with dread and makes me incredibly anxious. I can't deal with anyone telling me what to think or how to think or what to believe. I have absolutely no patience and no tolerance for any of that anymore.

And looking back, I can think of many, many people I knew in the church who needed psychological help but never got it because of their belief that God will cure all.

And as a future therapist, it angers me greatly to hear such ignorance. "All you need is God and all your troubles will vanish." Are you fucking kidding me?!?!?!?!

Tamie said...

Your post has inspired me to a new project. It is called Project Infiltration. Maybe I should call it Operation Infiltration. Yes, that has a better ring to it.

What Operation Infiltration will involve is going into churches and attending meetings/sessions/prayer groups/bible studies/etc., where things like this are being said. The whole idea will be to smoothly fit in, to be a demure and sweet Christian woman....and then to slowly, subtly, completely undermine the whole fucking thing.

Please note that it will be a focused undermining, zeroing on bullshit such as what you are describing. Obviously good things also happen in Christian communities. Operation Infiltration will leave those things alone.

What strikes me as especially tragic is that some of the women there who were speaking about anxiety over dirty dishes, etc., may actually have real, huge problems. But because no one else is speaking up and calling bullshit for what it is, they continue to suffer alone and think they're crazy.

This is one of the many reasons why Operation Infiltration is necessary. All are welcome to join.

melissa v. said...

I knew @Caryn would get a big kick out of that story, AND be angry. Crazyballs, I totally felt like I was in the twilight zone as it was happening around me and nobody was voicing any opposition.

@TAMIE, your idea is AWESOMENESS and I LOVE IT! I was at a loss as to what to do. Stand up and shout back? Write a letter? Go up to the speaker afterwards and ask her if she knows exactly how much damage she is doing? And ask her "What if you are wrong?" I opted for Facebook snark and a blog post. =p

@Kristen, I appreciate you sharing your story so open and honestly. I know several people who feel a dark heaviness even walking inside a church and engaging with dogma or doctrine feels very wrong for them. I believe the church, like most human institutions, has caused and is still causing a lot of brokenness and propagated evil.

I wrestled with whether to address your statement that "I think it's emotionally abusive, for example, to put a child in church and tell them what to believe." I respect your right to freedom of speech and to hold an opinion opposite of mine, but I think it is not generally very diplomatic to go on the blog of someone who IS religious and teaches their child accordingly. I bring my four children to church and teach them what I believe to be true. I'm a pretty liberal Christian but I am in fact a Christian. We are open to our kids believing different things when they grow up, and raise them with tolerance as a central part of our value system, regardless of anything from skin colour to religion to orientation. That's not abusive. That's parenting.

There is potential for abuse in the scenario you describe but I certainly don't abuse my children by bringing them to church or teaching them what I believe. Actually, anyone teaches their children what to believe, be it agnosticism, atheism, openness to any possibility, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, pantheism, or even a simple "we don't know." It would be disingenuous for any parent to teach their child the opposite of what they themselves believe.

But all that aside, I simply wanted to ask you to refrain from calling parents who bring their children to church emotionally abusive in this space. Most of my readers fit that category, as do I.

kristen said...

I'm not calling you an emotionally abusive parent. I'm sorry that I didn't explain what I meant with that statement. I think what happened to me and many, many other children is emotionally abusive. I will never think differently, and looking back on my experience only solidifies that belief.

In my experience, I was told what to believe, and I was told it was NOT proper or right or Christian to question those beliefs. This stance seeped in to every part of my life, especially when dealing with ANY authority, not just in the church. I developed the entire belief/stance that I should not question, but blindly follow and accept. I see our friend T fighting against many similar things, too. We both know many of her experiences there. I do think this is very common for a huge number of former church-going Christians.

My parents were not even very religious and did not attend church. I went on my own, starting from the age of 8 or so. My best friend's mother (who was a second mother to me, because of the amount of time I spent at their house) was the one who taught me everything about the church, and she strictly forbid me to have a questioning attitude. She said it was Satan speaking within me! Seriously! How could someone tell a child that!? And that was pretty common in the evangelical churches I went to throughout my life! Many of my friends had parents who did the same, or Sunday School teachers who would say very similar things, or pastors who would preach the same, etc. etc and on and on and on. Do you think that's healthy? I doubt that you do, and I don't think you raise your children that way.

I'm still slowly getting to know who you are and your beliefs, but so far you do come across as a liberal and open-minded Christian. Let me repeat...I'm not calling you an abusive parent. Do you really think someone who likes and respects you would go on your blog and do that??

And no, I don't teach my son what to believe. When I still considered myself a maybe-sorta Christian and still definitely believed in God, my son had declared himself to be an atheist. It was something that had been presented at school, and he sided with the atheists! I remember trying to argue with him about it when he was just 8 years old! And then I's not right for me to do so. He had already formed his belief, and he was entitled to it. Who was I to try to correct him?!?!

melissa v. said...

Kristen, thank you for clarifying that you were speaking from your experience and not of me/those like me! I agree that what you describe is unethical and, furthermore, illogical and driven by fear. Fear is a tool used by abusive people to control others, and anything we can do to break free from it is so, so good.

Again, I am sorry for your experience and appreciate that you are willing to share it here.

You asked if I think someone who reads my blog would leave a negative or judgmental comment and I just have to say it wouldn't be the first time, by far. I have had numerous readers (some I knew and some I didn't) leave very judgmental comments. I had to disable anonymous comments because I got so many of them, and they were pretty horrible. Many of them I deleted.

Not to say that your comment was in that category, but you can see there is a precedent for believing it to be possible.

Thanks for clarifying. =)

lori said...

Wow. Wow. Maddening, indeed. That's very similar to the evangelical approach to many problems, sadly enough. Jesus is the answer to the western economy (though He Himself never claimed to be), Jesus is the answer to cancer, to addiction, to a failing marriage, and the list goes on. And, He does hold out peace amidst a variety of troubles and perspectives that very well may ease certain aspects of anxiety or help people to make better decisions. However. (!!!!!!!)

And I too can attribute much of my mental anguish as a youth and young adult to the general messages of the evangelical church. I haven't abandoned the Christian faith either, but it's a continual wrestling match for me, this sorting out of what is helpful and what is harmful, what is true to the deeper aspects of the original Christian faith and what is modern, agenda-based spin.

Also, I'd be curious if other alert people have brought up concerns about that presentation to the presenters. I kind of imagine they have. But if anyone could put together a respectful, to-the-point, well-referenced letter and send it to that therapist and the leader(s) of that church or women's group, it would be you, lady. No pressure, but geeeeeeez. ;)