Yesterday, in my PBP post, I talked about depression and hope. I glossed over the reasons for my childhood and it was in a comment that I was reminded that the depression that I face stems not from some genetic anomaly but from the choices and actions of those who were supposed to protect me as a child. I am all about talking about things that “polite society” abhors, so lets throw off the pretenses and really talk about this. I welcome all comments at the end, because I want to open this discussion, I think the things that drive us to paganism have some common factors. So here goes. (If my family is reading this, you might wanna stop. I have no qualms about discussing the past in this public, albeit anonymous, setting.)
I was an abused child.
No, in the modern lexicon, I am a survivor of child abuse.
That’s not quite right either.
I was forged and shaped in the landscape of an abusive home. The same actions that drove me to renounce Judaism at the age of 7 (“No God in his right mind would let my Mom be this mean to me.”) also fertilized the roots of anxiety, depression, and yes, an eating disorder that I just can’t seem to shake, even as a full-grown adult. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I love my family. I have found a way to feel compassion towards my mother, my father and my two sisters. And as an adult, I have a pretty great life. But the fact remains: the house was a horrible place to grow up.
Imagine a mother with undiagnosed OCD, and depression and anxiety that can be traced through her family. Her father was hospitalized 3 times, one of her younger sisters committed suicide when she was in her late 20’s. Imagine this mother with three young children, an education in psychology, a growing case of OCD in the form of hoarding and no job. Imagine this woman with such a need to control her environment that she measures out every morsel of food that is eaten in the house.
I was 6 when my mother went mad. I can remember what I was wearing, what she said, how it happened that I was forever labeled the “bad child”. I won’t tell you the details but it never got better. There was emotional, physical and mental abuse. There were locks on the doors, including my bedroom door, then on the windows, then on the refrigerator and the cupboards. I was an atheist at 7, suicidal at 9. I was a scrawny child with no friends, stealing food from other kid’s lunchboxes and digging in the trashcans for scraps. And this continued until I left and joined the Navy at 18.
So yeah, I was depressed. I was raging angry with no where to turn and no one to take it out on. At age 7, the child psychologist told me I was a compulsive liar, because my Mom had told her so. At age 15, the school therapist, after the fourth time I had run away and been brought back by the cops, sat down with me and asked “So how can we make your mother happy?” At age 16, my mom decided she would be my therapist and tried to get me to talk about my problems.
Okay, I’m not going to bore you with the rest of my life. Quick summary: at 18 and fresh out of boot camp, I was so severely depressed that my roommate called my mother who called a chaplain on base to try to talk to me. At 19 I was raped in the military and was blamed for the rape by the base commander. At 22 I had a nervous breakdown and ended up hospitalized for a week and misdiagnosed as bipolar.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but I’m not “over” my past. It still gets me riled up.
I read a quote once, I don’t know if its true or not, but the words have haunted me for a long time: Depression is anger turned inwards. And another concept from my days as a woman’s studies major: Anger is the only emotion that society keeps from women because anger is the only emotion that demands action. So on the one hand, we have people who are denied the propulsion of their anger. And on the other, we have anger focused at ourselves. That is a very destructive, very profitable for big business, concept. Instead of teaching people how to use their anger to fuel their intentions, we medicate them into semi-comas. Yeah…. what a glorious way to keep the sheep in their pens.
And that is why I refuse to forgive. Wikipedia (I know, I know, don’t shoot!) defines forgiveness as “the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.” My mother will never apologize, never change her behavior, never be anything more than what she is. I can recognize her as the flawed human she is, with all of the compassion and empathy that entails, and still not forgive her. Anger is my tool. Without the outward propulsion of my anger, I dissolve into depression and lose myself in the process. So no, I will not forgive. I can change the way I interact but the anger is my own.
I know not every pagan was abused. I know not every abused person is depressed. I know not every depressed person was abused. But there are those of us who straddle the three. There are many reasons why someone becomes a pagan. Abuse from many many different factors might just play a part.
And that is why depression is a tool for me. Its a signpost saying “Look and see where you are feeling ineffectual. Look and see what external or internal process deserves your action.”