My secret battle with depression, and how sex saved me from a cult.
I’ve never really felt compelled to “tell my story,” but now I do.
I’ve had what most people would assume was a relatively average life, as a middle class white girl who was raised in an affluent town. I’ve always had food on the table, I smile often, and I am viewed by most as a generally “positive” person who is pleasant to be around. However, most people don’t know what I’ve been battling beneath all of that.
I want to start by saying that a huge reason I want to write this is that — for one of the first times in my adult years — I am feeling a sustained sense of ease and lightness, or what some may call “happiness.” That might sound crazy for a 32-year old, but the reality is that I have battled severe, debilitating bouts of depression for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had good days, but inevitably I return to a state of dire misery (if it isn’t already just there, laying beneath the surface). My depression is defined by extreme loneliness, self-doubt, insatiable analysis, and the struggle to understand why staying on this earth is the best for me and for everyone. The scariest part for me, though, isn’t actual fear that I would end my life. Somehow or another, I’ve almost always known that simply was NOT an option. I am lucky in that regard. The scary part is that my depression has always encouraged me to withdraw from others. And despite how I feel today, I really don’t know if I’m going to stay on this upward spiral that I believe I’m on, but I am doing my damnedest to make sure of it.
That’s why I feel it pertinent to share some things in my life that have happened to me. I feel like maybe just putting it out there will help someone else. I want to emphasize that this is not a feel-bad-for-me session, or a “here’s why I hurt” rant, because ultimately I always have known that my life challenges pale in comparison to the daily struggles of others. But that is not the point. The point is that I have a scary tendency to mask my truth. I am relatively open, will disclose anything to a stranger, and have no actual “secrets” about me, yet this sneaky part of my depression has kept me for years from exhibiting true vulnerability about my life to the world.
I want to rewrite that story, and to try something new. I want my story to propel me forward, and to stop letting it hold me back. But to do that, I really feel the need to GET IT OUT.
So here goes.
When I was 5 years old, my father died. My mom and him were young and in love, but he suffered from severe alcoholism, and one drinking bout put him in a coma for a week before he was pronounced dead. To this day, when I really stop to think about it, it absolutely takes my breath away. No pain could have felt greater at the time to me, who (at that age) had no reason not to believe that life is perfect, life is great, and everything will be fine. Yet with the flash of a light, all of that goodness was taken away. Though I learned very quickly that life would go on, I believe I cried myself to sleep at night almost every night for about the next 10 years. In fact, I distinctly remember that somewhere between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I had this sudden epiphany that I didn’t think about him all the time. In essence, I had survived something that felt utterly immobilizing.
However, parallel to all the pain I was feeling over the course of those years was a different and completely separate narrative that (at least for a time) worked all of it’s wonders against me. See, after my father passed away, in the dire straights of being a 30-year-old widow raising two children, my mom was converted into a cult, which was the furthest thing removed from demonstration of a healthy place of spirituality, hence I won’t call it a “church.” This cult masked itself behind big hugs, contemporary music and the “mission of God,” not by any means uncommon in the south. I was a diehard member from the age of eight to 20, spending every moment that I was awake (and momentarily not missing my dad) 100% certain that I was placed on this earth to Save Everyone. I knew nothing other than these two truths for those 20 years. And it wasn’t just about saving the lost — I believed so wholeheartedly that everyone outside my 600-person church needed me to save them, which meant that nothing. else. mattered. Not even my own self, my own desires, my own dreams. In fact, everything I did revolved purely out of an attempt to personally avoid going to hell, and to make sure I could save as many other people from hell as well.
There is no way to fully put words to the amount of early self-understanding that this hell-hole took from me. Not only that, but when we started attending this cult, I was explicitly and frequently reminded that since my father died in “sin,” he thereby had no way to repent and was existing in hell. It’s no wonder, then, that my devotion to God, and the expenditure of all of my energy, went to making sure that no one who crossed my path would have to live with this pain that I did, or would have to suffer in hell themselves.
It was only by the miracle of being in love for the first time (at 19), and deciding that I believed it natural to want to have sex with my partner (outside of marriage), that I was able to break free from the bondage of the cult. It was an excruciating decision to make, at the time, accompanied by the emotional pummeling of my self-worth and the realization that I had failed my “God-given” mission, not to mention the loss of hundreds of relationships that were all I had known for most of my life. Yet I had to listen to this instinct, to listen to my body over the scripts I had followed for a decade. It was terrifying, but in hindsight, I am so grateful. Essentially, sex saved me from a cult.
It has now been twelve years since I broke free, and that dreaded word “journey” that everyone loves to use about life couldn’t be more accurate. The first few years were frequently tragic, as I had no understanding of how “secular” people actually think and reason. I fumbled, a lot. I hurt feelings, I asked inappropriate questions (I was just so curious!), and for at least 5 years I felt a palpable sense of always swimming against the current. I’ll never forget an event that occurred during my junior year of college; I was surrounded by classmates, who all learned that I had never cussed before. They dared me to cuss, staring at me like I was a puppy or an alien of some kind. It was both humiliating and funny, my first exposure to how truly I had been the lost one.
Fortunately, it took fewer years to reach an emotional baseline from leaving the cult than it did after my father passed away. However, that recovery, and the pain from my father’s passing, was quickly replaced by the depression and underlying cloud that I spoke of previously. But more than anything, all i can think to myself these days is that I survived and am more than just okay. I’ve cried enough tears over the years for a herd of us, have put everyone in my life through myriad repetitive conversations about my pain, and can not imagine what my life would be without these few people who always listen. They are a key reason for my survival from my own brain.
But my work is not done. Though I finally feel good, I have no delusion that my battles are over. This is just the beginning. I have chosen a path towards greatness, but I have yet to know exactly what that looks like. And I don’t want to just survive, because (frankly) that’s all that I’ve done for 12 years. I don’t want to just be okay, I want to help others be more than okay. Because the danger of depression is that it prevents the Amazing in all of us from ever surfacing to ourselves. It becomes impossible to see, to believe, to trust, because the pain of the dark cloud makes these decisions for us.
To survive today, I stay active, I don’t drink coffee anymore (though that’s more related to anxiety than depression), I meditate regularly, and I take a very low dose of an antidepressant. While I truly believe that each of these pieces to the puzzle is crucial to my health and well-being, what’s been missing is this willingness to dare share my story with the world. It is unique, but I have no doubts there are parts that resonate with others. What’s taken me so long to share it, though, was the actual depression ruling my life. It kept me from feeling as if it were okay to talk about my story, believing thoroughly for decades that I should be okay, that I had it GOOD, that other people had it worse, and that that somehow invalidated my own need to share.
Well, today, I say fuck that. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Remember, if you or someone you know is demonstrating signs of suicide with depression, please call 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1‑800‑273‑TALK), or see a mental health professional at your local emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment. ❤
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This article is my first attempt to get my story out there. It is obviously just the beginning. To hear more specifics about how my depression has affected my life, my career, and my relationships, please follow me on Medium.