Depression has always been a part of my life – it has always been lurking in closets and under beds for me – but 2014 was the year it decided to come out in full force and pin me to the ground. My world – a world once teeming with social connections, creativity, and activity – collapsed in on itself. It was as if the atmosphere of my vibrant little world was sucked out by a passing planet, and I was left fighting for life.
I am a gay Christian, raised in the conservative, Evangelical Christian world. As a teenager and young adult, I grew up in the ex-gay world, where even just the identity of gay was considered sinful. After many years of struggle, I eventually came to an affirming position on homosexuality in 2013 at the age of 24. I also wrote a blog, called Sacred Tension, which engaged in dialogue about faith and homosexuality.
But then, in 2014 , something happened to me. I’d always taken depression for granted – it was part of my life and I would fight it when it came – but this was a depression I couldn’t fight. This was a darkness so deep and so heavy, that I wanted to lock myself away from the world forever.
One day, I wrote in my journal:
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there is a ferocious anger in my chest. It’s a gay anger. Anger at the conservative world. Anger at the church and straight Christians. It is a lifetime of holding brutal conversations, impossible paradoxes, misunderstandings and well-intentioned but hurtful words. I’ve held it all, in the hopes of creating a better, kinder world, but like an ugly and sour bacteria, it has fermented me – made me angry, bitter, and depressed.
My depression spiraled out of control. It got worse and worse, and I entered a space where my one goal – my one purpose – was to make the pain stop, and I went to many dangerous and unhealthy measures to do just that. It was as if every single hurt, misunderstanding, and fear I had ever felt as a gay person in the Christian world all came alive at once.
I was only mildly bullied in school, and I’ve never been assaulted for being gay. Other Christians, with a few painful exceptions, had always spoken to me in kind, measured tones. But, nonetheless, a lifetime of subtle dissonance finally broke me. Feeling homeless in my own home and my own religion, the constant strain of defending myself or pretending. I simple couldn’t take it anymore.
I would wake up in the morning and want to shrink into a tiny, quiet place where nothing – absolutely nothing – could touch me. The gay debate had grated off all my skin, and all that was left was raw nerve and muscle. The only time I felt any peace at all was when I would go deep in my yoga practice or high up in the mountains – places where everything was perfectly still, and I was far away from the clamour of the church.
After months of struggle with depression – of climbing up and then sinking back down – I met a man with whom I had an instant connection, and we became boyfriends. He has been a wonderful support – a sudden light shining like a spotlight into my dark world. But the new-found dissonance of being in a relationship triggerd another spiral. And then the anxiety came.
The anxiety made my brain feel like fire. I would try to listen to music to distract myself, and the music itself felt like the vehicle of torture. I would try to read or watch things that were funny or lighthearted, and they would just cause absolute torture, for no reason, as if I were watching a genocide instead of Kimmy Schimdt Unbreakable. My brain responded to every thought, every activity, every piece of music or article, with panic and horrible pain. Panic was the setting within which my brain was trapped, and my heart constantly pounded, my palms sweated, my mind raced with unbearable thoughts. The whole world seemed ruthless and dark and altogether painful, with no goodness, no light, no kindness.
It got to the point where I would wake up in the morning, and scream, and scream, and scream. I would pace – pacing was torture, so I’d try to lie down. Lying down was torture. I was left to just sob and wait for it to leave. It almost never did. When the anxiety left, it left me numb and exhausted.
Recovery has been a long, slow process. In spring of 2015, I got on meds, started running again, started seeing a therapist, started a 12-step program, found a sponsor, and intensified my yoga practice. My slow ascent from Hell began. And none of it would have been possible without my boyfriend, who has provided gentle care, presence, and strength for me.
Depression and anxiety changes you. Even though my last episode was in June of last year, I still feel fragile. The very thought of returning to the anxiety and depression makes me start to spiral again. I am far, far more careful – I take my pills religiously every day, and I panic every time I miss a dose. I am hyper-vigilant about how much work I take on, how much sleep I get, how much I exercize – for fear that something could tip me over into the abyss again.
Depression and anxiety occur when a trigger is hit that starts the biochemical and spiritual spiral into despair. For some it can be war, loss, or stress. For me, it was the constant, subtle strain of being gay in the Christian world.
The harm that gay people experience in the Christian world is real, and many gay people are suffering as I have. The church need not be violent, angry, or exclusive for it to commit harm. It need only be ashamed, uncomfortable, or unwilling to enter into the lives of its gay members. It is not just exclusion and unloving words that kill, but also the deep anxiety and ambivalence, the inability to empathize with the interior worlds of LGBT people, the political wars and divisions over us, the talking about us instead of talking to us. All of it is subtle, all of it harms – especially those of us who are gay and raised in the church. The Church isn’t something we chose, it is the world into which we were born.
I don’t know the solution. I don’t know how to fix the mess – the church, in its constrained humanity, is full of people often doing their best with what they have. But their best is often deadly.
The only place I can think of to start is with sight – with total awareness. With sharing pain and telling stories. Perhaps, that can lead to grace.