I grew up in a fundamentalist christian church that preached that illness was demon possession and oppression. They also preached that gays were going to hell and other things that I don't believe in anymore.
Many years later I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, which has episodes of full mania and severe depression. I have also been diagnosed with PTSD from trauma. When I was involved with the church, I was a very sincere Christian. When I had euphoric highs, I was told I was filled with the Holy Spirit. It certainly felt very spiritual. When a psychiatrist first asked me if I had 'highs' I told them that it was God. People in the pentecostal church I grew up in enjoyed getting 'high' on God. When I was suffering from internal torture and distress, I was told it was demons and that I needed 'deliverance' (exorcism).
When I was a pre-teen, I was at a church camp and we were instructed to make eye contact and sing a children's song. I was paired with a man and forced eye contact was very distressing for me, so I became very upset and started crying. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a group of people who were 'casting out spirits' (or so they believed) which was even more distressing for me - quite traumatic actually.
At times I became quite fanatical as a Christian. I remember one time, I was awake all night, writing out Bible verses and sticking them to my wall. It was an attempt to relieve my anxiety. Looking back, I was in a hypomanic episode (an energised, elevated mood state that is not full mania). I have since learned that hyper-religiosity is a common symptom of some mental illnesses, including bipolar. But after I had a breakdown at university, I went through a very difficult time struggling with depression. Only I had never heard of the term 'depression' because I had lived my life in a religious bubble, even as I studied science at university. It was quite scary for me that other people lived very different lives and had different beliefs. But some of these people questioned me, 'Do you REALLY believe gays are going to hell?' I felt extremely uncomfortable (apparently, that internal conflict is called 'cognitive dissonance) and I had to admit that I couldn't really believe that.
When I was struggling with depression, I told a Christian friend I had at the time that I wanted to die. I didn't really 'want' to as much as want the pain to end. She said, 'if you kill yourself, you will go straight to hell.' That just made me feel worse. It was years before I was diagnosed with depression. And many years later that diagnosis was changed to bipolar 1 disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Over the past few days, I decided to comment on the Facebook page of a fundamentalist Christian evangelist whom I had met a few times in my teens. Part of me wanted to see if fundamental Christians had 'evolved' with their beliefs. This evangelist and most of his followers are 'young-earth creationists' who believe that Earth was created by God in a week less than 10,000 years ago. They vehemently oppose evolution because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the bible..
I tend to have the ability to wind people up without directly insulting them, so I decided to comment and ask sticky and annoying questions. I tend to do it when I'm somewhat hypomanic. Even though I'm on a mood stabiliser and an antipsychotic now, I still have mood swings, just not as extreme as off medication or on the wrong medication. Many Christians and people of other faiths these days accept modern science including evolution. But not the fundamentalists. To them, gays are still going to hell and mental illness is still demonic. Very black and white, rigid views. I saw some comments that medications for mental illness were 'of the devil.' It's much like how people used to believe that people with epilepsy were possessed by demons.
I said that I am an ex-christian. Several devout Christians told me that I had never been a 'true' Christian otherwise I would never have stopped believing (no true Scotsman fallacy). Ironically, during a big manic episode, I started believing in God and demons again, much to the delight of my Christian family. Only I was extremely unwell. Mania can feel like an incredibly spiritual experience. It can feel like 'heaven' and then 'hell' - in a metaphorical way.
Some people find believing in a deity comforting. I no longer do. I shared a little that I was ostracised by Christians when I was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness. It was a factor in my starting to question my beliefs. Two people acknowledged this and said they were sorry for how I was treated. They acknowledged that they struggled at times in their faith. They went against what the others preached and said that they didn't believe mental illness was from demons after having personal experience with mental illness. They admitted it was unfortunately that the belief that mental illness is demonic still persists. It actually brought me to tears having that acknowledgment and helped me process some of the hurt and pain.
I no longer feel the need to believe in a deity, but I don't mind if people do if they are not using it as an excuse to treat others badly or to promote ignorance. Suffering from mental illness is no more a demon than when my kidney was blocked off from draining when I was pregnant resulting in a lot of pain and hospitalisation. Telling someone who is in distress that they are possessed or oppressed by demons and threatening hellfire is very unkind. People trying to cast demons out of me as a child was rather traumatic. Discouraging someone with mental health issues from seeking professional help is dangerous. Rejecting a friend and family member because they struggle to have faith or they suffer from mental illness is very hurtful. It can result in suicide. People with mental illness need love and support. Not threats of eternal torture of hell. I don't fear the doctrine of hell, because I have already experienced hell. I have had extreme physical pain but the psychological pain from the combination of bipolar and PTSD has been much worse for me.
It has been a process for my family and I to agree to disagree when it comes to religious beliefs. It was difficult for them to adjust to my needing hospitalisation and psychiatric treatment and therapy. To accept that I don't want to be reconverted. I just want to be accepted for me.
I painted 'Angels and Demons' during a manic episode. It isn't really about religious angels and demons, but was rather processing trauma. It is about people. At one end of our local cemetery lies someone who sexually abused me as a young child. At the other, lies a childhood friend. During my manic state, my friend became like an angel for me.
Update: after writing this, I continued to process, which included sleep hallucinations. That's like a lucid dream with extra sensory components so it feels extremely real - usually a unpleasant sensory sensation in my body is involved when I am in the halfway state between dreaming and being awake. Sometimes I hear sounds or see things that aren't there - in the form of metaphor related to the trauma. For me, although frightening at first, it has been helping me process the trauma. Each time is less frightening and less intense over the last few years.
I realised that the name of the friend years ago who told me I would go to hell if I killed myself shares part of the same name of the person who sexually abused me and is in the local cemetery now. Another part of their name is also a trauma trigger for me. (My previous name also became a trauma trigger so I changed my name when I was manic and suffering terribly from PTSD flashbacks). After acknowledging that, I finally picked up where I had left off over a month ago editing a semi-autobiographical novel called Pet Purpose. Then I had a deep sleep. I need a lot of sleep especially after I've been somewhat hypomanic during a processing episode.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.