by Charles S. Garabedian
Never Let a Fundie Tell You Mental Illness is a Moral Failure or a Sin *
I am a life-long sufferer from clinical depression. Many, many, many years of psychiatric visits and psychotherapy sessions have proven that my clinical depression began immediately after my birth. I was born into a situation of deprivation and poverty.
On top of all that, my mother suffered from one or more rather severe mental illnesses that were never diagnosed and treated. Our poverty, lack of health insurance, and the absence of mental health professionals in our small town made sure of that. Worst of all, my mother was a stay-at-home mom—and guess who had to stay at home with her for the first six years of their life? You guessed correctly. It was me—all alone with her every weekday and some Saturdays while my dad was working at his minimum wage job.
The Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals claim it is God’s design for all women to abstain from the American labor force. They must play the submissive role of persistent, sperm-gulping cervix and stay at home all day to raise the quiverfull of kids that result from all that gulping. My mom—bless her heart—was one extraordinarily huge argument against women staying home to take care of their children. I would have done much better in a competent daycare setting with loving caregivers who were not suffering from mental illness.
Psychotherapy with an extremely competent clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. can be extremely revealing—if done for many, many, many years. Patients not only obtain excellent healing, but they learn important lessons about themselves. These lessons are things a person would have never recognized, known, or understood on their own. I learned many things. What did I learn about me?
Well, I am a very rare person with natural-born and life-enhanced people radar. If I am in a restaurant or a bar and remain aware of my people surroundings, I will be the first person in the establishment to detect the highly subtle signals given off by a person who is about to pull out a firearm and start shooting. I can easily sense defective people when I first meet them—like my fellow worker who hijacked one of our company’s biggest contract projects and carried it off to another company while still working for us. Within just a couple of minutes after my introduction to this person, my people radar was screaming “sneaky shithead—be careful.” I could supply you with many other examples of how my people radar has worked—and worked quite successfully for decades. Before my psychotherapy sessions began, I was not particularly aware of this people radar, but my clinical psychologist picked up on it—and related it back to me and my mom.
Let us talk about human babies a little bit. They are a lot smarter and more innately talented than a person might think. If they possess a rare, natural-born talent (like my people radar), it will most likely be there and be active soon after birth. Babies are highly sexual too, and they remain that way until about seven years of age when it naturally goes away. It returns at puberty. How many of you knew that? Even tiny babies can experience a wide range of emotions. Human babies can also sense danger and experience extreme fear—and even outright terror.
Unfortunately for the babies, they are also preverbal. They do not know any words or language. Therefore, they cannot talk out what they are experiencing or understand it with words like adults do. They can cry as a signal or show a facial expression or arm movement as a signal, but that is about it. Because of this absence of words to order and deal with their inner world and outer world. many mental illnesses actually begin in preverbal babyhood. This can be especially true for babies who are born into families with a genetic predisposition to certain types of mental illness. Yes, babies can scream. However, because of their preverbal condition, even tiny babies can experience a unique version of terror. How many of you remember the old tag line in the trailer for the famous movie Alien? Here is a memory jogger:
In space—no one can hear you scream.
Come on an imagination trip with me. Imagine that you just had a major stroke. Your entire body is paralyzed. You cannot move any part of your body. You are blind. You cannot speak. You cannot hear. However, your stroke did not affect any of your memories or thought processes. Your mind and personality remain in place—just as they were before the stroke—completely and totally you. Can you imagine how awful that would be? Your normal mind and thoughts trapped forever in total darkness—and you are unable to express the details of what you think or how you feel. You want to scream, but you cannot do it. You want people to know the details of your agony, but you have no way to communicate those details or hear back from anyone. Even though babies can scream, in a very real way, preverbal babies can experience a good measure of this stroke situation. In preverbal baby space, no one can hear the full reality and totality driving a baby’s feelings and screams.
My clinical psychologist and I, working very hard together for many years, were able to determine with confidence that I was born with my people radar. Moreover, I was born to be very smart, and I had what my clinical psychologist calls a broad band ability to sense the details of my environment and take in vast amounts of information about it—a far greater ability than most other people have. Yes, I am a broad-band, information-sucking vacuum cleaner, which has turned me into a walking encyclopedia. The switch for all of this was flipped to the “on” position while popping out of my mom’s vagina.
Within just minutes of my birth, I fully sensed my mother’s mental illnesses, her life-long inability to deal with her social environment, her poor education (6th grade), and her innate incompetence as a human being. Because I was preverbal, I could not understand what I was sensing. I just knew for certain that something was badly and sadly wrong in my mom, and it terrified me. I felt unsafe. I felt my death was near with each passing minute. I felt extremely angry at being so helpless in such a terrifying situation—just a total, unceasing rage—at the awful condition my mother was in, my helplessness as a newborn baby, and the sad family and home environment that surrounded me. These feelings lasted and festered for many years on an unconscious level as I was growing up.
Within the realm of abnormal psychology, one of the most basic definitions of clinical depression is as follows:
Anger turned inward against the self
Preverbal babies do not know what to do with anger or rage. They cannot talk it out with another person. They cannot run five miles to damp down the anger chemicals in their bodies. They cannot kill mom to end a terrifying situation. Running away from home to seek some personal space and happier circumstances is not an option for a preverbal baby who cannot even walk. Therefore, one of the few options left is to turn all of that internal terror and baby rage against one’s self, which sets up severe clinical depression only hours or days after birth. If the baby’s difficult circumstances remain the same over a long span of time as the brain develops, the clinical depression becomes second nature after a while—and without the baby even knowing it is happening.
The clinical depression transforms into a chronic, life-long health condition that needs to be treated with medication and psychotherapy. Worst of all, tiny babies look at their moms like Christians look at Jesus. Moms are supposed to be competent and without defects. Every small baby senses that to some degree. However, if mom appears to be defective, the baby senses that the defects causing all their terror and rage must be at least partly something that is wrong with the baby self. That sets up a preverbal pattern of life-long general anxiety and a deep internal feeling that screams out:
I am not good enough!!! Sure. I just won the Nobel Prize, but down deep inside, I just know for certain it was not a deserved prize. I am an imposter who somehow tricked the prize committee. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I will never feel good enough. I will always be lonely and covered with a blanket of poor self-esteem.
Poor self-esteem walks hand-in-hand with clinical depression. In addition, clinical depression is often accompanied by intense general anxiety, which is made even worse by situation-specific anxiety.
Many psychiatrists and clinical psychologists believe preverbal mental illness cannot be treated by psychotherapy alone because the adult does not have mental access to everything the preverbal baby was experiencing. There is no way to talk about it because the preverbal baby of long ago had no words to describe preverbal incidences and the bad feelings they set up within the baby.
My clinical psychologist did not share that belief, so we worked on it. It helped a great deal, and my psychologist was able to get through to the rage deep inside of baby me and explain—in terms the adult me could understand—that mom was just sick and felt terrible all the time because of it. Deep down in my unconscious mind, all the baby within me had ever known was the the terror and the screams without words:
Momma—what’s wrong with you!!!!!!! Wake Up!!! I need you!!! I am so angry at you!!! Why are you so messed up???!!! Ah-ah-ah!!!!!!!!
Nonetheless, even today, much of my preverbal baby rage is still present—burned forever into my brain cells—along with much of the old anxiety and low self-esteem. It did not go away completely because there is something about the preverbal baby brain that causes all of the terror, anger, and bad feelings to “freeze in place” within the baby brain and stay present to one degree or another for a lifetime. I call it frozen baby rage. Psychotropic medications for the clinical depression help a great deal. Nonetheless, I still have days when I feel average to great, but I also have a few days when I feel low in spirits—-and struggle with the depression.
All of the bad things preverbal, baby me was experiencing were real. The Bible says we are supposed to honor our fathers and mothers. While that is true, we must also be honest about them. My mom was a rural child born in 1910 in the American South. Because she was rural and living down south, she actually grew up in the American culture and mindset of the 1800s. When my mom turned age 18 in 1928, she was actually living in 1850. As mentioned earlier, she had only a 6th grade education obtained in a two-room country school. I suspect she dropped out of school at age 12 because her own mental illness was already coming after her with intense anxiety and agoraphobia (fear of being out and about with other people).
Just three years later, at 15 years of age, my mom incurred a major post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that made her incipient mental illness far worse. She found herself standing right in the middle of one of the worst tornado outbreaks in American history—the great Tri-State Tornado Outbreak of 1925. (Click Here.) This legendary outbreak occurred on March 18th of that year. My mom was a victim of the famous Buck Lodge tornado in this multi-state outbreak.
My mom was house sitting for some relatives who were on travel when one of the biggest and most dangerous tornadoes of that famous outbreak headed straight for her and that house. She stood on the back steps of the house and realized the tornado was heading straight toward her. She was terrified out of her wits. Then—quite suddenly—the tornado veered off in another direction right before it would have struck my mom full-force. That was bad enough, but the ensuing days were far worse for my mom. That same tornado killed many of her closest friends and wiped out whole rural families she knew. Whole rural houses were turned into just a few snapped boards—in effect—they were nearly erased from the surface of the Earth by this Level 4 tornado. (Yes, it was a Level 4). This whole tornado package was terrifying for my mom—and unlike today—no psychological counselors were available to her like they are nowadays when school shootings occur. All of that terror and the PTSD never left my mom—not even for a second.
While I was growing up, and even far into my adulthood, my clinical depression became mysteriously far worse in March of each year for no apparent reason—and it would go away just as dependably when April dawned. My clinical psychologist made the connection for me. My mother had inadvertently transferred her own March terror to her preverbal baby. The baby me could feel the terror in mom’s heart every March, and it was passed on to me in my own March feelings.
On top of all the tornado PTSD, my mom and dad got married. Soon afterwards, my dad became a Type 1 diabetic at the age of 27—another major stressor for my mom in a time when diabetes was still poorly understood and beef insulin had just become available. Otherwise, my dad would have died. Then came the Great Depression in 1929. How about that for a major stressor? An 18-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman with PTSD start life together on the doorstep of the worst economic disaster in American history.
The year 1936 applied the last, coup de gras increment of tragedy that wrecked my mother’s mental health for the rest of her life. My mom’s only child (at that time) was my sister Sue. Little Sue was a wonderful child and extremely bright for her age—and very kind and loving. She was—to hear people talk about her—something approaching the perfect child. At the age of only 2 years and six months, Sue got very sick and died. It devastated my mom and dad emotionally. They had no money for a good funeral, but somehow managed to obtain a nice casket—probably by donations from rural family members and friends. My parents did not have another child for the next 16 years. That is when I was born and raised as an only child.
Throughout my first 18 years with mom and dad in our poverty-stricken hovel, my parents kept a large, well-framed photograph of little Sue lying in her casket at the cemetery. It was the only photograph of her that had ever been taken. (Poor people could not afford cameras in the depths of the Great Depression.) My mom buried Sue’s cemetery portrait in a cedar chest my dad made, and it was like Grant’s Tomb in our house. My mom always told me that Sue had died from a really bad case of pneumonia. They apparently thought it was just a bad cold at first, and they tried to cure her on their own. They had no medical insurance, almost no money to pay a doctor, and the only available doctor was a not-too-good rural doctor. I am not even sure they called on his services. Some bright person in our extended family (not sure who) finally understood that Sue needed to be in a hospital and managed to take her there.
On the day my mom died in 1997, my uncle James told me something I had never heard before. My dad stepped out briefly to eat some food in the hospital cafeteria, and when he came back, he froze in place outside of Sue’s room. Why? According to James, my dad saw an angel on her knees in deep prayer over Sue’s hospital bed. It could have been an angel, but I suspect it was really a Roman Catholic nun. My rural dad had probably never seen a nun in full ecclesiastical garb. The Roman Catholic Church was very active in the city where this hospital was located, and someone on the hospital staff had probably called the diocese office to ask for prayers over little Sue. A few days later, Sue died in that metropolitan hospital. My dad died many years afterwards in 1986.
One of my first cousins does genealogical research, and about three yeas ago, she was going on a research mission to the state archives in the city where Sue died. In particular, she was there to look at family death certificates. She and I had never seen little Sue’s death certificate. My cousin found it on microfiche in the archives and made a copy for her records and mine. Both of us were floored by what we saw on Sue’s birth certificate! My mom had lied to me about Sue’s death for 45 years. As previously mentioned, my mom had always told me that Sue died from pneumonia. There it was plain as day on the death certificate:
Death from aspirin poisoning
One or the other of my parents had bumbled around and accidentally killed their only child by feeding her a huge overdose of aspirin. This is one of the things that happened to poor, uneducated rural people with no health insurance in the old days.
For some reason I never fully understood until three years ago, my dad had harbored a huge amount of life-long anger—usually damped down—toward my mother. She did not have any such anger toward him. I suspect my mom was the driving force behind overdosing little Sue with aspirin, and my dad had never gotten past his anger over what she had done.
This death certificate revelation opened my eyes too, and it underscored all of those sessions with my clinical psychologist. Preverbal baby me had indeed picked up on my mother’s mental illness and incompetence. I had a mother who really could kill a child—one who had bumbled into actually doing it! My preverbal people radar had sensed it all immediately after birth, and it was both terrifying and enraging—as was all of that other mental illness junk I was sensing inside my mom. This birth certificate revelation was very difficult for me emotionally. It took many months for me to come to emotional terms with it and the fact that my parents had lied to me for so many years.
The foregoing text was just a long preface to telling you that I have been feeling down and depressed for the past few days. As you might expect, I have not felt up to doing a lot of writing. That is why I have not posted anything new for the past few days. I hope to feel better soon. One thing I have learned throughout my life is that even the worst bouts of clinical depression go away after a while. If you too are feeling depressed about something today, please be good to yourself, take your medication, get some talk therapy, and hang in there for a while. It will, most likely, go away with the passage of a little time. Mine always has.
If any of you Christian readers out there want to pray for me to be lifted up out of my current depression, please feel free to do so. Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical prayers are neither solicited nor wanted. (Please see Blog Policy No. 4 by clicking the “Blog Policy” button on the black strip at the top of this blog page.)
You Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals out there are a lot like my mentally ill mom. All you are good for in this life is being highly negative about nearly everything and abusing people. You fundies and your preachers are the heartwood definition of creating mental illness in people or making an already existing mental illness far worse than it already is. You fundies should be ashamed of yourselves for the way you treat people and how you behave on the American stage.
* Many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals like to run around saying that any mental illness a person has is directly caused by the heavy weight of sin in their life—or sin in another person’s life. They will urge you to understand that mental illness is nothing but a moral failure in your own life. The fundamentalists will tell you that psychiatry and clinical psychology—and all their practitioners—are tools of Satan that will only make your condition worse. Both types of fundies will also tell you that clinical psychologists and psychiatrists will put pressure on you to go out and commit tons of sins to solve your mental health problems. That is an outright lie. Modern psychiatry and clinical psychology do not work that way. For the most part, today’s secular mental health professionals listen closely to the details of your problems, provide valuable insights that they notice, and encourage you to find your own personal solutions to your mental health problems—solutions you can live with and that are compatible with your personal values.
Please beware!!! Many conservative evangelicals will encourage you to seek help from a so-called Christian Counselor at some fundie church. Most Christian counseling in conservative evangelical churches is actually nothing but two-bit quackery conducted by a person who has gone through some sort of very limited, church-based training to get a counseling certificate. During that training, there is an excellent chance that the principles of modern psychiatry and clinical psychology were never even taught to the person who holds that certificate. That certificate may not be worth the paper it is printed on because most of these people were saturated with made-up fundie bullshit about people problems in their certificate studies rather than the sound principles and techniques of modern psychology, clinical psychology, and psychiatry. If you had a burst ovarian cyst, would you seek a cure from your auto mechanic or a jungle witch doctor?
Personally, I recommend psychiatrists with an M.D. degree and clinical psychologists who have earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from a well-known public or private university such as Vanderbilt University, Ohio State University, or New York University. If that degree is from some place like the Homer Slocum College of the Bible, you can pretty much bet that the practitioner got his advanced degrees as an honorary gift or through a two-bit diploma mill—meaning those degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Beware of psychological counselors whose advanced degree is a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW). Yes. Lots of them are out there. They do have formal educational backgrounds in clinical psychology, and they have undergone a few years of supervised clinical internship at a mental health hospital or facility—–but—but—but. I learned about these folks the hard way. These people are qualified, and they are great for dealing with low-level psychological problems such as “my wife just died and I feel so bad” or “my husband is seeing another woman on the sly—and the pain is killing me.” However, if you have a truly deep-seated, really tough, hard-boiled psychological problem that runs deep and is seated way back in your early childhood, you do not need an MSSW. You need the big artillery.
In my opinion, the only way to get truly effective help for such deeply seated mental health problems is to seek the big artillery services of a really excellent psychiatrist with an M.D. degree and/or a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D degree. Like everything else in life, some of these folks provide much better quality care than others—so network with people you know and shop around town to find out who is really excellent. If you have been seeing an MSSW for three to five years and you are still feeling bad a lot of the time, it is probably time to step up to the next higher level of care with a really-for-real psychiatrist or clinical psychologist with a legitimate doctoral degree.
I have one final thing to say about all of this. Many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe Jesus is the answer to everything in life. Huge fundie billboards all around the area where I live say:
Jesus is the Answer
Got a ruptured appendix? Jesus is the answer. Pedestrian hit by a tractor trailer rig? Jesus is the answer. Failed to study for your final exam in your college accounting class? Jesus is the answer. Mental illness got you down? Jesus is the answer. Just trust in Jesus, and all your problems will be solved immediately and miraculously. While the Bible says Jesus can perform miracles, your likelihood for actually obtaining an instant miracle is—in fact—quite low? Furthermore, Jesus may have already provided a person with a miracle—-but she just refuses to see it or acknowledge it.
You see. Jesus helps people in his own good time by slowly and deliberately revealing things to mankind when the time is right for it and when people will be able to properly handle it and use it. Charles Darwin was the person Jesus chose to unlock and reveal to mankind the first deep secrets of biological evolution. Werner von Braun was the person to whom Jesus revealed the possibility and means of traveling to other worlds in outer space—like the moon in 1969. Dr. Sigmund Freud and the beginnings of modern psychiatry and clinical psychology were nothing less than a miraculous revelation from Jesus—one whose time had finally come.
Please folks—please. You do not have to kneel in a rainstorm on the side of a hill in prayer and wait for an instantaneous Jesus is the Answer miracle for a mental illness. Jesus has already provided a modern miracle for you in the form of competent psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. Just pray to Jesus that you will find the right practitioner to address your particular emotional issues, and be thankful that Jesus already revealed his miracle to Dr. Freud and the long string of professionals who came after him in time.
Miracles are not necessarily instantaneous. Most of the time in this universe, Jesus does not work as a cheap sideshow magician. Jesus works at his own pace and is constantly and deliberately creating, recreating, and revealing his miracles when he knows the time is right for it in human history. Someday, in the course of the creations and revelations of Jesus, this miracle will happen too. It will not happen immediately and miraculously, but it will happen: