How My Mental Breakdown Helped Me Leave The Church And Find Myself
I grew up in the Apostolic church. I’ll be honest, I don’t have very good things to say about it. I have no good memories of my time as an active member. I can’t recall one time where I was truly happy while attending. I don’t remember many smiles. I don’t remember any key defining moments in which I knew without a doubt that was where I belonged. In fact, I always felt like the oddball. I never felt quite comfortable or as if I was suppose to be there. I tried though.
My first true introduction to church was in 1995 when we moved to Baltimore. We started attending a church that was pastored by my step-dad’s cousin. As quickly as we arrived, we settled in. It wasn’t long before church became a staple in my life. Day after day I was submerged in Apostolic doctrine. I was on the choir. I served on the Usher’s Board. I participated in all of the Sunday School councils. I attended conferences. From Sunday to Sunday there was something involving church. Monday night’s I usually was in church for at least two hours for Prayer and Terry. Tuesday and Thursday nights were dedicated to some auxiliary service. Wednesdays was Bible Study. Friday nights were youth services. Saturdays were dedicated to rehearsals, outreach and whatever activity we were being forced to participate in. Sundays we have Sunday School at 10:15, 1st service at 11:45 and 2nd service/evening service at either 3 or 5pm, depending on whether or not we were expecting guests. Services starting after 5 usually didn’t see end until sometime before 10pm.
Church was my life and much of my life decisions were influenced by its teachings. Including the ideal that mental illness/emotional disorders were works of “Satan” and were demons needing casting out. I learned quick that prayer was the “fix it” to every problem I would ever have. Or at least it was suppose to be. I prayed all the time. Constantly. For everything. I needed to be heard. I had so many things going on inside with no one to talk to. I knew that praying was a direct line to God and I needed answers.
I went on like this until I was 25. Constantly battling myself and feeling as if something was wrong with me. Not being able to understand why I couldn’t control my emotions. Not understanding why I was an erratic mess one minute and the next a sensitive little bear needing a hug. I couldn’t understand why it was much harder for me to function at times, and for no obvious reason, while others seem to always be able to function. I spent years of my life hurting in silence because I was “giving it to God” and I just knew that one of these days he would swoop in and finally answer my prayer.
Then I had a moment that forced me to face reality...
In December of 2010, I was admitted to the psychiatric facility within a major hospital in Baltimore. I had been undergoing heavy emotional pain and stress. I was severely depressed. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldnt function. I couldnt go to work. I couldn't take care of my daughter. I had held in so much hurt and so much pain over the years...that I literally just broke. I fell apart. I could not go. I had been going to church faithfully for 5 years. Praying, living "right", and trying to leave it to God. I cried. I cried. I laid out on the altar. I cried some more. I prayed and I tarried. Then I tarried and I prayed some more. I entered prayer circle after prayer circle.
"Give it to God, Jen.", "God already got it worked it for you.", "This is just a test. Keep holding on”
This was what I said to myself for 5 years until one day, I decided I had enough of the praying and enough of the tests and enough of the waiting and enough of the holding on...and knowing that my daughter would be taken of by her father and my mother. I took my seatbelt off, swerved my car on the ice, went into the opposite lanes and drove directly for the railings. My back wheels stalled and slide on the slush and my car spun, but it did not hit anything or anyones vehicle. Realizing I was still alive, I looked up...saw the hospital at the top of the hill, drove myself to the ER and admitted myself.
For those who have never been to a facility before you are required to attend group and individual therapy sessions so many times a day/week. It’s mandatory and any refusal to comply could delay your release. I was only here for a hour before I realized that this place was not where I wanted to be. The experience was an instant snap back to reality because you are faced directly with the consequences of not getting help and allowing a problem fester and go untreated. I wasn’t like the people I watched but I could have been. That scared me.
While there I remember being so depressed that I refused to come out of my little cell. One of the counselors came by while I was writing in a diary and asked if I would mind if he read what I was writing. I immediately told him no. They were my thoughts and mine alone. After I refused he asked me if I prayed, to which I hesitated answering. He then followed up that question by asking me if I believed that God talked to me. I told him no. God doesn’t talk to me. He just nodded and walked away.
I stayed for almost 3 weeks. Those that I had previously confided in were now the very ones mocking me. It got back to me that they were convinced that I was faking for attention. “You know she’s always had a little demon in her". I was called evil. They blamed me and said that I must have did something to upset God. Not one reached out to speak to me. No one showed up while I was there nor did anyone attempt to reach out to me once I was released. When I did return to church the atmosphere was so tense. I was uncomfortable and I could feel the eyes burning through my body as I walked down the aisle. The whispers stung my ears to the point I thought they would start bleeding. I felt weak, alone...and I was ready to go because I couldn't for the life of me understand how a God that was suppose to love me so much be so cruel and heartless to a child he claimed to love so much.
I haven’t stepped foot inside a church since December 31, 2010. Watch night service. I made a promise to myself that I would never subject myself to that type of mental and emotional abuse and deception out of desperation for an answer that I held the answer to all along.
It took me a few years to untrain my self of old teachings and beliefs. Slowly, I began to realize how stressful it was trying to live at a dedicated Christian woman. It became clear to me that a lot of the stress I was under came from the pressure of constantly having to be on the right side of things. I had been severely oppressed and I didn’t know it. Or perhaps I did. Maybe that’s why I never liked going in the first place. After a while, attending was more out of obligation rather than desire. I went because I was suppose to.
It never made sense to me how:
You are more concerned with who I am sleeping with before marriage than how my spirit is doing.
You are more concerned with what I am wearing and who I am showing my body to than how my mental health is doing.
You'd rather gossip every Sunday about who Pastor is sleeping with this week, than counsel and reach out to the young girl that you KNOW is being molested at home.
You'd rather shame the young man in the back who you think is "gay" than reach out to him and talk to him.
You'd rather stress about whose choir is going to be better at the upcoming Sunday School Council or Convention than to help the First Lady getting abused at home.
Getting to it, the church is flawed and the church (as a whole) has failed the Black community. Be mad about it. I said it and I, for damn sure, won't take it back. It is the cold hard truth and if you didn't have your heads buried so deep in the "book" you'd agree. The church has done more damage to the Black community and it is heavily reasonable for the current position of Black women. It has been complicit in our destruction and has play a direct role in the abuse that Black women have endured in the past and continue to endure. Trying to faithfully follow a doctrine that forces us into roles of servitude and slavery while providing a false ideology that men are superior to that of a woman, thus making him “ruler” over her dominion stripping her of all individuality and ownership of self.
Stop telling people who are reaching out for assistance and help to "pray about it". One of the biggest gripes I had was being told to "pray until something happens". Even with "prayer" work is still required in order for the manifestation to "pull through”. Even in my own manifestation practices and intention setting rituals: I STILL HAVE TO DO WORK. "Praying" or "manifesting" isn't going to keep your damn lights from getting cut off or keep the landlord from sitting you out on the first if your rent isn't paid. You still have to make moves to make it happen.
“Pray about it” is to Christian what Robitussin is to Black household medicine cabinets. Praying fixes everything and there isn’t anything that can’t be healed with a littler prayer.
It’s so common that is has become a general automatic response to anyone fitting for every occasion. It’s as generic and impersonal as asking someone “how are you?”. You don’t really want to know but you don’t want to seem rude and you have to say something. It’s a conversation filler at best.
Continuously talking about "power" but hiding behind "Im praying for you". As I had to tell one Sister, your prayer hasn't come thru for YOU after 15 years and you want to pray for me? Honestly, since separating from the church I have been living my best life. A weight was removed from my shoulders the day I walked away. I no longer feel pressure to fit into a box that was never meant for me to be in. I can breathe freely and without restrictions. I no longer feel like a prisoner to my own spirit. I am in control.
I don’t have any plans on returning.