Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:13

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bitterness (and why I'm so touchy about it)

I've mentioned before that I attended a conservative Christian college, Grove City College. It is a very strict school with very limited and very supervised hours when dorms are not one gender only; required chapel attendance; and back when I was there Saturday classes, mainly intended to keep students on campus on weekends.

In many ways GCC was perfect for me. I met wonderful people there, had incredible experiences, grew both as a person and as a Christian, and got a good education in both of my majors. However, there was one major downfall, and that was that I was dealing with severe depression, severe anxiety, and some panic attacks during my time there. To many people there mental illness is the work of sin, or devil possession, or happens because you don't have enough faith. (To be fair I'll qualify that this may have changed in the last 15 years, although my sources say not so much). Everything about mental illness was made difficult. They didn't even have counseling available on campus until my freshman year. The counseling center was located on the boys side of campus in an area that if you were headed there you were going to counseling. It was also a small school and in general you had an idea who everyone was and you had a chance to know nearly everyone if you were social enough. I was pretty active in various things (although all lower profile organizations) and was president of 2 organizations my senior year. I also worked in the cafeteria a lot, and people knew me from that. I also spent about an hour each evening in the chapel, reading my Bible and praying. I'm so glad I did that now, as I still don't have the ability to do that in the same way. In some ways I was known. In other ways I wasn't. Because I had 2 majors I took very few electives. One of my organizations I spent a good bit of time on my junior and senior years was a support group for women who had been sexually abused. We met on Friday nights, wiping out social time to some extent, and also had prayer group I attended regularly one night/week.

Because I spent a great deal of college dealing with depression and most of my senior year very, very depressed and for quite some time fighting to stay out of the hospital (round one of that game), even though I tried to hide it I didn't always succeed. This culminated when I went home for Christmas break my senior year. I had finally agreed to try antidepressants out of desperation in September or October. I had just had the dose increased before break (which turned out to be a huge problem, although I didn't know that was the cause for several more years). I was having a hard time, a hard enough time for the psychologist to give me his email address to use as needed. That 3 weeks was horrible. I was made what I know now was manic by the antidepressant; at the time we just thought it was worsening of the insomnia I'd had for a year that seemed related to dealing with my traumatic past. I slept a total of 4 hours in 3 weeks. Otherwise I'd dose for 10 minutes and that was it. After waiting out my HMOs waiting list to see the dr. he gave me a different version of the benadryl that was not working and refused to consider the stronger meds the psychologist was suggesting because he knew that I needed sleep NOW. I was in pretty constant contact with psychologist over those weeks; I remember that he would send me goofy jokes that I later found in Reader's Digest, anything to distract me. When I started wanting to swallow the whole bottle of pills we talked on the phone for a long time and he convinced me that the only result of such an action would be vomiting and admisison to the psych unit. But the last week things got so bad in my personal life that I wound up sending an email that simply said "please get me in as soon as you can when we come back. I'll be back _________. This is really horrible and I can't write it out". That was the 2 day period in which I learned that my father had molested other children beyond the few we knew about, my father's young wife realized in my prescence that she had been a victim and needed to get herself and the baby out of that situation ASAP so I was trying to help her and the night that I confessed to my mother that my grandfather had molested me and she said she knew, had always known, but was told that if I didn't talk about it I didn't remember it. She also insisted it stopped many years before it did. That was the night before my birthday and she gave me a book I was supposed to get for my birthday to help calm me down. Nothing calmed me.

So when we got back to school it took about 2 days to realize how frighteningly depressed I was. I was immediately put on a different antidepressant that helped me sleep; I started having 1 1/2 hours of counseling 4 days/week; I had to cut my courseload to the bare minimum and took a break from all activities except support group. I spent most of the time I wasn't sleeping working on counseling homework. I had to talk to all of my professors about my need to miss class frequently; some were nice and some lectured me.

As those months passed a lot happened. I openly talked to my siblings about sexual abuse and found out that there were all these degrees of abuse throughout my group of cousins and siblings. My father's wife took my little brother and wound up in a shelter for abused women where at first there was minimal contact allowed, then that gradually increased. There was a lot going on with my father, culminating in his being put in jail for stalking his wife who had a restraining order. When that happened the psychologist was out of town, I had no clue how to cope, I had to go to the dean of women for help because one of my professors was insistent that I not be allowed to delay an exam even though I hadn't stopped crying in days and was in no shape to do this. And in the midst of all that turmoil and pain I got a package slip. Package slips were like getting 3 dozen perfect roses, only better because they usually lasted longer than a few days. I assumed it was just something from grad school. Instead it was a tape from the evangalist Charles Stanley, on teh sins of bitterness.

I very nearly lost it. I accused everyone I knew of sending it. I called the ministry and demanded to know who sent it, only to find out the person had lied and said they were me; they won't send tapes to anyone but the person ordering just to prevent what happened there. I have rarely been so badly hurt by the intentional actions of someone who has judged me, nearly certainly without knowing the whole story. I never found out where the tape came from, but I did find out that people were mean about mental illness and that many people around me truly thought I was choosing to act and live as I was those months. In reality those months were extremely painful as I spit out detail after detail of what I'd experienced growing up, plus dealt with many things that were painful in the present. I wasn't bitter. I was sad and depressed and hurting in ways that most of those kids who grew up in normal, stable families couldn't comprehend.

After that I withdrew from nearly everyone and by graduation had few friends. I can't do justice to the pain of being so extremely misunderstood and so judged, allegedly in the name of promoting what God wanted from me.

So, that is why I'm so fearly of being judged if I show my real feelings. Charming, eh?


Michal Ann said...

Thanks for all the background. Even the word "bitterness" has many negative associations for you.

I'm so very sorry.

Anonymous said...

MICHAL SAYS: (I have to keep re-doing my password so I'll pretend I'm "anonymous.")

I looked up verses for you. My first word verification had "hope" in it and then the next one came up as "cling." I hope this helps, Jen:

Because You are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.

I cling to You;
Your strong right hand holds me securely.

Psalm 63: 7-8