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What It Was Like to Experience Abuse and Depression Within the Church

At 15, I was diagnosed with depression. I had grown up and continued to live in an abusive household, so this diagnosis came as no surprise. I was terrified of my dad’s reaction to the diagnosis. I knew he would be scared people would ask questions about what was happening at home. Dad was an elder at our church. My general practitioner (GP) was also an elder at our church. This overlap between my medical care and my church life not only allowed the abuse to continue, it perpetuated the abuse.

My church found out about my depression, and as circumstances worsened, so did my self-harm and suicidal ideation. My name and situation were often raised as prayer points. I was in everyone’s “thoughts.” This did not feel genuine to me. Some people at church were angry with me for what I was putting my parents through. I wasn’t an only child, and to them, I shouldn’t have been demanding my parents’ time and attention. We were not well off and I should not have been adding unnecessary expenses for medication and appointments. Others openly questioned my faith. I mean, can you really be a Christian and be depressed? If I trusted God, I would have nothing to despair, in fact, my heart would be full of joy. Still others questioned my salvation; could someone who claims to be a Christian and self-harms, go to heaven? Wasn’t that against the Bible? Were the children at church safe from me? Maybe I was dangerous now. I hurt myself, so that must mean I’m going to hurt other people.

There were so many questions and so many of them asked very openly and loudly. All but none of the questions were asked to me. People would ask the GP for his opinion and he would freely give it. There were times during communion one of the elders, usually the GP, would decide whether or not I was permitted to partake of communion, despite the fact I was a member.

People were sympathetic to my parents and to my siblings. I was causing them all a lot of stress and they didn’t deserve it. There were occasions when I was in hospital and I would receive the obligatory visit from someone of standing within the church. These visits usually consisted of a Bible reading, prayer and then the criticism. If I would just be a better Christian, this could be my last hospital admission. Apart from these coldhearted visits, I was largely ignored by the church. It was as though my parents were struggling with depression, and not me.

My parents would keep me informed of who said what about me at church. This made me feel even more alone. If people cared enough to say something to my parents, why couldn’t they make the effort to say it to me? Why couldn’t they just acknowledge my existence? I felt so invisible.

I was a child. A child struggling with severe depression. I wasn’t offered any comfort, compassion or gentleness. Growing up in the church, I had always assumed I would be supported; that’s what a church family does, isn’t it? Instead, I felt isolated, judged and worthy of punishment. Feelings of shame still overwhelm me at times. For years I struggled with feelings of having disappointed the church, for being the name of the church into disrepute so to speak. I was so embarrassed and so ashamed of myself, I actually stopped telling people I was a Christian or that I went to church. Who would believe someone like me? My church questioned my worthiness to be called a Christian.

This treatment continued for over five years. So much mental and emotional damage was caused by my experience in that church and it still haunts me today, remaining a major contributor to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thankfully, I found my way out of that church. I found myself and realized what had happened there was so very wrong. Not everything that happens in a church is Christian. Not all Christians are Christian. I did not deserve to be treated like that. I have since found a loving and supportive church family and knowing churches like this exist, goes a long way toward healing my heart.

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