Homosexuality, Depression, And the Church

Depression has always been a part of my life – it has always been lurking in closets and under beds for me – but 2014 was the year it decided to come out in full force and pin me to the ground. My world – a world once teeming with social connections, creativity, and activity – collapsed in on itself. It was as if the atmosphere of my vibrant little world was sucked out by a passing planet, and I was left fighting for life.

I am a gay Christian, raised in the conservative, Evangelical Christian world. As a teenager and young adult, I grew up in the ex-gay world, where even just the identity of gay was considered sinful. After many years of struggle, I eventually came to an affirming position on homosexuality in 2013 at the age of 24. I also wrote a blog, called Sacred Tension, which engaged in dialogue about faith and homosexuality.

But then, in 2014 , something happened to me. I’d always taken depression for granted – it was part of my life and I would fight it when it came – but this was a depression I couldn’t fight. This was a darkness so deep and so heavy, that I wanted to lock myself away from the world forever.

One day, I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there is a ferocious anger in my chest. It’s a gay anger. Anger at the conservative world. Anger at the church and straight Christians. It is a lifetime of holding brutal conversations, impossible paradoxes, misunderstandings and well-intentioned but hurtful words. I’ve held it all, in the hopes of creating a better, kinder world, but like an ugly and sour bacteria, it has fermented me – made me angry, bitter, and depressed.

My depression spiraled out of control. It got worse and worse, and I entered a space where my one goal – my one purpose – was to make the pain stop, and I went to many dangerous and unhealthy measures to do just that. It was as if every single hurt, misunderstanding, and fear I had ever felt as a gay person in the Christian world all came alive at once.

I was only mildly bullied in school, and I’ve never been assaulted for being gay. Other Christians, with a few painful exceptions, had always spoken to me in kind, measured tones. But, nonetheless, a lifetime of subtle dissonance finally broke me. Feeling homeless in my own home and my own religion, the constant strain of defending myself or pretending. I simple couldn’t take it anymore.

I would wake up in the morning and want to shrink into a tiny, quiet place where nothing – absolutely nothing – could touch me. The gay debate had grated off all my skin, and all that was left was raw nerve and muscle. The only time I felt any peace at all was when I would go deep in my yoga practice or high up in the mountains – places where everything was perfectly still, and I was far away from the clamour of the church.

After months of struggle with depression – of climbing up and then sinking back down – I met a man with whom I had an instant connection, and we became boyfriends. He has been a wonderful support – a sudden light shining like a spotlight into my dark world. But the new-found dissonance of being in a relationship triggerd another spiral. And then the anxiety came.

The anxiety made my brain feel like fire. I would try to listen to music to distract myself, and the music itself felt like the vehicle of torture. I would try to read or watch things that were funny or lighthearted, and they would just cause absolute torture, for no reason, as if I were watching a genocide instead of Kimmy Schimdt Unbreakable. My brain responded to every thought, every activity, every piece of music or article, with panic and horrible pain. Panic was the setting within which my brain was trapped, and my heart constantly pounded, my palms sweated, my mind raced with unbearable thoughts. The whole world seemed ruthless and dark and altogether painful, with no goodness, no light, no kindness.

It got to the point where I would wake up in the morning, and scream, and scream, and scream. I would pace – pacing was torture, so I’d try to lie down. Lying down was torture. I was left to just sob and wait for it to leave. It almost never did. When the anxiety left, it left me numb and exhausted.

~~~

Recovery has been a long, slow process. In spring of 2015, I got on meds, started running again, started seeing a therapist, started a 12-step program, found a sponsor, and intensified my yoga practice. My slow ascent from Hell began. And none of it would have been possible without my boyfriend, who has provided gentle care, presence, and strength for me.

Depression and anxiety changes you. Even though my last episode was in June of last year, I still feel fragile. The very thought of returning to the anxiety and depression makes me start to spiral again. I am far, far more careful – I take my pills religiously every day, and I panic every time I miss a dose. I am hyper-vigilant about how much work I take on, how much sleep I get, how much I exercize – for fear that something could tip me over into the abyss again.

Depression and anxiety occur when a trigger is hit that starts the biochemical and spiritual spiral into despair. For some it can be war, loss, or stress. For me, it was the constant, subtle strain of being gay in the Christian world.

The harm that gay people experience in the Christian world is real, and many gay people are suffering as I have. The church need not be violent, angry, or exclusive for it to commit harm. It need only be ashamed, uncomfortable, or unwilling to enter into the lives of its gay members. It is not just exclusion and unloving words that kill, but also the deep anxiety and ambivalence, the inability to empathize with the interior worlds of LGBT people, the political wars and divisions over us, the talking about us instead of talking to us. All of it is subtle, all of it harms – especially those of us who are gay and raised in the church. The Church isn’t something we chose, it is the world into which we were born.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t know how to fix the mess – the church, in its constrained humanity, is full of people often doing their best with what they have. But their best is often deadly.

The only place I can think of to start is with sight – with total awareness. With sharing pain and telling stories. Perhaps, that can lead to grace.

 

 

49 Comments

  1. This post has touched me so deeply that I hesitate to even attempt to respond to the depth of pain and suffering you express so poignantly.

    I’ve been a Christian for most of my life (about 58 years). I’ve lived pretty much in a heterosexual Christian world where the particular pain of which you write has not really touched me. How could it? I’ve never rubbed shoulders with it, I’ve only read about it. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s true. Those who struggle with being gay have not been real to me. It pains me to say this because I love the Lord with all my heart, and I thought I loved people too. And yet I see how I have failed to even begin to consider what it must take for gay Christians to live in this world.

    I applaud you for the courage you muster up to blog faithfully and to do so with integrity. As a fellow Christian, you are my brother, and I am proud to consider you so. I will be back to absorb more of your beautiful writings for I see I have much to learn. It’s high time I entered the real world.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m deeply moved by your response – reading such words from straight Christians is healing for me, and I’m sure it is for many other gay people as well. I am grateful that the article has connected us. Please, keep reading, and keep sharing your thoughts.

  2. Stephen, I am all teary right now. It’s so good to hear from you. I’ve thought of you and prayed often for you this past year and a half. Your honesty about your experiences in the Sacred Tension days is a strong part of the reason I’m fully LGBT-affirming as a Christian today. Considering how many LGBT people I know, how much they mean to me, and how much it means to me to be able to support them with the full backing of my heart and conscience, and with understanding instead of ignorance, I can’t be grateful enough. I’m beyond glad to see you blogging again.

    I’m thrilled to hear you’re finding your way to hope, and that you have a boyfriend who loves and supports you! And while my internet presence is sketchy while working and going to school, I’ll be following your blog and Twitter account and catching up when I can. Know that you have had, and continue to have, my prayers.

  3. So sorry for the depression you go through, and for not being accepted by so many church people. I believe God created us all, and we all should be loved and accepted as we are. I do not think it is our job as followers of Christ to be the judge and jury of others. We are called to love God and love others, nothing more.

  4. I have been depressed much of my life and I applaud you for all the actions you have taken to fight it. I’m 68 now and I have a great doctor, a fantastic therapist, and am part of a Unitarian Universalist community which celebrates all our human diversity. Our members follow many different spiritual traditions and philosophies … and the one which may cause the biggest chills to run down many of our spines are the ones called Christian. Nevertheless we look for the good bits (the Sermon on the Mount) and realize that a lot of bad stuff has gotten glued on in the last 2,000 years.

    I found that leaving behind the things which made me feel so desperate was hard. but once I saw I could replace them with better things, I began to find joy in life. I found the strength to be honest about what I had suffered, but to also share how changing the way I thought … questioning everything led me to peace. Questioning is a basic principle for UU’s, as is respecting everyone, caring for the Earth, living democratically. One of the best things is that this community gives me a place I can be me, and where with a diverse group I can act locally and globally to make the world a better place.

    By accepting the challenge of living gently on the Earth, working to elect decent people to office, supporting good causes, nursing those who need my skills, teaching young people to think for themselves, and on and on, I have crafted a life I can embrace with joy. FInd a better way … I did, and think everyone can.

  5. As your earlier blog appears to be gone, have you considered reprinting those posts and their comments here on your new blog? I wish you would, as they are too useful to simply vanish from public access.

    1. Myrtle, I’m currently trying to figure out how to do that. During my breakdown last year, I let my blog’s domain expire. I am considering various options of how to make it more accessible again.

      1. Do you have copies of all the posts then? I’m glad! I have maybe 175 pages of them saved in Word, and I’ve been feeling sad about the fact that I certainly don’t have it all.

  6. Much love to you, my friend. I’m so thankful for the things you’ve found to brighten the ‘dark night’ for you. And so angry and shamed over the thought of how the church hurts some of its most vulnerable [and also most amazing] members. Thankful for you!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am a son of a vicar and have just come out aged 19, it was so hard and to be honest still is. I always thought that I would not be accepted in the church because of my sexuality. I think the church is starting to come to terms with it as I see more and more Christian guys stay with their faith which is incredible. Your story touched me as a major part of my depression and anxiety was caused, and still is, by hiding my sexually for so many years without telling a single soul.

    Thanks again and God bless! 😊

  8. Hello. When I began University, studying Religion and Theology, a certain Evangelical Church came to my blog and turned my life upside down. It was horrible. The things they said that I “couldn’t BE,” that being Gay and Christian. They were incongruent. And that abuse went on for YEARS. Until they finally left me alone, only coinciding with my attainment of TWO degrees, one in Religious Studies and the other in Theology.

    i walked away from “Church” a long time ago. Because I could not find God. Where I did find Him was in the ROOMS. Moving among my friends on a regulaar basis. However, Pope Francis is renewing my faith in Church. But I still have a bone to pick with him over his stance on Gay Marriage and the church’s long standing stance on homosexuality. But there is movement on his part to soften the church and send it outwards to the people, instead of remaining static in Rome.

    Depression is a bitch. I take pills for that as well. And my husband is Bi-Polar. And that was a steep learning curve for both of us. It took a LONG time to get that pill treatment right. And he has come so far. You just have to decide one day or another, that things are going to get better. they say … Fake it till you Make it. I also know being HIV positive that a pill is only as powerful as the energy you put behind it. To this day I still cunfound my doctor.

    There is hope at the end of the tunnel. And you are never alone. As long as we have people who love and care for us in our life. Spending time trying to justify who you are to other Christians is a waste of time. be YOU for YOU. That is all that matters.

    Know I am here.

    Jeremy in Montreal.

  9. If you are uncomfortable within the church, move out ! Follow Christ where he did his work in the community where the rejected are. Share gods love with the unloved. I believe I was created in gods image gay the way I am for a perpose, and have been richly blessed, being there for others. OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
    Many come to my home, some ex vicars closeted vicars, many others driven from the church family. May you find gods presence, peace, and blessings, and leave the hurt, anger, and depression behind.

  10. I was raised in an abusive, controlling Apostolic Pentecostal church me mum was a member of. It wasn’t being bi which was hard, but the isolation and fear. I tried staying in the church, but I left and tried other denominations. Eventually, I left Christianity forever. I found my spirituality in Asatru / Heathenry. It made more sense to me and I didn’t have to feel like something which should have been thrown away / weak / helpless.

    One thing which still bothers me is when LGBT beg for Christian acceptance when they act as if we’re so evil and their god hates us. I can not be part of anything which behaves that way.

    For some of us, the solution is to leave.

  11. If there is a prime accomplishment in a human life, it is to love yourself as is. Just you love you, with no external measurements, comparisons, standards, or commandments. No talk, no words — just you love you. Sit in your own sunshine.

    Suicide in its myriad forms is painless compared to the raw courage needed to see and accept you as is, perfectly okay even with all your cracks, bruises, dents, wounds and questions. It is only the bravest among us who can just let the world go spin. It scares human beings no end to stand alone. Most never even wish to. Yet where else will you find peace if not within?

    I’m so sorry to hear of your failure to fit you within the pages of Leviticus. If it’s any comfort, no human being ever has, or ever could. The purpose of scripture was and is to forge a tribe who think alike, and keep them striving for external approval that never arrives. Whose approval do you need when you have your own?

    “It is a wonderful thing to be born into a church; it is a terrible thing to die in it.”
    ~ Swami Vivekananda

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, it was an honour to read it, i am moved to tears. I have depression and anxiety, i am also gay and am ordained. When i came out it was meet with real viel, i was told i would need to repent and maybe become a monk, oh and i should have never been accepted for ordination as God would not want me. I feel into deep depression, and considered suidce, i went to see a fellow member of clergy senior to me for support,he said i had no right to feel like this!

    I contacted by bishop who just said he would pray for me and come back if and when i felt like taking up ministry again.

    I know struggle with church etc.

  13. Stephen, as a family member, I want to state unequivocally that you & your boyfriend are always welcome in our home. I hope that you can visit us in Arizona. Your honesty, integrity, & courage make me proud to say I am your aunt. Wishing you peace and joy.

  14. Depression is a human thing and not confined to the closets of homosexuals or the stereotypical suburban man, wife and 2.3 children or the single man or woman or any other issue that might in a limited manner define us.

    I believe strongly that the best way for homosexuals to deal with who they are is to stop trying to identify as Christian or trying to fit into a mold made by ancient men who thought homosexuals would be better off dead. What is your real goal? To be accepted? To have God accept you because you’re “doing everything you should” according to the people around you?

    A belief in a higher power is a wonderful thing but not necessary. A belief in yourself and knowing that you are just as worthy and capable of love and freedom as any other human on the planet should be the goal of everyone.

    Maybe it’s not such a “depression” problem but more a of trying to fit into a group that simply does not want you in their group, problem.

    So, create something new without the restraints and rules and dogma of a 2000 year old religion that can’t even make up its own mind as to what it is or what is the correct way to believe.

    Freedom really is free, no matter what they GOP tries to tell us, the kind of freedom where restraints are useless and imagination is your only limit is the freedom we should all celebrate.

    Get out of your head. Get out of the church. “Look for me not, in bricks and mortar”.

  15. Powerful story Stephen.
    I can relate! My story finally lead me to create my support project “Silent Gays”.
    I’ve created safe places to question everything, even the foundations of our faith, with no judgement.
    You aren’t alone bro <3

  16. Stephen,
    Last week a man who went through the Love In Action program committed suicide. He struggled so much over the years. Your writing puts his struggle into first person and is extremely valuable for anyone who has a loved one that struggles with depression.

    As always, poignant, real, valuable, and needed story from your heart, my friend.

    1. John, it’s wonderful to hear from you. The news of the man who committed suicide is devestating. The pain is real, and that is why I write about these experiences, and encourage others to do the same. His death is an enormous tragedy. I pray that such death and suffering will some day never occur.

      Love to you, my friend.

  17. Reblogged this on brokenpiecesmadenew and commented:
    Wow, his story is very similar to mine. God is our healer but sometimes we need to have actions to get out of the Abyss of hell that are in. I had a really bad episode of depression a few days ago where I wanted to die. This post was a blessing to me and gives me hope. I just started with meds and going to be getting a therapist and going to be improving on me. May God bless this young and as he moves forward in what the Lord has for him. May this post be an encouragement to you.

  18. Reading about your morning angers made me realise I am kinda on the same verge of depression, too. I have been struggling with the thought for a while and I think 2016 is going to be a defining year on this matter. I seem to lose my cheerful attitude towards life and it is not just aging or the sign of growing.

    I think finding the right people is crucial to get over the problem. I wish you a loving community and lots of people who are their for you no matter what. Thank you for writing about this 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words. I pray that you, too, find a way through the difficult times.

  19. Thank you for this, your vulnerability and honesty. Depression and anxiety, as well as orientation and church worlds colliding, is part of my story too. I’m moved to gratitude for the love you’ve found. It was a gift to me today to hear your voice again.

    1. I have always been alarmed at the way we Christians have been treated especially having known so many gay priests. How did they cope, but they do so it is possible to walk away from one side of your life and get on with living like I have done and promote gay lifestyle for over 50 years.I know there is a next world so many of my friends and relations have come through to say hello. The spiritual church seems to be a direct link to help “GOING HOME”.

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