I started seeing a new therapist on Wednesday. It’s through the same agency as my last therapist, but it’s the woman I initially got connected to back in 2012 through the Secular Therapist Project. Apparently I was the first client to contact her through that site, but due to our schedules not quite aligning it didn’t work out the first time. She said she now has about a dozen clients who are recovering fundamentalists, which is really awesome.
She’s also a recovered, ex-Mormon, which in some ways is probably a harder thing to be than an Evangelical fundamentalist. From what I know of them, Mormon communities are much more tight-knit than most Christian communities. Your family is the core of your world. Leaving that behind can be truly catastrophic.
Our first meeting went well. There’s always a first-date quality to an initial session. What’s going on, what brings you to therapy, etc. Thankfully, I don’t have to explain why I am no longer a Christian. That part is always annoying.
One idea I’ve been exploring lately, that I brought up in the session, is that my childhood wasn’t nearly as awful as I remember it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t traumatizing in its own right, or that my parents didn’t have a hand in causing some of the damage. But I’ve been doing some revision.
So far, the narrative is that, as the first born of the three kids in my family, my parents were the hardest on me throughout my life and that this is why I’m currently so hard on myself. I’ve pictured my parents as slightly less psychotic versions of the iconic stage door mom or angry soccer dad.
The truth is more nuanced.
From what I can recall, and from some of the things my parents have admitted, this is partly true. As the first born, they were a little harder on me, at least at first. They freaked out more when things happened, and were probably harsher in scolding me when I did something wrong. Expectations had to be adjusted as my sisters were born and they learned from their experiences, and by the time I reached middle school age, they’d chilled out a lot - at least when it came to pushing us to achieve.
Something I hit upon while discussing this on Wednesday was the idea that, because my early childhood was much more intense, when my parents backed off I essentially became my own crazy soccer dad. When I made a mistake and they didn’t yell at me, I was screaming from the sidelines at myself, to pick myself up from the dirt, to quit being such a fucking loser, to stop being such a disappointment.
How this played itself out as I got older was that I drove myself to be the absolute best at everything. I was determined to be the youngest published author ever, so I worked like mad at becoming a great writer. I was determined to be the best at piano, so in addition to practicing long hours and refining my technique and musicality, I eliminated any possibility of sibling rivalry by dropping subtle hints to my younger sister (who was taking piano lessons with me at one point) that she wasn’t any good and should quit. Which she did.
When I got to college and majored in music composition, I would write late into the night, sacrificing sleep and often my health to become the best.
However, the truth is that no matter how hard I worked or what I achieved, I was never satisfied. No effort was ever good enough, no progress far enough. The more disappointed I became, the more I hated and loathed myself. Even my efforts to force myself to be straight failed, although i can’t say that I regret that one too much.
This is why I’m particularly unhappy about being single right now, because almost everyone else I know is coupled, and it feels as if I missed learning some life skill that came easily to everyone else. My housemates have been together twenty years, and married for the last sixteen. Another friend of mine is getting married next month and has been with his boyfriend for fourteen years.
My longest relationship is barely nine months, the last three of which I was waiting for the right moment to end it.
My current refrain is that no one wants a thirty-one-year-old gay man. Some have said that this is ageist; that thirty is the new twenty; that age only exists in the mind. In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that this anxiety is less about being single and more about an acute awareness of how “behind” I am compared to most people I know. At thirty-one, it feels as if I’m truly starting over at a point when most of my friends are coming into their own.
Being raised a fundamentalist Christian did stunt my growth. Now that I’m out as both gay and as an atheist, I’m finally getting to a place where I can begin to grow. It’s just difficult to do that while my friends are so much further ahead in their personal lives and careers.
On the surface, just as I fear being looked down upon for not driving a nice (i.e., adult) car, I worry about being viewed as less-than by those around me. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true; that everyone struggles with the grass-is-greener mentality. However, I do seemingly lack an internal locus of reference for my identity and sense of self-worth that most people develop in their formative years. So if I perceive someone as doing “better” than me, it means that I have nothing, that I’m an abject failure. If I am rejected, it’s because I’m worthless. Are these thoughts rational? No. But it’s what I feel. And depression is an illness of the emotions.
So what to do? Well, getting a handle on my depression seems the first step…