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paint-260701_640I finally scheduled an AD/HD assessment for myself. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it isn’t until the end of the month.

When I called to speak with the clinic about setting up an appointment, they asked what I felt were my three biggest area of impairment.

And I froze.

Just three?

For how much I’ve thought and written about this, the bottom dropped out from under my completely and my mind went blank.

It was humiliating but illustrative.


The DSM-5 criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (annotated):

1. Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities:

a. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.

My first semester in grad school in 2015, we had an assignment to review and analyze one year of professional journal issues related to our area of focus. I chose American Archivist. Or rather, I missed the “one year” part and ended up looking at all 77 volumes going back to 1938 and did a qualitative analysis of article titles and subjects covered. This is just one spectacular example of the types of “careless mistakes” I make on a daily basis. I can read through instructions multiple times and the last time I’ll focus on one intriguing detail that will blot out all the other steps.

b. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

During the time that it took to write the above paragraphs, I watched five YouTube videos, looked up diagnostic criteria for three other conditions in the DSM-5, read three blog entries, scrolled through my Facebook feed, went to pet the dogs, took photos of the sleeping dogs, refilled my water glass, checked email, looked through an ADHD resources website, refilled my water glass again, went upstairs to look for a book, forgot why I went upstairs and ended up wiping down the granite countertops in the kitchen…

c. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.

It’s not that I’m not listening. It’s that I’m trying to remember what you said ten seconds ago, because it was probably important, and I’m not taking notes. I should be taking notes. Where’s my notebook? Why don’t I have a notebook on my desk? Where are the notebooks in the building? Oh god, you just said something else that sounded important. What were you saying earlier again? Augh, why am I not taking notes? Oh, right, I was looking for my notebook. Where do they keep the notebooks again? I should really go get one. Oh gods, yes, you’re still talking!! I should really be taking notes…

d. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace.

See a., b., and c. Also e.

e. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

It’s ironic that cataloging was the area of librarianship that most excites me, because I am not organized at all in my personal life. Things typically go where I’m going to find them. There’s always a moment at the outset of any task or activity where I feel utterly overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety about how to proceed. If I am working by myself, it’s usually not a problem—if I can sustain the mental energy and it’s something that interests, that is. Usually I start with the thing that seems most important, which may simply be the first thing that catches my attention and seems important. Because priorities are a tricky thing for me—either nothing is a priority, or everything is.

Yeah, I don’t understand priorities.

f. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.

This should not be interpreted as laziness. It’s more that a lengthy chapter in a book or an article looks like Mount Everest to me. I know that, to get through it, I’m going to have to take notes to keep track of all the details, and fend off all the other distractions that I know are going to crop up the minute I try to focus.

g. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities.

Notebooks. Pens. Allergy medication. Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Books. Laptop. Flash drive. Car keys. Work keys. Canvas bags. Lists (oh god, lists). Food. Security badges. Etc.

h. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).

See below. Also, having a conversation with me that stays on topic is near impossible. In the span of about thirty seconds I could interrupt myself 2-3 times with a related thought that quickly turns unrelated, which will lead to various anecdotes and things that I am suddenly able to remember that I would never be able to recall if I tried. Last semester I interrupted myself in a final presentation to comment that a thing I’d just explained sounded like a really interesting research question, and I almost didn’t get back on topic, even with my notes. I got lost during a piano performance once when someone sneezed or moved in my peripheral vision, causing me to lose focus entirely.

i. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

A frequent occurrence for me is to walk into a room and have no idea why I’m there. For a while I worried that this was a symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s. In reality, what happens between the time that I set out to go get something and the time that I arrive is that I’ve gone down numerous thought holes and daydream tunnels, and was really only half focused when I decided I needed to go get the thing that I’ve arrived in the room to fetch. This happens to me at least three times a day.


People talk about AD/HD as if it’s a license to be whimsical and carefree.

It’s exhausting and stressful.

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library12Last week was the sixth of my first semester as a graduate library school student, and it feels like I’ve been running a marathon since February. Yes, it’s a trope to gripe about the busyness of academic life, how much reading there always is, and how there’s never enough time to complete project work.

However, for the first time in a long while, I’ve actually felt good. A friend commented recently that it’s been weeks since he’s seen me depressed.

“I haven’t had time!” I said, which is true. Between school and Sunday Assembly, I haven’t had the bandwidth to think about much of anything else.

Another part is that I actually enjoy what I’m doing right now. Both of my classes are delightful, even in their moments of tedium and pell-mell insanity. My cohort is made up of people who are passionate about what they want to do and can’t wait to be librarians themselves. For the first time, I’m on an actual path towards a career that I can see myself in (and loving) long term. Turns out, librarianship is an ideal fit for my seemingly disparate skills and interests.

The downside of all this busyness is that I haven’t had much time to write or blog, as evidenced by the gaps between this and my last post. It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about. I mentioned this a few days ago to my therapist, that this has been frustrating because I process most effectively through writing. My headspace is often a hurricane of thoughts and emotions, too chaotic and busy a place for reflection or making breakthroughs.

In some of our recent sessions, I’ve brought up the fact that right now I hate my body. I’ll write more about this next time, but it’s something I remember feeling from an early age. I’ve always disliked being naked or unclothed in public as a child, even with my family, and even in warm weather. The curious thing is that (particularly in the summer) my dad would go shirtless, as would most of the guys I was around. But even as a child, I already had a sense of Otherness about myself. And when one is acutely aware of that, they are also often hyper aware of the boundaries between themselves and other people.

Some of it was the intense and pervasive fear of being judged, or people noticing imperfections with my body. I was pretty scrawny growing up, and being a late bloomer when other boys were filling out didn’t help matters. I hated everything about my body, because it didn’t meet the exacting standards I assumed were expected of me.

This is something I’ve theorized is at the root of my sense of dissociation, both from myself and from other people, and why I tend to be more of a loner. I’ve written here about my tendency to keep other people at a safe distance from me. Of course, this is in keeping with my upbringing in a religious fundamentalist community, where we were encouraged to “search our souls” and confess any and all sin that might be lurking in our hearts. In hindsight, it’s not that different from Scientology, except that instead of disembodied parasitic Thetans, we believed in sin.


A few months ago, I quoted Lawrence Heller: “When people experience trauma, they feel bad; children, in particular, think they are bad when they feel bad. Chronic bottom-up dysregulation and distress lead to negative identifications, beliefs, and judgments about ourselves.”

Virtually everything about fundamentalist Christianity teaches that, because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are broken, flawed, and sinful. This is why we need the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, to metaphysically purify us of those sins. For most people in that community, this belief fills them with a sense of awe and gratefulness. However, for many of us, an unintended consequence of growing up with that worldview was that we came to believe that we are broken, flawed, disgusting, unlovable, undesirable, etc. Many Bible verses even reinforce this notion:

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

This was a real brain teaser when I realized that I’m gay, but even beyond that, the predominant feeling I was left with from my theological upbringing was that anything I felt or wanted was fundamentally wrong—which meant that I was wrong. So I retreated to an inner world of books and writing, and developing characters and personas that I knew were “acceptable,” keeping everyone away lest they figured out what a horrible person I was.

As a teenager, my mom would sometimes say to me, “If people knew how you really are, they wouldn’t like you.” (In context, I was a pretty angry teenager, which makes sense in hindsight considering that Christianity had made me a self-loathing closet case.)

The hardest thing the last couple of years has been learning to be with people as myself. Realizations along the way have helped bring the “real me” into sharper focus, like figuring out that librarianship best describes my orientation to the world. But shaking the sense that I need to run away from people or pretend to be who I think will be accepted is quite difficult.

So it’s always a shock whenever people genuinely seem to like me. Last week, I walked into class and everyone exclaimed, “David’s here!” My housemates Matt and Jason have truly become the family I always wanted. Ditto the people at my yoga studio, and at Sunday Assembly. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and an uncomfortable once because there’s still that voice in my head warning me that I could fuck up at any time and be cast out.

Not a terribly healthy/helpful voice.

But one fence at a time.

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depression Lately I’ve really been into John Green’s Crash Course: World History, a series of 42 videos that basically covers everything you should have been taught in high school about world history (but probably weren’t) in about eight hours.

There are a number of different courses on the Crash Course YouTube channel, from Psychology to U.S. History. There is also a course on Literature, which I’m watching (or often listening) concurrent with World History. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from the video on Sylvia Plath:

Dear suicide, You are a permanent response to a temporary problem, and you are a solution to nothing. I just want to say at the outset that there is nothing good or romantic about you, suicide. You are a tragedy. You are also, in almost all cases, preventable… So it’s very important to me whenever we talk about a writer whose life ended with suicide that we note that people survive depression—and also that Sylvia Plath wasn’t a good writer because she eventually committed suicide. In fact, her career was cut short, and I mourn all of the many wonderful books we might have had.

I live in the shadow of suicide. My grandmother committed suicide in 1960. As a writer, I’m cognizant of the corpses that litter the landscape of our profession: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Sarah Kane. To most, these are words on a page, a collection of letters and dates. But each of these human beings endured what must’ve felt like an eternity of bleakness and torment before finally gasping out their last breaths, whether head-first in an oven or looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of suicide. For one, it was an appalling sin, the ultimate act of rebellion against God. For another… well, I couldn’t even stick my own finger in biology class when we were testing our blood types. Plus, it seemed like such a cowardly way out, an option for those who just didn’t try hard enough.

Somewhere in my adolescence, probably around the time I started becoming aware of my sexuality but possibly as early as eight or nine, I started experiencing periods of darkness. As an Evangelical, these slumps in mood had a spiritual cause. The cure was more Bible and more Jesus. Once I started going to public school and took a psychology class, I learned that those dark moods had a name: depression. And it was different from “the blues.”

What I’ve learned over the years of living with depression is that it isn’t just a condition. It’s the way we view the world. Even the happiest moments are colored with gloom. The flavor of victory or celebration comes across more like sand than sugar. Well-meaning friends try to cheer you up and be supportive, not understanding that the problem is within, not without. It’s like having glasses inside of our eyes that pre-filter the light before it hits our retinas.

It took me a while to understand this and how depression was shaping my perceptions and moods; why the smallest setbacks loomed large like megaliths of personal failure; why tiny inconveniences would set me off as if they were crimes against humanity. Most people just associate depression with sadness. It’s much more.

You feel worthless. Powerless. Hopeless. Disconnected from everything and everyone in your life. At worst, it feels as if I’m trapped in a glass box, able to see everything going on around me but utterly untouched by all of it. Things that bring me joy and happiness seem gray and drab. Not even sex interests me. Forget about concentrating.

And this is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life.

In June of 2008, just months away from my decision to stop hiding from the truth about my sexuality, I started having random and intense thoughts of suicide. Things like driving my car into oncoming traffic. Slitting my wrists while working in the kitchen. Overdosing on pills I was about to take. At first, these thoughts were disturbing, as they should be.

Over the past couple of months, however, as I’ve settled more into the reality that death is merely the cessation of brain activity, that consciousness just fades, as I’ve struggled more with loneliness and exhaustion from dealing with the emotional minefield that is my past, the more alluring those thoughts of suicide have become.

For example, a few weeks ago I met this guy on OkCupid who seemed decent. We went on a date, had dinner and wonderful talk, and a few days later had a second date that seemed to go equally well. Then on Sunday night, I get a text from him saying that his ex boyfriend had just got back in touch with him and he was pondering whether he wanted to get back together with him. When I asked if he missed him, he said yes. They were together for eighteen months before the guy broke up with him.

Here’s how a normal person might view that: We went on two dates. It was fun. If he decides to go back to his ex, it wasn’t meant to be. Move on.

This is how all that looks through depression: I was crushed. Not so much by the (potential) loss of a prospective boyfriend. Yes, there’s disappointment. But it was more the persistent and growing thought that this is how my entire dating life has gone so far. I meet a guy who I like, and things might seem to go well for a bit, and then something like this happens.

Rinse, repeat.

So on Sunday night I decided that, if when I’m 35 and am still single, I’m going to kill myself. Because if I haven’t met anyone by that point, it won’t ever happen. I don’t want to be one of those single, older gay men constantly getting passed over or used as a one-night stand.

Again—there’s the depression talking.

The frightening thought is how comforting the concept of simply not existing is after all the struggle. Not having to worry about anything, anymore.

Then my reason snaps into gear again, like a bucket of cold water to the face. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? And the day after. Maybe I’m about to meet my future husband, and if I die, I’ll never find out. It’ll be like an O. Henry short story, where an ironic twist of fate causes two people to just miss each other at a train station. I think about that sometimes, while waiting at, say, stoplights. So much of our life is just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Then the waiting is over, and you’re off again to the next waiting.

But the depression is always there, casting Edward Gorey-esque shadows over those hopeful thoughts. “Who are you kidding?” they say as they turn crepuscular. “You’re holding out for a dream that might not ever come true. Your future husband could always be just beyond the next hill. Or the next one. And pretty soon, you will be wrinkled and gray, and your whole life will have passed behind you, and you’ll have nothing but white-hot regret to warm you…”

It’s like having a dementor for a best friend.

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huit-d'ÉpéesThe stories we are told as children are templates we unwittingly carry with us through childhood and into adulthood, on which we pattern most of our thinking and the way we ultimately live.

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, my family watched television shows like Rescue 911. Stories like that of “baby Jessica” falling down a drain and getting stuck there for 59 hours, or a boy who was skewered by a pair of scissors after running with them, taught us valuable lessons for how not to get hurt — as well as instilling us with a certain sense of paranoia.

Anything could kill us.

Other stories were not so helpful. Having been brought up in church, I heard stories that fundamentally shaped the way I viewed the world, myself, and other people. To be a good Christian, I had to blindly accept everything in the Bible as absolutely true, ignoring all doubts, no matter how reasonable.

Anything “wrong” I did, regardless how insignificant, from telling a lie to disobeying my parents, put nails in Jesus’ feet and hands. And because God views all sin as equal (except for homosexuality), getting angry with someone is the same as killing them.

gatewaysCertain activities and pursuits were satanic gateways into our home and lives. (We had several books about this; one was called Turmoil in the Toybox. He-Man, the Smurfs, Care Bears, and G.I. Joe were all discussed.)

Non-Christians will ultimately attempt to lead good Christians off the path of righteousness. Demons were everywhere, spiritually blinding people (including Christians) to more easily drag them to Hell.

And there were always Bible references to back up these claims.

All of these narratives, and more, were crammed into my head from a very young age. Before the age of seven or so, the areas of the brain responsible for critical thinking haven’t developed yet. Dawkins writes in The God Delusion:

A child is genetically pre-programmed to accumulate knowledge from figures of authority. The child brain, for very good Darwinian reasons, has to be set up in such a way that it believes what it’s told by its elders, because there just isn’t time for the child to experiment with warnings like “Don’t go too near the cliff edge!” or “Don’t swim in the river, there are crocodiles!”

There is a condition I learned of recently called Religious Trauma Syndrome. Dr. Marlene Winell, who first identified RTS, likens it to PTSD, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. It’s brought about when one leaves fundamentalist religion—and often families and entire communities—behind. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion, poor critical thinking ability, negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth, black and white thinking, perfectionism, difficulty with decision-making;
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loneliness, difficulty with pleasure, loss of meaning;
  • Loss of social network, family rupture, social awkwardness, sexual difficulty, behind schedule on developmental tasks;
  • Unfamiliarity with secular world; “fish out of water” feelings, difficulty belonging, information gaps (e.g. evolution, modern art, music);

Dr. Winell writes on her website:

The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it.

In essence, Religious Trauma Syndrome is the void left when the support structures of religion fall away, revealing the deep scars and toxic thought patterns that fundamentalist religion is adept at whitewashing with pat excuses or victim blaming. “You just don’t believe enough!”

Swords in Tarot are associated with action, force, power, ambition, change, and conflict. They’re also connected with thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The number eight (at least in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck) describes boundaries and limitations, as well as inner strength and power of will.

In the Eight of Swords, a maiden is bound and blindfolded, isolated from the distant town and surrounded by swords. The sense is one of gloom, despair, and hopelessness. One website interprets the card this way:

Your “ego” represents the non-trusting, doubting, over-analytical part of your mind which is unable to make any decisions… you have restrained yourself from activity long enough, avoiding the present by trying to convince yourself that there are no alternatives. These beliefs keep you hemmed in—they always provide reasons why nothing will work… You are not being held back by direct force, but by your training – this belief in your own helplessness and your blind acceptance of what you have been taught… Recognize that nothing prevents you from leaving—you are bound only by your own “illusions.”

For ages, my sense of self-worth and my self-image have been colored by stories from my childhood that told me my only value was in Jesus’ death. Nothing about me was inherently good. My purpose in life had been decided by God; to not seek that purpose was arrogance.

Self-denial is a cardinal virtue. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” I attempted to do this by shutting down my id, especially once my libido kicked in. Consequently, I struggle with actually wanting anything, or making decisions. I fear emotions, especially pride. I constantly doubt myself and my capability.

However, my perfectionist drive knows no bounds. For example, during a piano lesson in college, I burst into tears after failing one portion of the piano proficiency exam: black key minor scales. By extension, I was a failure in every other area of my life.

Actress Natasha Lyonne said of recovering from heroin addiction: “Not only do you have to smash down the house, but you have to then take out the Indian burial ground underneath the foundation of the house and then begin to rebuild.”

Actress Julia Sweeney describes her deconversion as having to “change the wallpaper of my mind.”

Mine felt more like burning the house to the ground.

Yet the message of the Eight of Swords is that the mental prison of my parents’ religion is only an illusion.

Time for some new stories.

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By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
— Psalm 37:1 (King James Version)

I’ve been a little crazy this week.

This past Sunday marked the first “preview gathering” of SafeHouse Church that many of my friends are a part of, and that Seth (my ex-pseudo lover) is a pastor of. To be honest, I’m a little jealous of what they have going. They’re having meetings, band rehearsals, and volunteer training meetings, and it’s all making me feel unhinged.

Part of it is feeling left out, and this sort of phantom limb pain that comes from the memory of what all of that was like; of being part of a church, being actively involved in the planning and execution of services and events—and most importantly, doing all of that with my friends, and with people I loved and cared about.

In the last entry, I touched on my growing desire to find atheist/nontheist community of my own—my “tribe,” as it were. To find anything close to the equivalent of the church experience for any nontheist is next to impossible. We’re an independent-minded lot. We tend to think for ourselves and resist being herded into anything. It’s more likely that, as many have suggested, I’ll find community in the various groups I eventually volunteer with, sort of piecing together a nontheist “network” from those people I meet. But it won’t ever be anything like what I enjoyed years ago, in church orchestra rehearsals and the like.

That’s over.

It’s a bit like being exiled from your former life. But that begs the question of whether it was ever mine to begin with, and whether all of this wasn’t inevitable, in a way.

There are days when I do miss being a Christian—in particular, the days when I’m feeling lonely and depressed, and there’s no way that anyone can understand the immeasurably dark place that I’m stuck in, and no way that I can humanly express any of it. It would be really nice to have a god who listens. And like that phantom pain, I wish I could get that belief back sometimes. But it’s gone. Even if I wanted to, there’s no way that I could ever go back to being a Christian, not after opening the door to atheism. It’s a bit like Alice going through the tiny door and then eating the cake—you simply don’t belong anymore. As the moral of the story goes in Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat,

“You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.”

Part of me is also going crazy over everyone being there at church with Seth every week, chatting with him like absolutely nothing is wrong (because for them, nothing is wrong—because he didn’t brutally mangle their hearts); singing “worship” songs along side him to an imaginary god they fancy exists; being at church community events with him; listening to him preach; getting pastoral advice from him (as the “pastor of community care” or whatever the fuck he fancies himself); going to his apartment for dinner/parties where he’ll mix them drinks because he’s also a fucking bartender.

Then there will come the day when he meets someone, and that guy will also be in the lives of all my friends, further alienating me; and this guy will be Seth’s husband/partner, and they’ll love each other and be a staple of the community; and everyone will think what a great couple they are, how wonderful Seth is and how wonderful the other guy is…

Sigh. If you think that sounds like jealous ramblings, you’d be spot on. I fully acknowledge this, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. If there were a way to kill these feelings and forget all about Seth and all that happened between us, I would. Yes, those painful emotional moments are what define us and make us who we are; but this thing is still consuming my mind like a raging, out-of-control fire, nearly a year after the awful, infamous night of my birthday party when he dashed my heart to pieces. It’s almost like these thoughts and feelings are large enough to be another entity entirely.

Yes, some of my ire at the Church is fueled by my love/hatred of Seth—some transference, if you will. It’s completely irrational, and completely and totally unhealthy, but the moment that SafeHouse comes up or is mentioned, I basically turn into a crazy person. All of those raw, barely-beneath-the-surface feelings for him come bursting out and onto the paving stones like sulfuric acid, re-opening those wounds.

And of course this would all be happening right around the time that I formally became an atheist in the first place. It feels as though everyone I know who is going to that church, who I’ve considered my family for some time since my own family is less than welcoming, has slammed the door in my face and is rejecting me by virtue of building a community around the very beliefs that I have rejected so that I can’t be a part of their lives anymore. And these are people with whom I have history, with whom I have shared experiences.

Yes, I’m unhappily single, and that’s a factor (I need a boyfriend!!); but I’m also feeling increasingly isolated. Some of it is me pushing people away—and that’s bad. But I also don’t know where I stand with them now as a nontheist. I’m different, and you can’t choose whether you truly believe or not. It would almost be easier to cut ties with everyone and start fresh. But that’s hardly a mature reaction, nor is it healthy.

… but is this healthy?

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This post is Part II of the previous entry, which talks a bit about the effects of growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home.

The golem in some ways is like a zombie, save that it is wholly artificial. Both are animated by magical means and are (generally) completely subject to their creator’s bidding. They appear alive, but are soulless and empty—half-living, if you will.

The latter part of the last post talked about the effect that our Christian upbringing had on my two younger sisters and me, and the various ways that we have been affected as adults by what we experienced as children. (I should say that my sisters are still conservative Christians, and go to the same church as my parents.) My youngest sister has bi-polar disorder. My younger sister has gone through therapy for anorexia and still thinks she’s fat. As for me, though undiagnosed, it’s likely that I have borderline personality disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition (DSM IV-TR) defines borderline personality disorder as:

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, as well as marked impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).
  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms.

I’m broaching incredibly personal territory by sharing any of this, but that’s what this blog is about, I suppose; and looking objectively at this list, 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 & 8 are definitely true of me. I won’t share too much, but do want to cover the more major aspects of BPD for me.

Anyone who has known me for any significant period of time knows my temper is one of the more unfortunate aspects of being my friend. It rises quickly and sometimes violently, and growing up I pointed to my red hair as the cause. One of the reasons I suspected bi-polar at first was the rate at which my moods shifted, which could be violent and sudden. My mood could go from calm to agitated in seconds, then to depressed hours later.

My temper only got worse during the teen years, when the pairing of puberty (and the subsequent rush of testosterone) and the awakening of my then-aberrant sexuality caused some significant emotional disturbance. There was also the frustration of living under my parents’ thumb and policing, which was seeming more unreasonable, but so much of it had to do with living daily with the dark secret that I was gay and making sure my Christian parents never knew anything about it.

Probably the most significant factor of why I think this is BPD is the violent reactions to rejection that I’ve had over the years, and how practically every relationship I’ve had has operated under the shadow of the fear of abandonment. I form intense attachments with people fairly quickly, often with wild expectations of how those relationships will pan out. This is known as idealization and devaluation, wherein when the attachment is good a person’s positive qualities are exaggerated. When it goes bad, the opposite is true. (This is ultimately what happened with Seth.) Idealization/devaluation is normal in childhood development, and eventually a child grows out of this stage—unless a trauma occurs.

A possible cause for this is that when I was about four, my mom became pregnant with my youngest sister. For some reason—possibly something I’d heard/read about families only having 2.8 children, and not understanding decimals at that age—I assumed this meant that I, as the eldest, would have to leave to make room for the new baby. Since a family could only have two children. My parents didn’t find out about this until shortly before my sister was born, so for months I’d lived in terror of abandonment; and even when they assured me I wouldn’t have to go, at age four the fear was still palpable.

I also tend to identify strongly with people and causes, sometimes to the point of obsession. My personality, which I’ve known for a while can be chameleonic, will sometimes change slightly to adapt to my surroundings. Again, this has to do with the fear of rejection and trying to be as acceptable and likable as possible. However, the driving fear in all of my relationships (friendships or romantic) is that the other person will eventually get bored or I’ll offend them so grievously somehow and they’ll reject me. It’s incredibly pervasive.

In many ways I feel like a half-formed person, like a golem. My parents even expected absolute obedience from us growing up. While I’m able to write about this and articulate feelings, the terrified child lives on in me and filters all of my experiences. It makes it so that I’m unable to truly feel positive emotions, because to an extent I’m always living in fear, always trying to gain my parents’ approval through friends, co-workers, peers, etc.

But it never feels like enough.

My parents have admitted that they made huge mistakes back then. But they can’t turn back the clock, and I’m stuck with finding the way out of the forest on my own. Therapy is expensive, I’m flat broke, and friends (well-meaning as they are) can only help so much…

110. scattering

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“The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.”
— Michael Flanders

One of the most fascinating creatures in mythology is that of the golem, an animated anthropomorphic being in Jewish lore created out of inanimate matter (traditionally clay) and brought into being by a sorcerer or rabbi who inscribes the word emet (אמת, “truth”) on its forehead, or by a tablet with the word inserted in its mouth. The golem is described as being but a shadow of Man (who himself is but a shadow of Almighty God), without a soul and unintelligent but perfectly obedient to the will of the one who animated it. Usually in golem tales there is an element of hubris, with the creation turning on its creator who realizes the error of his ways in the end, or it begins to attack gentiles or other Jews, the point being that god alone has the wherewithal, wisdom and right to create life.

On a similar note, last week I finished watching the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, which centers on two alchemist brothers who are trying to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. *Spoiler alert!* The main antagonists in the series are beings known as homunculi, human-like creatures created out of the failed attempt to bring someone back from the dead through alchemy. These beings resemble humans but do not possess souls and thus have human-like consciousness but cannot experience emotion.

One of the purposes of this blog is to attempt to synthesize the experience of becoming an atheist after over twenty years of living as an Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. My earliest recollections involve church and my parents’ faith practice, of reading from the bible as a family or praying together. In some ways, leaving Christianity was like ending an incredibly dysfunctional marriage. However, beyond that, I haven’t talked too much about my parents, who I cut ties with on Christmas Day this year, or the effect our upbringing had on my two younger sisters and myself.

Some who read this blog know my family does not approve of or accept me as a gay man, insisting that gays are broken heterosexuals, and I think that had my parents known about me as a teenager that they would’ve attempted to get me into reparative therapy. However, I want to stress that my parents were never intentionally abusive or cruel, nor do I believe they are bad people; and I believe they genuinely love me, but their theology has shaped (and warped) their views on the world and humanity in a particular way.

My sisters and I grew up in a fairly strict home. We were homeschooled, and a significant portion of our education had a heavy Christian slant. A few weeks ago I cleaned out my old bedroom at my parents’ house and found notebooks, papers and books from those years. Reading it as an adult made me wince. It was such blatant inculcation. For a long time we weren’t allowed to watch television, and even then our watching was closely monitored, our viewing restricted to wholesome, educational programming. While I am thankful to have been exposed to as much classic black-and-white films as we were, we grew up in a cultural vacuum. We spent a lot of time at church volunteering or at different programs (yes, we did AWANAS, and both my parents were leaders).

A peculiar phenomenon of Protestant culture is the morbid fear of pride and self. My dad’s life verse comes from John 3:30, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I [John the Baptist] must decrease.” Consequently, my parents were always afraid of their children becoming conceited or prideful, and our upbringing reflected that. Again, I don’t want to paint my parents as monsters, but we were rarely praised or affirmed. We were punished, and punished often, sometimes for the smallest of infractions. There was one instance where my dad got carried away with a spanking when he thought I’d cursed god. I hadn’t, but he insisted that I had taken god’s name in vain. I still hate my father for that.

There were also a number of occasions where they threatened to send us away to work at the farm of a family friend in Nebraska for misbehaving—along the lines of, “maybe you’ll appreciate what you have here.” This threat was never acted on, but when we were little the thought of being shipped off was terrifying.

As adults, my sisters and I confronted our parents about the fact that we rarely felt loved, accepted or safe growing up. We’ve each manifested this in different ways. All three of us threw ourselves into various pursuits to work for the approval of our parents. My younger sister is a ballet dancer and in her teen years developed anorexia for which she has gone through years of therapy to overcome. While probably not related to our home life, my youngest sister has bi-polar disorder and has substituted a dog for having a boyfriend.

As for me, I pursued music performance, partly to fulfill an aptitude for it but also to win the approval/attention of my father who is a professional trumpeter and college professor, going so far as majoring in music composition for a career in music (which never went anywhere). Despite all of that, I’ve still never felt like any of it’s been good enough.

For a long time I’ve struggled with depression, and for a while wondered if I might have bi-polar disorder too. It’s much more likely though that I’m dealing with something known as borderline personality disorder, a veritable clusterfuck of a diagnosis, consistent with my home life growing up and a lot of the behavioral traits I’ve manifested over the years.

However, I’ll cover that next time since this Starbucks is closing.

G’night, everyone.