Mental Health, Uncategorized

First and foremost: CW: Description of psychological episodes & mention of suicidal thoughts. [The above image is “Moods in a Day” by Kath Nash, available through Society6]

It has been… A bit.

COVID times, personal life, & trying to be a better human have taken up the majority of my emotional brain space, so I took a brief break. During that break, a lot has changed, including my diagnosis.

At the end of June/early July of this year, I decided to go back to therapy. I thought I had myself all figured out, after all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been to a psychiatrist. I’ve been diagnosed. I tried a multitude of prescription medications that just weren’t working for me, then cannabis which did wonders. All that to say, I knew there were some things to talk through, and assumed I knew what I wanted to deal with.

But, as most seasoned therapy-goers will tell you, that’s typically not how therapy works.

I told my new psychologist all about my history, experiences, etc. He asked some very pointed questions, and had me fill out questionnaires. During our third meeting, after reviewing my responses, he said, “I don’t think you’re dealing with depression. I think you may be dealing with a manic disorder.”

Sorry… What the fuck?

He gave me more questionnaires to fill out, and I went to my good ol’ friend, Doctor Google.

Me: *Googles ‘manic disorders’*

Google: “Bipolar disorder has been previously called ‘manic depression’…”

My heart sank. Because unbeknownst to me, I had my own stigmas about Bipolar Disorder. The few interactions I’d had with people I knew (after the fact) had BPD were fairly abrupt, and intense. “That can’t be me,” I thought, “I’m quiet. Reserved. That just doesn’t sound like me.”

I do, however, have sudden bursts of energy, or productivity, which I had chalked up to just “good days” with my ADHD . I do have moments where I feel so elated, I suddenly burst into tears with no explanation. I have inward bursts of rage, sudden, dramatic dips in my depression, and I could tell you the exact days of the month I would feel suicidal.

As I read further, I learned something new:

There are different types of Bipolar Disorder. The following descriptions are from WebMD:

Bipolar I: Involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression.

Bipolar II: A milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania and depression.

Cyclothymic: Describes brief periods of hypomanic symptoms alternating with brief periods of depressive symptoms that are not as extensive or as long-lasting as seen in full hypomanic or full depressive episodes.

Mixed features: “Mixed features” refers to the occurrence of simultaneous symptoms of opposite mood polarities during manic, hypomanic or depressive episodes. It’s marked by high energy, sleeplessness, and racing thoughts. At the same time, the person may feel hopeless, despairing, irritable, and suicidal.

Rapid-cycling is a term that describes having four or more mood episodes within a 12-month period. Episodes must last for some minimum number of days in order to be considered distinct episodes. Some people also experience changes in polarity from high to low or vice-versa within a single week, or even within a single day, meaning that the full symptom profile that defines distinct, separate episodes may not be present (for example, the person may not have a decreased need for sleep). Sometimes called “ultra-rapid” cycling, there is debate within psychiatry as to whether this phenomenon is a valid or well-established feature in bipolar disorder. A pattern of rapid cycling can occur at any time in the course of illness, although some researchers believe that it may be more common at later points in the lifetime duration of illness. Women appear more likely than men to have rapid cycling. A rapid-cycling pattern increases risk for severe depression and suicide attempts. Antidepressants may sometimes be associated with triggering or prolonging periods of rapid cycling. However, that theory is controversial and is still being studied.

Reading through those descriptions made me very aware of how correct this diagnosis might be. I now noticed frequency of the shifts between them in myself. Within that same week, I experienced two very intense episodes that I can only describe as “1,000 TVs being on in my brain, all playing something different at top volume. It was awful. After turning in the forms, my psychologist referred me to the office’s Nurse Practitioner to complete my intake & give me an official diagnosis. He was also the NP who had prescribed my meds for depression previously. He looked over all my paperwork, and called me for a few phone appointments. During the third, he diagnosed me, officially, with Bipolar II disorder. “You know,” he said, “the reactions you had to the antidepressants we tried all make much more sense now, given this diagnosis.” I felt a sense of relief, and mourning. I thought I knew what I was dealing with, and that I had it managed (sort of). Immediately, I felt anxiety about ever sharing this new diagnosis with anyone but my husband. I searched the internet for supportive blogs, Twitter & Instagram accounts in the same way I did with depression & ADHD, but haven’t found much that felt right. “Maybe I should write about it,” I thought. But I hesitated. One of my biggest concerns surrounded my first post here on the blog: “Will this discredit my experience in the eyes of others?” Another was, “Will people feel weird around me after this?”

Here’s the thing: None of that matters.

What matters is that I am healthy. I’m on a medication that has stabilized me in a way I hadn’t known or felt since I can remember. I don’t want to die anymore, or run away from my family and my life because “they would be better off without me.” Bipolar Disorder or not, my life experiences are still 100% valid and true. And, the people who are meant to be in your life will stick around & support you regardless. They won’t discredit you, or try to explain away your life.

It is imperative that I get sufficient amounts of sleep, exercise regularly, continue therapy, and stay consistent with my prescribed medication. With the medication I’m taking, I can’t have alcohol (although I stopped drinking over a year ago because it intensified my suicidal thoughts), and I’ve taken a break from marijuana because there’s a risk of it amplifying the BPD , however, I still take CBD for anxiety on occasion. That risk doesn’t diminish the positive impact THC had on my depression.

I’m grateful for the progress made already, at about 8 weeks in, and I’m for my husband. He’s held my hand through this process, checked in on me, heard me when I needed to be heard, and has kept me in a healthy supply of chocolate and tacos.

I stand by my choice to share this diagnosis, regardless of the possible repercussions. It has always been my intention to be open & transparent with the hope that it could help one person. Even if it does, I’m living my truth for myself & my family, and I’m not ashamed of that.



It has been… A minute.

The initial delay in posting was due to busy life stuff, and straight up just ADD. Then, Covid-19 happened, so I, like everyone else, have been adjusting and juggling life to the best of my abilities.

I’m curious what social distancing is like for people without children. I love my kids. They are wonderful. However, I’ve gone from “I feel like I’m never alone” to LITERALLY never being alone. Ever. Yes, it was my choice to have 4 of them. No regrets. I just might not have considered what it would be like to be trapped indoors with them for months on end. The only time I get alone is when I go to the bathroom, and in order to avoid having a child come bang on the door to ask me to do something for them, I straight up will leave the door open because that is my only defense. YOLO motherfuckers! There are no rules in isolation!

(I’m not calling my kids “motherfuckers” by the way. Just to clarify.)

As far as coping goes, my emotions are coming and going in waves, as I’m sure yours are too. The first two weeks were a fairly numb/what I’ve learned is a trauma response. The Dude is an essential worker, and was having to work extended hours & work weeks, which really took it out of both of us. I think we went into survival mode, and just kept our heads down till we finally could catch our breath. This has been followed by panic, acceptance, depression, with bouts of productivity & acceptance again. As an extroverted-introvert, I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this. I love being at home. I love being with my kids, even though it is constantly loud and wild. However, I do still miss that social piece. A lot of my family lives near by, and I’ve definitely cried when I’ve seen some of them from a safe distance. Going into the grocery store with random local strangers just doesn’t cut it.

The kids are showing amazing resilience, and I’m so proud. They definitely have days of frustration, not understanding WHY they can’t play with friends even though they’ve seen other people having people over. That is when we have the same conversation for the 100th time: “We are doing our part. Your dad is essential, which means he still has to go to work and interact with people. He could bring something home, and we don’t want to share that with other people. Also, (6YO son) is at a higher risk of complications if he were to catch Covid-19, so we are trying to keep him safe.”

I could honestly go off on a tangent regarding that last sentence, but I won’t. What I will say is that it has been eye opening to see how many people prioritize their own lives VS someone else’s.

I’m baking a lot, & cooking constantly. We’ve painted 3 out of 4 bedrooms in the house, mostly because we had the paint lying around and I really needed the distraction on panic attack days. I’ve done way too many dishes. So many, in fact, that I vow to make this someone else’s responsibility by the time this is all over. That’s right, kids. Time to earn your keep!

Some key things for me during all this have been:

  • Limit news intake. I follow enough to stay informed, but if I stay online all day, I’ll be a spiraling mess.
  • Getting outside. When the sun is out, I make it a point to get out there, at least for a few minutes & soak up that vitamin D.
  • Feeding myself. Hydrating. Seriously. I forget on a lot of days, and that helps no one.
  • Feeding my soul: Listening to/reading books, listening to podcasts, blasting my favorite music, watching favorite movies or shows. Recommendations: Books: Strong Women Rising by Tiffany Reese, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Podcasts: Something Was Wrong, Jensen & Holes: Murder Squad, In Bed with Nick & Megan, Armchair Expert, and (one that isn’t out yet but I’m looking forward to) Julie’s Library.
  • Having grace. Seriously. Lower your expectations of yourself and those you’re isolating with. There are a LOT of days I cannot & don’t get anything done beyond “distance school” for the kids. I’ve even skipped a day of that. My house is a hot mess 98% of the time. It is okay.

I hope you’re all doing okay, or as okay as you can be. If you are considered essential & are still working, thank you for doing so. If you are staying at home when you can, & social distancing when able, thank you. To all the caregivers, and good souls checking in on elderly loved ones & neighbors, thank you. It has been a scary time for everyone, but especially for those who themselves are at higher risk , or who have with loved ones who are at higher risk for complications, and your efforts to flatten the curve are so appreciated.

The One Where She Talks About Weed

Cannabis, Marijuana, Mental Health, Uncategorized, Weed

Preface: I believe prescribed medication can be a wonderful tool that works for so many people. Do not take any medication (prescription or otherwise) without consulting your doctor & doing a shit-ton of research first. I also believe in the power of therapy, exercise, self-care, weighted blankets (I has one!) and support animals (I has one too!) Some of these things are trial and error, but please research all your options first. Also, please do not get high and drive.

It’s January 2020, and I’m just about coming up on the 1 year anniversary of starting therapy.

When I sought out therapy in 2019, I was majorly stuck and fed up with where I was at mentally. Overwhelmed, burned out, anxious, more depressed than usual and starting to slip back into some unsafe mindsets. It also didn’t help that we had lost both my Grandmother & her long time boyfriend in the previous two months. That was what finally motivated me to go.

I had taken anti-depressants before, in 2014 about 9 months after our 3rd kid was born. Zoloft. It helped… Sort of. I wasn’t sad any more, but I also went back to my neutral depressive state of nothingness. Someone (I think it was Jenny Lawson) described it as: Feeling the ghosts of emotions, like you know its there but you can’t really feel it. That was how I had felt for 10 years, but didn’t realize it was an issue to only feel disinterested or anxious. The side effects, however, were the worst part. For 4 weeks I was sad, nauseous, and had migraines while my body adjusted to this medication. Pop up to 2019 when my therapist’s office prescribed me Welbutrin (for the depression) & Vyvanse(ADD.)

The Welbutrin gave me facial tics. Big ones. And migraines. I tried to stick with it, but wasn’t noticing any change in my mood, just uncontrollable movement in my face. The Vyvanse curbed my appetite so intensely that I would eat maybe once a day. Now I understand why our oldest child didn’t thrive on it. It also really didn’t help my ADD at all, and when I asked to be put on Adderrall, they refused to get the pre-approval from my insurance. I still don’t really understand why, but I’m chalking it up to the fact that my older two children were prescribed it at the time, and they probably thought I would become an Adderall dealer to all the soccer moms of Northern California. Whatever!

I was done with the side effects. I was also done with not being heard. I left that therapist, and started doing my own research into alternative medications. It seemed like a lot of people were having success with not only CBD for anxiety, but THC & micro-dosing psychedelics were showing some promise in the realm of mental health. The idea of psychedelics made me uncomfortable because I don’t like being out of control, so I started with pure CBD (only affects the body, does not make you “feel high.”) It helped a little, but not as substantially as I hoped (for some this is not the case, and they have great success!) Turns out, because I have a tolerance to THC, I needed to have a different CBD to THC ratio for it to have an impact. Since then, I have found that if I use CBD products with a ratio of 18:1 (High CBD, with a minor amount of THC, but not enough for any psychoactive effects) work perfectly for me in situations where I’m experiencing anxiety. Something else I did was gave up alcohol. I realized after a massive depressive episode, that I’ll discuss in a future post, that even one drink would send me spiraling emotionally (did you know that alcohol is a natural depressant? Surprise!)

After giving CBD a try, I decided to try THC for my depression. THC is what causes the brain to “feel high” (does have psychoactive effects.) I started with edibles, which, let me just say: If you have ZERO or little experience with marijuana: Start small. Do not go all in on that ish. You will have mighty regrets! In fact, if you’re considering using marijuana recreationally OR medically, go to a dispensary and discuss your needs with an educated employee. I (thankfully) didn’t have any negative affects. Quite the opposite, actually. I could feel joy again! Something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I told my new therapist, who I found through Talkspace (not sponsored, but holler at your girl!) and she was very supportive. She could tell it was starting to bring me some relief, as were our chats. Eventually I explored vaping cartridges (the legit ones, not the ones that will give you lung disease) and drops, and that is where I have landed at the moment. I’ve also researched using a water vaporizer for straight marijuana flower, because that is a safer alternative to vaping cartridges. The cartridges are just easier at the moment, because I can better control how much I have in my system and how long those effects last, where as with edibles, you better be ready to sleep immediately or have zero plans to go anywhere because honey you are stuck to that couch with your weighted blanket with all your snacks!

Now, I know some disapproving readers will say, “YOU HAVE KIDS! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS WITH THEM PRESENT?!? CALL CPS!” Calm your butts, folks. For starters: The Dude does not partake. This is a me party. I do not get high with my kids present. I do it at bed time, which actually really helps my anxiety insomnia. The CBD I will happily use any time I have a social interaction that I’m feeling anxious about, and it really has done wonders. I’m convinced it helps my ADD brain, because I’m able to think and communicate more clearly when I use it. I’m not a scientist though, so what do I know? Just my personal experience.

Most recently (within the past two weeks), I’ve realized that I’ve been able to feel NORMAL feelings in a major way, and not my normal depressive ones in I don’t know how long. One of my major depression mindsets was: “My family would be better if I just left. If my husband fell in love with someone else, that would just be better for everyone else, and that’s okay.” I didn’t feel sad about it, I just felt that way. Now I’m like, “Fuck that! I’m an amazing mom and wife, even on my bad days when I can’t get off the couch, and I’d be saying “Bye Bitch” with my best Lizzo cackle if that man tried to dip.” (For reference, he never would. He’s a precious angel of a man, and I am extremely blessed to have him. But I can see my own worth now, which was hidden underneath all my depressive guilt.) I feel joy now, and I still feel sad sometimes, but I’m okay sitting with that & any other negative feeling for a moment, and acknowledging it & why I feel it, then letting it go.

That is some growth right there.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! I’d love to answer any questions anyone has about this post, so feel free to comment, or to DM me via Instagram (@JGVALDEEZY)

Welcome to My Brain

Mental Health, Uncategorized

Hello! Hi! Yes! Welcome!

TW: In this post we will discuss: Anxiety, ADD, Depression, and suicidal thoughts. Please proceed with caution.

If you don’t already know, my name is Julia and my brain is… Interesting? Not right? Similar to what a anti-gravity room filled with bouncy balls would look like? All of the above.

Let me unpack it a little:

I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was 9 years old. It started out as separation anxiety. I would have to get picked up from sleepovers early, had a hard time going to friend’s houses to play, birthday parties, etc. Then it morphed to just straight up, WTF unpredictable anxiety. I’m a hardcore Disneyland fanatic, and I couldn’t ride anything but the teacups or It’s a Small World during one specific family trip. No rhyme or reason. Even now, I can think back and know that I wasn’t afraid of anything specific… I just couldn’t do it. Somehow, I figured out that if I could visualize an empty white room that was clear of anything or anyone, I could soothe that anxiety. I don’t know where that concept came from, but it still helps me sometimes.

Now, as a full grown 32 year old adult, my anxiety presents in all kinds of ways:

Social: I hate meeting new people, which is sad because I LOVE meeting new people! I’m an extroverted-introvert essentially, but it is anxiety based. I want to go all the places and meet all the people and do all the things, but, I can’t. Thinking about going to an event where I don’t know many people, or even just going to someplace knew makes my body tense up. I have a history of backing out of plans last minute that I reeeeealllly wanted to be a part of, soely because I’m anxious about the situation. Beautiful, glorious friend I haven’t seen in 10 years wants me to come to their party? I would love to! However, even thinking about it [a made-up but has TOTALLY happened scenario] makes my body tense up. I also typically over do it when it comes to relaying information to people, because I’m worried they will forget or not see it.

Personal: My brain doesn’t stop cycling through all the possibilities of what can go wrong. Sometimes, this is great! I’m sure it has saved my life plenty of times. When I’m trying to sleep at night? Not necessarily the time I want to think about situations I can’t control, or past interactions I’ve had where I probably said something stupid and can’t take it back because that would be weird and now EVERYONEPROBABLYHATESME! Another side effect of that would be, insomnia. At least 3 nights a week, I’m awake from 1AM-3:30AM, anxiously mulling over situations I can’t do anything about at that hour. Sometimes, even responding to a simple email or text can completely shut me down.

Another fun aspect of my brain? I have ADD, or, ADHD Inattentive Type as it’s most commonly referred to these days (Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I don’t love change.) That is why the blog has its name. I have great intentions of doing projects (whether personal or assisting someone else), cleaning my house, getting that blog going, etc. Instead, I more frequently just sit down, completely overwhelmed by the hurdles it will take to accomplish those things, and get sucked into the social media black hole instead! That is almost always my Achilles heel. I’ll have great things planned, then pull out my phone or my laptop, and now it is all down the toilet. I know better! It puts me in an unproductive funk and I just can’t. Or, I’ll have an overwhelming morning getting the kids out the door & off to school (I love you children, but it really is like herding cats) and I simply cannot. Cancel all plans! We are now glued to this couch. I lose something (keys, purse, wallet, phone, my cup of coffee) a minimum of once a day. My house is constantly a mess, not only because I live in a 24/7 circus, but because it’s how my brain functions. If I am working on a project, I need tons of space between wording & to color code ALL THE THINGS, otherwise… It’s done for.

Aaaand finally, the asshole of all assholes: DEPRESSION!

I know her well. I started experiencing depression in high school. You know how it goes; Teen angst an whatnot. But it is real. Now, as I mentioned in the previous post, my depression really peaked in 2013 when I left my horrible job. I gave birth to our 3rd child, and I was… A mess. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how long I had been this way.

For me, depression manifests as:

  • Indifference
  • Numbness
  • Sadness
  • Self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts (which we will touch on more in another post.)
  • Inability to function day-to-day (Not cleaning, showering, barely eating. I could still care for my kids, but it was rough.)

I’m fond of saying, “Depression is a liar and an asshole,” because, it is. Depression makes you feel utterly alone, unloved, unloveable. “Everyone would be better off without me. I should just leave. It would be so much better.” Those were my “normal” thoughts. All the time. Every day. They’re not normal, nor are they correct. You are important. You are loved. This life and this world would not be the same without you.

I finally sought out medication, which I took for 9 months during this part of the story. It did help. It pulled me out from the funk, but held me in a neutral place. I couldn’t feel anything, really, but I knew I felt better in that moment. It helped me realize that I had been suffering from chronic depression for… Years. I couldn’t remember feeling anything other than neutral or negative feelings, or anxious excitement. Pretty wild.

Mental health is a journey. What works for some may not work for you, and vice versa. Therapy is magic. I’m convinced. Unfortunately, with the way health care works in America, it can be really difficult to find a therapist who will take your insurance that isn’t already full on patients. I got a lot of help through Talkspace, mostly because it was convenient for my life at that moment. If you are in need of someone to talk to, here are a some wonderful resources listed here. I’m currently in the best place mentally than I have been in YEARS. My post next week will discuss my journey with traditional & non-traditional medications, and I’m super excited to share it with you!

This magical creation was done by @positivelypresent on Instagram! Go follow her!

Cult Christianity: My Experience With Spiritual/Emotional Abuse

Mental Health

I wanted to start this post with a TW:

This post will discuss emotional & spiritual manipulation, depression, anxiety & PTSD. Please proceed with caution. The two pastors mentioned are the only perpetrators in this story. At least the only two who directly impacted my life in this negative way. I never dealt with manipulation or emotional/spiritual abuse from anyone else I worked with, and I love so many of the people I met during this time in my life. This post is not a vendetta against the people involved in this story, which is why those present will be mentioned under aliases. This decade-long experience is a huge chunk of my mental health journey, and something my kids ask about frequently. I do believe there are plenty of good churches out there, and not all of them are cults. Seven signs your church is a cult are:

1. Opposing critical thinking (This happened.)

2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving (This too.)

3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders (This was MAJOR.)

5. Dishonoring the family unit (Yup.)

6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership) (Yerp.)

7. Separation from the Church (Originally was a part of the Assemblies of God but was kicked out for being “too radical.”)

If you’d like to see characteristics of a cult leader, you can do so here.

For the sake of sanity, we will be referring to the elder-Senior Pastor as “Ben”, and the son/youth pastor/eventual-senior-pastor/my former boss as “Lance.”My husband will be referred to as “The Dude” to protect his privacy. There will also be quite a bit of church language or, “christianese” as its called, so I will try to mark those words and do a breakdown at the bottom of this post.

Our family used to be heavily involved in church. I met my husband, The Dude, in the youth group when we were 17. We became a part of the youth leadership team, and worked at the venue the church built as an outreach to the community. The reason I was drawn to that youth group in the first place is because I had a major need to feel like I was a part of something. This youth group & venue were geared toward kids in the hardcore/punk music scenes. “Tattoos? Loud music? We love it! Come as you are! We’re going to take over the world!*” [*This should have been a red flag, by the way.] Right up my alley. I had friends who started attending, then I joined in. The church was run by a family. At the time, the Senior Pastor, “Ben,” was the father of the family, and the man who was Youth Pastor at the time (and has since become the Senior Pastor), “Lance,” was one of his sons. Both were charismatic, loud, and after many years I would come to realize, major narcissistic sociopaths. I can say that because, both men were extremely self-important, and very obviously bothered the successes of sister churches*. Everything was a competition, and there was a ton of shit-talking about what another mega church would do. They would discourage church hopping* because it would be “inconsistent” and it make you look flakey, when the reality was they were extremely possessive & wanted our tithe. There was also the factor of, if you had something to offer them personally (a skill, an in with a local business, etc) you were of value. You could be in the “inner circle.” The second that changed, you weren’t even an afterthought. Ben would tell stories about being raised in a racist household, how Jesus changed his heart, but would use the N-Word to display how racist his upbringing was. Lance would tell elaborate stories about seeing punk rock kids with mohawks come to Jesus that weren’t true, and honestly, with the amount of gaslighting & emotional bashing that went on daily, this long ass post won’t even scratch the surface.

We were told that the order which our priorities should go were:

  • God
  • Church
  • Friends/Family

The Church was to be considered a new family. As a part of the leadership team, we were expected to be at every event. Didn’t matter if you had already been there all day for a conference, which usually meant being there from 8AM till Midnight, if it was a holiday; You were expected to be present, even if you weren’t a part of the paid staff. The church had a team of “interns” who were honestly just there for free labor. They would pull weeds, paint buildings, hold signs out in the 100 degree heat for the fireworks booth, etc, all under the guise of learning what it meant to have a servant’s heart.

Part of your participation in the Youth Group (or any other aspect of the church) was that you were to be held accountable by leadership. As much as I believe in the benefits of accountability in some situations, having the church leadership telling young people who they should/shouldn’t or better yet could/could not date is not really appropriate, but it happened. Their word was to hold more value than say, that of your parents. I saw that in many situations with our youth kids. The Dude and I were once told by Lance during our dating relationship that we needed to take a three-month long break. No exceptions. It didn’t last. I remember telling Lance that we were not going to continue the break, and that was the end of that… Until one evening when we were working a hardcore show at the church’s venue. He approached me & pulled me aside to tell me that God had told him that D and I were sleeping together, and that The Dude confirmed it to him. I told him straight up that I knew he was lying. Lance didn’t bring it up again, but I obviously told The Dude about it.

Sexual purity was huge, as it is in many Christian churches. We were not to talk about sex, think about sex, masturbate, etc. That was sinful. Although, if you were married, it was totally fine to be all over your spouse in front of the whole youth group, but I digress. By not talking about it, it became a huge secretive thing. When I did become pregnant with our oldest daughter out of wedlock a year or so after the confrontation with Lance, The Dude and I were pulled into the church office and had the shit guilted out of us by Ben. During a main Sunday service following that meeting, Ben pulled us up in front of the entire congregation and basically exposed all of our sin, but told everyone the church was “going to embrace and support”us. This was a huge cause of major PTSD that I still suffer from and am working through today. It was also the one and only event that I ever received an apology for, 5 or 6 years later from Lance, and only because he made a joke in front of me during a staff meeting about “back when we used to present people’s sin to the church.” Also, apparently what they meant by being “embrace and support” was being put on a mandatory leave from my job in both the church’s nursery & children’s ministry.

During the 2008 election season, Ben sent out a “voter’s guide” showing everyone how he was voting, and encouraged us to do the same. We were encouraged to vote republican (obviously) and additionally support Prop 8, which was anti-same sex marriage. They even went so far as to have a protest on the side of one of our city’s main roads, holding signs. I hate to admit that I participated in this. Gay marriage was something I supported before being saved*, and even in the first few years really struggled with the concept that it wasn’t acceptable. Obviously, I allowed myself to be swayed. Which is gross, but also, shows the power this church had in my life. Amazingly enough, homosexuality in the Christian community would be the thing that “woke me up” to the faults of Christianity, but we’ll get there later.

Once people in our group of youth leader friends started getting married, we were encouraged to stop going on “girls only trips” or “guys only trips” because excluding your spouse would create opportunity for the enemy* to slip in. “There were things I liked when we got married that my husband didn’t like to do, so I stopped doing them to focus on things we could do together” was something said by Lance’s wife at one point. The majority of us ignored that, and continued to do those trips.

One of my main sources of anxiety, and the reason I still pile stressful situations onto my plate when I shouldn’t: My job at the church. The Dude and I both took on jobs at there at different points. After my leave, I went back to working at the church nursery, and The Dude would work both with the venue directly & on the church’s campus doing yard work and such. Eventually, this would change into an IT job for him, and an administrative assistant job for me. Our livelihood was tied up in this place completely. At one point, there was an “opportunity” to put money into what was basically a pyramid scheme. Ben and Lance were to gain, and Ben tried to pressure us giving money we didn’t have. We refused this, but a lot of people didn’t. In 2010, the church started to have financial troubles, and lost the property our buildings existed on. Ben & Lance quickly changed the name of the church & all its accounts, and started trying to rebuild in a new location. People gave a ton of money, or even took out second mortgages. Ben & Lance’s families continued to live just fine in their nice homes with their newer vehicles. Ben was still having his car paid for by funds from their ministry network (until they finally couldn’t afford to do it anymore) while the rest of us would go unpaid for weeks. We struggled to pay rent, and even buy groceries sometimes. Lance would brag about the fact that they would pay cash for their cars and get amazing deals, while the rest of us struggled with our old, mostly reliable vehicles. Our old church property had leaky roofs & black mold which we still had to work around. Additionally, I was doing the job of about 3 people. I was scheduling & managing the church nursery, helping with children’s church, took on making all the publications for the church and it’s events, answering phones, and assisting in planning events. We were still a part of the youth ministry, and prophetic ministry teams. It was… A lot. During this time, Ben stepped back as Senior Pastor to focus on their Ministry Network, and Lance took over. Over the following two years, we’d go through a lot of changes. The Dude eventually left to take on an outside job to give us some financial stability. Even after he did so, he would receive last-minute texts or emails from Ben demanding assistance with his laptop or whatever to take with him on a trip. The final time this happened, The Dude was working 12 hour night shifts and was unavailable even for me. Ben didn’t like that he wasn’t getting a response from The Dude, and sent me a scathing Facebook message about all they had done for us just to be ignored. It was gross. I still get the creepy-crawlies thinking about it today. My response was essentially a politer version of: “He doesn’t work for you anymore. He does not owe you anything. Go fuck yourself.” We also gradually lost some really valued staff members, and that was when I knew what was happening wasn’t okay. Two of them are some of the best people I know, and put up with a lot of bullshit. When they began their transition out, I started to feel my personal binds loosen.

In 2013, I became pregnant with our 3rd child, my son. At this point, with The Dude’s new permanent job, I knew we were financially stable enough for me to leave. So, I did. Lance tried to bring me back by offering me the Children’s Pastor position I had wanted & been trained for years before but had been given to someone else. I essentially told him it was too little too late, and I knew that the only reason he wanted me back in that position now was because I was leaving. It was like a bad boyfriend that wouldn’t go away initially, then, they let go, and I sunk into the heaviest part of my depression up until that point in my life. My entire identity was wrapped up in a Christian culture I no longer had a part of. We stopped working in leadership, we stopped coming to services. We were free, but totally lost. I knew something about Christian churches no longer felt like home, but I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I met one of my best friends who is a born and raised Christian, but also gay. Meeting her lifted the veil so-to-speak on an important message this church had been mucking up for so long: Love. Uncomplicated, no-strings-attached love. The amount of manipulation pretending to be love and acceptance that we underwent put a fog on that lens for so long, but now I could see.

It has taken 6 years, therapy, multiple medications and long talks, but I am whole again. I still love God, and that won’t change. I have experienced too much in my personal life to believe anything else, but it looks different now. I still can’t think about going to or being a part of a church without my insides crawling. I don’t ever see myself participating in organized religion again, but I still teach my kids about God and my beliefs. I wouldn’t object to them going, I would just be very cautious about where they go and what they’re being taught. I’m grateful to be able to finally share this story, even if it was excruciatingly long and kind of all over the place. I don’t have any regrets about this time in my life, other than the time I missed with my biological family. They were always there, waiting for me to wake up and come back.

If you’d like to hear me talk about this some with two really cool chicks, subscribe to the podcast This is Uncomfortable hosted by my friend Danna & her friend Katie which is available on iTunes. I will share the link on my social media accounts when the episode becomes available.

Sister Churches: Any church your church was associated with. Typically this meant hosting each other’s worship teams, or Senior Pastors during conferences.

Church hopping: Going to services or events at other churches.