Skip to main content

Depression and Suicide - Part 2


Part 2
Depression as an Atheist
Faith Crisis:
I don't think the phrase Faith Crisis fits with my story. My major problem is with the word "crisis." When I hear that word, I think it usually implies some kind of struggle, hardship, or trauma, usually lasting for a long period of time. I can understand how my story could be described as a faith crisis, but I choose not to use that terminology. Instead, I prefer to say that I experienced a faith realization. My issues with faith and believing were not traumatic. Others that I have known, that go through a change in belief or loss of faith, would describe it as a very traumatic experience and a struggle. For me, the moment I no longer accepted the concept of faith, it was a freeing realization. I felt like I was being honest with myself and finally coming to terms with doubts and cognitive dissonance. This realization came a few years after my second bout with major depression.


During my time recovering from Breaking Point #2, I was working full time and seeing a new therapist. I had talked to my bishop at the ward (a Mormon congregation) I was attending and told him my situation. He helped me find a therapist through church services. I went to visit with this therapist a few times, but didn't feel like I was getting much out of it, so I ended the sessions. I had been having more success in combating my depression on my own through writing music and being more physically active. It was during this time that I made a plan to go back to college.

I started attending a Community College in 2007. I had ambition and drive and a desire to learn. This was probably one of the best decisions I made. It was during this time that I was realizing that I didn't rely on religion or following the church guidelines to find happiness. I was being independent and developing my own thoughts and opinions. However, I decided to give my Mormon belief a fair chance and started attending a Young Single Adults ward. Going to church was familiar and comforting. I was hoping to meet new friends and also put my Mom's mind at ease that I wasn't giving up on the church completely. This was when I met my future wife.

Getting Married:
I met my wife during a church activity. I remember being immediately blown away by her beauty and thinking how amazing she was for actually talking to me. We had some casual conversations for the next few weeks but we didn't start dating until several months later. I was in a good frame of mind but was still recovering from my heartbreak and depression. I was open about my struggles with depression and trust and she was open about some of her concerns as well. We went to pre-marriage counseling together and had a great experience. We had amazing communication, I felt relief and joy being able to tell her anything. However, I kept my problems with faith to myself. I think I was hoping that I could work through my questions and gain a better testimony as long as I continued to give the church a fair chance. To her, the church was EVERYTHING and I wanted to be with her through that journey. Unfortunately, keeping my lack of faith a secret during this time was a bad choice on my part.

We got married in 2009. My wife was familiar with my history of depression and we had an understanding that I might experience bouts with it throughout my life. I agreed to be open and honest with her if I started feeling that way and she assured me that she would help me through it if I did. I was confident that our communication would be the key to combating any issues or depression that I may experience throughout the rest of my life.

Finding Hope in Atheism:
A couple years into our marriage, I found myself at a crossroads with my belief in God. I had no interest in personal prayer, church was more of a habit than a joy, and reading scriptures had transformed into a meaningless activity rather than a search for knowledge. Beyond this, we had our first child together and I found myself worrying about raising him with a belief in supernatural, magical, spiritual, and miraculous claims. I had a strong desire to teach all of our future children how to be logical and reasonable, to question bizarre claims and things that seemed unrealistic, and to pursue knowledge on their own. I had major issues with pushing a theistic belief on to a child who trusts his or her parents to teach them truth. But I kept this concern internalized.

It was around 2011 that I came across the questions about theistic beliefs found in Penn Jillette's book God, No! When I asked myself, honestly and sincerely, if I believed in God, my first instinct was yes, of course I do. The more I pondered this question, the more I realized that I actually didn't. It was that simple. I found hope in realizing that this life was most likely my only chance to experience existence. That this life was not just some waiting room, or probationary period before moving onto something better, or an eternity of constantly praising some deity. This life was an amazing opportunity to experience love, joy, adventure, and even pain. The idea that my existence wasn't just some failed experiment, but a chance to be alive and share my time with loved ones, was overwhelming.

Beyond feeling optimism and hope with my new realization, I felt gratitude. I felt like I was free from being controlled and manipulated by beliefs that were probably fictional. Being able to tell myself that I truly didn't believe in God, my cognitive dissonance vanished. I came across a quote a fews years later that perfectly describes this realization:
It’s a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for.
― Ricky Gervais

A Last-Ditch Effort:
I kept my atheism a secret from my wife and family. Knowing how important the church was to my wife, I didn't know how to bring up the conversation with her. Looking back now, I wish I would have mentioned something, at least when I first started to accept the idea that I was an atheist, but I was scared that bringing it up would cause major problems, so I kept it a secret. I think deep down, I was still hoping that I could make myself believe. That maybe this was just a phase and that I would have some kind of change of heart later on.

Years later, during the time of having our third child, I received a church calling to be in the Elders Quorum presidency. Elders Quorum is the group of men in the church, usually ages 18 and up, that have the priesthood. The position involves keeping track of all the men, helping them with any issues or concerns, teaching lessons at church, and providing service to others in the ward. I didn't feel like I was the best person for this job, but I accepted. My wife had been mentioning that she wanted me to be more of a spiritual leader in the home and be an example to the kids, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to reestablish my religious beliefs or to maybe just gain a testimony again. Instead, it had the opposite effect.

I realized that I didn't want to be part of the belief system anymore. I was ok with going to church and having my family be involved with it, but I was mentally out. When I would give lessons in Elders Quorum, I felt terrible. I felt like I did as a missionary. I was teaching lessons that I really didn't accept or believe. I tried to add my own input into some of the concepts, and I would highlight things that I thought were actually decent moral lessons. But in general, I could no longer defend the foundational beliefs of Mormonism without feeling more cognitive dissonance.

Depression Creeps In:

I was living with this secret for a couple years and being too afraid to tell my wife about my change in belief. By keeping this internalized, I was feeling like a fraud and a liar. I was feeling like a huge let down. I was happy that I could be honest with myself, but ashamed that I didn't feel comfortable enough to share this aspect of my personality with my wife. I think I would have been ok telling my parents and siblings that I no longer believed, and they would probably be supportive, but I thought my wife should be the first to know out of everyone.

I had been offered a dream job and things seemed to be going amazing. However, I felt so undeserving of the opportunities I had been given. For a couple years leading up to our third child and my calling in the Elders Quorum, I had been experiencing mild feelings of depression again. I tried to fight them off on my own. I didn't want to worry my wife, so I decided to keep it a secret as well. I know I should have told her what I was going through at the time, but I thought I could work through it. These feelings of depression were triggered by thoughts of being unworthy of living, undeserving of having such an amazing job and family, and also feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and expectations. It was also during this time that the communication between my wife and I started to break down, most likely as a result of me trying to keep secrets and work through my issues on my own. I began to withdraw from her and avoid talking about my internal struggles.

After our third child was born. I continued to feel overwhelmed and depressed. I tried to push through it, but some days I could barely keep myself from breaking down in tears. I was giving every ounce of energy I had left to helping around the house, keeping the kids happy, and taking care of the new baby. During this time, my wife was also struggling with postpartum depression, so this resulted in a lot of tension and frustration. About a year later, my wife told me that I abandoned her during this time and that I was ultimately a failure. I was absolutely crushed. She also claimed that the kids were suffering because of my behavior and that when I was away, they did a lot better.

Breaking Point #3
I spiraled into a deep depression, feeling like a failure and a terrible person. I began telling myself how much better off everyone would be without me around. My thought process was leading me into that dark place once again. Unlike my experience with depression as a theist, now as an atheist I felt justified, not by a belief that there would be some kind of alternate world I would go to, but that my life needed to end for the betterment of those I loved. I started to tell myself that I had lived long enough. I started comparing my life to others who had died at a young age and would never experience things that I get to experience during my life. I felt undeserving. So many children have died of cancer or other diseases, young men had died in wars before their twenties, yet here I am, in my thirties not even appreciating what I have, feeling depressed and unworthy of living.

My relationship with my wife suffered. I shut down emotionally and fell into an even deeper depression. One night in June 2017, while my wife and kids were out of town visiting her family (in preparation of us moving to a new state), I made a plan to end my life. This time, there was no text messages, no phone calls, just my plan. I had a gun that I purchased a couple years prior, and I was planning on shooting myself in the head. I went into my backyard, sat on the grass and prepared myself. I figured, if I'm outside, someone would be more likely to hear the gunshot and call the police so they could come and find my body. I also didn't want the bullet to harm anyone else so I planned to put my head against the ground and shoot downward into my temple. I laid down on my side and held the gun to my head. No tears, no fear, I was ready. I took one last second to try to convince myself to not go through with it.

As I laid there, I thought of all the things that had to get done before we moved away. My wife was relying on me to help pack up the rest of the house and drive the moving truck across the country. I couldn't leave my wife and kids in that situation. I decided not to go through with it, yet. I then decided to wait until our move was finalized and everything was in order, then I would feel more comfortable going through with my plan. It wasn't my love for my kids that stopped me, in fact, it was my love for them that convinced me to die since they were apparently better off without me around. It wasn't my love for my wife that stopped me either, she seemed to hate me at the time and I figured I'd be doing her a favor. Later that night, my negative thoughts were out of control. I was numb to the world and felt trapped in my own body.

I finally told my wife about this event a few months later. Her reaction was shock and anger. She would later go on to tell me that suicide is the most selfish thing someone can do. When I told her that I had been experiencing depression for the last couple years, she thought I was lying and said it was just a cop out and an excuse for the way I was behaving during her postpartum depression. Needless to say, my feelings for her have changed drastically since then and I have shut down completely. Our marriage had suffered greatly and hasn't yet been able to recover. I have worked with a couple different therapist since then and have fought my way through this bout with depression. But the ongoing tension and loss of trust with my wife has caused some major heartbreak and a serious reevaluation of our relationship.

This would probably be the absolute worst time to bring up my faith transition and lack of belief. Dealing with ongoing negativity in the home, along with keeping this aspect of my personality a secret from her has resulted in, and is continuing to cause, resentment and frustration. Thus, my dilemma with remaining a closet atheist.

(Sidenote: My wife and I agreed to remove all guns from our home and that I probably shouldn't own a gun because of my history with suicidal thoughts. I was OK with that.)

A Comparison:
Comparing my experiences with depression from the time I was a theist to this most recent event, I see a lot of similarities in thought process and negative self-deception. However, I had different motives and justifications each time. I remember feeling like a ghost or trapped in some dream state after the sleeping pills incident. However, this time, I felt like I was trapped inside my own body, as if I was functioning on only a basic biological survival instinct while my identity and consciousness was screaming and suffering inside. I would also describe it as feeling as if I was trapped inside a box or a room under water, only observing the outside world through some kind of screen or window. I was lost and barely getting by day to day. Sometimes it took tremendous amounts of energy to simply take steps or stand up without feeling the desire to just collapse.

I believe that the ability to pull myself out of depression was successful once I focused more on myself rather than what I thought God or the church expected of me. Once I shed the belief that I was being punished by God or influenced by Satan, I no longer felt so much pressure to be perfect. I had flaws and issues, but they weren't because of not working hard enough or not being 100% obedient, they were just trials that I faced. Going through depression as an atheist, I had different struggles and different motivations. However, I think I was able to recover faster from this last episode of depression compared to when I was a believing Mormon. As a believer, I was in a constant state of sadness which seemed to get worse as I aged. After my mental transition from theistic belief, I was happy and content for the most part and only suffered a bout with depression because of a major event that acted as a trigger for my negative thinking. I still firmly state that my beliefs as a Mormon, as well as my lack of beliefs as an atheist, were not necessarily the cause of my depression, but each position contributed in different ways to my frame of mind and justifications for wanting to take my own life.

At the time of writing this, I am not feeling depression and I don't feel trapped inside my own body anymore, but I am still struggling with a failing marriage and constant contention in the home. This is a different struggle altogether and one I am trying to navigate. I hope that I can be a success story and that my relationship with my wife can improve. I wish I could be honest with her and know that she would be understanding and compassionate rather than angry and resentful. I imagine a scenario in which I could speak with her about what I've been expressing in this blog and have her try to understand my reasons for keeping this a secret. Perhaps someday I can.

Comments

  1. I too struggled with depression for most of my twenties. It is something that seems to be hard for "normal" people to understand. Fortunately, I either just got over it, or kefir helped me. My LDS mission to Argentina (2001-2003) left me with parasites that caused gut problems. In 2009 I started drinking kefir for unrelated reasons and the depression thoughts went away. I was actually able to enjoy (and still do) a sunset that I hadn't felt joy over since before the mission. I have since read articles that indicate that the chemicals that the brain needs to be happy are largely manufactured in the gut. Who knows. -- I left the church in 2014 (Abraham translation broke my shelf) and became an atheist around 2016 (took awhile to break through all of the brain washing). My wife left the church soon after, which was amazing to me. I thought for sure the marriage would be in jeopardy, but we got through it. -- Anyway, I wish you the best of luck. Don't let future bouts of depression win. As you stated, this is most likely the only shot we get to live. Stay alive. Existence is something to hang on to, for as long as possible, in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What Is An Atheist?

Growing up in a religious environment, I was influenced to believe that skepticism and atheism were terrible traits. An atheist was explained to be someone who either claimed that they knew there was no God, or a person who went through such a terrible tragedy or trial that they ended up rebelling against God and hating him. Plus, they hate religion and all churches and want the belief in God to disappear. Skepticism was frowned upon as a lack of faith and giving into the temptations of Satan. You just don't question!

Keeping This Secret

I like to imagine a scenario in which I could sit down with my wife one evening after the kids have gone to bed, explain to her that there is something on my mind and something I'd like to share with her. Then she would say "You can tell me anything, you know that. What is it?" Then I would explain my journey out of theism and disbelief in supernatural claims including that of the church to which we belong. Then, maybe she would say something like "Wow, that sounds like quite an internal struggle. But no matter what, we can get through this together. Let's come up with a plan."

Is Faith Enough?

What do you believe and why?
I use to define faith as a confidence or a trust in the things you believe in. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, your faith was sufficient to discover if something is true or not. First, you have faith then you gain knowledge. This works great in Mormonism. You can take an unusual or extraordinary claim, tell someone to just have faith that it's true, and if they pray hard enough and believe that they'll receive an answer, an answer is revealed through feelings of joy and comfort. That's how you can know something is true. Your confidence grows with your faith and you learn to trust this pattern more and more because you feel happier and happier.