My Mother’s Depression

Mother’s Day has me thinking about my mother. When my daughter was diagnosed with clinical depression my mom revealed that she also struggles with depression and has been on medication to treat it for a long time. She says the drugs help and will help our daughter but she also says God helps her cope with it all. I don’t usually focus on my family in this blog but I do bring some of this agnosticism to my talks and emails with my mother. There’s a good natured back and forth between us on belief. Recently I sent her Julia Sweeney’s excellent DVD Letting Go Of God. She responded by sending me The Real Face of Jesus on DVD and we had some good emails back and forth about that. The Shroud of Turin is still a big mystery but so are other things like the pyramids and Stonehenge. The shroud is a thought provoking proof of the possibility of Jesus, but I don’t see it as proof of resurrection or the leap of faith that Jesus was the son of God and all of that proving that God exists and created the universe.

My mother believes it and believes God is there to help her through her troubles and through the darkness of her mind that depression brings. This makes me rethink my approach to her religious belief. Some of my e-mails with her were starting to go on the attack as far as saying it’s really stupid and useless to believe in religion and hold on to those ideas. My atheistic outlook to Christianity leads me to not simply let it go. But she does admit that there are still more questions than answers to religion and she gets more out of her church community and the human fellowship they give her than she gets from the comfort of the prayers and personal relationship she thinks she has with God and Jesus.

So if there is good to be had in her life with religion then who am I to try to break that? Who am I to say that what she feels works for her doesn’t “really” work and she should stop believing it? I do think that religion is all in the mind but should we try to eradicate it completely from the human psyche when it’s a set of thoughts and beliefs that appears to help some people. Some people use an external framework like religion to define their lives, their definitions of right/wrong and good/bad, and their motivations for living. They’re just a set of thoughts and beliefs regardless of their truth. I’m using the word “thoughts” instead of saying she follows the Bible because my mom’s life matches an American Christian society view of living and not the exact written words of the Bible. If you really tried to codify modern Christianity you would have a whole new law book that doesn’t match the Constitution or the Bible. Believers including my Mom are following their own evolving and collective view of what “Christian” belief really is. How they believe is really about how they follow a crowd and conform to a different kind of community or family than just conformance to our family and country’s citizenry. It’s just another facet to what makes up my mom’s way of life that I don’t personally share in. She doesn’t try to change how I live my life without the Christian God so I think I should let her live her life with that belief if it does help her live it.

I’ve never sought treatment for depression for myself. I probably have it to a certain extent looking at my mother and my daughter. But I don’t need the comfort of God and Heaven to motivate me through life and the darkness that sometimes invades my mind. I value truth and believe that religion is fantasy just like Santa Claus or any other myths I’ve discussed in this blog. Once I had shed the external framework of religion and entirely thought for myself I didn’t find it difficult to decide what was right and wrong. I can also determine what is really good and bad in the world using the framework of the society we all fall under. I think I’m a better citizen than many modern Christians because religion often tries to make black and white out of a grey and nuanced existence. However, there are plenty of theists that operate in society just like I do and our only difference is they believe in a god and I don’t. I’m not sure I really care enough to say religion should be gone just because it’s false. I just want the freedom to not believe to be as protected and accepted in the world as the freedom to believe. That will allow my mom to have God support her through her depression and for me to not bother with such nonsense as I deal with things in my own life. I think we’re both better people with that arrangement.

Soul Surfer

Last weekend my daughter asked me to take her to the movie Soul Surfer. I was a little wary of the religious aspects of it since she’s still working through her own beliefs, but it wasn’t a bad movie for a 14-year-old girl working through depression regardless of religion. The story of determination and hope outshines any messages of faith it had so I think it’s a decently positive movie for nonbelievers as well. The times they touched on religious belief may be comforting for believers and eye rolling for nonbelievers, but for this nonbeliever they didn’t try too hard with the attempts to associate real world events and human strength to a godly purpose. I think it’s a story about believers without necessarily trying to spread belief. I know I would have hated watching this movie for myself but maybe I’m less critical because I did it for my daughter.

If you don’t know it, it’s a movie based on a true story about a surfer that survived a shark attack but lost an arm. The family rightfully thanked the friend’s dad for what he did to save Bethany more than they thanked their God for saving her. It saddens me when believers give all of the credit to the supernatural and don’t give any credit to the efforts right here on Earth. If you’re going to believe in gods then I still expect you to acknowledge the efforts of humanity since I’ve never seen the gods work without our “help.” Even when it comes to the inevitable question of “why bad things happen to good people?” the answer is the same as you’d get from any human with or without religion. Sometimes things just happen and there is no reason we know for it. They try to suggest that there was tie to an unknown purpose and possibly that was to serve as an inspiration to others. However, the inspiration we can get from Bethany’s strength is for anyone to be inspired by without or without gods.

It was the challenges faced by Bethany and how she dealt with them and overcame them that was the topic of discussion for us. We talked about depression being my daughter’s shark or maybe even her arm loss. We talked about how something that seems so hopeless and terrible at the time can be overcome and there really is a reason to continue living and continue working to be better than our current conditions. We talked about how Bethany and my daughter both have help along the way to survive but ultimately it was Bethany’s strength, determination, and desire to do more and better that made her the better person she has become. Not once did our talk bring up god, religion, or anything supernatural because it wasn’t necessary for the conversation. Not everyone needs such things to give them hope. My daughter felt a little hope and a little happiness to see a fellow teenager girl overcome and triumph. It was a good moment and I hope things like this can provide some amount of help while we work through overcoming her depression. The movie may not have touched my “soul” but it was a nice moment with my daughter that through her it touched my heart. I wish for Bethany’s strength for my own daughter and anyone else that needs it.

Depression

I haven’t posted in a while and the reason is depression. It’s not really about me even though I haven’t been feeling as mentally well myself because of this. Our teenage daughter has been diagnosed with clinical depression. You may think of depression as just a feeling but it’s an actual medical condition where your own body and mind is working against you. “True clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a long period of time. The exact cause of depression is not known. Many researchers believe it is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which may be hereditary or caused by events in a person’s life. “ Major Depression from NIH

The situation has been getting worse and worse with raging hormones and the move to high school as some personal life events that could be impacting her. However, she’s described it as a feeling of deep sadness that can’t be shaken no matter how good or bad life is going. It’s such a sadness that caused her to think terrible thoughts and engage in self harm which could have had a disastrous ending. She’s also been hospitalized and is working with various medications to help her with this disorder. This is an ongoing issue but we’re hopefully done with the self harm and risk of suicide. I know it has only been the fact that her mother and I have been watching over her and intervening in her activities is the reason why she is still with us today. I implore any of you parents that are dealing with similar situations to read up on depression and get your loved ones actual help from medical professionals if it’s so serious that they need that.

Since this is an agnostic blog I will get to that tie-in now. Earlier in the dealings with this problem our daughter started to try all sorts of things to feel better. One of her best friends is very active in her Methodist church and invited our daughter along so they could spend more time together. Our daughter ended up joining the church and now considers herself a Christian with a healthy amount of skepticism as she tries out belief. She enjoyed the youth activities at the church even if many things were confusing to her as a former nonbeliever. We didn’t agree with religion as an answer but we didn’t criticize or talk negative in any way about it since it was a choice she was making to use it as another tool to help herself. I do believe the social aspects of church are healthy and useful to many people regardless of the truth of religion itself, but like everything else she was trying it didn’t help her depression and she continued suffering until it turned into self harm and other issues that forced us to seek medical help.