“Do not look down
Or the abysmal beast of non-conformity
Might stare some unpleasant truth
Into your desensitized mind.” -Meshuggah
It was in April 2014 that I read an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous by Sarah Henderson entitled, “Oh daughters of fundamentalism, take upon yourselves the cloak of self-deception.”
I read it, and for the first time, I recognized how I’d survived my teenage years.
There’s a huge myth I run into on a regular basis – that people raised in fundamentalism are stupid. It’s too simple an explanation for the many types of people involved in it. There are the stupid ones, of course. There are also those who love power, and they control those less intelligent than themselves. Some are willfully ignorant, checking their brains at the door, as it’s been so eloquently said elsewhere. Then there are those who are both smart and ignorant, and, having been presented with no alternative, survive with self-deception.
I was in the last category. I prided myself in logical thinking, and had quite a few radical ideas of my own. I read all the time, and I wasn’t afraid to reject what I thought seemed unreasonable. Predestination, for instance, was something I enjoyed arguing against.
To give you some idea of what it was like to do what Sarah Henderson describes, here’s a segment of a letter I wrote to my best friend when I was eighteen:
“About setting the tone in the house…I know exactly what you mean. It’s in the difference between the bright ‘Oh, I’ll clean up the cinnamon all over the floor’ vs. the blame-leaden ‘It’s Noah’s job to clean the kitchen in the afternoon’. I think the problem with attempting to brighten our family’s faces is that, at least for me, I feel like nobody cares if I’m really trying to be an encourager. So one thing I do is to remind myself what I hear from people who work in minor departments on films: ‘The best compliment is no comment at all.’ Especially for animated films, there are people who work as hard as the rest in order to get the lighting just right to make the scene vibrant, but the audience doesn’t notice. The only thing the audience sees are the characters talking, the clever dialogue and movement. That’s rather how it is at home: the goal is not to make my siblings and parents realize how hard it is for me, but to do my best, and the results will brighten the mood of the house, not necessarily the task itself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that others don’t think of my actions in terms of isolated incidents, they look at my attitude’s consistency as a whole. What goes on inside my head is not what my family sees, hopefully. What they see is a cheerful servant.”
See, I was informed and could command words. I gave good examples. I was not unreasonable. Looking at that letter now, I see denial and buried emotions. I had no idea that I was in survival mode. It would take three more years for me to realize that I was depressed, and that my depression was perpetuated by forced smiles and taking pride in the fact that I never cried.
I was great at it. In my final years of living with my family, my parents and siblings nicknamed me “The Happy Fairy.” I was known for my skill in lifting spirits. I could make everyone laugh away any frustration. I could lighten any mood. I embraced my Happy Fairy nickname. After all, I love fairies, and my ever-bettering skill as the one who could keep the house happy was a sign of accomplishment. When I started college and spent more time away from home, my family complained that they missed the sound of my cheerful singing.
This took years to develop. My adult self was the product, but I didn’t stop fighting until I was eleven.