It Feels Like Creativity

This post was reuploaded in 2018 as part of the archive restoration project.

One way to describe depression is that there’s a disconnect between the cognition and the emotions. I can tell myself not to feel so down, that I have no reason to be unmotivated and groggy, that there are things to do that I would enjoy doing, but it’s like signals sent into a void. Apathy is there, and it sucks in the rational knowledge.

For me, telling myself something I already know doesn’t help. “You’re better than this, you don’t have an excuse for this, this doesn’t make sense,” can sit in my thoughts for hours, and my feelings stay in a loop.

I know it rationally, but I don’t know it emotionally. The solution wasn’t to keep sending rational, wordsy solutions to the emotionless no-signal-receptors part of my mind. The solution was to let the emotions do the talking, which is messy because emotions are unpredictable and complicated and exhausting, and they don’t use words, and I don’t communicate with not-words.

I hadn’t been kind to my emotions. I held back my tears and my anger, because I’d learned that such things were dangerous. I didn’t give my emotions the chance to breathe, so they shut down. Then I realized I needed emotion to get anything done – I had no motivation, no enjoyment, without them.

Awakening the emotions is masochistic. Pain doesn’t really scare me, though, so I sometimes talk or write my way toward whatever I notice myself avoiding. When I’m most distracted, or I most crave junk food, I know that’s when I’m getting close to an emotional belief. It’s not something I would agree with if I could put it into words or write it as a formulaic syllogism, but the belief is in my emotions, not my rational mind.

Then I send signals from the emotions to the cognition, and when I find the words, I feel again. And it hurts and it’s not fun. But I can identify the wrong belief, and that’s often enough for me to stop believing it. When I realize why my emotions are looping the way they’re looping, the belief holds no power over me anymore.

So I listen to my emotions and I ask a lot of questions. There are a lot of lies, and I know they’re lies, but I can’t combat the lies, so my emotions keep quiet. I apologize to myself for being so stupid.

“Why do you believe this lie?” I ask myself.

“Because of that one time.” My emotions admit, and they bring back a traumatic memory.

And all the times. Over and over, the lie was reinforced. To the point that hearing a similar story, or even a certain phrase, can make me angry or anxious. That’s what a trigger is.

One of my favorite maxims is from the YouTuber Connor Manning: “Trust the process.” He has it tattooed on his right arm. It reminds him that even in mental illness, recovering from addiction, and fighting depression, he doesn’t have to get discouraged. [These pronouns reflect the time of writing, but I’ll let the 2018 update speak for itself.]

Each moment is part of the process, and I’m experiencing it in real time, so of course I’ll feel my emotions in ups and downs. During the past fifteen months of therapy, learning to express my emotions was about trusting the process. I just knew that I was trying this new approach where I was letting my emotions out.

After every therapy session, I was knocked out for the rest of the day. It took several months for me to get emotional in therapy, and then to cry, and then I was crying in every session. But I kept my promise to my starved and strangled emotions: I would listen to them, and not shut them off even if they made me hurt.

Then one day in therapy, I did what I had taught myself to do. I ran toward the pain, and sought out the thing I was avoiding. And instead of crying or dissociating, I channeled my emotions freely, and they weren’t “They,” anymore, it was me. I was saying how I felt.

“I feel like there’s something else here,” I said, and called out the lie I’d believed for so long. Immediately, I saw the inconsistency, and it lost its power over me.

“Do you know what you just did?” My therapist asked. “You just used emotion, and it didn’t knock you over.”

“But this feels so familiar.” I said. “It feels like I’m brainstorming, I’m just letting my mind free with ideas, and writing down whatever I think of. It feels like creativity.”

That’s when I learned that emotions aren’t a mark of failure and breaking, like I’d always seen demonstrated. I was using the intuitive, creative, emotional part of myself. I’m more creative and relaxed now that I know it’s okay to be emotional.

How Christianity Became Just Another Religion to Me

This is a repost from the archives.

Well, in case you missed it…I’m not a Christian anymore.

My religion officially died sometime in February this year, when, during a conversation with the Infinite One, I realized I didn’t need anyone’s permission to stop struggling with the theologies I’d been trying to reconcile and defend for years.

When I was a teenager, I constantly repeated the logical argument: not every religion can be correct, because all the religions are so different, and Christianity was unique among the religions.

Which makes logical sense, but the premises are untrue. I don’t think anyone who’s actually studied world religions can possibly conclude that Christianity is much different from the rest. No other religion has a divinely inspired book. Except Islam, and a bunch of others. No other deity would die for his people. Except Odin. The list goes on and on.

After I lost faith in the Bible, I still wanted to read some dense ancient books, because they’re really enjoyable and insightful. I started reading the Quran, the Rg Veda, and a variety of Hindu and Buddhist philosophical texts.

I still considered myself a Christian, which helped with my approach to these other holy books. It was a massive relief to come across something I disagree with, and to be allowed to disagree. Reading the Bible wasn’t like that at all. If I ran into a story that bothered me, like child sacrifice, I had to pray about it and submit myself to its truth, and somehow reconcile that it belonged in the Bible.

Now I could read about the Hindu caste system, and be open but objective about it. They have some great ideas, and I took notes. Whenever I saw something I didn’t agree with, that was fine. There was no obligation to be consistent and to believe everything.

What I loved most about Indian Buddhism was how honest it was about not having all the answers. It was peppered with the same sentiment that Socrates expressed in his trial – that he was the wisest man in the room because he believed he possessed no wisdom whatsoever. I liked that idea a lot better than the line from the Bible I’d constantly heard from people who wanted me to shut up and stop asking questions: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.”

I found poetry, prophecy, philosophy, wise maxims and proverbs, and applicable insights. Kind of like what I’d found in the Bible, except I didn’t feel the need to explain and minimize the contradictions, violence, and hatred.

The other question that troubled me was this: why would a loving God only communicate with one small group of people on the entire planet? That’s the claim of Noah, Abraham, and Moses. I thought that while the Israelites were getting direct access to God, the rest of the world was lost in the darkness.

Someone told me about the Zend Avesta. She said that according to legend, the Arabian wise men who followed the star of Bethlehem were Zoroastrian. It’s difficult to actually back up this claim, but the Bible pretty clearly says that the wise men weren’t Jews. So while the Old Testament was being written, the rest of the world was also pursuing spirituality, and tapping into higher understanding and wisdom. It made anthropological sense, and besides, I don’t really want to have anything to do with a God that leaves most of the planet in the dark while favoring one small group.

One of my friends, who had been raised Christian and later became Buddhist, texted me one day to say she was also giving up on the Buddhist title. “I don’t believe everything about Buddhism,” she said. “I just like a lot of what it says.”

I liked that she could do that. I realized that I could do the same with Christianity. I don’t believe everything in it – I don’t think the god of the bible is consistent, I don’t believe in sin, and I don’t believe in an afterlife. My deity is the Infinite One, and I really love the myth of Yeshua, but that doesn’t make me a Christian.

I narrowed it down a lot, and I wouldn’t say my beliefs had ceased to be Christianity. It was still what many people might call Christianity. I just know that I was tired of struggling with a belief system, and I gave myself the space to explore, and I realized I’m a spiritual person who doesn’t adhere to any particular religion.

Part of the reason is that “Christian dogma” is suuuuuper inconsistent. If you self-identify as Christian, you’re a Christian. Most of the population of the planet self-identifies as Christian, but take it from a former apologetics researcher: good luck defining it.

One of my friends asked, “Have you found a title that fits you?” I told her that I liked my own name a lot, and I do. I don’t know whether I’ll try to find another title for my spirituality, which right now looks like lots of meditation, prayer, and chasing my obsessions and dreams.

I’m okay with people picking and choosing what feels right to them. That used to seem like such a bad idea, because Christians told me that they were doing something different. Then I realized that Christians weren’t doing anything different. They just said they were.

And Yeshua saved his choicest words for the hypocrites.

Telling the Quiverfull Story – An Interview with Jennifer Mathieu

This is a repost from the archives. My updated thoughts on the subject as of 2018 can be found here

When I was a teenager living in my parents’ house, I held myself to the highest possible standards, and consistently fell short. I didn’t like the music I was supposed to like. I was constantly exhausted from getting up earlier than my mother to take care of the children. Nothing was enough, but I never let myself get inside my own feelings to recognize that maybe I wasn’t the problem. Maybe I was playing an unwinnable game.

I couldn’t feel it then, but that’s what stories are for: resonance, empathy, processing, and escape.

That’s why I’m excited to promote the first teen novel about a teenage girl living in a Quiverfull household. It’s called Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, and the author recently joined me for an interview. Here’s our conversation.

Q. My first question is about 19 Kids and Counting. You’ve written that you were curious about the Duggars, and that’s part of what sparked your interest in researching Devoted. At what point did you find that 19 Kids and Counting wasn’t entertaining anymore?

There were still some aspects of it that were entertaining until I actually sat down and started writing the novel. Because I was in Rachel’s [the main character’s] head, and I was hearing all these voices of the young women whose blogs I’d read – like you, or Hännah [Ettinger] who I knew in person. As I actually started writing the first draft, I started to feel more of what she was feeling. While I was doing the research I had more of a research mindset, I was more of a reporter, kind of getting the information, and then when I started actually writing the story, I would try to put on the show, and I’d be like, “I can’t find anything entertaining about this anymore.” It just started to feel depressing, actually.

Q. What did you see in the story beforehand in watching the show?

One thing that I found really compelling and heartbreaking also as I was doing the research was – I didn’t really understand initially until I started doing more intense research – that there is a disconnect between the way that the characters, or the people on the television, how they portray themselves, versus how they might actually be feeling on the inside. When I watch it now, they all seem very very happy, and obviously I’m not a mind-reader and I would never go so far as to say that I don’t know for sure that they’re not, but I know based on the women that I interviewed and the blogs that I’ve read, that a lot of you young women in quiverfull families sort of exude happiness, but inside they are really troubled. So when I watch the show now, I think that’s what bothers me about the show now, is that they seem really happy but in my mind I’m wondering “are they really happy?”

Q. For me, the topic of the Quiverfull lifestyle is gigantic. And I was impressed when I read your book, that you managed to keep it both simple enough for a teen novel while maintaining a good deal of the emotional depth and cognitive dissonance it takes to escape. How did you prioritize and condense your information for the story?

Writing this book was very very difficult for me. I have written five drafts of novels, two of which are unpublished, one was my debut – The Truth About Alice – one, Devoted, and one which is coming out in 2016. Devoted is hands-down the hardest book I’ve ever had to write out of those five books. I wrote one draft, and just destroyed it basically and started over from scratch. I have an amazing editor, Kate Jacobs over at Roaring Brook Press. I did a lot of checking in with Hännah, who was my number one source, I did a ton of checking in with her. I’d be like, “What do you think about this? How did you feel about that?” She was my true north as I was writing this book, because she could guide me on top of all the research that I’d done. But I think ultimately what helped guide me is that – at the risk of sounding corny – I wanted a hopeful ending for Rachel, and I knew I had to get her to a place where that would be the case. And I knew that that was gonna be hard. I think because I’m an outsider to the movement, maybe it was “easier,” relatively speaking perhaps, because I was trying to examine it from all angles. But it was just really hard, because I was trying to strike a balance between being sensitive, but not to be critical, while being engaging, I mean this book just took a ton out of me.

Q. Well I appreciate that you stuck with it, because it’s a good book and I’m excited that it’s going to be released soon.

Thank you so much, Cynthia, that means a ton.

Q. That actually brings me to my next question because you said you were an outsider to the movement – what aspect of the Quiverfull lifestyle was the most difficult for you to wrap your head around?

Oh gosh, wow, there were a lot. I would say personally, it was the very prescribed roles for men and women. Because I am married to a man, and we have a very – I mean, I was raised Roman Catholic, I went to Catholic school, so I was raised with religion, and I grew up in a fairly traditional home and my mom stayed at home and my dad worked, but as a child, and now as an adult who’s married, the relationships that were modeled for me growing up were not so prescribed. Like my dad was really active, he would make us lunch, and he would do those things, but my mom is the money manager. In my family, my husband was a stay-at-home dad for the first, like, eighteen months of our son’s life, and I’m the primary breadwinner.

So it was very difficult for me to wrap my head around how people are so focused on “this is what the man does, and this is what the woman does.” I think it makes it really really challenging to have such prescribed roles for men and women. Just for a lot of reasons – I don’t agree with that personally as a feminist, but I just don’t understand it. That was one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around. Of the many, many, many things. I would also follow that up with, although we see this in not just Quiverfull cultures, but the whole modesty element in overdrive was really just – I don’t know if those are the right words, I don’t want to be to demeaning – but we do see in our culture still, even in mainstream culture that it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep the man at bay, you know, slut-shaming and all of that. So we still do that in mainstream culture, but the overdrive of modesty culture was also a very unusual thing.

Q. Dating is a lot different in the Quiverfull world. What was it like to write about those different expectations for teen romance?

My editor really had to push me there because I think initially when she [Rachel] meets the character of Mark, who’s the young boy that she meets outside of her community, I made it a little – she was like, “whoa there, slow down, Jennifer! Rachel would be weirded out right now,” She had to kind of keep me in check because, I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that wants to write romance, so it’s like, “Oh this is so cute,” and she was like “No, this isn’t cute to Rachel.” You know, my editor was not raised Quiverfull, but she’s a really smart editor. She was like, “You’ve gotta slow this down, she’s not checking herself enough, she’s not unnerved enough.” So I had to go back and sort of slow that romance part of the book down, because I knew for a young woman like Rachel, coming out of that culture, it would be something that would be much more intimidating for her than perhaps I kind of selfishly wanted it to be as the writer of a book that wanted more romance, you know? I remember at one point I said to my editor, because I loved the Little House on the Prairie books when I was a kid, “But even Laura Ingalls and Almanzo kissed before they got married, and they were alone when he would take her in the sled, even they were unchaperoned!” I was so confused by all of it, you know.

Q. But that was okay because he had her father’s permission.

That’s right, exactly. But that was the hardest thing – I wanted to speed up the romance, but I had to remind myself how totally overwhelming it would have been for Rachel to be interacting with a teenage boy alone for literally the first time in her life.

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For me, reading Devoted was emotionally trying, because it brought back so many memories for me. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know what it’s like to be inside the head of a kid being raised in my world. It’s released today, so go order your copy! Jennifer also wrote a great piece on Quiverfull families here. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/books/q-and-a/a41047/growing-up-quiverfull-interview/?visibilityoverride