Simply Put: I Left
OK, so this latest post in my journey is difficult for me to write. It talks about why I made the decision to leave behind a big part of my life. A lot of people don’t know this, perhaps a lot of people don’t understand it, but here it is: the battle behind why I left my church.
Over the past nineteen months that Pushing Back the Shadows has been going, I’ve talked about my faith only a few times. Not because I’m embarrassed about it – quite the opposite, really – I just don’t agree with using this mental health platform to push my religious beliefs onto anyone else. If they happen to coincide with what I’m writing about, I’ll add them in, but only then. It’s because of my faith that you’ve had posts such as The Mustard Seed – the fifth part of the Inside My Head series – and Why I’m a Christian But Have a Problem With Religion. Now we come to this one.
To clarify, before you read what I have to say, this does not reflect everyone in that church. Nor does it reflect my views on the church as a whole, the Salvation Army (as that’s the church involved), any kind of problem with other churches or other faiths and denominations. It is what it is.
So what happened?
My Life In the Church
OK, let’s jump back to the beginning for a moment. I’ll catch you up, don’t worry. I was brought up in the church. My parents are Salvation Army ministers and, as such, I’d go every Sunday, attend the Sunday School, you know how it goes. I also became a member of the church, first as a Junior Soldier (the young people’s commitment) and, later on, a senior solider. We also moved a lot, which was par for the course, and it led to many fantastic experiences such as living in Prague in the Czech Republic. That’s definitely something I wouldn’t change for the world!
Eventually, as these things happen, I was old enough to go to uni and my parents were moving onto their next posting. Needless to say, I stayed behind, going to the local Salvation Army church. That’s where our little journey begins.
Despite a few problems early on – being the pastor’s kid can present those kinds of challenges, as some people will dislike you simply because of who your parents are, others will think you know everything about the inner workings for the same reason and there are a few other reasons too – I settled into the part that I was to play. A member of the brass band and the songsters (church choir, in a nutshell) as well as the worship team and youth team. Later, I became deputy bandmaster for the brass band. I took on the leadership of the worship team. Also, I started leading my own groups in the Sunday School.
So what, you ask, went wrong?
My Mental Breakdown
Fast forward to around August 2016, when I had my breakdown with depression and anxiety. I was under extreme pressure at work due to the number of calls I’d take working for the bank, how I was only a temporary worker and able to be let go at any given time (something that seemed held over our heads when it suited) and pressured into being at work and not being off sick. We know how work turned out for me, but what about my church life?
I was under a lot of pressure there too. Being a member of the different groups in the church was alright, I could cope with the responsibilities, but the leadership I was under became an issue. Doing my best, then being told that I was doing things wrong but being given no guidance on how I was meant to do it…it led to problems. Especially as my depression and anxiety started creeping up, I started to feel as though I couldn’t take a step without getting it wrong. Quite rapidly – and rather shockingly – my church life, which had been a rock and a constant in my life for nearly a decade, was becoming very similar to that terrible workplace.
Having depression and anxiety is crippling and I’m unashamed to admit it got the better of me. Exhausted, drained of almost all energy, I found that I was having to make choices. Did I go to things like band practice, church, social gatherings or did I conserve my energy to get myself out the door for work, my only source of income and supporting myself? I think we both know which I picked. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way. Apparently I was choosing to let my depression and anxiety beat me, choosing to let it keep me inside. While that was right on a fundamental level, the truth was much more complicated than that.
One By One…
Aside from that one comment, at first everyone was supportive. They tried to keep in touch, reminded me that I was missed, telling me that I was remembered in thoughts and prayers. Then, as it became more apparent that my condition wasn’t improving at the pace they might have liked, they started to drop off the radar. Encouraging messages and phone calls became fewer. Visits that were barely in existence from the beginning also became fewer, bordering on the non-existent.
Add into this some of the people that I’d supported in that church, through difficult times, sometimes without getting anything in return, started disappearing off the radar as well…you can imagine how it must have felt. All the while, the subtle voice of my Dark Passenger was whispering in my ear, telling me I didn’t matter.
After months of this – visits that never happened, messages that never came, people who were fair weather friends – I left.
The Battle Behind the Decision
I’ll be honest, people don’t understand this decision. People tell me I didn’t give the church enough credit for what they did, that there were plenty of people trying to support me and that I ungratefully rejected it. My take is that it was too little, too late. Yes, there were those who were brilliant (and one who still is) but ultimately they let me down. When they needed me, they were quick enough to come running. When I needed them? That was a different story.
The decision nearly tore me in two. Part of me wanted to stay because of how long I’d been attending, how much I’d invested in it and the few people there who I still thought of as friend. The other part…was still reeling from the hurt of what had happened. Being abandoned in my time of need, being told I was choosing not to be there and being told I was rejecting offers of help…you can imagine.
Ultimately, I decided it was time to leave that part of my life behind me. Trying to maintain it was only causing more hurt, the reminders of what had happened acting like mental scars. For the sake of my mental health, for the sake of my recovery, I decided I had to leave the toxic part of my life behind me.
It was the only way.
What Came Next…
After making that decision, things have looked up. I’ve joined a new church which is amazing. There are two people in particular who are possibly the loveliest people that you could ever meet, who make sure they stay in touch and who are always on hand if you’ve got a problem. It’s a beautiful little community of people and, more than that, it’s family.
I bear no ill will against the Salvation Army, for I still attend whenever I visit my parents and maintain a few friendships in the Army outside of that particular church. As for the people of that church, I don’t hate them. The only thing I feel, when I feel anything at all, is sadness. Sadness that they didn’t realise what they were doing. That even those who struggle with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses didn’t know what to do to help me…or perhaps didn’t care enough to try. Perhaps I’ll never know.
For the sake of my own mental health, though, I had to leave.
And that is the story of how I left my church.
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