An odd week followed by a nasty month.

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sacerdos    0

Hello everybody,


I haven't read a lot of the stories on here, so maybe this one is not as strange as I think, but here goes.


I was dating a woman in another town back in the end of may/beginning of June. I was leaving town to start a new job, and my intention was to break up with her because I didn't want to do a distance thing. She put the idea of trying distance in my head, and I started to consider it. A few issues with her as a potential long term relationship partner sprang to mind as I started to consider the idea; one of them was that she was a Christian, and I was not. I did not think that it would work out in the end because I am vehemently against indoctrinating children into religion, and she had often mentioned how positive her relationship with the church had been as a child.


Instead of recognizing the irreconcilable (I found out later, too late, that for her it actually wasn't irreconcilable) difference and just let go of the idea of trying with her. Unfortunately, I didn't do this. I started to read about religion again, something I hadn't done in a long time. Before all this started I was some kind of agnostic theist. I found it hard to believe that all of existence just sprang from nothing, but other than that I didn't pretend to understand the nature of whatever set the universe in motion, whether it was still around/all powerful/etc. Now I was starting to read Christian apologetics. Arguments for God's existence, defenses against many of the objections to Christianity, pascal's wager, etc.


For background, I was raised presbyterian and had an infirm faith in Jesus and God until my early twenties, when a friend at the time pointed out that my faith was only there because I was raised to believe those things. I quickly realized this was true. It was a painful realization, so I read a handful of apologetics articles. I wasn't convinced by any of these, so I effectively became an agnostic and mostly let the issue rest. I occasionally prayed to God, but not in a terribly religious way. More as a "Dear God, if you're even out there, thanks, and I hope that everything works out okay for the people I love" kind of prayer.


So back to early June. I was reading these apologetics arguments, but in parallel I was reading and the like. Things that argued, convincingly, that God is a myth and Jesus is especially a myth that cannot be real. I started to experience an intense conflict within myself. I noticed that I wanted to become a Christian for two reasons: to make it possible for me to have a future with this girl, and to resolve this cognitive dissonance within myself over whether Christianity is the truth. I got tired of the uncertainty. Quickly one Friday afternoon, I had the desire to stop all of this arguing within myself. I wanted to believe, to be part of the church, feel that warmth of community and acceptance and certainty that comes with faith. So I looked up the passage that you have to say to become a Christian, and I said it, to myself, straining within myself to make it sincere and push through the immense doubts I still had: "Dear Jesus, Lord God, I accept you as my personal savior and I believe in you with all my heart." I felt a warmth, a presence behind me, like something powerful was standing with me and putting its hand on my back. In my mind I saw the traditional image of Jesus: white guy with long brown hair wearing a white robe. I saw a Cross. For a few minutes, I felt at peace, as if some terrible struggle had finally ended. I also felt a pressure in my head, like a bunch of concerns I had in the back of my mind had been pushed down, suppressed without my conscious awareness. I had maybe half an hour of a weird, suppressed peace.


Then, predictably, the doubts started pouring in. If I'm going to be a Christian, how do I explain away the terrible things that are in the bible? How am I going to date people who aren't Christian? How am I going to have a child with a Christian woman when I still feel very strongly that I don't want to indoctrinate a child? What about all the rules in the bible that I don't believe in? Do I really have to wait until marriage for sex, even though I have no logical objection to premarital sex and actually think it's irresponsible to marry someone without knowing your sexual compatibility? What about the fact that I'm a doctor, and I try to be scientific, but there is no actual proof for anything that the bible says?


It wasn't very long before I rescinded my promise, said to myself that no, I don't really believe, never mind. It was only a day before the waffling began. I started to use those feelings I felt after making that vow as proof of God's and Jesus' existence. I converted again, and felt feelings that were slightly less powerful (even more telling, this time the image of Jesus that popped into my head was the thumbs up Jesus statue from Dogma). Then I had doubts and deconverted again. A few days later, I moved to a new town.


I started ruminating non stop about these issues while setting up my new apartment with nobody around to talk to. On the one hand I had my logical objections to Christianity, while on the other I had these feelings I had experienced, and powerful emotions telling me to trust those feelings. I tried so hard over the next week to convince myself that God wasn't real, that Jesus couldn't have visited me, that they were just neurological manifestations brought on in a time of stress and sadness (I was breaking up with a nice girl and leaving all of my best friends behind for a new town and a new job where I didn't know anyone). I read proofs against god's existence, against the possibility of Jesus' existence. It all made sense to the rational part of my brain. But the emotional part was raging against all of this. It kept feeding me the feeling that those things were real, and by not being a Christian I was doing the wrong thing. I started to have thoughts of going to hell, burning forever in a fire for not doing this. I tried to bargain with these feelings, looking into alternative forms of Christianity where the focus is on love, not on doctrine. I tried to tell myself I could be a Christian without following all of the rules, without marrying a christian and indoctrinating a child. None of this was good enough. The feelings of needing to trust those sensations and become a strict Christian just grew stronger by the day.


After a week of this back and forth ruminating, I became depressed. I stopped being able to reliably control the thoughts and feelings, and they took over my waking ours. They invaded my mind when I was in the shower, doing chores, eating, everything. I had a burning, unquenchable desire to answer the question, to solve the dilemma. The temptation to stop it all by converting again was very strong. I started to exhibit all the symptoms and signs of depression: poor appetite, poor concentration, slowed activity, loss of pleasure in hobbies and activities, hopelessness, excess guilt, and finally after another week or so, suicidal thoughts. No matter how much I reasoned with these feelings, no matter what thoughts or actions I tried, the rumination continued and my suffering worsened. Ironically it was around this time that I spoke to the girl I started this for, and she told me she was willing to maybe not have her kid go to church if it was super important to me. It didn't matter; this wasn't about her anymore. I started having trouble sleeping. I couldn't focus on training for my new job, and it became damn near impossible to focus and get things done. I started to have intense worries about how this depression and inability to solve this problem was going to affect my job performance.


Then I started work finally, and it was a big problem. Instead of focusing on work, my depressed mind kept telling me how shitty I was at the job, how I couldn't do anything. I came home to the same thoughts, that I would never solve this problem and I would die sadly and then go to hell. I began to believe the thought that there was no way out of these problems. My mind was just cycling through a number of stories: you're doing the wrong thing not being a Christian, you can't be good at this job, you're going to die, suicide is your only option.


I have a history of depressive episodes, so I knew that this was a dangerous area. I started on antidepressants, and started seeing a therapist to help untangle things. This has been good. I'm able to focus more on work and less on the depressive, suicidal thoughts and the still unsettled issue of faith. In one desperate night where I couldn't sleep, I decided to force myself to convert again, and was briefly at peace again. However then I started to hear weird thoughts in my head, like "proselytize" and "stop being a doctor and be a bus driver". I went to work that day and threw up because I was so anxious. I decided that I would never force myself to be a Christian again.


Since then, things are still pretty shitty. Depression is still going strong as the meds continue to kick in. I'm distracted at work by these thoughts and feelings, and at home I can't really ever feel happy or focus fully. And the original question that started all this is still unsettled. Intellectually, I understand that I'm not a Christian. I don't read the bible (threw the ones I had away a few weeks ago), don't go to church, don't pray. But the memory of those feelings I felt the first time I converted in early June still trouble me. I can't seem to convince myself that they really were not from God, that Jesus wasn't really God, and that hell is not actually a thing. Emotionally, I can't seem to accept these things.


I guess why I'm posting on here is for reassurance. Do these kinds of wounds ever heal? I was not nearly as much of a Christian as many of you were before you left, but my experience has caused me a great deal of pain. I can't imagine how painful it must have been for so many of you who were strict adherents of the church, even clergy! I want hope. Hope that one day it will be okay to not be a Christian, that one day I can be myself again. 


TLDR: I tried to force myself to be a Christian, felt feelings that seemed like they were from God/Jesus, deconverted after feeling conflicted, repeated this cycle several times, became depressed, now still conflicted though not a practicing Christian. Looking for hope, reassurance from others who've gone through something similar.

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Religion exacerbates depression (and mania). It plants fears, doubts, hopes, and imaginary beings in the mind as possibly real, then feelings that they are probably real. They are not. Reality doesn't change, but slight variations in our body chemistry can cause us to interpret reality in vastly different ways. I have to take a thyroid supplement, just 100 micrograms. But if I don't, I may feel very out-of-sorts, and once had shooting pains through my body, and felt like I had a temperature but my temp was actually low, and a feeling of general misery. I took the thyroid supplement and within an hour was completely normal. All that to say that with clinical depression and mania, getting the meds just right is very tricky, but totally necessary for viewing reality correctly.


Another form of chemical difference is marijuana. If I have a bit of that, my whole perception of imagination becomes far more intensely real. Usually that is a fun fantasy time, but it can become pretty dark also. Again, a slight chemical change and pow, I'm off to Neverland.


When I was a believer, I had visceral experiences of power zipping through me, voices speaking clearly to me, dreams that seemed so very real, felt heat pouring down on me from a blank ceiling, etc. At the time, I took all of these to be confirmations of the reality of my god. Once I realized that I had been duped into believing and that it was completely malarkey, I had to go back over these experiences and try and figure out what really happened. Some here have offered possible explanations, but mostly I still don't know. But having experimented with marijuana, I know that slight variations in brain chemistry allow for all kinds of lucid dream-like hallucinations, so the creative depths of the brain can do a lot more than we typically give it credit for.


Your experiences are not uncommon, and especially those who struggle with body chemistry issues have a difficult time separating the conscious mind from the irrational fears and hopes of religion. Stick around and chat with others here. I hope you find peace within.


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mich    6

Those 'feelings' and experiences were some the the hardest to figure out for me. And some i still don't understand. But something that helps me with it is knowing that we can 'feel' a certain way based on what we believe at the time. For example, if we are home alone at night and hear a noise that sounds like someone might be breaking in, we 'feel' fear. But it was only the dog. The fear was real. But it was based on a lie. If you just 'thought' you won the lottery, you would get very excited, but they were mistaken, sorry it wasn't your number after all. That feeling of happiness was real, based on something that wasn't. Any way, it makes sense to me. One can 'feel' that they are loved by god and given everlasting life. If one believes this, it will bring all kinds of awesome feelings....

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