Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Depression is a part of my life and has been for a long time. Usually I can find my way through it but lately it has been pulling me under. I feel such overwhelming powerlessness and despair that I'm close to shutting down.

First, despite our victories in some local battles, it feels like the crazy right is winning the war. The harder we fight, the harder they push back. The difference is that they have money, politics, and propaganda on their side. Their resources are massive so a campaign that might drain us dry requires just a drop in the bucket from them. 

Second, the general political situation is so bleak that it seems hopeless. I have no confidence in either party right now (though I know some great people are working locally to change the parties). The truth is that I don't want to vote for either candidate, not any candidate really, in the 2012 election. I don't trust any of them. I don't approve of any of them. I don't believe the 2 major contenders want to change anything and I don't believe that the third-party candidates who do want to change things really know how. Sometimes I wonder if I should just sit back and watch America burn. I wonder if my ancestors felt this despair just before the Civil War.

Third, I feel like I've lost a major support system. My local atheist community is comprised of some great people but I haven't seen them since the Reason Rally. My health just hasn't been conducive to getting out. So I've had to rely on the internet community of atheists instead. But this no longer feels like a safe space to me. The eternal battle on sexual harassment and misogyny has brought out some really hateful folks and, frankly, I don't want to participate on those blogs any more because I don't think I can cope emotionally. Even the people I agree with have become sharp with their words and ready to pounce. I understand why to some degree - the issue is important and has a lot of implications for both sides. However, when things get to the point where you can't ask a question or tell a story without being viciously attacked, then why bother? Why take that risk on myself when I'm already weak?

If history is anything to go by, this will pass in a few months. What seems so hopeless today has a way of becoming boring history tomorrow. Yet I feel caught up in this cycle and I don't know how to find my way out. Every time I try to get back in the swing of things, I get knocked back down.

So it isn't that I'm giving up on my work here - it's that I'm not making any commitments until I get better. I have to step back now in order to care later. I may try to make some more Facebook art or do something simple but I can't find the strength to post everyday or do videos or podcasts. It's just beyond me right now. 

People who think depression is just having a case of the blues that they can go shopping and shrug off (like my mom) need to walk in my shoes for a day. They really do.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stick to Preaching, Preacher! - When Pastors Try to Be Doctors

Not all doctors are created equal and not all doctors are qualified for the same tasks. Just as you would not go to a heart specialist for back surgery, neither should you go to a "Doctor of Divinity" or "Doctor of Ministry" for advice about depression. Nevertheless, there are some pastors who think that they are entitled to speak with authority about the causes and cures for psychiatric illnesses. I strongly beg to differ.

Today we're going to examine an article entitled "Don't let depression paralyze your heart" by a local pastor Dr. Rex Yancey. I don't know Dr. Yancey personally but I've been told he is a good person. This post is not intended to attack him personally but to dismantle some of his comments about depression and show that professionals should not try to practice outside their field no matter how many good books they've read or how confident they think a few counselling courses makes them.

First I want to warn against falling prey to the argument from authority. It is tempting to accept all Dr. Yancey's statements at face value because he has earned a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) degree. After all that schooling, he must know what he's talking about, right? Well, that depends on the subject at hand. Yes, he probably is an expert on his religion, church administration, and maybe some type of general counselling. However, he isn't the kind of doctor you'd go to if your kidneys were failing and he's not the kind of doctor you should trust if your brain isn't working properly. If we're going to ignore evidence and simply go with whoever sounds the most authoritative, remember that I have a Doctor of Divinity degree so I can legitimately call myself Dr. Tweenky Dee if I want to (but the truth is that I don't think my D.D. and his D.Min. are worth the paper they are printed on - it's like having a degree in Harry Potterology). So let's not fall for the authoritative slant. Let's examine the positions of his column and go where the evidence leads.

Depression is an unpleasant emotion.

No, depression is not just an "unpleasant emotion." It is a brain disease, a medical illness in which you experience many unpleasant emotions. It's not just getting the "blues" or the "blahs" as Dr. Yancey suggests, but it is living with a persistent recurrence of symptoms that can vary from being troubling to down-right crippling and disabling.

It has been my experience that the deepest depression comes after the greatest achievements

Perhaps that is Dr. Yancey's experience but that is not everyone's experience and it certainly doesn't mean that there is some game of cosmic tit-for-tat going on. Stress from any event, even a very positive one, may put a person at risk for depression but there is no guarantee.

What causes spiritual depression?

I don't know what "spiritual depression" even means since no spirit has ever been demonstrated to exist so I will assume that he is using the word to give religious flavor to a material concept. Let's take his list of causes one by one:

1. Temperament - our personality traits can put us at risk for depression but it is not a cause for depression. Dr. Yancey makes no real effort to back this up as a cause - he just waxes eloquently for a couple paragraphs about how we're all different. Yes, we are different and some of us are introverted and shy but that does not cause us to be depressed. Overcoming depression is not a simple matter of "making more friends" or "just cheering up."

2. Physical condition - Dr. Yancey related how Yahweh gave Elijah a piece of cake which seems to suggest that hungry folks are depressed. That may well be but starvation is not on the accepted list of causes for depression. In fact, I'd say that's a bit of an abuse or conflation of the word "depression." Sadness due to hunger that lifts after eating is not depression - it's low blood sugar.  So while it's true one's physical condition (in the sense of disease, hormonal imbalance, neurotransmitter imbalance, or other some such) may cause depression, his example falls far from the mark. You cannot cure your depression by getting up and having a nice meal - even if an invisible, magic sky fairy feeds you cake.

3. Satan - no, just no! There is no evidence, not one single study, that has found "Satan" to be the cause of depression. STOP TELLING PEOPLE THAT PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS ARE DUE TO SATAN! This lie has been responsible for so much misery and death during human existence and yet we still have professionals who are willing to abuse their position and put sick people at risk. This is the exact lie that kept me from getting the proper psychiatric help I needed for almost 20 years. 

If you want to argue this point, please explain to me how it is that Satan and his demons are conquered by anti-psychotic medication. Is Satan allergic to Seroquel? Does lithium drive out Legion? Did Jesus use Geodon?

4. Loneliness - again, this can put us at risk for depression but it is not a cause. When we are lonely, we may feel a little down but we always have the option of giving someone a call and blues go away. Depression cripples your ability to make that call or visit with people. It is not a transient, situational feeling but a persistent mental disorder.

5. Alcohol and drugs - risk factors, yes; direct causes - not exactly. While it's true that alcohol and some drugs are depressants, they do not precisely cause depression. Some people drink alcohol and never have a day of depression in their lives. People who abuse alcohol are more likely to get depressed and that makes sense but it's not true that one glass of red wine a day is going to make you depressed. The anti-alcohol message is Baptist dogma, not psychiatric science.

Now that Dr. Yancey has given us his list of (flawed) causes, he's going to give us the cure. Science hasn't found a one-size-fits-all cure for depression so let's see what we can find:

1. Understand the cause - this has some truth to it so I want to give credit where credit is due. There is always a cause (or perhaps many causes) for depression. It might be a major life event such as a death in the family, an ongoing traumatic situation, or just something you inherited from your family. Understanding the cause is the first step in dealing with your situation. Once you understand, you can shed the guilt and start making needed changes in your life if you want to.  For example, once I understood that I just drew the short genetic straw, I was able to stop feeling guilty and unworthy and become more proactive in taking my medication. Understanding why this happened to you will not cure your depression but it will help you cope.

2. Share your feelings - absolutely talk about things with someone you trust (hopefully a professional therapist) or write about them. Keeping your feelings bottled in tends to amplify those feelings in my experience. Again, sharing will not cure your depression but will help you cope.

3. Confess your sin to God - sin didn't cause your depression and repentance won't cure it. This is another damnable lie. If you've wronged someone and you feel guilt, go to them and make it right. If that cures your blues, fine, but that is not depression. The guilt that goes with depression is not always rational and often revolves around feelings of unworthiness. Fixating on how you stand in comparison with the invisible magic sky fairy will only reinforce those feelings and may drive you deeper into depression.

4. Help someone else - if you are able to do this, do it! It's empowering and doesn't have to cost you much. But remember that if you are depressed, you must take care of yourself before you can help anyone else. That's my golden rule of depression.

I'm sure Dr. Yancey had good motives for writing this but I fear he gives us the wrong impression about the nature of depression and his explanations and solutions regarding sin and Satan are not only incorrect but deeply destructive.  As difficult as it is to believe, people in 21st century America are still being told that their mental illnesses are the product of sin and demons. Thousands of children are physically and emotionally harmed by deliverance or exorcism services. Thousands more are bilked out of their money by charlatans like Bob Larson. At some point, we need to hold these "doctors" responsible for the harm they do by spreading this sort of misinformation. They are not psychiatrists and should never give medical advice as if they are. The same goes for me. The information I gave you is from the Mayo Clinic but if you are experiencing any kind of mental problems, please consult your doctor or psychiatrist and take their advice.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Appetizer 05 - Piss Off, John Hagee

Latest Appetizer is up - check it out here:


NSFW - language

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creative Tuesday!

Every Tuesday I'm going to post a little something on my Facebook page. There is a definite theme that will tie all the Tuesday posts together. Most of you will figure it out pretty quickly and I think you'll understand why it's important. For the rest of you, I hope you'll take the time to look into this. It's really important and will affect our nation for generations to come.

I'm posting these publicly so you don't not have to be my friend in order to see it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why Bother? More Thoughts on Atheist Assholes

I'm sure most of you have heard of the latest flare-ups in the atheist community regarding asshole, sexist behavior. Just as happened with ElevatorGate, people seem to be more interested in defending their pet position than actually working out ways to solve the problems. I reckon that's human nature coming out - something that we atheists have in equal measure with everyone else. Oh yes, we too can be jerks.

I wrote about this at my old blog here and here. I still don't have any great solutions and I'm still bitterly disappointed at the responses from commenters. It feels like we're fighting a losing battle. That said, I've also gone on record to state that I have not experienced a great deal of this at the local events I've attended. Almost every person in our groups has been kind and decent. I count myself fortunate.

I cannot, however, say that about my interactions online. On one of my favorite blogs, I attracted the unwanted attention of a guy who thought it was fun to attack everything about me. I had shared my story of mental illness and how religion had seriously impeded my treatment. This guy proceeded to tear into me, calling me terrible names and claiming that I was just making up the story for attention (because such things just don't happen). It got to the point where every time I posted a comment, he attacked me more and more viciously. I was using the handle "Skepticat" at the time and he took great delight in calling me "Skepticunt" and various other epithets while attacking my character and my motives. After several other commenters and I complained, he was given a warning to stop and he did.

Yet it comes as no surprise to me that this guy is still an asshole and is still making comments on that site to assure that no woman ever really wants to leave a comment there. This is his response to a well-written post on sexual harassment in the atheist community:

If this is really such a big problem in the Atheist community than why haven't any Atheist females had anything to say today?Is this the Atheist Revolution,or the Feminist Revolution?I want names,dates,places,witnesses,and reliable fact check able proof that this is happening.Otherwise it is just hearsay,and we can move on to real Atheist issues.Yawn.

Yes, assholes are a HUGE problem in the atheist community and this guy is one of them. He uses words to create a hostile place where no woman feels safe sharing a personal story or taking a stand on an issue. Why have no atheist females posted on there? Probably because he ran them off with his rudeness. Notice how, to him, other people's feelings and problems aren't "real Atheist issues" and bore him. That's because he's a fucking asshole who doesn't care about anyone but himself as far as I can tell.

The real pity here? His comment currently has 6 thumbs up.

It's not the person who smiles at me, who speaks to me, who stares at me, who offers to buy me a drink that makes the atheist community hostile. It's the person who doesn't listen to a word I say unless he's using those words to tear me apart further. It's the person who isn't interested in how I feel unless he can find a way to trample those feelings even further. It's the person who feels like he's entitled to dismiss my concerns out of hand because I don't matter.

These assholes aren't here to build community - they are here to further their own particular agenda regardless of the cost to other people. They are here to get their egos stroked because they get off on their smug self-righteousness.  And, whether we like it or not, they are everywhere. They permeate our community and we need to find a constructive way to deal with them.

Why bother? Because I refuse to let assholes ruin everything for everybody, particularly for me. I'm just as important a part of the atheist community as he is and he's not running me off. You want to know what the best way to combat harassment at these events is? It's a two-pronged approach: 1) Do not be an asshole or tolerate asshole behavior. 2) Encourage more people - particularly minorities - to show up. We need more folks, not fewer. We need better folks. We need folks willing to stand up for each other. We need folks who have morals. And, above all, we need to learn to listen to each other and show some damned empathy. If we want to be a bunch of hateful, sexist, self-righteous assholes, we might as well have stayed in our religious communities. After all, they can blame God for the things they do wrong. Who do we blame?

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Neighbors and Me

My neighbors believe that their god is going to send everyone who doesn't believe in him to hell for eternity. They supposedly want me to believe that too so I can "get saved" and not have to go to this place of torture and damnation.

Why then do they never come to my house and talk with me about hell or even invite me to church? Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining - but it seems that if they're really serious about hell, they'd not miss a chance to warn me.

So I wonder: do they really not believe in hell? Or is it that they do believe but don't care enough about us "unsaved" people to do anything about it? Either way, it makes it hard for me to take them very seriously.

Before I get too far up on my high horse, however, remember that I supposedly believe in a whole host of issues too - reducing poverty, improving education, reclaiming our civil liberties. What do I do everyday about those issues? Pretty much nothing - nothing that makes a difference.

Am I really so different from my neighbors?