Started May 12, 2012. Continued over days and days, until today, thanks to computer issues.
So I’ve been having some issues. The religious variety, of course, but things have reached all new, bizarre levels of weirdness. I have wanted to write about it as the events progressed, but there were two problems: one, my computer has this problem where the screen blinks on and off from time to time for no apparent reason. Two, I have written about my religious issues to death. It feels ingenuine to continue to grapple with the same stupid issues in this public forum. But doing so often makes me feel better, and the computer is acting okay tonight. And I don’t think this forum is as public now as it used to be. So I guess I’ll give it a go.
It started in January. I had been rolling along, going to my Episcopal parish, CC, feeling good about things, taking it slow, thinking about enrolling in the Inquirer’s class in the spring. And then… I think I had the ole Catholic radio on one day, and I heard someone say the word “confession,” and I was flooded with all these intense emotions. Like desperation and longing.
Lee and Penelope were going to be going to Oklahoma, leaving me and Atticus behind, and I saw an opportunity to go to Mass at SP’s, my Catholic parish. It could just be my secret; no one would have to know. I could go on Saturday morning and never miss a beat at CC, and I wouldn’t have to tell Lee if I didn’t want to. It could just be a little visit. No big.
I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t really want to go. I felt compelled to go. I didn’t have any positive emotions about going; I felt like I needed a fix.
So I went. And I didn’t feel good about it! All the way there, in the car and walking up the steps, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to do this.” I sat in a pew and thought, “I don’t want to be here.” After Mass began, I felt miserable the whole time. And Atticus is not at a good age for churchgoing, so I had to chase him down the aisle at one point and drag him into the cry room for the remainder. And for the rest of the day, I felt horribly, despondently, hopelessly depressed. I slumped back on the couch, feeling barely able to move my limbs, and played back-to-back cartoons for Atticus.
The experience was similar to back in late 2004, when I had the Christmas Catholic Relapse. I remember then that I would find excuses to secretly go to Catholic Masses or confessions, because I felt a strong drive to do it but didn’t want to admit to people that I did. Except this time, the compulsion to go was stronger, as was my own paradoxical desire not to do that which I felt driven to do. And this time, the end result was total misery; at least before, I enjoyed some sort of high.
Not long after that, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade approached (always a miserable time of year to be a Catholic for me), Fr. Super-Newb made some topical posts on Facebook that got under my skin. And then the hotly controversial HHS mandate thing hit the news.
Like most people, I learned that this thing existed and what it meant as the controversy unfolded. It took some time to learn what exactly the exceptions were that were already written into the rule. In the meantime, Fr. Super-Newb and Fr. D posted a number of articles relating to the matter--including, I believe, one of those cut-and-paste messages form the bishop--along with their commentary. And others posted their comments, which were exclusively outraged. Some called for Catholic hospitals to close their doors rather than follow this mandate. I engaged a little as the lone voice protesting that I find it far more scandalous to consider shutting down operations that do the good work of the church than to submit to the mandate, especially when numerous Catholic organizations already supply contraceptives to their employees.
In one particular instance, which was near the beginning of things and before the President announced the accommodations he was willing to make, Fr. D complained that SP’s wouldn’t be exempt from the rule. I engaged in this discussion and went back and forth with him a couple of times. He and others were complaining that the church and school wouldn’t be exempt, but it seemed to me that they would be, and nobody could find the specific wording of the thing. It was a totally civilized conversation, not petty and not flamey. But it made me feel argumentative, and I stewed about the issue for a little while after leaving my computer. When I returned an hour or two later, I was ready to keep arguing, and I had some pithy point to make. But Fr. D had sent me a private Facebook message.
I do appreciate you encouraging me look this stuff up because I need to be able to discuss it intelligently, and like you I want primary sources. I do wish you would come talk to me sometime. We have known each other maybe 11 or 12 years. I understand the difficulty of trying to reconcile things in our mind, heart, and spirit. I miss you, and care very much about your and your family. Fr D
This? Caused me to burst into tears and weep openly for a good five minutes. On one hand, I felt touched that he had any idea who I was. I mean, yeah, I have known him for a long time, and I have talked to him privately before. But we don’t know each other well, and he knows so many people, and he has seemed difficult to engage with to me in recent years. On the other hand, the tension between feeling touched that Fr D knows who I am and cares about me, and being put off by the Catholics’ public remarks about Roe v. Wade and the HHS mandate, sort of blew my mind. Again I wondered, when would this agony come to a resolution?
I did make an appointment and go in to see him. I told him I thought I needed to leave the Catholic Church. I explained about how so much that comes from the mouths of those who represent the church, whether officially and unofficially, is utterly offensive to me. I explained that I tried for a long time to live-and-let-live with that stuff and remain in the church, but for a long time now, practicing my faith has been utter misery. I told him about the Mass I attended in January. I told him that was how every Mass was in the months before I stopped attending last summer. I told him I knew some of this was in my mind, and some of it had to do with my foundation in the church that started with the cult of Fr Perez, but even as I am able to intellectualize this, the feelings and pain are unshakable. Like a thing that is on my back that I can’t get away from.
I told him how happy I am when I go to my Episcopal parish, how much I love the Episcopal church and how Lee goes with me and might even join the church. He would never participate like that in Catholicism; never. But I told him how while I don’t believe that Episcopalians go to hell just for being Episcopalian, I worry that if I became an Episcopalian, I would go to hell. Because I know better. I found the truth; to leave the church would be to reject the truth and, thereby, reject God.
Fr D talked about interpretation: how the idea that salvation does not exist “outside the church” relies on how one interprets “church.” I argued that some things, maybe most things, are not really up for interpretation, because the Catholic church has an inches-thick catechism and reams and reams of church documents which explain everything to the letter, and you can read it right there in black and white. But he countered that even as I read, I am interpreting what I read through a lens of how I understand the church, and that lens was shaped from its inception by Fr Perez.
Fr D told me that whenever people who went to Fr Perez’s old parish come into Fr D’s office, women in particular, they are very “screwed up.”
With tears on my face and having just talked about the Catholic church being an inescapable entity, as if a thing that clings to my body, I couldn’t really argue with that.
He said he thought it was significant that Lee would go with me to the Episcopal church. He said he hated to think of me torturing myself by going to Mass.
He said he thought I should go to the Episcopal church. And he said he didn’t think that would make me go to hell.
I made him say it again: “You really don’t think I’ll go to hell?”
I said, what if I come to the end of my life, and I want a Catholic priest? He said that if he is still around, I can call him; it doesn’t matter how long it has been. I can call any Catholic priest. He says it is one of their highest honors to be with people in their final hours.
Anyway. That’s about all there is to rehash about that.
Afterwards, I felt deeply thoughtful. I spent the rest of the day pondering my Catholic formation and how it may shape the way I currently approach faith, even after so many years have passed and I’ve had so many other, broader experiences.
And I continued to feel depressed, anxious, and confused. I couldn’t stop ruminating about these issues; the thoughts intruded on my daily existence.
Around this time, I started smoking again, after stopping since last summer. I also went back to my doctor and complained about the anxiety. We had previously increased my dosage of Zoloft because it hadn’t seemed to be working as well as it used to. Now, we added Buspar, which is, I believe, kind of the one-and-only medication that you take daily for anxiety (unlike the benzodiazepams, which you take as-needed). But Buspar made me itch and break out in hives, so a few days in, we discontinued it and the Zoloft and started me on Paxil. And the doctor (really, she is an ARNP or a PA at my primary physician’s practice) told me she wanted me to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
So I did that. Meanwhile, Dr. Google and I decided that I have a personality disorder. Specifically, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which differs from OCD in that you don’t necessarily have the rituals and the cleaning and the counting and stuff, but you are prone to worry and obsess and may have a difficult time making decisions because of over thinking. I also read that people with OCPD may actually be untidy, because when they set out to do a chore or finish a project, they map out all the things they need to do to get the thing done exactly right. If it isn’t possible to do it exactly right, they may never get started. All of these things sound just like me!
This seemed like a revelation. If I could get diagnosed with a personality disorder, then maybe I wouldn’t actually need to take daily medication. I could get into counseling, figure out what is real and what is OCPD, and maybe take a benzo if I feel the crazy coming on. I considered asking Fr D to be my counselor, because he told me at our meeting that he is a licensed mental health counselor. When I’ve been in counseling in the past, I’ve had trouble connecting to therapists, but I felt like Fr D understood me when I was talking to him. I trust him. And I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining my background as well as specifics about Catholicism and Anglicanism the way I might with a counselor who didn’t already know about that stuff.
All of what I have recorded in this entry so far took place within a month or so. It was a really weird, really difficult, really crazy month. When Lee was gone, I would text him that my crazy was bothering me or that I thought I might be losing it. He actually asked me if he needed to come home early from working out of town. (He didn’t; didn’t need to, and didn’t do it.)
After a little while on the Paxil, I started feeling more even again. Not so crazy. The Month of Madness seemed kind of like a weird dream.
Then earlier this month, another episode. We were invited to a birthday party on a Sunday, and it would conflict with going to CC on our usual schedule. I tried to think of how I could manage Sunday school (I did enroll in the Inquirer’s Class) and church and birthday party all in the same weekend. But CC doesn’t have, and most Episcopal churches don’t have, a Saturday or Sunday evening service. Most Catholic churches do. So that’s when I considered going to Sunday school at CC, going to the birthday party, and going to Mass at St P’s on Saturday or Sunday evening.
As soon as this possibility entered my mind, the crazy started to seep in, like smoke entering a room through the crack under the door. Those compulsive thoughts started up: “I have an excuse to go to St P’s. I want to go! It’s just because of scheduling; nothing more, really!” I even started to feel a sick craving for the crazy.
I wrote to two friends about this, who had two rather opposed responses. One said it didn’t sound like a good idea right now given the crazy and given my craving for the crazy. The other said that if I felt inclined to go, then it may be something I should face.
These opposing responses rather reflected the struggle in my mind. I grappled over it for several hours. Whenever I considered going to St P’s, it felt wholly and completely negative. It did not feel like an invitation from God; in fact, it felt like a temptation from the devil. I mean, if God is not a god of confusion, and if the evil one seeks to fill our hearts and minds with fear and anything else that will crowd out our acceptance of God’s love and peace, then how could feeling pulled to do something that would make me lose more of my marbles be from anything other than Satan? (Unless it’s just, you know, my crazy brain. Also a possibility.) I’m not talking about doing something that would be boring or unpleasant or annoying. I’m talking about doing something that I did only two months before that sparked a prolonged bout of crazy. Real, change-crazy-meds-twice-and-start-smokin
I resisted. I decided to go to CC as usual, go to Sunday school, go to church, leave right after communion to get out of there early, and get to the birthday party late. Simple, and not crazy-inducing. And it worked out fine.
Two days ago, I finally saw the psychiatrist. Getting a first-time appointment takes forever! Woe to you if you are really facing psychosis or something. By the time I got to this appointment, I was feeling much less crazy, much more clear-headed. I was able to describe what I’m going through simply and without crying (which I was sure I was going to do). The psychiatrist does not think that I have a personality disorder (which, whew!), but she does think I have something on the anxiety disorder spectrum. She is tapering me off of Paxil and starting me on Effexor. I asked her if she thought I could come off of daily meds and just take something for acute anxiety, because I really feel like I might have been able to head things off at the beginning of January if I could have just calmed myself at the start. But she doesn’t think benzoes are a good idea for me, “because you’re young,” she said, and they are habit-forming. Maybe if I can get evened out on Effexor (or something else if that doesn’t work) and be in a good place mentally for a year or so, then we can talk about going off of meds. And at this point, I’m fine with that.
The Inquirer’s class at CC is really nice. Some of it is a review of stuff I already knew; some of it is new and interesting and pleasant. During last Sunday’s discussion, the rector gave us all a copy of a resolution
from the 1988 Episcopal General Convention which lays out the Episcopal Church’s stance on abortion. I do not think I realized such a thing existed, and reading it, I got a little teary-eyed. The rector asked us what we thought, and I replied, “It’s perfect.” It’s pretty much exactly what I already believe about abortion. It differs from Catholicism’s teachings on abortion in some significant ways. And nowadays, Catholicism is nothing if it isn’t what it believes about abortion.
The Inquirer’s Class is meant to educate people about the Episcopal Church, where it came from, what it’s doing, and so on, with the end being that those who want to join the church may do so. It’s similar to RCIA for Catholics. On a Sunday at the end, the Bishop will come, and those who have not yet been confirmed will be confirmed, and those who are confirmed in some other faith will be received into the Episcopal Church, and those who are already confirmed as Episcopalians but who have been away or for some other reason just desire it will reaffirm their baptismal vows. The day this is happening at CC is May 20.
For me, because I am baptized and have already been confirmed (twice! First as an Episcopalian, and then again as a Catholic), if I choose to go forward on May 20, I will reaffirm my baptismal vows. Fr D rather recommended I not do this, even as he suggested I continue attending the Episcopal church, but he also said he did not think that the words I would say in reaffirmation would necessarily remove me from the Catholic Church. In other words, if I decided to come back, I would not necessarily have to go through RCIA again and have the whole rigmarole, which is part of my anxiety about considering doing this. In reading the reaffirmation ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, I see that in no way would I be renouncing the Catholic Church or even pledging allegiance to the Episcopal Church. I’m renewing my baptismal vows, which I have done plenty of times before, at Easter time or when someone else was being baptized.
But doing it would still be a significant symbol for me (obviously, as all these years of agony show). And at this moment, I think I want to do it. Lee says he may want to as well. I told him, and I have told others, that I am not making up my mind or making any promises yet. I have until May 20. I may not know for sure that I will do it until that day, until I am actually standing in front of the Bishop.
I kind of think I will do it, but it may depend on my crazy. It may depend on my Effexor. It may depend on the weather or the radio or how well I sleep the night before. I guess I’ll know in two more months.
And if I don’t do it then, there’s always next year.