When I was four and my brother was just a few months old, I started first grade.
Okay, not exactly. I mean, I didn’t actually GO to school. But I might as well have because my sister and I played school all the time; I was always the student. At the time, we lived in the parsonage across from Benson Baptist Church where Daddy was the pastor. Our bedrooms were on the second floor; in the hallway, my sister set up her chalkboard easel along with chairs for me and a few teddy bears. Under her dedicated (relentless) instruction (inquisition), I learned to read not long after she did.
And I loved it.
I loved biographies, especially ones about Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and Abraham Lincoln. I loved novels by authors such as Eleanor Estes, Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Reading became my very favorite pastime.
I gravitated towards books wherever I saw them; so it is not surprising that I picked up a storybook to read in the doctor’s office one day. Flipping through to find a story that appealed to me, I settled on the short, but horribly powerful story, “Jesus Understood.” I’ll attach PDF links below for those brave enough to read it themselves; here’s a quick summary.
A young boy named Bobby is hit by a car and finds himself in the hospital near death. Bobby’s roommate tells him about Jesus, saying that all you have to do is raise your hand and Jesus will come by while you sleep and take you straight to heaven. Bobby is too weak to manage even this; but the creepy little zealot in the next bed rushes to prop up Bobby’s hand with pillows. The next morning Bobby is dead, transported to Glory because (say it with me now), “Jesus understood.” (And here I thought it was scary that the wolf gobbled up Little Red Riding Hood’s poor helpless Granny.)
Keep in mind that by the time I was in elementary school, I was already exhausted from carrying the weight of the world on my young heart. So, when I read that story (I may have been 7 or 8 at the time), I thought I had finally found a way out. What if it’s true, I wondered. What if all I have to do is prop up my hand, and then I can be done here. I won’t have to be sad any more. I figured it was worth a shot, so night after night, I propped up my hand with pillows and stuffed animals. Inevitably, my hand would relax out of position. I would wake up, not only tasked with facing another day, but also frustrated by my failure to accomplish what seemed to me to be such a simple task.
As I said in an earlier post, I’ve never wanted to harm myself; I just wanted a get-out-of-life free card—a way to be done with the sadness without actually being at fault, without people getting mad at me. You see, I wanted to be free from the sadness that flooded my heart so very often, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone in the process.
Okay, I realize this sounds ridiculous. But if depression is anything, it’s a liar. Even as an adult, I can get sucked into the lies depression tells me. As a child, I had even less defense against depression’s deceit. Having read this story that made death look so much easier than life, I was tricked by depression to think of it as a true account rather than a pathetic contortion of truth by an amateur eschatologist. Consequently, I adopted this habit of sleeping on my back, my right elbow resting on the bed surrounded by miscellaneous props to keep my hand in the upright position. Unless memory fails me, I did this for years--not every single day, but often enough that I remember it vividly. (Obviously, this is not the sanest thing you’ve ever read. Mental Illness: it’s crazy.)
Eventually, I gave up on that strategy, but for decades I continued to long for a way out that would absolve me of guilt and free me from feeling so very, very sad. Relief finally arrived by way of medication.
In the next post, I’ll share with you how I made the choice to begin taking antidepressants and about some of the roadblocks I encountered along the way. I’ll also tell you how I handled the stigma associated with mental illness.
Oh, by the way, I’m not the only one who was affected by that abusive little bit of literature. I found this post on the humorously titled website, Smother Goose. Check it out if you like to hear a totally different response to that twisted tale.
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Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.
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