Old Habits Die Hard

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about experiences seeking medical care and interacting with medical professionals.


Back in 2000, I had this scaly patch on my neck. After watching it grow and covering it with makeup for two years a friend said, “that looks like skin cancer – you’d better get that looked at!” Sure enough, it was basal cell skin cancer. I had it cut out, and I have a huge scar now. If I’d taken care of it early I probably would have just had a little stitch.

– Hilary


I have been pestering my husband to help me get my basic vaccines (I have zero), and he doesn’t get it that I don’t know how to go to a doctor or what to DO there. A friend who knows the medical field inside and out has offered to set things up with me and come along to hold my hand.

– Heidi


My non-Christian-Scientist cousins were after me to get a colonoscopy (I’m fifty-seven) and it was way overdue. I did so, and wouldn’t you know, I had cancer. Luckily it was stage one, but the doctor said it was a slow grower and had been in me ten years. I had it removed with two operations last spring and summer. I am the fourth generation in my family to have this problem. My grandmother and father died grisly deaths under Christian Science ‘treatment’ of this very thing. The surgeon at Mayo Clinic that said if I had waited six more months it would have spread to other organs. They think they caught it all, but I am having follow-up tests this week and next.

– Anonymous


At the very end of my second pregnancy, I am starting to have serious health problems: blood pressure ticking up, signs of pre-eclampsia, etc. So apart from being scared and disappointed, every time I go to one of my appointments I also find myself extremely angry and defensive. My sister helped me figure out that this has to do with an entire childhood of being blamed for every sickness—every cold, upset stomach, or stubbed toe was entirely my fault and had to be fixed only by me (while simultaneously being unreal of course). So when my OB points out that my blood pressure is not in a good range, what I hear is, “what did you do wrong that made your blood pressure so high?” Ugh, old habits die hard, I guess!

– Hilary


Recently, an alarming rash erupted over large parts of my body. I went to the emergency room at the local hospital, and the doctor who treated me humourously diagnosed me as being a “very sensitive guy.” It was his way of informing me that I was having an overly severe allergic reaction to something. I was prescribed an immune system suppressant, and some Benadryl. The rash cleared within a day. I’m glad the old habits of waiting before I go to a doctor about something are beginning to fade finally.

– Jeremy

You were *supposed* to stay out for two weeks

By Marie. ‘Marie’ is a pseudonym. This was originally published on Emerging Gently, and it is shared here with permission.


My mom sent me back to school too soon after having chicken pox. I had come down with it during a Girl Scouts camping weekend in fourth grade. It was right after my parents separated and she was working days for the first time, so the first week of school that I was sick I had been home alone. This was highly atypical for my upbringing and in hindsight I believe she had kept this a secret from my father’s side of the family, who knew I had chicken pox but whom she did not want to ask for help from, and this created her internal stress to get me back to school.

The following Monday morning, I still had open sores all over me, but my cold symptoms had lessened and my mother had been making noise all Sunday, in Christian Science platitudes, that I was ready to go back to school the next day–I had made my demonstration and that sort of thing. I kept pleading with her that NO ONE came back in one week, you were *supposed* to stay out for two weeks when you had the chicken pox; it was not a race, there was a rule. But I was sent on my way, to walk to school alone.

I was filled with dread. I was a pariah at school because of Christian Science. I was not a cool kid to begin with; too fat, too bookish, too sincere. I did not wear my ‘cult status’ (heh, heh) well. The arrangement in the mornings was that the entire student body waited in a crowd outside the doors until the arranged time and then the doors were unlocked and we proceeded into our classrooms. It was a small school district where we all walked to and from school, even at our lunch break.

As I approached the already large crowd of students, the first few took notice of me and a murmur, then a larger thrill of reaction sped through the student body. There were no adults present. They simultaneously turned to face me as a group and backed away from me as a group, into the brick corner of the building behind them, protectively. Dozens of voices cried out, “You’re not supposed to be here! You’re sick; what are you, stupid? She’s a Christian Scientist, she doesn’t know she’s not supposed to come here with chicken pox, she’s gonna get us all sick! Get away from us! Get away from here! Go home, Christian Scientist!”

I stopped, paces away from them, in the middle of the playground, hysterical with tears, pleading with them, “I know! I told my mom!” over and over again. They would not hear me. A teacher came to open the doors and saw the scene. She waved the children inside and hustled over to me to ask, “What on earth are you DOING here? It’s only been a week! You’re still sick!” I sobbed, “I KNOW! She told me to come back!” With veiled disgust and efficiency she whisked me into the nurse’s office who quickly confirmed with the first temperature check of my life that I was still contagious, gave me a note stating I was not to return until the following Monday, and sent me on the walk home.

I marched home filled with deep fury at my mother, hyperventilating with sobs over what I had been put through. She was surprised to see me stomp through the door and slam the note down in front of her. She asked some sort of question I can’t remember, but my answer was, “No! All the students were afraid of me and yelled at me to get away, and the teachers said I shouldn’t be there and the nurse said not to come back until next Monday. Just like I TOLD you.”

I crawled into my bed and fell into an exhausted sleep, which is where I should have been in the first place, hiccuping with tears as I slowly calmed down. As I drifted off, my last awareness was my mother’s presence at my bedside, stroking my hair. “I’m sorry, honey.”

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Elizabeth’s Story

The following is by Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor, and was originally published as a guest post at Kindism.org on February 1, 2015. It is reprinted with permission, and has been slightly modified for The Ex-Christian Scientist.


Did Principia hide conditions from authorities during the fall 1989 Upper School measles outbreak? What were your experiences with Christian Science nursing while at Prin during the measles outbreak? How did they diagnose it, since they’re trained to see disease and contagion as unreal?


This measles epidemic hit at the beginning of my first year at Principia Upper School, in fall of 1989.  I was fifteen, and it was the first time I had attended a boarding school or been away from my family. The student population was almost entirely unvaccinated due to Christian Science beliefs. The first quarter, I was paired with another sophomore named A___. She was a most unusual combination of kind, unconcerned with appearances, and popular. And she was totally into Christian Science, or appeared to be on the outside. A tranquil understanding of the philosophy, is how I would describe it, although it sounds strange to say it that way now as ex-Christian Scientist, but that is how I remember perceiving her. A___ tells me, “I’m not going to get sick, you’re not going to get sick.” That kind of worked, and I remember thinking, “ok, of course we’re not going to get sick.”

Then one Sunday after church, A___ laid down and didn’t get back up. She just laid there with her eyes closed, skin blotching up, listening to Christian Science tapes. I was scared. Still, nobody said anything, but frequently housemoms–the women employed by Principia to live in the dorms with us, one per wing, and act as our guardians, would walk by and look in the door at A___ without comment to either of us. Eventually a housemom came and took A___ away. The dorm got really quiet. Lots of kids came down with it the same weekend that A___ did. I’m happy to presume I felt this way for my own reasons, but I definitely felt that I was expected not to get it, in the same way I would be expected not to sneak off campus or expected not to skip my homework.

The housemoms never said ‘measles’, only the kids spoke of it: “some kids have measles”, “this one has it now”, or “so and so’s roommate was gone when she came back from practice.” But no one in the administration talked about it. They would just tell you reassuringly that they were “taking good care of” your roommate (anyone who got spots disappeared shortly thereafter). The housemoms did not say anything about your symptoms, they would just appear at your bedside after you’d been down for the count for a few hours to a day, and they’d say, “Come with me, honey. Is there anything you want to bring?” There was no communication from the administration otherwise. Continue reading “1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Elizabeth’s Story”

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School: Paul’s Story

By Paul, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I was a student at Principia Upper School during the measles epidemic in Fall 1989, and I contracted measles. I had the good fortune of being a day student, so instead of being on lockdown in ‘Gulag Clayton Road’, I was at least able to suffer in the discomfort of my own home.

I remember being really freaked out because I had to get my blood tested to see if I was immune, and I was scared to death by the process of the blood draw. My, how far we’ve come… Anyway, it was pretty pointless because I more or less felt like crap by the time I showed up at the lab. I drove home, took a nap, and began to notice blotches when I awoke. I can’t recall how many days I was ill—it seemed like forever. I couldn’t get comfortable, etc., as I’m sure all of us experienced. The whole experience was utter hell. At least I could shower as often as I wanted and didn’t have to deal with petulant houseparents.

They sent the principal and dean of students out to deliver ice cream to all of us day students who were de-campused due to illness, and we had to come to the door to get our goodies. I realize now they were probably sent out to check on us to make sure none of us was at death’s door so the Christian Science Committee on Publication could be given a heads up if we were.

Our concept of god is a flawed and limited…

By Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

The phase of belief I’ve been moving around in for the last few years is a god-is-math mentality. So, very precisely, it’s not that everything happens for a nice inspiring reason, but that everything. happens. Every kaleidoscopic variation of experience occurs simultaneously, as a unified mathematical expression. Time is a construct of man’s consciousness, which is itself a creative interpretation of the geometry of the universe. Our concept of god, as well as our world outlook, is a flawed and limited interpretation of the part of this massive mathematical equation we are each able to perceive, infused with a drama of our own making—individually and then again societally/culturally.

There is no good or evil, but there is every variety of circumstance to move us to tears, set our souls on fire, stun us into apathy, break our noble spirits, confound our strongest convictions, awake the psychopaths within, transmute our failings into strengths, inspire a heroic and sacrificial effort; in short, everything required to make us hate the world and to make us love the world.

Inside this theory, free will is not the reality, although the nature of our conscious awareness does allow for a lot of flexibility in how we perceive our will, or lives, or destinies. This is why Christian Science can seem amazingly effective until it isn’t; until it bumps up against the underlying math, the facts of your life.

The mortals at school would think that they were seeing an injury.

By Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

When I was five years old, I fell on my face onto concrete while running and destroyed my upper lip. My mom did a nice job of hiding her terror from me and calming herself and me down. There was lots and lots of blood which wouldn’t stop. My mouth and nose were cleaned with water and a washcloth, no dressings were used and I don’t know that anyone other than a medical professional would have been capable of dressing it.

I was told I would not be going to school for a few days, not because I had been injured, but because the mortals at school would think that they were seeing an injury, and we had to protect the healing, which had already occurred, because in Divine Science, the injury never occurred. I never fell from God’s arms. We sang the hymn, “Everlasting arms of love, are beneath, around, above.” My face hurt a lot from my chin to my nose and eyes to my forehead and the top of my head.

I was not supposed to look in the mirror because that would reinforce the material picture, and I was praised repeatedly for not looking in the mirror. Meanwhile I was sneaking into the bathroom to stare at myself every chance I got, because holy crap the top of my mouth was missing! I was absolutely transfixed at my horrible appearance. It was thrilling. Not the injury, but the looking; the possessing of the information regarding my injury, illicitly. I think in that climate where injury was not properly acknowledged, it became an absolute high to observe and acknowledge my own damage.

For a long time I had this experience filed under a legitimate Christian Science healing. My mother and I wrote a joint testimony about it which was published in the Christian Science Sentinel, and this made quite an impression on me. But in retrospect, the evidence contrary to a Christian Science healing is much stronger:

  • It took a normal amount of time to heal. It’s indisputable that my lip and mouth needed stitches and it sure is nice that things healed up as well as they did.
  • My upper lip changes appearance in childhood photos after this incident. Luckily it works for me and my upper lip is still cute in a different way.
  • The frenulum of the upper gum was ripped and did not repair. Mine just hangs there and my upper lip is not connected to my gums. It’s the thin connector way up top above and in front of your front teeth; you can find it with your tongue easily.

This incident is at the root of my personal version of the ‘I’m a fraud’ worries all humans have to varying degrees. And possibly the beginning of my doubts about Christian Science, but I suppressed them deeply.

Childhood fascination with medicine & desire to fit in

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about childhood health and safety issues they faced growing up in Christian Science. 

 

Once I was at a friend’s house, and the mom handed me a Flintstones vitamin at dinner and I FREAKED. OUT. I jumped out of my seat and ran to hand it back to her with a breathless “I’maChristianScientist!” She looked at me so confused and said, “It’s just a vitamin.” And I launched into a mangled six-year-old’s explanation of Christian Science. I feel like they didn’t have me over again after that.

– Elizabeth


The problem with not being allowed to have something that everyone else in the general population takes for granted, and more so being told it is wrong, is that it leads to trying it anyway and sometimes in the wrong way. I was very curious about medicine and actually went so far as to steal a little tin of Bayer Aspirin. I locked my little brother and myself in the bathroom and made him try one first. Of course they tasted bitter and horrible and we spat them out. To this day I don’t remember how I disposed of them. Worse was stealing a bottle of pills from a drugstore in the days when many drugs were on the shelf. I waited until my grandfather was in another aisle and whipped it into my pocket. They were tiny brown pills, god knows what. I took them to school and told my friends I had to take them. I was desperate to fit in.

– Tessa



Until now, only my wife has known this embarrassing truth: at age 37 when I was first properly under the care of a doctor and was put on a few month-to-month prescriptions, I switched to Target pharmacy because they had red prescription bottles, and I had them all arranged artfully on my bedside table.

– Anonymous



When I was six or seven, I got a pre-made Easter basket, and deep inside was a bottle of ‘Vaseline medicated lotion.’ Do you remember how it used to say that? I can’t imagine what the ‘medication’ was; anyway it was instantly my most prized, secret possession until my dad caught me showing it off to my cousin and made a huge scene and took it away. My non-Christian Scientist cousin must have thought we were complete nitwits.

– Anonymous

I would go on trips without my glasses with the expectation of healing

By Brett Buchanan, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I had an INSTANTANEOUS HEALING yesterday!

After decades of extreme myopia (couldn’t focus on anything beyond five inches in front of me), my eyesight was completely restored! Since third grade, I would hear of healings of eyesight, read Journal articles about the spiritual meaning of eyes, I would go on trips without my glasses with the expectation of healing, work on my understanding of my relationship with God, sometimes discouraged by the sin or ignorance preventing perfect perception… But then I got some f*cking laser beams in my eyeballs, and my eyesight is better than ever. Thanks, science!!!

In some ways, I’m grateful to have been raised in such a bizarre religion. I think it was easier for me to question all religions, compared to someone raised in a more benign denomination, and arrive at my tentative conclusion that all religions are man-made; that although most religions strive for a cosmic connection with grand answers, awe, and transcendence, they all ignorantly capitulate to emotion or superstition or wishful thinking or dogma or authority or tradition.

I think it’s an important distinction that you can be BOTH an atheist and an agnostic. I’m both. The two labels are often conflated into a single spectrum of certainty or belief. But they answer different questions: one is about belief; the other is about certainty. I am not a Theist. I don’t believe in an intervening personal God, therefore a non-theist or a-theist.; also I am open to revision with sufficient evidence, I am not certain of anything. I am not a Gnostic, therefore a non-gnostic or a-gnostic.

It’s helpful and inspiring to sometimes name all of the Universe’s puzzles and mysteries by a single name, as Einstein did as a self-described Pantheist (a philosophy Eddy despised). But it’s important to remember that we have solved some of the Universe’s puzzles recently and we will solve more very soon…even while some of our neighbors would prefer to remain ignorant to the wonderful and useful answers of evolution, heliocentrism, or the germ theory.

Recently, science has presented a much better methodology with better and greater answers, transcendence, and awe based in reality, through clever experiments that reveal a universe immensely grander than humans and their imagination have ever imagined. Without a God in our heads giving us our purpose, we can be the custodians of our own life’s meaning. Now we can be the sole voice in our minds. Hallelujah!

If I would only know the Truth about my sight, I would not need glasses

By Tessa, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Tessa is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

 

I guess the first and possibly the biggest way that Christian Science negatively affected my life was that I was born nearsighted, and because we never saw a doctor, no one acknowledged this until I was about ten. A teacher saw me squinting and asked me if I needed glasses. I said no, that it was the light coming from the window. She moved me around the classroom, and I blamed the board, the colour of the chalk, everything. Finally, she told me to go to the nurse and I told her I wasn’t allowed.

The teacher must have called my parents, because my mother immediately got our practitioner on the phone. This began about three years of me being told that if I would only know the Truth about my sight, I would not need glasses. There were many phone calls with the practitioner, even lengthy typed letters that I would skim and hide in the garbage when my mother wasn’t around. I remember distinctly how angry I felt reading the letters or listening to her soft voice droning on the phone. I did not want to work at a healing, I just wanted to have glasses so I could see. I knew in my very soul that prayer did not work for me and desperately wished I could get this point across to my relentlessly CS parents.

The other day, I came across a journal entry from when I was fourteen years old. In it, I wrote that after much begging my parents were going to let me get glasses. It had been a decade of blurred vision and headaches before they agreed. I had spent my life to that point afraid to look up, embarrassed to not recognize someone calling my name. I fell behind in certain subjects where the writing on the board was key to successful grades (math and science, for instance). Worse, there were things I was excellent at that I had to give up because of it. I was told by the music teacher that I had an excellent ear and played violin very well. She made me first violin in the orchestra. The problem was that I couldn’t see the music, and it wasn’t long before I fell behind and dropped out. I was a very good actress, but I couldn’t see the Director or follow cues or any of the things one would need to function properly on stage. To everyone’s dismay, I dropped out of acting as well.

I’d developed a complex in which I would start things, but not finish them because I was so sure of failure. I understand that adversity can push a person to greater heights. I wish I could say that that was the case with me, but it was not. My huge lack of coping skills led to very low self-esteem. I felt invisible and lived constantly in a fantasy world of my own instead of reaching out to the world around me. Long after I had left Christian Science behind, I began to realize that I never reached for the stars growing up because I could not see, so I was too afraid. I am still working on changing that.

Lucy’s Story

PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains content that may make some readers uncomfortable. 

By Lucy, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. ‘Lucy’ is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.


My husband and I both grew up in Christian Science families. We first met at Principia Upper School and then attended Prin college together. He has always been more spiritual and I’ve always been more practical, so when both of his parents died early from treatable diseases he really dug into Christian Science as a way to try and find healing from his grief, which he didn’t think he was supposed to feel. But at some point, probably a few years ago, I began to realize that as much as I really wanted it to be true and work it made NO sense to me. I began to get into science… you know, actual science!

Continue reading “Lucy’s Story”