Content Note: This article contains detailed descriptions of the symptoms and effects of a mental health condition that may be alarming to some readers. The Ex-Christian Scientist recommends that anyone who is dealing with a mental health condition seek qualified assistance and treatment.
I spent the majority of April 2003 with one foot in and one foot out of reality. I was just finishing up a three year journalism program and internship. During this time, I began feeling incredible anxiety, panic, and fear—unlike I had ever experienced before. I casually mentioned this to one of my professors, who told me to see the college’s therapist. This person was actually more like a guidance counselor than someone with the qualifications of a licensed therapist. She strongly advised me to see a doctor.
I was raised in Christian Science since birth, so the idea of visiting a physician to get a handle on this issue was completely foreign to me. Despite this, I came home from our session and decided to walk down the street to a plaza that had a walk-in medical clinic. I spent all of 10 minutes with the doctor, who barely listened to me before prescribing Paxil for anxiety and depression. Praxil is an extremely potent drug that was pulled in 2009 from distribution in the United States due to numerous lawsuits regarding tendencies for suicide, birth defects, as well as extreme withdrawal symptoms.
I took the Paxil as prescribed for a period of two weeks. During that time, I began experiencing some extreme symptoms, including hallucinations and grandiose ideas to the point of feeling omnipotent. I was already a considerable night owl due to my field of study, so my parents thought nothing of me hammering away on my computer and talking to people on the phone at all hours. They had no idea that I thought I was George W. Bush and that I considered my bedroom to be the Oval Office in the White House.
The people I was talking to at night weren’t really on the phone—I was having imaginary conversations with Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and every single United States president that preceded George W. Bush. We were busy, so I believed, with drafting up plans to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, in real life, I had been sending a bombardment of emails to classmates, friends, professors, and angry sources for prior interviews and stories I had written for local papers. I thought all of them were either members of my cabinet, senators, and/or ministers heading up various departments of my government. On the evening of April 27, 2003, “we” got a lead (or so I thought) pinpointing Bin Laden’s exact location. Our plan was to use sitcom stars and celebrities as CIA agents, and to send up the space shuttle to nuke the Bin Laden using a laser beam. If you think this sounds crazy, it was.
I hadn’t slept in two whole weeks and found myself in a complete crisis on April 28, 2003, which so happened to be my mother’s birthday. I woke my brother and parents up that morning telling them that my plan to kill Bin Laden had been leaked to the press and that we were all in mortal danger. I thought I could see the U.S. Capitol and White House through my window, and advised them not to venture outside because snipers were on the roof and the Secret Service would be showing up to evacuate everyone and take us by motorcade to my aunt’s street. I thought that Air Force One was there and we would head by air to an undisclosed location.
The next thing I knew, my parents lied to me and told me that the Secret Service had a new plan to allow them to drive me to the White House—a white house, but not the actual White House. They pulled up to the local emergency room and told the doctors exactly what had happened. The next thing I knew I had passed out in a holding room. I woke up with four psychiatrists standing over me, waiting to start an interview process which I thought at the time was more of an interrogation to figure out over the course of a 72 hour psychiatric hold exactly what mental illness I had. In the end, the chief of psychiatry at the hospital delivered my parents a verdict: I had bipolar disorder.
My father, who was a staunch Christian Scientist, and my mother—who was not, were in a state of shock and denial. My dad thought that the Paxil I was taking was the culprit, and once it was flushed out of my system completely, I would be fine and could go home. Both of my parents thought there was no way I could be mentally ill, and that the psychiatrist was way off with his assessment. They had never heard the term bipolar disorder before, and so began the process of him educating them about the disease. Neither of them felt I should be surrounded by people who could become violent at a moment’s notice who were on the same ward as I was. All my parents knew about mental illness was what clinical depression was, and about people who were wired wrong committing violent crimes that made the local news.
I spent three months in a psychiatric ward getting well. During my stay, I was required to attend a special program where patients did crafts, games, and above all, group counselling—where we had to talk about our problems on a daily basis. We had to do this before transitioning to the outside, and then do the same program daily as an out patient once released, until told otherwise. It was strongly drilled into me by the head of that program that leaving it was a bad idea.
I absolutely hated the program, and wanted no part of it. My father also felt it was detrimental to me because, as taught in Christian Science, people shouldn’t rehearse a problem and give it credibility—rather than denying the lie and focusing on who man “really was” as taught by Mary Baker Eddy, and drilled into me in Sunday School. He felt that others insisting that they or I was ill was a form of malpractice against me—delaying my healing in Christian Science. So, instead of going to the program, I was driven around in the car to give me something to do. I was often taken to a Christian Science Reading Room during my recovery so dad could do metaphysical work and pick up the latest Christian Science Journal.
While this was happening, my journalism career ended up in tatters after an editor lost an article that I had written a month before it was to be published. The article was fine and contained zero inaccuracies when it was initially sent to him. When this person lost my draft, he had me write another one up; but, now I was completely out of it, and had no recollection of what I had written having been in a mental health crisis in hospital. It ended up being printed a few days after I got out. They later retracted it after I quoted a source in the article inaccurately and couldn’t produce tape or notes for back-up.
My official graduation from college happened in June 2003—before I was released from the hospital. My doctor ended up putting me on enough medication, and with chaperones to attend with me, I received my diploma and returned to the ward that night. Unfortunately, I knew that everything I had worked for years to accomplish was now up in smoke, and nobody would employ me—or so I thought at the time. Once I was released, I did fine for six months before suffering a relapse.
While I don’t blame my parents for any of this, Christian Science played a huge part in them not knowing what bipolar disorder was. None of us knew the symptoms of the disease and its undercurrent of hypo-mania that had been leading up to an inevitable crisis for approximately 10 years prior. I had crippling depression and then bursts of happiness throughout these years, and constantly slid between both poles rapidly, with zero warning but without any delusions as a child. I also always twisted mild teasing from peers into something completely different and totally out of context.
I couldn’t relate to any of my peers whatsoever. I even had my arm broken by a classmate during recess one day. It was several months before I reached high school, when the school district wouldn’t allow me to enroll in a school that these classmates wouldn’t be in so I could have a fresh start. My parents home schooled me until I found a school offering equivalent of GED to adults. During this time, the school board insisted I see a doctor and counselor because they thought I could be mentally ill and that this was the cause of my problems. My dad took me to a doctor, thinking there was nothing wrong with me at all.
At the end of the discussion, she gave him card and referral to a psychiatrist. I remember my father getting into the car, rippling the card up and telling me this was the standard brush off and a way to dump a client they didn’t want. He still prayed for years in Christian Science to fix my social problems until everything came to a head in 2003—10 years later.
I mentioned earlier that my career was in tatters. The only good thing that came from this awful experience—that still impacts me daily—was a second chance. I was in total despair one day, and reached out to a friend who asked me if there was anything I wanted to do in journalism that I hadn’t achieved, or that involved writing for magazines or newspapers. I told her that I really wanted to be a film critic. We ended up finding a lead and a site that has published my interviews, features, and reviews for over 17 years now.
This work has led to guest appearances speaking about the Academy Awards and other film-related topics for U.S. and Canadian radio and television. I would have never had this opportunity without being diagnosed as bipolar, eventually following medical treatment to the letter, and ditching Christian Science completely; and having constant care under watchful eye of a psychiatrist for over two decades now. While there were numerous missed opportunities over the course of 10 years prior to experiencing my full blown psychiatric crisis, I do not blame my father or mother for anything that I experienced. My father didn’t know any better, and he followed Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings for 60 years until his passing from terminal cancer in 2021. He believed, as I did until my crisis, that the TRUTH contained in her writings and teachings could heal any disease—including mine. When it couldn’t it devastated him.
My father was never the same afterwards, and blamed his genetics for everything I experienced with the disease. Our relationship became somewhat fractured, as he could see that the same traits within himself—with constant rapid cycles of depression, horrible temperament, and twisting of what others said. My psychiatrist believed strongly that he had an undiagnosed type of bipolar disorder, minus the delusions, for all of his adult life. While I got helped by modern medicine, he never took those steps for himself because of Christian Science. It is a fact I cannot change, and I continue to grapple with it every moment of every day.
By Geoffrey D. Roberts