I was crying from relief, not fear.

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

I had my first panic attack at the age of 28. It came on out of the blue, in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday at work. I drove myself to the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack. I had never been admitted to a hospital before. Once the intake nurse took my blood pressure and determined that I wasn’t dying, she hooked me up to IV and I laid there quietly for about an hour.

A doctor came in, and she was exactly my age. She told me that what had happened to me was not ‘nothing.’ It was a cardiac event, but it was brought on by anxiety, not heart disease. She guessed, correctly, that I was about 30, single, and working in a demanding job where it was hard to keep my work/life balance. She said she saw women in exactly the same condition at least once a week.

I began crying immediately, which didn’t surprise her, until I told her that I was crying from relief, not fear. It felt like after thirty years of striving to look and be perfect, I was convulsing under the pressure, and here was someone telling me that it was normal to feel that way, that it was okay, and that she would help. I could walk out of the hospital and things could never be the same again. I didn’t have to just say, “Hallelujah, I’ve been healed!” and move on. I could acknowledge the challenge as both physical and mental, and use all the resources available—therapy, medication, self-care—to manage and ultimately overcome this.

The doctor prescribed me some anti anxiety medication. I took it several times in the next year or so, maybe before a big meeting when I felt myself getting anxious.  At some point I threw the rest away and haven’t needed it since.

The Field was Full Well-Meaning Ignorance and Greedy Quackery

Enrique Simonet - La autopsia - 1890 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Enrique_Simonet_-_La_autopsia_-_1890.jpg
Enrique Simonet – La autopsia – 1890

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

I studied American history in college and especially women’s history, and that was the first glimmer of a way of understanding the context of Christian Science in terms of what Mary Baker Eddy and her followers experienced in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

There was profound ignorance about our bodies and the reasons that people of all ages suddenly fell sick and died, so the public’s fear and superstition regarding doctors at the time is understandable. There was shame and fear associated with practically all aspects of womanhood—pregnancy, menstruation, sexuality. I can imagine that anything that seemed to make sense of the physical world in a way that gave people a sense of control and order would have been very welcome. Doctors were essentially untrained caretakers, and the field was full of both well-meaning ignorance and greedy quackery. Mary Baker Eddy and the people of her time never could have envisioned the kind of advanced health infrastructure and workforce that we have today, or the ways that most people are able to take charge of their own health care in this era.

Over the course of the twentieth century, advances in medical care and the availability of drugs like penicillin and vaccinations were matched by a steady decline in Christian Science adherents. Those who remain are overwhelmingly white, privileged, mostly older Americans with a sprinkling in Europe and elsewhere. They are, disproportionately, people who are living in relative comfort, highly educated, and with the lowest risk factors for disease in the history of the world. It is easy, therefore, for them to credit Christian Science for their good fortune, until it is shattered by accident, disease, or mental illness.

If you would just pray about it…

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

As I’ve grown into adulthood and approached mid-life and motherhood, I have become much clearer on how my Christian Science upbringing has shaped my feelings about myself, my body, and my sense of self-reliance and trust.

It started when I realized how deep my denial was when something seemed wrong with me, either emotionally or physically. How I stuffed it back down, lied about it, felt ashamed, and couldn’t even talk to my family about it. Then, I thought about the silence on the other end of the phone when I mentioned to a Christian Scientist relative that I wasn’t feeling well, or that I’d had a falling out with a friend, or even that I had a leaky pipe or car trouble. Anything that was less than perfect just wasn’t acknowledged, and I could feel the unspoken accusations: “If you would just pray about it…” I knew that my family had struggles of their own, but that they hid them from me and suffered the same guilt and isolation that I did.

I’m conflicted because I feel sympathy for people still caught in the web of Christian Science thought. It alienates them from human emotions, life experiences, and their bodies. I want to help them and I hope that this project reaches them. Over my first 30 years of life, I came to associate illness with shame and failure, and to feel betrayed by my body when it didn’t live up to perfection.

But, I’ve learned that when I am anxious, usually it’s my body telling me that I need to get something done, or work something out, or let go of something that I’m hanging on to unnecessarily. Instead of stuffing it down, or feeling ashamed, I listen to it and address whatever needs addressing. Sometimes it’s taking it easy for a few days, or making sure I eat well and exercise and take care of myself, or spending some time with my husband or a good friend. I’m not angry at my body for not being perfect. I love it and what it does for me. I love myself and the people around me who love me and take care of me. I let them take care of me.

Things aren’t perfect, and never will be, and it is okay. Though I wish I could help my parents out of this prison of perfection.