background knowledge


Content Note: The Vagina Monologues, migraines, mood disorders, and the Evangelical church

This weekend I performed in V-Day: The Vagina Monologues. Prior to the show, the venue hosted a wine reception. I am banned-for-life from drinking red wine on account of the old noggin; red wine is about the only thing I don’t miss, as white wine is my preferred variety of grape intoxicant.

I asked for a glass of white wine from the reception hostess, a friendly woman who recognized me immediately from monthly First Friday events downtown.  We made some small talk: I said that we only had red wine in the actors’ green room, she asked what it was about white wine that I preferred. I said that red wine gives me migraines. Her voice changed a bit, to that tone of a well-meaning but possibly too-familiar acquaintance, as she nodded in agreement and clicked her tongue: Mmm-hmmm. Soul fight headaches.

I need to provide a little background about why her response frustrated me as much as it did, considering she was just trying to offer a little empathy.

In college, I went to a little Christian coffeehouse at least half of my weekends. Sometimes there was live music, but most of the time my small group of three or four friends played ping pong or checkers, or sat around talking and telling stories. At the time, I also attended a fairly conservative Evangelical church, and there was a lot of overlap between the coffeehouse crowd and the college/career small group at the church.

I had grown up in a church, but this was the first time in my life I’d experienced polarizing worldviews among church folk. I often encountered mistrust or outright rejection of science or branches of the medical field. I dated a young man who told me I needed to reevaluate my salvation because I took Biology and intended to teach science in the public school system. I met a single mother who had recently started attending church, who was in tears because her mentor told her to throw out all her preschooler’s favorite dinosaur books. And I heard over and over from people around my age (19 and 20) that I was sinning every time I took my antidepressants or went and spoke to my therapist.

I have lived with anxiety since I was a child. I started showing symptoms of depression in middle school. I didn’t get any mental health treatment until I was a senior in high school, and it made a significant difference in my quality of life. But with this group of acquaintances, my diagnoses were seen not in terms of mental health but of spiritual health. The solution to my crushing depression and debilitating anxieties was not to develop strategies with my therapist and to take a medication to level out my moods, but to pray more, read my Bible more, and join more groups at church.

Since beginning my therapy and counseling, I have been open about my long process of healing and recovery because I want to help chip away a the stigma of mental illness. I spent far too long feeling broken to let other people suffer in silence. So I kept talking about my journey if the topic came up. And acquaintances continued to attach spiritual significance to my struggles. Had there been times when my there has been a link? It’s true that I draw strength from a lot of places. But the insinuation I had a spiritual defect from people who did not know the workings of my spiritual life was insulting. 

Which brings me back to Saturday night.

The wine hostess poured my glass of white wine and referred to my migraines as soul-fight headaches. I groaned somewhere in the back of my brain. I don’t want people I barely know to attach spiritual significance to my migraines. When I am in one, I am very much in my body. When I am in one, I want nothing more than to transcend this mortal plain, but I am crushed inside this vascular mass. I am not in some deep fight at the soul level, I am just taking an eighteen-hour nap. If I am conversing with close friends, maybe then we can have some conversations like this, but not here, not now.

My reply: No. Not really. It causes brain damage, actually.

Later, my best friend pointed out that the hostess had said sulfite, and not soul fight.

I can be such an ass sometimes.