When life hands you a hand grenade…

I’ve never added a content or trigger warning to a post before, but please be aware that this post contains discussion of mental health issues, and suicide.

I want to refer you to another psychologist.” I’d only been seeing her for a couple of months.

Three months earlier:

We were getting ready for church; my wife told me “I didn’t get any sleep last night. You were snoring so badly”.

Something broke in me. The stress of the previous few months brought by the changes in the company I work for; I’d spiraled into a deep depression over the previous few weeks.

Now I was hurting people, even in my sleep. The thoughts had dogged me for days but when she told me that, I knew for certain:

My family would be better off without me.

I told her to go on ahead to church, that I’d be a little late. She left with the kids.

I left a few minutes later, then stopped and fueled up the car. I didn’t know what I was going to do, only that I was going to drive for as long as it took, and make sure that no-one would stumble across my remains.

A coward, I texted her. I sent her the master password to my password manager, and where she could find all the details she’d need to access all my accounts. I apologised for my cowardice, and ruining her life. She was angry; my willingness to break the promise I’d made to several people, including her. What it would do to our children. I knew they’d be better off without me.

I drove; I refused to answer her calls. The text messages kept coming.

She asked me to turn around, to come back. I kept driving. The further I drove, the harder it was to keep going. Slowing… 80… 60… 40km/h.

I pulled off the road, unable to drive any further; my face and shirt drenched in tears and snot, body wracked with uncontrollable sobs. She kept texting me, gently talking me down from my irrational tree.

I drove back to the church and sat down with our pastor. I told him the truth, what I’d intended to do, the pain I’d just inflicted on my wife. He bound my wounds with his words, and wisely told me that I needed to see my doctor – immediately.

I did. I let others guide my steps over the next few weeks. I told the GP that I thought my anti-depressant might be wrong for me, as I’d become suicidal. He told me he believed my dosage was too low (he was correct). He wanted me to see a psychologist, not just the counsellor I’d been seeing.

I went and saw my counsellor; I’d promised him that I wouldn’t consider suicide without talking to him first, and I’d broken that promise. I told him the whole story. He encouraged me to follow the doctor’s advice, that someone else may be able to provide a different perspective. I found a psychologist who specialised in autistic patients, and got a referral.

I’d been seeing the counsellor since 2011. He had been both a missionary and a minister. Over the previous few years he’d helped me unpack a lot of the religious abuse I’d lived through, to deconstruct many of the destructive beliefs that I’d grown up with. He’d helped me see my abuse of food, alcohol and porn as coping mechanisms within the wider context of the damage that had been done to me.

Beyond the depression and anxiety, beyond wrestling with the abuse, though, there had been an undercurrent running through my life since my preteens. Occasionally, it would break the surface, and I would reflexively recoil. It had been my hidden shame for a long time. In 2012, it ceased to be an undercurrent, and broke through my defenses like a storm. When the first waves hit, I didn’t want to tell him. The shame was too great. I knew that to tell him this would rupture our relationship, that he wouldn’t want to counsel me any more.

I couldn’t hold it in.

“God loves you for who you are, and this is part of who you are. This is no surprise to him. Accept this part of yourself, and just ride the waves. Don’t embrace it, don’t fight it, don’t be ashamed, just be.” In fear and trembling, I trusted his words and followed his advice; after a month I realised the waves had receded. The feelings, so powerful, were just… gone. Well, not quite. The undercurrent remained.

Ten months had passed when the waves returned. The emotions, more intense. They lasted longer; again I waited. Six weeks later, they had receded.

The last few months of 2016 was one of the most intense periods of my life. Autistic, I don’t handle change well, particularly when it’s thrust upon me against my will. The upheaval in my job was extreme. In early 2017, almost ten months after my previous encounter, the swell broke again. This time, however, it wasn’t a wave.

It was a tsunami.

I tried to ride the waves, but the shore was gone. I attempted to withdraw into myself; I did not recognise myself – yet somehow, I did. A self I had seen in the mirror in an intense dream, a few months earlier. I awoke from that dream with an overwhelming homesickness for a place I’d never been.

As everything I thought I knew about myself was washed away, I chose to go it alone. This time, I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my counsellor.

With the storm pounding my emotions, and the dinghy of my job seemed to be sinking beneath me, I spiralled into depression.

During my first session with the psychologist, we talked about how & why I’d become suicidal; the way that the amount of change in my job would be difficult for a neurotypical person to navigate, let alone someone autistic. I was in way over my head; I felt that I lacked the qualifications and experience for the position I’d been put into. We worked on strategies to reduce my stress, and deal with the change in healthier ways.

However, I couldn’t -I wouldn’t- tell her my secret.

Then, in the next session, it just poured out. I told her my secret, my shame, how something that had been previously manageable was now overwhelming. Over next few sessions, we went through the events from my preteens, through my teenage years and beyond. The emotions and experiences I’d never told anyone, that I’d wrapped in chains and dropped into the deep. The sense of my body not fitting, that seemed to be more than just my terrible body image, more than just sensory issues stemming from being autistic.

We sat there in that little room; she in her office chair, facing me. I sat on the left hand side of the soft & comfortable couch, as always, twisting and untwisting my fingers.

“I want to refer you to another psychologist…” she began. “I want you to see a someone who specialises in autism and gender issues. I’ve seen this before. You’re not alone, and it’s not uncommon. There’s a statistically higher incidence of gender variance among autistic people.”

She continued: “I believe you have gender dysphoria”.

“Gender dysphoria (formerly gender identity disorder) is defined by strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one’s own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment.” (Link)

A couple of weeks later, I started seeing the new psychologist. Once again, I was sharing things with a stranger; speaking of recurrent emotions and feelings enveloped by a deep sense of shame – and failure. I’d prayed & been prayed for. I’d tried repenting, rejecting, rebuking, burying the emotions & desires. I’d tried to seek my identity in Christ, and only Christ. I’d tried to “take all thoughts captive”, but these were constant escapees. Alcohol helped to bury the emotions, until I was drinking more nights than I was sober in any given month. As of the date of writing, I’ve been 470 days sober.

Throughout it all, this deep sense of incongruence remained – and had gotten worse. The psychologist took the pieces of the puzzle and put them together; the emotions and patterns of behaviour that I’d been hiding throughout my life confirmed her predecessor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria; as such I am, by definition, “transgender”.

Not because of “cultural Marxism” or because it’s supposedly “trendy” or “cool”; because it fits the diagnosis.

Transgender. I find I’m holding a hand grenade without a pin.

I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want it. I could do without the emotional pain, and the turmoil it’s brought into my life. I’ve been struggling with and hiding “it” for most of my life, before I could even understand what “it” was. Society told me that for a boy to want to do “girly” things was shameful and so, at eight years old, I became ashamed.

Many of the things that we have to deal with in life, we have no choice. Circumstances thrust upon us. Being autistic, growing up in a cult-like environment, depression and anxiety. These are all things I had no choice in. Accepting and dealing with these things, in a sense, had little tangible impact on my sense of self. I became a healthier version of the person everyone knew.

But this? It explodes my concept of self. Not only who I thought I was, but who other people thought I was.

Maybe I could reject the “label”, but the underlying factors that lead to me sitting in that room? They don’t just go away.

Oh, I could go back to denial; force everything back into a box, wrap the box in chains, drop the whole thing into cement and dump it into the ocean, but that’s unlikely to work. Many people with far more life experience than me have told me as much.

“It’s just mental illness!” It’s not, but what are the options for dealing with it?

  1. Repression/denial. I’ve tried that for most of my life, but it results in the emotions leaking out in other ways (and can often lead to #3).
  2. Reparative Therapy (aka “conversion therapy”). The success rates for transgender reparative therapy are about the same as they are for being gay: virtually zero (OK, 0.5% – link). Reparative therapy, however, is more likely to lead to…
  3. Suicide. The suicide attempt rate among trans people in a US study was found to be 2-4x higher (41%) than for gay, lesbian & bisexual respondents (10-20%); the overall rate for the US population is 4.6%. (link)
  4. Transition. This is the gold standard medical & psychological treatment when nothing else works. It’s complex, painful and not something someone chooses on a whim or for fun.
  5. Acceptance & counselling. This is what I’m doing now.

If you believe sex and gender are different words for the same thing, this won’t make much sense. For the better part of 35 years I’ve tried really hard to make that equation work… and here we are. Have I not prayed enough? Read my bible enough? Confessed my sins enough? I’ve done all of those things, over and over. Have I not had enough “deliverance ministry”? (I’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime and beyond, thank you very much).

Is it autism & sensory issues? I hoped it was just this; after trying to force it to fit into that box, while it undeniably overlaps, it just doesn’t fit. The sensory issues, too, are usually part of being autistic. There are fabrics I hate, some that I love. Frustratingly, a lot of men’s clothing is made out of material and fabrics that are uncomfortable at best, and at worst are like wearing a mixture of hessian sacks and sandpaper. Clothing rarely fits me properly. My job requires me to regularly wear clothing that makes me want to rip my skin off by the end of the day.

Is it my body image? It’s terrible and with a bad dose of body dysmorphia. I’ve written about it before, but in spite of my assertions in that piece, I’ve not managed to overcome the shame. I have a lifetime of societal messaging telling me that to be fat is to be repulsive… unattractive… ugly. This is where the dysphoria overlaps with my body image and dysmorphia issues.

Autism & body dysmorphia & gender dysphoria; I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of the world’s worst Venn diagram. Worse still, these things are interconnected. They can’t easily be teased out and processed separately.

It’s difficult to describe what gender dysphoria feels like; like trying to describe the smell of blue, the taste of purple.

The best metaphor I have: it feels like an overwhelming homesickness for a place I’ve been told I don’t belong, and I’m not allowed to go.

I am, after all, both a husband and a father. I have all the primary and secondary markers of being male. The genitals; the body & facial hair, male-pattern baldness. I have high testosterone levels; after I told my GP, he ordered blood tests for oestrogen (normal) & testosterone levels (apparently, one point off further investigation because they were so close to the upper limit). I’ve read so many books about how to be a good man, a good husband, a good father.

For all of that, I have little sense of “maleness” or “masculinity”. I was raised as a male. However, autism -in males- is primarily defined as a social disorder; I also grew up & worked in a socially restrictive environment, thus my socialisation as a male was atypical. In turn, my father’s socialisation had also been restricted; the masculinity he modeled to me was, in many ways, atypical of his generation. When I first encountered a more “typical” masculinity in my late teens, I was utterly shocked by the way the men I was with talked about women as they walked past.

Most of my life has been spent trying to feel what I “should” feel; to be “a man”. I had few friends throughout my school years; the friends I did have were a mix of male & female. The majority of my social group during the last two years of high school were female; I usually felt (and feel) more comfortable around women.

In my late teens, I hung out with a group of guys who regularly worked on cars together. The experience was alien. I’ve since tried joining men’s bible studies and cell groups at church. Individually, men are OK, but I invariably feel awkward and out of place in a group. The more “macho” or “blokey” someone is, the harder it is for me to feel comfortable around them.

So much of my expression of “masculinity” has been performative. I’ve either been trying to act the part of what I’ve interpreted a “man” or masculinity to be, or trying to fit the “programming” society has deigned to be “normal” for my sex. It doesn’t come naturally, instinctively. I won’t say “never”, because there have been times where it feels like everything lines up. The inside and the outside – momentarily – matches up.

Does this mean I “feel” like a woman? I don’t know. It’s complex; could I ever really know what feeling like “a woman” is anyway?

What I do know is that my body doesn’t, -never has- felt like it “fits”. I despise my body, hair on my arms, legs, back & face where I don’t want it; in a bitter irony, hair missing from my scalp & constantly reflecting a “maleness” that feels alien. My size, my shape… the way I move. The sense of incongruence goes to my bones.

Being drawn to more “feminine” things in terms of physical expression; colours & styles, make-up, jewellery, clothes. I’ve pushed those impulses & desires down repeatedly, burying them because they’re unacceptable for me to explore for myself. I will note that men’s clothing usually has one advantage over women’s clothing: pockets. (Yes, really)

Emotionally? Upon telling my GP, who I’ve seen regularly for almost a decade, he responded “This makes so more sense of the way you’ve reacted over the years; you just don’t react the way men usually do”.

There are days where I feel a powerful desire to express myself in a “feminine” way. If I’d been born female, “Rochelle” instead of “Warwick”, no-one would bat an eyelid if one day I wore a dress and heels and makeup, the next day, jeans and a t-shirt. I was born male; the name my mother chose for me went unused. To feel those desires is “shameful”. I’m 183cm tall, overweight and balding, so I don’t express myself that way. To do so in public would open me up to alienation, rejection, ridicule from strangers, who suddenly feel empowered to commentate one’s life.

However, to suppress those emotions that I’ve been told I shouldn’t even have – that takes a heavy ongoing emotional & psychological toll.

Being a woman is more than dresses and makeup. How dare I even desire to appropriate that which was not given me by birth? Who am I, to question the “choice” of a sovereign God to give me what is (most likely) a set of XY chromosomes? Why do I long to be seen as a woman? Not a “supermodel”, not to turn men’s heads, but just a woman (as if any woman is “just” a woman!)

Why would I seek to flee my “God-given” ‘manhood’? To argue with the lived experience of 43 years of being treated as male? To abandon the privilege that comes with the primary & secondary sex characteristics typical of XY chromosomes?

Does biology define identity? My biology is the cause of my autism. Should I identify as autistic because of my biology, or is it just part of what makes me… “me”. Some biological studies seem to indicate that the brains of trans women and men bear more structural similarity to the brains of their identified gender than their biological gender. If my sense of gender is biological as well, and conflicts with my body’s expression of sex characteristics, which should get priority? The ones that make other people comfortable, or the ones that make me more comfortable & happier?

“It’s just feelings. You control your feelings, not vice versa. You just need to reject the lies.”

For how long? How long does one fight to keep ‘feelings’ at bay? There is a cost to that, one that comes with compounding interest.

One that you don’t have to pay, while insisting I should.

“You’re a man, just be one”, someone told me. What does that mean? Do all men put on a performance to try and make their inside looks like it matches the outside? Is there something that “comes naturally” that I’m missing?

There are days where it does feel like the inside and the outside match. Those days are uncommon.

Sometimes I’m fine and something will trigger the dysphoria and everything comes crashing down around me. I don’t like to go out much any more because of this.

This is a lot to take in, I know. I wish I could just “be“. For me, however, to just “be” breaks social, cultural and relational expectations. It will, demonstrably, invite abuse from strangers. Potential alienation from friends and loved ones. Rejection & judgement from faith communities that now accept me.

This is not a final statement of “identity”. None of us is in stasis, remaining at a fixed point. I don’t want my life to be about, and to be defined, by this one aspect of who I am, who I appear to be right now. Nor is it a template to, or of, the identity or beliefs of other transgender people. There is a lot more that I could write about, but this is heading towards a small book at this point.

I’ll probably write another post, more of a Q & A type thing, but for now, let’s get the big questions out of the way:

“Do you identify as ‘transgender’?”
– Kind of a loaded question, but not in any “identity politics” sense. I identify as me. I’m a Christian, a husband, a father, autistic – and, it seems, transgender. It’s another part of who I am.

“Have you told your wife, kids and family?”
– I’ve told my wife, my kids, and many of my family members. If you’re a family member finding out through this blog post, I’m sorry. I’ve tried to tell all of my family members individually, and face to face; I didn’t want to tell anyone over the phone. It’s a complicated thing to explain – it’s taken the better part of a week to write this post.

“Are you going to transition?”
– I don’t plan to; transition is one of the treatments for gender dysphoria, but it is by no means the only treatment. Transition is also an extremely complex subject loaded with a lot of baggage and a lot of assumptions that need to be unpacked. I’m seeking wholeness, and peace. There are several other things that I’d like to address towards that goal that aren’t about gender. It’s also important to me to honour the promise I made to my wife, when we wed. This doesn’t just affect me, I won’t make a unilateral decision that impacts on her.

“Are you gay?”
– No.

“What about pronouns? Do I have to call you she/they/zir/something else?”
– Whatever pronoun you’re already using for me is fine. If there’s a change, I’ll say so. There’s a whole other blog post just in this.

“What are you going to do?”
– I’ve started by telling the truth. Lying to myself and trying to pretend this isn’t part of me hasn’t worked, and created more pain.
– I’m working on losing weight and also dealing with my body image / dysmorphia issues. I’m hoping that maybe dealing with that will reduce some of the emotional pressure.
– Accepting that this is part of what makes me, “me”, and continuing to see the psychologist. I can’t deal with this alone.

“How can you say you’re transgender and a Christian?!? It’s SIN!”
– Dealing with this and trying to work through and move beyond the damage of my upbringing to a healthier, authentic faith is a hard row to hoe. That too is a whole other blog post (or more). In short: if you want to proof-text, there’s one verse that you could try and apply by taking it out of context. If you really want to pick a fight over it, I’ll meet you behind the sports shed after school. If I’m not there, start without me.

Someone once said (usually –incorrectly– attributed to Einstein): “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. I’ve spent years doing the same thing; it hasn’t worked. Now I’m trying something different: honesty and radical transparency.

I fear that to be open about this will lose me friends, maybe even family & loved ones. However, I’ve lived in constant fear -particularly of the opinions of others- for much of my life. I’m choosing to no longer make my decisions based on fear and shame. I’m not seeking a path to popularity and acclaim, I’m seeking wholeness; in God, in self, in relationships. Wholeness doesn’t come through denial of the things that are within.

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’“.

How can you love your neighbour as yourself, if you hate yourself? For most of the last 35 years, rejecting and hating this part of myself has done nothing to temper it or remove it from my life; it’s only led to further hatred of myself as a whole. Time to try something new.

I’m sure you have lots of questions; so do I. I only have some of the answers.

Let’s talk. [FacebookEmail]

Be careful what you wish for…

…because you just might get it.

When I wrote about autism for the first time in 2010, I felt a bit like I had to justify myself through my son’s diagnosis. I explained what we went through to get him formally diagnosed, and how through that process, I’d come to suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. However, some sections of the autistic community don’t accept self-diagnosed Aspies as “legitimate”. It seems that there are many people who do a couple of online “autism tests”, then declare themselves to have Asperger’s syndrome.

Because of this, I’ve been hesitant to write about it further. I wanted that formal diagnosis. Everything that I read, and the reflections that I saw in my son said to me “this is you, too”, but I wanted a clinical psychologist to sit across from me, and tell me that it wasn’t my imagination.

A Long Farewell.

My dad has called me countless times over the years. Until recently, due to the nature of our relationship the appearance of “Dad” on my phone’s screen usually resulted in apprehension, but little long-term emotional impact beyond that.

For three of his phone calls, though, I can tell you where I was, and exactly what I was doing.

#1. January 2012.

I was standing on a ladder at work (third office from the left), my hands behind a wall-mounted television, as I attempted to plug a recalcitrant network cable into the TV. My pocket started buzzing. I fished out my phone.


What proceeded was of the most bizarre phone calls I’ve received in my life.

My father wanted to – and tried to – casually tell me that my mother had stage 4 breast cancer, while downplaying the seriousness of it, so – and I quote – “You wouldn’t be worried”.

He failed. I panicked, immediately jumped online to try and find out everything I could about stage 4 breast cancer.

My mother, ever so modest, had refused to see the doctor about the lump in her breast until it became ulcerated. Only then did she seek treatment. It was almost too late.


Against the odds, she survived. By 2013 she was officially in remission.

In August of 2014, as we returned from a road trip to Queensland, we diverted to visit my parents at home in Cooma.

Mum didn’t look well. She was recovering – or, more accurately, not recovering – from a nasty bout of the ‘flu. She told us she’d be fine. I took a photo of them standing on the front patio of the rental property they’d been forced into, their house having been repossessed by the bank after her cancer diagnosis.

It was the last photo I’d take of them together.

A few weeks later, dad would call me to say that they’d seen the doctor, and the cancer had returned; with chemotherapy & radiotherapy she had a pretty good chance to beat it again.

#2: November 13th, 2014.

It was my son’s 14th birthday. Per family tradition, birthday dinner was chosen by the family member being celebrated. As such, it was fish and chips. I’d just placed the order when my phone rang. I reached into my pocket, expecting to be told I’d need to add something to the order.


I answered nervously. He was frantic. “You need to come to Canberra now. She might not make it until the end of the week.”

Just a few days before, he’d been telling me that the doctors were very impressed with her progress, and the prognosis, while not fantastic, was reasonable.

“The cancer has spread to her liver.”

I knew what that meant. The other patrons tried to avoid looking at me as I started to cry. We ended the call, I collected my son’s birthday dinner from the counter, and drove home.

His birthday dinner was wolfed down, followed by frantically packing the car and making phone calls, before we drove through the night, hoping against hope that we’d be able to see her once more and say goodbye.

We made it. My brother & sister-in-law and their children had already arrived. My aunt & cousin too. My youngest brother & sister-in-law had been frequently visiting due to their proximity to the hospital.

It was the worst kind of family reunion.

Dad was sleeping on the floor of her hospital room. Mum was almost unrecognisable, her complexion yellowing, her eyes sunken. She drifted in and out of consciousness.

When she was awake, she was lucid – for the most part. She’d occasionally drift off mid-conversation, but by-and-large she recognised all of us. While leaning on the counter of the Nurses station talking with her nurse, I caught sight of her doctor’s notes; a heavy line across the page, in all caps underneath: “PALLIATIVE CARE”.

Whatever doubts, whatever hopes I had were extinguished at that moment.

Thank God, we all had the opportunity to spend time alone with her and say those things that needed to be said. Mum had never really been one to hold grudges; for the most part she forgave easily. Our conversations were wonderful, light things, with only a tinge of the dark shadow of what was coming. She spoke of her faith, still strong in spite of it all, and her joy at her children and grandchildren.

As she sang the praises of her African nurse, I discovered – belatedly – her hidden, inherited racism, as she renounced it and asked for forgiveness. I knew that my grandfather had been racist, but in all of our years, I’d never heard mum even hint at such feelings; yet now she was admitting her regret at something that I had never known.

We all have our secrets.

I asked her “Are you happy with the way your life worked out?”
“I am… other than having cancer.”

I guess I got my sense of humour from her.

Our time to leave was drawing near. Her doctor had placed her on a saline IV to keep her alive long enough for us to be able to see her, and say goodbye. Once we’d visited with her, she’d be moving to hospice palliative care at Clare Holland House.

I turned my voice recorder app on, and asked her to call me the nickname I’d always hated, one more time. As much as I despised it, she was the one who first called me that. While it recorded, she told me that she loved me. I can still replay that, when I need to hear it. Some days you just need to hear your mum tell you that she loves you.

I’ve never been good at knowing when time is up, when it’s time to say goodbye. This was infinitely worse.

I quietly asked her “What one thing would you want me to remember, mum?” She looked me in the eye and clasped my hand.

Be yourself. Above all else, just be yourself.”

I reached over and hugged her. I kissed her on her cool forehead and told her I loved her, and that I’d see her again some day.

That was the last time I saw her alive.

We drove back to Melbourne. The next few days were a surreal haze. As I was living each day, she was dying in a hospice hundreds of kilometres away. I was helpless. I spoke to dad regularly; within a couple of days, she spent most of her time in a morphine-induced sleep.

#3: November 23rd, 2014.

Alone on the right side of the bed, while my family was at church, I stared at the ceiling. The occasional truck broke the Sunday-morning silence, rumbling by on the main road outside our home. The late-spring morning light played on the wall in the half-darkened room as a breeze ruffled the vertical blinds that I hated so much.

My phone started vibrating on the bedside drawers. I picked up the phone and began to sob.



My mother, Pamela Rendell, passed away from secondary cancer of the liver on November 23rd, 2014, 3 years ago today.

It was two days short of my parents 42nd wedding anniversary.


Thank you to the staff at Clare Holland House for looking after my mother when I couldn’t be there.

Please, if you detect a lump in your breast – or chest, because men get breast cancer too – see your doctor.

If you’d like to make a donation, Monaro Cancer Council do wonderful work for those with cancer in the NSW Snowy Mountains, or the Cancer Council’s Pink Ribbon campaign.

A few thoughts on #RUOK Day 2016

I’ve been pretty snarky on Twitter this morning about #RUOK Day, and I felt like I need to expand a little on my thoughts.

In principle, I’m not opposed to the idea of R U OK Day. In practice, sometimes it feels a little less like the creator of the day intended, and a lot more like hashtag activism.

Fundamentally, my issue is this: Asking someone “Are you OK?” is an inherently intimate question. You’re opening a dialogue. This is not “How was your weekend?” or “Have you seen Stranger Things?”.

You’re asking someone to open up to you about one of the most private areas of their lives – what’s going on inside their mind. Asking “R U OK?” may reveal things that have the potential to affect their career, if that information is abused by an employer or co-workers lacking in ethics.

Asking #R U OK is not a way for you to hit your virtue target for the day. If you want to do that, go and donate to Beyond Blue or Sane or headspace, or some other mental health organisation.

Don’t ask someone “R U OK?”, unless you’re prepared for that person to say “No, I’m not”. I don’t think you can just respond to that with “Here’s a URL to check out. Feel better. See ya later.”

One of the most paralysing parts of dealing with mental health issues is the sense of isolation it causes. Please don’t make that isolation worse by making it look like you’re willing to bridge that moat, if asking “R U OK?” is just another task on your to-do list.

Also, as someone who’s lived with both anxiety & depression for my entire adult life, if you ask me “R U OK?” today, my answer is “yes”. Several weeks ago, the answer was “no”. In a few weeks time, the answer might be “no” again. This time last year, based on the draft post I found when I logged in to write this, the answer was “Oh, hell no!”

That’s what it’s like to live with a chronic mental illness.

Today, before you ask someone “R U OK?”, please consider this: If that person is willing to open up to you, and you’re not prepared to walk at least part of the journey with them, don’t ask the question.

If you are, thank you.

Giving Duncan hell

News Corp have decided that Duncan Storrar has to be taken down.

They started with a hit piece on him in The Australian earlier in the week. According to his eldest son, he’s not been a good dad, and has a history with drugs. Not content with public flagellation, News Corp want to make him suffer.

Today, Duncan got a full front page on the Herald Sun; a giant headline screaming “ABC HERO A VILLAIN”. News Corp’s latest nadir in gutter journalism.

There is nothing in the Herald Sun’s “revelations” that justifies the story on him, or a front page headline like that. Duncan has a criminal record, and a history of violence. Unsurprisingly, there are reports that he was also the victim of sexual abuse.

There are likely tens of thousands of people living in Melbourne with histories just like Duncan’s – or worse.

Why then did Duncan deserve a front page hit piece? Because he’s poor, and had the temerity to ask a question of a government MP about the 2016 budget that many people were already asking. When the MP in question embarrassed herself on live television in her response, Duncan got his 15 minutes of fame, and News Corp got a fresh target.

…and then the internet crowdfunded over $60,000 for him.

This is where I question the wisdom of crowds.

It seems like a wonderful thing to do, but Twitter has just delivered the guy into a fresh kind of hell.
A $60,000 windfall is enough to make anyone’s head spin. The dopamine rush from suddenly being handed that much money, over twice your annual income, would be immense.
What he’s not likely to be doing is stopping to think about the complications that come with it.
  1. He’s entered a new tax bracket in a single hit. It’s a $60,000 gift, which means he’s going to have to pay tax on it. He’s got a tax liability.
  2. He now has a much, much higher income than he quoted to Centrelink. So he has a Centrelink debt.
  3. Every person to whom Duncan has owed money, or think Duncan owes them something, are going to come knocking on his door with their hand out.
  4. Every self-righteous person looking for an excuse to attack Duncan has been given a box of ammunition by News Corp

For Duncan’s sake, I really hope someone quickly hooks him up with some good financial counselling, and some long term mental health assistance.

In a few months Twitter will have moved onto the next in a long list of shiny things while Duncan will still be dealing with the fallout of Twitter’s grand gesture.

Lest We Forget

I never knew my grandfather.

The family photo album contains a photo of him holding me as a toddler, but I don’t remember him. Other photos show he was a barrel-chested man with a receding hairline. I have two younger brothers; I was the only one who inherited his hairline. Lucky me.

During World War 2, he survived a near-miss explosion. The details were horrific. He died that day – it just took thirty-odd years for his body to catch up.

Today, he’d be diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, but those were different times. When he returned from the war, he took to self-medicating with alcohol. I remember my mother telling me how sweet and kind he could be when he was sober, but how dark moods would descend, and he’d deal with it the only way he knew how… and he’d become a different – and violent – man. Soon, that was the only man he was. Several years after he returned home, his co-workers tried to get him help.

He refused.

It was a long, slow suicide. According to the medical reports, cirrhosis of the liver killed him early in May 1978, when I was four years old. He died alone, his alcoholism & violence having driven away everyone who’d once loved him.

Were there already dark threads running through his life that the PTSD brought to the surface, or were the seeds sown on that day in a war zone? How different could his life, and the lives of those around him have been, had there been ongoing support for him and all those men like him after they returned from the war?

Did he feel it wasn’t socially acceptable to take advantage of that support? Did he feel that it made him weak or “less of a man” to admit he needed help? Maybe he refused to admit it. I’ll never know. Even now, in 2016, there’s still stigma attached to being a man who admits to having mental health issues; that stigma is one of the reasons I refuse to be silent about my own mental health experiences.

As we remember the fallen this ANZAC day, think also of those who returned and still return from war zones. Some have have physical scars, but for many their hearts and minds are scarred by unimaginable experiences; experiences that they maybe can’t – or won’t – talk about.

Whatever you believe about war, both those who return from war, and their families, need and deserve our support. They also need immediate and ongoing support from the government that sent them there. It’s rare that these experiences can be processed without help; our returned military personnel require the tools and support to help them deal with the outcome of their experiences.

Far too often “going solo” results in these brave men & women becoming dependent on alcohol and/or drugs to cope. The results may be homelessness, exploding in violence towards their loved ones or others, or death at their own hands, their violence turned inward.

The effects of my grandfather’s experiences in the war, and the consequences of his choice to deal with those experiences through abusing alcohol and his subsequent violence still echo today in my own life, and the lives of those who knew and loved him.

Even while writing this post and discussing it with my cousin, I learnt new & painful things about him, and what he did to my grandmother, my mother, and her siblings.

It’s been said that “War is hell”. It’s not just hell for those who survive it, but too often for those who love them.

Lest we forget.

Collateral damage in the culture war

On the 24th of March, Christianity Today ran a story on a change in the hiring practices of World Vision USA. World Vision is a para-church organisation that is made up of many different church denominations. Some of these churches now perform same-sex marriages, whereas others do not.

The single policy change made by WV USA was to “permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed.”

Unsurprisingly, American evangelicals were outraged. Many of the major talking heads waxed lyrical in interviews, on their blogs, and on Twitter about how WV USA has lost their theological moorings, and had moved outside of evangelical theology, or had allowed the “gay agenda” to destroy their ministry.

After two days of intense criticism, WV USA reversed their decision. Even so, some are still calling for the CEO’s resignation.

In their outrage, many evangelicals who were sponsoring children announced they’d no longer sponsor a child through World Vision.

Today, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary interviewed Rich Stearns, World Vision USA’s CEO, and asked him exactly how many child sponsorships had been dropped.

10,000. Ten. Thousand. Children.

Now, I’m not seeking to address the thorny issues around theology, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage here. I want to talk about the message that the American evangelical church sent to those TEN THOUSAND children.

The message you sent is “We do not love you”.

Some of you will argue “HOW DARE YOU, Warwick?? That’s NOT the message that was sent.”

I get it. You were sending a message to World Vision USA that accepting same-sex marriage (and by inference, the sin of homosexuality) was a completely unacceptable change, that it does not fly with traditional Christian doctrine, and if they were willing to accept that kind of sin and were not willing to revert their policy, then you could no longer support them.

That’s not the message that those ten thousand children got. For ten thousand children, who’ve received letters and photos from Christians sponsoring them, to the children on your fridges and mantelpieces, the sponsors of ten thousand children looked at their faces and said directly to them “Correct doctrine is more important than my relationship with you”.

Do you think a starving seven year-old in Africa or Haiti understands that?

No. The simple, powerful message you said to ten thousand children is:

“We no longer care about you. We do not love you.”

You chose to put your hate for sin ahead of the love you claimed to have for your sponsor child.

Look, I totally understand. After all, Jesus was the one who said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you publicly and loudly declare your hate for sin.” Wait, I think it was “…that you hate the sin and love the sinner”.

Oh, I don’t know. It was something about hate, anyway.

Well done, evangelical America. Your hate has made you powerful.

There’s something about Noah

bob-kelsoI’m an unashamed fan of the TV show Scrubs. In the first episode, where J.D. (the series protagonist) who is feeling completely out of his depth, feels like he’s found someone who actually cares about his emotional needs; Doctor Bob Kelso (the hospital’s administrator).

Towards the end of the episode, when J.D. is at his lowest, and seeks him out, Dr. Kelso turns to him and says “Do you realize you’re nothing but a large pair of scrubs to me?”

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read far too many reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”, ranging from “must see” to “straight from the pit of hell”. Plenty of evangelical folks who are decrying Aronofsky as “attacking Biblical truth” (or some variation of that), but here’s the thing: there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates he set out to make a “biblical” film. He has stated in interviews that the story of Noah was a passion project for him, and he’s been working on it for several years; it also appears that he’s used sources that, with his Jewish upbringing, are familiar to him, but not to your typical evangelical audience member.

What confuses me a little, is who says “we” (as Christians) have the sole rights to the story of Noah and how it should be told? Because something is in the Bible, does that mean we somehow should get right of veto over anyone else telling the story? Why do “we” have some right to declare that any telling of the story that uses sources unfamiliar to “us” is unacceptable? That’s the thinking of empire, of those who are used to having power and control.

For a moment, let’s consider that another young filmmaker suddenly has the clout to make this movie, and make it “Biblically accurate” (whatever that actually means).

Here’s the log line: “God saves one man and his immediate family, and some animals from the world’s first and worst catastrophe!”

Sounds awesome? What a brilliant BIBLICALLY ACCURATE story!

Hold on, big fella… what caused this catastrophe?

Well… God did. He decided to destroy everything because it was all corrupted.

All? Really? The kittens? Baby goats?
What about the parents of his Noah’s daughters-in-law? How about Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah? (If you do the math, he died in the flood too – that’s biblically accurate).

Consider, if you will, a newborn baby, born that very morning as the rains started? Not long after taking its first breath, it died a horrible death, as its lungs filled with water.

You can try and gloss over the ugly truth somehow, but this was an apparently global genocide of humans and animals; everyone and everything else dies, horribly. That’s your biblically accurate story, right there. Not as cute when you take away the Sunday School flannel graphs and deal with the text.

But let’s say Hollywood greenlights our new “Biblically accurate” script. What then? If they’re going to spend a few hundred million dollars on a movie, they want to make that money back, and preferably a profit. The odds are that script isn’t going to stay “accurate” for long. See, Hollywood isn’t interested in the same things that the American evangelical church cares about. They just want to make money.

Actually, now that I think about it… then I think “better not”.

You know which movies don’t normally make money? Bad ones. (“Hello! Hudson Hawk? This is Ishtar calling…”)

What if  you had a bad film on your hands, that with the right marketing, might appeal to a particular target demographic?

Hollywood isn’t there to make Christians feel warm and fuzzy. They don’t care whether a movie is “Biblically” accurate. Actually, I suspect they’d prefer a script take few liberties, because that will get some of them up in arms, talking, blogging or yelling about the movie, which gets more attention for the movie (and likely increases the bums on seats for people who want to be able to rant about it).

When Christians are going to Hollywood to care about their feels, much like Doctor Bob Kelso the only thing Hollywood has to say to the “Christian” audience is “Do you realise you’re nothing but a large demographic to us?

Faith, family, abuse and disconnection

Please forgive me. This is an incredibly long post, and I’m not sure how to edit it down further. It also paints a rather unflattering portrait of my dad (in particular). This is an unfortunate necessity. I want to stress that it’s not an accurate representation of who my parents are now. Dad has mellowed a lot, we’ve talked most of this stuff out, and I’ve forgiven him for his role in it.

However, it’s the foundation of who I am now, and I want to bring these skeletons out of the closet.

I have a few friends who grew up in cults. Whenever I read their stories, I feel so much in common with them. The controlling environments. The leader who is always right. Subsuming your own thoughts and feelings, and trusting the leader blindly – even when everything in you is screaming “This is WRONG!”

But I was never part of an organised cult. This is my story.

My father did grow up in a cult. Until he was 15, my dad was raised in the “Exclusive” Brethren. Maybe you can take the boy out of the cult, that doesn’t necessarily take the cult out of the boy.

In the late 1970’s, my parents became Pentecostals, and embraced everything that entailed. As it turns out, a fundamentalist hyper-controlled upbringing in a cult combined with a conservative Pentecostal theology is a recipe for disaster. Rejected by their conservative home church, they left and commenced a nomadic journey from church to church, looking for somewhere to call home.

We never found it. Within two or three years of joining a church, we were off again, tearing out what little roots I’d managed to put down, which made life for an undiagnosed autistic kid even more difficult. On top of that, I really didn’t enjoy being in church. I sat through Sunday services just wanting them to be over. I was fascinated by theology, but didn’t enjoy the practice. Most of the time I felt utterly disconnected from what was going on around me.

But at home… oh, how I felt connected to God. See, my dad heard from God directly. Whenever a major decision needed to be made, and even lots of minor ones, we would “seek God’s counsel”. We’d pray together in tongues, and dad would receive a “word from God”. I implicitly trusted that dad was hearing from God, and I never questioned. These “words” of “prophecy” guided both our family, and my own decisions for years – up to and including several years after I’d gotten married (something my wife was none too impressed with).

Growing up, this was my normal. I couldn’t grasp that other people didn’t live this way.

It seems that many of the times we left a church, it was because “God” told us to. We even accidentally started our own church. A couple of years later we were asked to leave when dad refused to renounce a prophecy he’d given publicly and distributed in writing.

We left.

Most of the theology I encountered over those years was either fundamentalism or Pentecostalism, or a solid, often contradictory, blend of both (with a heavy diet of Chick tracts).

Let me introduce you to high-school Warwick…

This is what I knew, in my heart of hearts: Catholics worshiped Mary and were deceived by the devil. People who listened to “Secular” rock music were going to hell. I knew Satan was at work in the school system, pulling the wool over the eyes of people with the blasphemy of evolution. I prayed for the souls of my friends caught up in witchcraft through the demonic influence of Dungeons and Dragons. Atheists were the most evil of all, and deserved to burn in hell forever.

Yes, really.

While my schoolmates were reading fantasy novels and listening to AC/DC, I was reading my bible & Christian books (at least when I wasn’t reading Star Trek novels), and listening to bad Christian pop. I hoped that someone would ask me to talk to them about God.

Surprisingly, they didn’t.

Other than theology (and computers), I was obsessed with Star Trek. I borrowed every Star Trek novel the local library had, sometimes more than once. I had few real life friends, so Kirk, Spock and Bones were my constant company. One day, my parents sat me down and told me that God had given them a prophecy: if I didn’t stop reading Star Trek, God would curse me, and I would lose my eyesight.

I didn’t stop reading the Star Trek novels. I couldn’t.

In my first year of High School, I was struggling to read the blackboards, even when I sat at the front of the classroom. The optometrist diagnosed me as short-sighted, with an astigmatism.

It was then that I knew that the prophecy had indeed come to pass, and God had cursed me for my Star Trek idolatry. I was angry at God, but I knew I deserved it. I took that anger and buried it. This sealed my belief in prophecy, and that my parents were hearing from God.

I stopped reading Star Trek novels, and mainly read Christian books. My parents ran a Christian library and I consumed increasing amounts of conservative & Pentecostal theology. I was particularly affected by two books written by Salem Kirban; his paranoid end-time conspiracy novels (‘666‘ and ‘1000‘) contained (real) “news” clippings blended with hardcore fundamentalist end-time eschatology – this was a generation before “Left Behind“.

Many nights I found myself lying in bed paralysed with anxiety and fear-induced insomnia, knowing that at any moment the rapture would come and I’d be left behind to be beheaded on the guillotine for being a Christian.

Seriously, my greatest fear in my early teens was being beheaded.

I started working in the family business when I was 12 – until I got fired by Dad for being “unreliable”. An unreliable twelve year old? Who’da thunk it? When I was 13 I begged to be allowed to work for him again, promising I’d be reliable. He relented and when I wasn’t at school, I was at work. Throughout my teens, I had almost no friends, and no social life. The one close friend I had, I was rarely able to spend time with because I had “a responsibility” to be at work. When I left school at the end of Year 10, I started working for him full time, until I was 26.

It was, after all, God’s will for me.

But… for two weeks, when I was 17, I nearly broke free. Through work I’d become friends with an Anglican Church Army officer. He saw what the environment I lived & breathed was doing to me, and eventually managed to convince me to quit the family business.

One morning, I went and sat on my parents’ bed, and told them that I was quitting.

They prayed about it, and Dad told me that “the Lord” had declared that if I did leave, I’d be under a curse for the rest of my life for moving out of His (God’s) will, and nothing I ever did would prosper.

I knew what that meant, but I left anyway.

My first full-time job outside the family business was knocking down a corrugated iron shed with a pinch bar. I was an undiagnosed autistic teen who’d lived a sheltered life, hadn’t finished my senior years of high school, and had no idea how to relate to other people… or get a job.

I made it two weeks before the fear consumed me, and I begged my parents to take me back and let me work for them.

They did, and I once again acceded my emotional and intellectual decisions to them. Their beliefs were my beliefs. Their decisions were my decisions. They were the source of my spiritual judgement. When they went to a church, I went to that church. When they left a church, I left the church. If I needed to make anything more than the most minor decision, I would go to them, “seek the Lord’s counsel”, and do as I was advised by “the Lord”.

When I was 18, I moved out of home. The tension of living with my parents and working with them was too much.

In 1993, a self-appointed “prophet” told me that God had told her that I’d meet my future wife before Easter. Upon hearing this, my parents told me that they too had received a prophecy that they’d withheld from me, and that God had told them I’d be married by that Christmas.

I was an isolated, lonely, overweight 19 year old, who’d never had a relationship. The only thing I’d ever really wanted for myself was to be loved by someone else. I’d been obsessed with being married for years. I bought it – hook, line and sinker. I left the conservative Reformed church I’d been attending, and went to the Pentecostal church that the “prophet” attended.

Easter came and went, and nothing. I went to the “prophet” and pointed out that I hadn’t even met a viable candidate in those four months.

She looked me in the eye and said “You didn’t want it enough”, turned her back on me and walked off.

A few days later I had my first major depressive episode. I cried for days. I sat in my living room and wanted to die. I know now that it wasn’t just the loss of the dream that broke me, but the cognitive dissonance of the implicit trust I had that my parents were “hearing God”, against the obvious fact that they weren’t.

There were more churches, more fundamentalists, a complete nervous breakdown, but I slowly began thinking for myself. I worked in the family business with my parents full time; my cognitive dissonance kept growing, but like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe.

I started reading more widely. I attended an annual Christian creative arts conference each year for several years, connecting with people who helped to expand my thinking and my theology beyond my deeply ingrained fundamentalism (and connected with some wonderful folks who I’m still friends with!)

Of course, there was also the internet, where I found myself exposed to theology and ideas I’d never considered. I stopped going to my parents to “seek God’s counsel” and asking for “words from God” to make my decisions.

With that choice, however, I also lost the sense of “direct connection” I had with God. I still believed in God, I believed that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, but I felt completely disconnected from God. Something in me felt broken.

I still disliked being in church. Worship did nothing for me. I went to church because it was what you do, but I was just waiting for the service to end. Somewhere along the line, I’d picked up the idea that that I had to “fake it ’til I make it” so I kept going, waiting for things to “click”. It just didn’t happen. I didn’t feel connected to God, or other people.

Over the years I talked with pastors and leaders and other Christians and they all gave me advice on what I had to do. I had to get “secular” influences out of my life. I had to read my Bible and pray regularly. I had to listen to God.

I tried. I followed the advice. I followed the rules. Nothing worked.

Worse still, I was a band member and worship leader in the church. I was playing music and leading worship for songs that I believed, but felt almost no sense of connection to. I knew how to organise songs in an order that would “lead” people to a state where they connected with God, but it didn’t work for me.

Eventually, my parents had a falling out with the leadership of that church, and they left.

I refused to leave with them. I finally started to stand up for myself.

I did however, continue to work with them. The family business was “God’s will” for all of us kids. Even though I’d taken over as Operations Manager in August 1996, I was never really in charge. Dad was a very difficult person to work with. He is an incredibly strong-willed person, and in any given disagreement, he was invariably right – if I had the temerity to disagree, I was verbally beaten into submission. In 1998, after months of dealing with the consequences of financial & contractual agreements that had been signed without my input, I had my first major nervous breakdown.

After they left the church, I found myself in a position where I was working with them on a daily basis, while they were continually telling me that I was being “deceived”… that I would be out of “God’s perfect will”. I wouldn’t know who to trust (ironically, they were right on that last point).

In 2000, I quit the family business. It had become an untenable situation; Dad and I were arguing constantly, and I almost always came off second best, and regularly an emotional wreck. I had no self-confidence, no education, and debts up to my ears.

I went into a business partnership with my best friend. That (and the friendship) collapsed. I kept going, solo. A year later, I closed my shopfront, near bankruptcy. I struggled to make ends meet. I ended up often having to rely on my parents just to eat. Occasionally, I even went back to them to “seek the Lord’s counsel”.

I struggled constantly with anxiety & depression. It felt like everything I touched was… cursed.

The one person I really couldn’t trust: myself. After all, I’d trusted in myself by trusting my parents. So I replaced them with other authority figures. They too turned out to have their own agendas. More often than not, they didn’t like the questions I was asking. As long as my theology lined up with theirs, everything was cool. Start drawing outside the lines, though? I’d get my hand smacked. I’d be told that I was wrong, often with so much proof-texting it would make my head spin. I couldn’t trust that my judgment was correct, so I tried to keep my mouth shut and my head down. I kept going through the motions.

In 2003, while attending a Christian creative arts college part-time, I had another major depressive episode and attempted suicide. I was referred to a “ministry” who dealt with spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, they dealt with spiritual abuse by spiritually abusing me.

After a couple of counselling sessions, they told me that because of my grandfather’s high-level involvement with Freemasonry, I’d become possessed by a shard of his soul, and had to be exorcised. I was explicitly instructed not to tell anyone about it, because “the church wasn’t ready for the kind of ministry they were doing.”

I trusted them, even though it felt really, REALLY, wrong. I did exactly what I was told.

It didn’t help with my depression, for some strange reason.

In 2005 my wife and I made one of our first major decisions together, nine years after we married, with no input from my parents, and without “seeking the Lord’s counsel.” I took a job in Melbourne, and we moved our family 600kms from where we were living.

It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Unfortunately, I brought all my skeletons with me. I kept trying to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I continued trying to replace my parents with other authority figures, and looked to them for guidance.

I did, however, start opening up and trying to explain to people that there was something wrong with me, but I couldn’t find a way to explain what it was. I could only catch glimpses of it out of the corner of my eye. I got more advice (usually along the lines of more bible reading, more prayer times, more church, more spiritual ministry, more counselling), but it never seemed to work, and usually made me feel even worse.

Unfortunately, many of those people embraced the same theology as my parents. By this stage, I’d been manipulated and abused at the hands of so many people who genuinely believed they heard from God, I was showing symptoms of PTSD (not an exaggeration – I was eventually diagnosed).

But to many of these people, all they saw was someone “resistant to the Holy Spirit”, someone who “overthought everything”, someone who wasn’t willing to trust, and who was just looking to find error – and they happily told me so.

When I confessed to one pastor that I’d Googled the claims of a “vision” of Melbourne’s history given by a visiting “prophet” and found that they didn’t line up with the recorded facts, I was dressed down for not “trusting God”, having my own agenda, and not being interested in “what God is doing”. I still have the email.

The reality was that I’m autistic, was showing symptoms of PTSD and was hyper-vigilant for people saying and doing the kind of things that I’d been abused with in the past. When people used the phrases and methods that I’d been abused with, it was triggering me.

I did find one group where I felt safe to ask some difficult questions that would get me smacked down elsewhere; things that troubled me about the Bible and theology. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it fit together with the rest of my life, and eventually stopped going. I’m still grateful for their input into my life.

For the most part though, I still didn’t want to be in church. I’d spend most of the service with a voice in the back of my head screaming “GET OUT! THIS ISN’T SAFE” and wanting it to be over. Eventually, we left that church. It was an incredibly difficult decision, because I knew I was deeply unhappy, even though I couldn’t explain why – and I desperately didn’t want to become my parents, jumping from church to church.

It was through our current church that I’ve made the most progress. Six weeks after we started attending, I realised that for the first time in a decade, I wasn’t sitting through the service constantly defensive and hyper-vigilant. I was referred to a trained counsellor who diagnosed my PTSD symptoms, and helped me start working through my past.

Still, I’m not OK.

Some parts of my theology fit together properly now. There’s theology that I read or hear, that I’m able to tell isn’t right; it’s usually a cognitive effort to dispose of particular concepts because they’ve become a part of who I am. A particularly convincing speaker or argument that contradicts what I believe can leave me flailing, sometimes to the point of a depressive episode. A few years ago, struggling with the logical conclusions of one particular aspect of Reformed theology left me in a near-suicidal depressive state for almost two months.

I believe that being part of a local body of believers is a fundamental part of living out the Christian faith. It’s not that you can’t be a follower of Jesus on your own, but I believe the fullest expression of our faith comes through being part of the body of Christ.

Yet I find being in church a deeply frustrating and sometimes painful experience. I struggle to sit through a sermon without fidgeting. I’m constantly distracted, even when I don’t have my iPhone or iPad with me. A speaker who drifts near the kinds of theology I suffered through usually leaves me wanting to slam my hands over my ears or leave the room; worse if they hit that peculiarly “Pentecostal” preaching cadence. A speaker in a DVD series that we worked through a few months ago triggered such strong reactions it resulted in a depressive episode that lasted several weeks.

I started the process of joining the worship band in the church, but I couldn’t do it – I knew I wasn’t ready to be part of it. It doesn’t help that my mental health makes me somewhat… unreliable.

I’m struggling to stay in church. Most of the time, I don’t want to go. I love the people, but I find it so hard to be in church. My ASD makes it difficult to have conversations with people I don’t know, or to be in a large group of people. Social situations exhaust me; sometimes, I can’t remember someone’s name or face – which is particularly embarrassing when I’ve had a lengthy conversation with them in the past, and I can’t connect that with them.

Making new connections with people who’ve got long established friendships is hard enough at the best of times, but when you don’t understand how to make friends or maintain those relationships, with the added bonus of social awkwardness… sometimes it just seems like it’s all too hard.

At my core, I don’t now how to trust whether most of what I believe to be true… is true. I used to have that certainty, but it was so utterly destroyed that now I often struggle to maintain a stability of belief in anything but the most basic theology. You can convince me your theology is biblically correct, but I can invariably find someone to contradict you, and still remain completely biblical. So I don’t know how to decide who to trust.

I’d probably become an atheist, if it weren’t for my inability to stop believing in God.

I would love for this post to have a happy ending, where I tell you I’ve found the answer. But it doesn’t. It’s messy & complicated and unfinished.

I still feel disconnected, and I desperately want to feel connected… to others, to God. But I’m wondering whether I’ll ever find that. I know now that I’m autistic, which raises the question: Is my sense of disconnection a product of my upbringing, or a fundamental part of my wiring? Will I ever find a way to belong?

I honestly don’t know where to go from here.


God called to the Man: “Where are you?” He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.” – Genesis 3:9-10 (MSG)

Shame starts early. At least it did for me. This is not a post I want to write, but it’s one I’ve been fighting with for over a year.

I found myself in discussion on Twitter today with Jo White (aka @Mediamum) talking about body image.

If everything had gone to plan, the photos below would have been a “before” and “after” shot, showing my success at my “#LessWaz journey” that I started at the beginning of last year (and properly, November 2008).

Things have not gone to plan. I started 2012 at 149.8kg, and on the 7th of October, I reached an all-time adult-low of 108.4kg. Unfortunately, the week before that low, I hurt my back while moving house which led to me being banned from the gym by the physio; the legs slowly fell off my weight-loss stool.

I’d promised to write a “Part III” follow-up post to these posts, but never really got around to it (Go, go, Gadget-depression!).

As my weight started to increase, so did my sense of shame. I’d made a conscious decision to be public about my weight loss, and seek out that accountability, but I slowly stopped vlogging, then stopped Instagramming pictures of my weekly weigh-in, then eventually abandoned even trying. By the beginning of 2013, I’d put 10kgs back on, and my weight has hovered around 125kg since the end of April.

The smaller clothes that I’d been enjoying wearing had slipped, one-by-one, back on to the coat hangers, and to the back of the wardrobe. I still had a few “larger” shirts, and found myself caught between wearing shirts that were too big on me, or shirts that were a little too small; I preferred the larger shirts, because they hid my shape “better”.

Oh, the shame…

Even at my lowest weight, I still hated looking in the mirror. People would say to me “Oh, you’ve lost so much weight! How different do you feel?!?”

“I don’t feel… any different.” Even though I knew, objectively, I was wearing smaller clothes than I’d at almost any time in my adult life, I knew what my body looked like under my clothes. How it was just a smaller version of the same thing. I knew about the saddlebags on my inner thighs and under my arms. I knew the uneven texture and balance of the spare tire around my waist. And my man-boobs. Oh, how I hate them. How I hate all of it.

I wish I could speak in the past tense, but I can’t.

This body of mine has gotten me through a rollover car accident. It’s walked my beautiful bride out of the church on our wedding day. It’s made love to her, and it’s fathered five children; it’s thrown four of them in the air and caught them again, and laid one of them to rest in the ground. It carries the scars of my depression, the genetic baldness of my maternal DNA, the weak dental enamel and proclivity to ingrown big toenails of my paternal DNA. It’s walked over 500kms intentionally since the start of 2012.

I should feel proud of my body! I don’t. I’m ashamed of it.

Everywhere I look I see the same narrative, over and over. Being fat is bad. It’s unhealthy. You’re miserable being fat, so try this 12 week program to get to a better you! Buy this customised calorie controlled food system! Buy this exercise equipment. Look at how unhappy these fat people were and now we’ve humiliated & berated them on national TV for your entertainment for the last three months, look at how happy they are to be thin!

If an actor gains weight for a role, he’s hailed as a consummate method actor (Jared Leto playing Mark David Chapman, Russell Crowe for Body of Lies, Robert DeNiro for Raging Bull). But when they’re not bulking up for a role? The gossip rags in the supermarket screaming out headlines like “HUNK TO CHUNK! Look how these once-sexy movie stars have let themselves go and… GOTTEN FAT.”

That message right there. They’re not sexy or attractive any more because they got fat.

There’s a growing backlash, and rightly so, against the messages society sends to women about their weight. I was surprised to notice a female mannequin with an average shape when shopping for clothes with my wife a few days ago.

And let’s face it: as a tall, caucasian Australian male, I know I already have an undeniable level of privilege. Even in that privilege, I’ve struggled with my sense of gender. One of the unspoken, but powerful messages inherent in this culture is “this is what a REAL MAN” looks like. Rugged. Square-jawed. Inverted-triangle-broad-at-the-shoulders-and-narrow-at-the-waist.

You don’t look like this? “You. Are. NOT. A. Real. Man.” You’re not attractive. You’re undesirable. You’re not really masculine.

What to do then, when you don’t fit the gender stereotype? Unpacking that is a whole other blog post. In many cases, money, or power, or both; those can be methods to cut across or ignore the stigma of being a fat man. I lack money, and I don’t desire power.

What I desire is to not be ashamed of my body. But it’s hard to ignore thirty-plus years of being told “You’re fat, and fat is ugly, and you should be ashamed. You are not desirable. Don’t go shirtless at the beach. Don’t sit next to me on the bus. How can you let yourself get that big?”

Here’s a little thought experiment: think back to the last action movie you saw where the hero was fat. Not just pudgy, but honest-to-God fat. It’s OK, I can wait.

How about RomComs? At least I can answer this one. The only three I can think of: Seth Rogan in Knocked Up (let’s face it, he’s just a bit chubby), Marlon Brando in Don Juan DeMarco (if you can remember back that far) and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – and the last two were older guys with some serious issues. You pretty much need to get to straight comedy to find an overweight male lead. Yay for Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

When I see fat men in the media, they’re not the guys getting the girl (or the guy). They’re almost never the hero. They sure as hell aren’t doing the voiceover for a black and white ad for Chanel No. 5. More often than not, they’re dumb or a buffoon and/or the butt of the joke (Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, Daddy Pig on Peppa Pig, Pierce Hawthorne). They might be the comic relief for the hunky lead. Occasionally they’re the bad guy/anti-hero (Tony Soprano), or the bad guy’s enforcers.

That’s not to say there are no positive portrayals. John Goodman as Dan Connor in Roseanne. Robbie Coltrane in Cracker. Oliver Platt in The West Wing. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

The message I’ve received and internalised for over thirty years is “You are fat, and unattractive and you should be ashamed”.

A few years ago, a Christian friend of mine wrote an amazing play. I’ve been privileged to read and provide occasional feedback on a few of his scripts over the years, and this one blew my mind… then I got to the last scene

“Uhhh… Fraser? These stage directions indicate you’ll be… naked.”

“Well… yes. About that…”

He went on to tell me about his fear of being naked on stage, but that when he got to writing the end of the play, it was the only way the play could end. It was done very tastefully, and it’s amazing what you can do with light and shadow. It was an extremely powerful ending, and he was absolutely right. It WAS the only way the play could end.

That’s almost the only way this post can end, too (well, I’ve retained a little modesty!). Oh, I’m afraid. I’m leaving myself wide open to become a meme, to have people laugh at me, to have my friends and co-workers never be able to look at me the same again.

I’m tired of being ashamed, so this is where I make my stand. This is my body. It is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I am loved. I am beloved.

I will not be ashamed any longer.


Postscript, 18th September, 2016: Thousands of words written in journal entries later, and I’ve never managed to live up to the last couple of paragraphs.