Baby Blues: I’m Atheist, But I Might Start Believing To Get Through PPD
I may be an atheist, but I’m well aware how believing in a higher power can positively impact one’s life. When I was very little and had my first existential crisis, I was flying a kite with my family and it suddenly hit me—what the hell am I doing here? Why is anything here at all? Being young, I didn’t know how to put my concern into words. The largeness of that feeling was beyond my maturity. So my only comfort was that I believed in God, a God who had all the answers and would one day reveal them to me. I could put those feelings of panic to rest on faith alone.
But then I got older and after a lot of serious speculation, I decided I didn’t believe in God. The reasoning and effects of this decision are far too many to discuss here, but I have been very emphatic when I explain to others how this doesn’t mean I have a bleak outlook on life.
Of course, the bleakness of PPD overrides this from time to time. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be able to cope with depression better if I still believed in God. I’ve even thought about just hanging up this exhausting atheist thing in favor of doing the “easy” thing. I live in the Bible Belt. It’s really hard not to be on the defensive when most people around you can’t imagine an alternative to Jesus.
There are other reasons I think I may need God back in my life, though, and they’re all to do with parenting. It was much easier to think of myself as dust in the wind or a piece in the puzzle of nature when my world was centered on me. Pre-motherhood, everyone I loved and cared about was an adult, a rational adult who I knew could carry on without me if I were to die. It goes the other way, too. I knew I would be heartbroken if my sister, husband, parents or a close friend were to die. But I also knew eventually I’d be able to get on with life. God or no God, I viewed death as a part of life. Sorrow was necessary in order to really appreciate happiness. And here’s somewhat of a dark confession: I had always had the notion that negative experiences are things to grow from, things to be transformed into art or writing.
When my first pet hamster died I was miserable, but a tiny little piece of me felt proud that I was really getting to live, getting to the gritty stuff.
But a daughter is nothing like a hamster. Or a sister or a husband. Now, I have this insane, complex relationship with this little person who grew in my body. My daughter wholly depends on me, and I feel the deepest sense of panic when I’m away from her or when she’s hurt. If I were to lose her, I would panic the rest of my life. And I have no curiosity to feel how this kind of suffering would feel. I have no desire to turn this emotion into a novel or art. This panic is private, truly deep, and it scares me. So much that I feel like there has to be a God, and if there isn’t, I have to live as if he did exist—otherwise when one of us dies, we’re essentially separated forever.
A few months ago, I helped a woman edit a book she’d written as a tribute to her teenage son who died of cancer. Though I kept things objective during our meetings, I cried at home while reading her heart-wrenching, fragmented work. I had nightmares. Though I know I can’t feel the intensity of losing a child while mine is happy and well, reading her story made me feel vulnerable to the throes of the universe. She believes in heaven. She has no choice. Not believing in heaven would just be too fucking hard.
What do I do with all of this? Choosing to believe in God isn’t a decision to make overnight, or even over the course of a few weeks. It would be wrong to convince myself of something I’m pretty sure is untrue, but if it means it would be easier to cope when I’m having a depressive episode or having one of my epic worry sessions about my loved ones, that lie might be worth it.