An Atheist in Recovery: What Matters and What Doesn’t

Living with a mental illness can be an absolute shit show. I’ve had some serious ups and downs over the years, but I’m going to tell you a few things I’ve learned. Cherish what matters and forget everything else.

What Matters: Having a Voice

From speaking up at appointments to sharing your story with the world, it’s important to make your voice heard.

When it comes to dealing with my treatment team, there have been so many times I wished I would have asked for help sooner. I’d put it off. I’d think maybe it’s not that bad yet. I wouldn’t reach out until it was absolutely unbearable. Once I finally asked for help and started feeling better (such as a med adjustment), I’d kick myself for suffering longer than I needed to. That’s happened more times than I care to admit.

Also, sharing my story is therapeutic. It keeps me grounded, validates my experiences, and sometimes I even have the chance to help someone else. My story and mental health journey are important parts of me. My illness doesn’t define me but it often explains the challenges – and sometimes triumphs – in my life.

What Doesn’t: Other’s Expectations

Trying to live up to others’ expectations has given me a lot of heartache. My mental illness started early in childhood and I always felt misunderstood. My life swings pretty wildly between painfully normal and completely unique. Despite the doubts and anxiety, I have learned to follow my own path. Maybe people think I’m weird but I’ve learned that when you find someone who gets it you hang on to them. If only I could have told myself all this when I was younger…

What Matters: Purpose

Purpose is not just having a reason to get up in the morning but also having something to look forward to.

I look forward to writing. Even when I’m not well – sometimes especially when I’m not well – I always have something to write about. Sometimes it’s healing and other times it stirs the pot. Either way, I have something to say and look forward to putting it down on paper.

What Doesn’t: God

Maybe some people find peace in a little faith in recovery but having worked in mental health for the past fifteen years I’ve seen firsthand the damage religion can do to someone with a mental illness. It’s pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.


That’s my list. Now it’s your turn! Let me know what matters and what doesn’t.


  1. Katydid says

    This is a nice follow-on to your last post. It sounds like you recognize what you need to do, you just need some support in actually doing it. Which sounds…perfectly human. How does that trite saying go? “The first step is realizing there’s a problem.” You’ve done that, and followed with the second step–reaching out for help. And the third step–gathering your resources and making a plan to go forward with.

    See how far you’ve come?

  2. sonofrojblake says

    I’m going to say something that makes even my own head hurt: religion could be helpful. Faith in a non-existent entity could help. Even I can see that, and my best friend, the best man at my wedding, told me to my face that one of the reasons (there were two) why I’m not godfather to any of my friends’ children is that I am, quote, “the most godless person I know”. (He’s godfather to my second son. His first son is godfather to my first son. Yes, my kids have godfathers. I’m godless, but it’s kind of a tradition with which I have no problem, and since I’m in England and the church is CofE, it’s basically harmless.)

    What makes it toxic is other people, or rather more specifically, other religious people. My grandmother took comfort from the love of God, but was largely able to do so effectively because she never bothered talking to anyone else about it, and certainly not anyone at a church.

    I’m anti-religion, but if it’s helping someone who needs it, my attitude is “you do you”. Naive? Maybe.

  3. Katydid says

    This week is New Season for American television, so I spent a couple hours on the couch last night, vegging out in front of the tv. In Young Sheldon (the hyper-bright, probably on-the-spectrum child growing up in an East Texas family), they’re doing a great job of showing Christian hypocrisy.

    The mother has consistently poured her heart and soul into the Southern Baptist church she makes the whole family attend. She even works there as the right hand of the pastor. Her whole life is about her faith. The oldest son, who is 17, got his girlfriend pregnant and the girl does not want to marry him. After all the years and all the work and all the piousness, the mother is fired from her job and the entire church shuns them. In last night’s episode, the pastor who fired her comes to her house to check on her, expecting to be welcomed in and (probably) forgiven. He tells her God has not turned his back on her and she replies that maybe she’s turning her back on him and shuts the door in his face.

    This is a long way of agreeing with @2: religious faith is sorely tested if it comes in contact with Christians.

  4. StevoR says

    From my painful experienece for whatever little it is worth – pet therapy and nature therapy ie. spending time in nature and with pets helps. If you can. For me anyhow.

    Nothing soothes me qpersonally quite as much as a purring cat and snoozing happy dog on my lap or seeing my dog racing around exuding sheer joy in an area where I can safely let her off-lead.

    But horses for courses ans the old saying goes and dunno if that helps just hope it does.

    Respect. Brains suck. Mine does anyhow. Still not giving it up to a zombie tho..

  5. Callinectes says

    I always shake my head with astonishment whenever someone says that they spoke up, got help, and actually experienced benefit from it. My repeated and consistent experience is that mental healthcare makes everyone involved feel better about doing something about it except me, the recipient.

    • ashes says

      It has taken a LOT of persistence to get what I need but I still struggle a lot. I have accepted that I will never be “normal” but I do have hope things will get better and my treatment team is a huge part of that.

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