Anna Gazmarian’s memoir, entitled Devout: A Memoir of Doubt, is the exploration of the complex interplay between faith and science, particularly in the context of mental health. Growing up in Winston Salem, North Carolina, within an Evangelical family, she was ingrained with a religious framework that offered limited understanding and resources for dealing with mental health issues. This story is about the struggle with her mental health diagnosis and navigating the challenging waters of seeking medical treatment while feeling at-odds with the teachings of her faith.

Gazmarian delves deep into the heart of her personal conflicts, the initial resistance to seek outside help due to fear of stigmatization within her community, and the internal battle between the faith of her upbringing and the scientific approach to mental health. Her memoir is filled with moments of vulnerability, courage, and profound insights as she embarks on a path to understanding and acceptance. Her story is a powerful reminder of the importance of embracing both science and spirituality in the journey towards health and wholeness, encouraging a dialogue that respects and incorporates the benefits of both worlds in the healing process.

New York Times Review

She Trusted God and Science. They Both Failed Her
By Carlene Bauer
March 12, 2024

In “Devout,” Anna Gazmarian writes of being given a Christmas present she found impossible to keep: a pendant necklace holding a tiny seed. It was a reference to the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells his apostles that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.

Gazmarian, struggling with bipolar disorder and an accompanying affliction of doubt, threw the necklace into the trash. It didn’t matter that it had been a gift from her well-meaning mother — what it symbolized was of no use to her. “I wanted a faith as large as a deeply rooted oak tree,” she writes, “the kind where you had to lean back to see the highest branches in the sky.” 

The evangelical Christianity Gazmarian had been raised in, which had taught her to see depression as a symptom of spiritual weakness — possibly even the work of the Devil — could not help her realize this vision, and in “Devout” she tells of how she eventually found healing for both mind and soul. 

In this, her first book, she does not condemn what wounds her. “I’ve been breaking down and rebuilding my concept of faith, searching for a faith that can exist alongside doubt, a faith that is built on trust rather than fear,” she writes in the preface. “A faith with room for prayer and lament.” “Devout” is both of these, “offered in the hope of restoration.”

The memoir begins shortly after Gazmarian, having started college in her native North Carolina, receives a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. She takes this as yet another sign that her faith is at fault — despite having done all the things that millennial evangelicals were told to do. She’d worn a purity ring, listened to the sanctioned bands and stayed away from the supposedly occult- glorifying Harry Potter books. 

But obedience does not stop her mind from turning against itself. Her daily prayer journals contain lists of all the ways she hopes to die. The next years contain five different psychiatrists’ offices, eight different mood stabilizers and two kinds of A.D.H.D. medication. Throughout, she tries desperately to hang onto her faith. 

Pastors are patronizing, and her friends are no better. She’s prayed over, told to pray more herself, quoted to from Scripture and referred to a book titled “Praying for Your Future Husband: Preparing Your Heart for His.” 

That all of this does not lead to a complete renunciation of her faith might be hard to fathom — even for those who mourn the loss of their own. It’s especially hard when the author reveals that, before the diagnosis, her pastor had removed her from a leadership team because he worried she’d be a distraction to the boy appointed church intern. 

But Gazmarian isn’t failed only by a Christianity that, when it’s not teaching her that men and their sexual purity matter more than any woman ever will, teaches her to be skeptical of science. She’s also failed, again and again, by science itself. 

This is perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the story: watching a young woman desperate to be well hand over her hope to a medical-industrial complex that shows itself to be no more deserving of her credulity than the evangelicalism that broke her spirit. 

Nearly every drug she’s prescribed leaves her reeling from side effects, and nearly every psychiatrist she sees seems to be just as clueless and unsympathetic as the Christians who surround her. Until, that is, a compassionate doctor suggests she try ketamine. That, a liberating poetry class, marriage and motherhood all converge to bring her stability and even joy.

This is perhaps the real story she’s telling. It’s tempting to say that you don’t need to be religious and suffering from a mood disorder to relate to such a narrative — you just need to be American and suffering from one. 

That said, those raised in a restrictive religious tradition themselves may well relate to “Devout.” But while Gazmarian’s writing is marked by an elegant clarity that suggests a close communion with Scripture’s commanding simplicity, there’s not much insight offered into what makes faith worth holding onto — especially when it’s so often weaponized. 

Some who have read widely to heal a religiously traumatized self or an unquiet mind could wish that the author engaged with the long history of Christian thinkers who have grappled with despair. This recovering evangelical (Gen X edition) kept fervently hoping that someone was going to show up and prescribe Gazmarian some Kierkegaard. 

The most receptive readers, ultimately, might be those who believe relatability is the primary gift authors owe their audience. And if such readers feel seen by this book and thus saved from the stigma they, like Gazmarian, might have carried like a cross, that’s no small accomplishment. 

Bauer, Carlene 2024, ‘She Trusted God and Science. They Both Failed Her.’, New York Times, 12 March 2024, accessed April 2024

Additional Reviews

“Gazmarian’s dazzling debut memoir delivers a potent examination of the intersection between faith and mental health.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Gazmarian discovers that hope and lament can coexist; her perseverance
deepens her faith, and she concludes on an optimistic note with a beautiful letter to her daughter.” -Booklist

“Anna Gazmarian’s Devout is a soulful, candid, deeply curious account of doubt as an inevitable part of faith. It finds grace in the most specific and surprising places: conversations about poetry in the back of a dim donut shop; thousand-year-old olive trees; coloring beside a devoted partner in the evenings; a toddler’s tenderness. This moving memoir is always attuned to the possibilities of community and spiritual sustenance, even as it refuses to efface the struggles at its core–believing that this struggle, too, can be a thing of beauty.” -LESLIE JAMISON, author of The Recovering

“This book is a work of reclamation. With unwavering courage and honesty, Anna Gazmarian investigates the overlapping complexities of religious faith, mental illness, and the often dangerous gospels around healing in both spiritual and secular realms. More than a story of lost and found faith, Devout is a clear-eyed account of what happens when the ceiling caves in and the foundation crumbles, and we have to do the painful yet powerful work of rebuilding on new ground.” –SULEIKA JAOUAD, author of Between Two Kingdoms

“In Devout, Anna Gazmarian reexamines the Bible and her Evangelical upbringing through the lens of bipolar disease to uncover both the violations and gifts of the religious tradition from which she emerged. A smart and searching account of one woman’s journey away from inherited shame and into the light of love.” -RACHEL YODER, author of Nightbitch

“Unlike what she was offered, Anna paints a picture of a life of faith that includes the complexity of humanness. She shows us that despite what rigid, exclusionary, and inaccurate narratives of mental health we are so offered in the church, that a life of faith and communion with God happens not in spite of outside of them, but in the middle of the diagnosis, the doctors appointments, the medication, the brave conversations to ask for help, and the risk to keep trying even when we’re scared. We need more stories like Anna’s to be told.” -DR. HILLARY McBRIDE, author of The Wisdom Of Your Body

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