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5 Unhelpful Things Fellow Christians Have Said About My Mental Illness (and My Responses)

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I am a Christian. I was raised in a Christian household with good parents. Nothing traumatic ever happened to me. I was protected, sheltered, and loved. I went to a Christian school. I chose a Christian college. I have depression and anxiety. I’ve also had suicidal thoughts and thoughts of serious self-harm.

I know the things I’m about to list were said to me with good intentions by Christians, but they did not help me.

Here’s a few:

1. “Your anxiety is caused by your lack of trust in God.”

2. “When I get in a funk, I just start up a new habit.”

3. “The Bible says… *proceeds to rattle off a bunch of verses about depression and anxiety and how I shouldn’t have it*”

4. “Suicide is a selfish thing to do.”

5. “I’m offended that you would even think of taking medication as a Christian. Do you not believe in God’s healing?”

As I sit here reading over what I just typed, I’m trying to keep my cool in thinking of respectable ways to answer these comments I’ve received. *Takes deep breath*

Here we go.

1. My anxiety and depression are not caused by my lack of faith in God. They do not mean I don’t trust Him. They do not mean He is punishing me for something I’ve done. My anxiety and depression are part of being human. I don’t like them. They’re just with me right now. Yes, I want them to go away. Yes, I love Jesus and talk to Him about it and pray to God and read my Bible. If you think for one second that Jesus didn’t feel any anxiety or fear when He knew he had to be nailed to a cross for the whole world to live, then explain to me why He was crying out to God asking if there was another way so that He wouldn’t have to do it (Matthew 26:37-39). Tell me why he was sweating blood as he prayed for this (Luke 22:44) knowing what He was about to
endure. I’m sorry, but Jesus did not skip happily to go be beaten, mocked, have His skin ripped off, thorns pushed into His head, nails hammered into His wrists and feet to be hanged for hours while being suffocated with every breath He tried to take. I believe Jesus felt anxiety and depression because He wanted to connect with me and how I feel. I believe He had to feel those things so I could feel His love. When people experience pain you feel closer and connected to others who understand the same pain you experience. It is not my lack of trust.

2. This is annoying. Yes, there are different activities that can be therapeutic and helpful to people with mental illness. I play sports. Some people do crafts, work more, volunteer, etc. More likely, we are already trying or have tried these things. I have made myself so busy before to try to keep my mind off anxiety and depression that I eventually broke down mentally and physically. I know you read a Yahoo article about the five best tips for being happy, but that doesn’t give you a medical degree. I wish I could snap myself out of it, really, I’ve tried.

3. I know what the Bible says about depression and anxiety. My Bible has a section in the back listing verses under different life issues, including anxiety and depression. I know you think you’re being helpful by listing off these things, but my brain feels like Sméagol and Gollum bantering all the time about how I should feel and why I shouldn’t feel one way. In the end I’m just a big mess on the ground with a bunch of information constantly running through my head.

4. Suicide. Yes, you can be a Christian and have suicidal thoughts. We all have thoughts of things we shouldn’t do or won’t do. Being who I am and believing what I do, I don’t believe anyone has the right to take a life, including their own. I’m a Christian who has had years of suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm. The
thought of going and being in heaven where I believe there is no pain, no suffering, no
tears, no shame… I’ve thought about it, but it is not the right “answer” or the “solution.” It doesn’t seem like a selfish thing when you feel like a burden to everyone. In the moment you may believe the lie that you would spare the world from your own horrible existence. Suicidal thoughts are lies we tell ourselves.

I just want to reiterate here that to the person who is reading this, life is worth living. Yes, it can be really freaking awful at times and painful but when you’re able to find the people you can trust, the day that doesn’t seem as hard, or complete relief from this baggage you’ve been carrying, it will be worth it to live.

5. I do not care if you are offended by my taking medication to get better. I tried years of not asking for help and it dug me into a deeper ditch of depression and anxiety. I’ve been doing therapy on and off for several years hoping and working to get better
without medication and I couldn’t tell what was real and what was me faking it. You can be offended all you want, but I’m going to choose to take all the healthy resources I possibly can to get better. Yes, I do believe in God’s healing, that’s why I’m taking medication… because I’m blessed with enough resources to get help to be healthy again. I understand that some people are able to do just cognitive behavioral therapy and become better or they heard a sermon and *poof* they were healed; I am not that case. Please read Mark 2. I’m not a Pharisee for taking medication as a tool to become healthy again (Mark 2:17).

Keep following the light. There is always hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Halfpoint

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What Unique Taught Me About Friendship and Mental Illness

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I had a close friend with mental illness who passed away recently. She always talked about wanting to share her story, but never really had the opportunity to do so. So I’m hoping to share at least part of her story, and in part the story of our friendship.

I met Unique when she was 15, as one of her camp counselors. Somehow a friendly e-mail after camp turned into 14 years, thousands of hours on the phone and a long-distance friendship that had more an impact on my life than anything I ever could have imagined.

When I first got to know Unique she was living at home, in a very difficult situation and dealing with depression. In the few years that followed, I watched her deal with worsening depression, her first suicide attempt, multiple psych hospitalizations, moving into foster care, then a nursing home and then eventually the first of many group home placements. For the rest of her life after that, Unique moved into a series of group home placements all over the state. Because she had a physical disability but didn’t have any cognitive disability, those placements meant that she was usually living with people who were much older than her, which brought along its own set of challenges.

For the first few years Unique was pretty stable. She had her ups and downs, but she did the best she could to make a life for herself and make the best of the situation. Eventually things started to go downhill – the suicidal feelings came back, she had her first psych hospitalization in years and that started a whole new period of her life. For the next few years it was a constant cycle of hospitalizations, dozens of them. This led to her first episode of psychosis. It lasted for a few months, and once she got through it and was more back to “herself” again, she had started to hear voices — constant, incessant voices that were shouting at her all the reasons she needed to kill herself and what a horrible person she was. She was living in a very rural area at the time, and didn’t really have access to the supports she needed — the staff had no idea how to support her, and the hospitalizations just kept continuing.

She wanted to move, but couldn’t get anybody to help her start the process. Eventually I was able to help her find an advocate, and she was able to move to an area closer to a city. Things got better for a while — she got some of her personality back, and even tried to take some college classes — but then things started to go downhill again. She ended up in the middle of a deep depression, and I was getting these constant middle-of-the-night phone calls, with her trying to deal with the suicidal thoughts, and the voices screaming at her all the reasons she needed to die. She would sob on the phone for hours, and the staff would never notice. Usually I could eventually get her to call one of the staff into her room, and then I could hear for myself the things they were saying to her in the background. “Just go to sleep, you’ll be fine in the morning”…”Don’t say things like that, you’re going to go to hell”… “You shouldn’t talk like that, you’ll scare people”…”Just read the Bible, you’ll feel better”…or my personal favorite (at 2 a.m.), “Stop calling me in here, I have ironing to do.” Somehow she kept fighting through all of that… I would always tell her things would get better, and she would say that she knew things would get better, but then they would just get worse again. She ended up being right, but she did keep fighting, which impressed me so much.

Around that time, when she was already struggling so much, Unique found out that there had been some changes in the regulations around the type of placement she was living in. The fact that she had high cognitive abilities would have disqualified her from that type of placement she was staying in, and she would have had to move to a nursing home. She had been in a nursing home for a while when she was 18, and always said after that that she would rather die than go back to a nursing home again. She had some people fighting for her, and an appeal was filed on her behalf, but it was just way more stress than she could handle at that point, and she hit a breaking point. The voices got to be really overwhelming, she was having constant, intense flashbacks to abuse that she had experienced as a child, and she was having a really hard time figuring out what was and wasn’t real. At that point I was spending up to 8 hours a day on the phone with her, because she said that it helped her to be less afraid of the voices… much of the time just listening to her cry and telling her that I loved her, because there was nothing else I could do. She knew that she was losing control, and she was terrified. She begged for help from anybody that she could think of, but people just accused her of trying to get attention. I tried to get help for her, from anyone I could think of, but everyone was just focused on the lawsuit and on her placement.

Her worst fear, of totally losing control, started to play out at that point. She didn’t know who I was, or what was happening around her. She stopped talking completely for a few months, and when she eventually did start talking again, her version of reality was very different than mine. I still called her every few days during that time – I had made the decision I was going to stick with her no matter what. At first, when she wasn’t talking, it would just be one-sided conversations to the sound of her breathing, or sometimes the sound of her crying. She could be very hurtful, and often hung up on me… trying to figure out how to respond to her was a huge learning curve. I learned to try to follow the idea that “it’s better to be kind than to be right” – to try to respond to the emotion behind what she was saying, and do whatever I could to keep the conversation going, hoping that she would feel supported and understand that she had someone who cared about her.

It took a few years for her to get back to “herself” enough that she could have a regular conversation, and even then it was never a total recovery. When she became too stressed or overwhelmed she wasn’t able to fight the voices as much, and they would start taking over again. Her quality of life wasn’t great at that point. She wasn’t going to a day program anymore, she was in constant pain from back surgery she’d had years ago and she was spending most of her time just lying in bed. She talked all the time about how she was so tired of fighting, and just couldn’t do it anymore. The last time I visited her, this past summer, she was just so obviously exhausted, both physically and emotionally. She just wanted me to sit next to her and hold her hand, so I did, for hours. She did have some health problems, but nothing that should have been life-threatening. When she passed away, there were a lot of indications that the stigma against mental illness, and people’s responses to her because of her mental illness, played a role in her not getting the care she should have received.

That’s the condensed version of the story of Unique’s life as it intersected with mine, but the other part of the story is our friendship, and the impact it had on me. It was easy for people to see how Unique benefitted from the friendship – I was a source of unconditional support for her, and for years the only person in her life who wasn’t paid to be there. People couldn’t figure out what I got out of the friendship though, and assumed I must just feel bad for her. The reality is that I learned more and grew more from my friendship with Unique than from any other experience I’ve ever had in my life.

The biggest piece of what the friendship taught me was learning to listen. I wouldn’t say that I was a great listener before I met Unique…there’s that difference in “listening to reply” vs “listening to understand,” and Unique would accuse me all the time of trying to lecture her when we first started talking. I eventually learned to sit back and take myself out of the equation, and to try to understand her experiences from her perspective – to try to put myself in her skin, and feel what it would be like to be living her life. Once I eventually got to that point, it changed how I looked at everything, and how I experienced everything and everyone in the world around me.

There are so many other things that I learned from my friendship with Unique. She helped me see the importance of emotions, and the value of sharing emotions; the importance of physical support, and physical affection and hugs! I learned to be able to trust myself and my instincts, and not have to rely on other people for validation. I also learned how to be an advocate – how to speak up, and to recognize that some things are too important to not be said.

Before I met Unique, mental illness wasn’t a part of my world. Obviously in the 14 years I’ve known her, mental illness became a huge part of my everyday life. For the past few years, with Unique’s permission, I was sharing parts of her story on Facebook and at a few different conferences. I started seeing the “no kidding, me too” phenomenon playing out – when I shared my story, other people started sharing their stories with me. Mental illness impacts all of our lives in some way, and people have things they want to say, but it can be hard to start that conversation.

I also started to see the impact that being able to put a face on mental illness could have. As I shared Unique’s story and people were able to have that personal connection, I started to see the stigma breaking down. It humanizes mental illness – instead of that scary “other,” it becomes just another human being trying to get through life, like all of us. That’s what we need to hear – not those sensationalized stories that the news shows us about mental illness, but just real everyday stories of people living their lives with mental illness. Unique always talked about how she hoped that her story could help people. I know that it has, and I hope that it will continue to help people. Her life mattered, and her story matters and the lives and stories of everybody else living with mental illness matter too. It’s only by sharing those stories that we can fight stigma and make a difference.

You can see the longer version of the story here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Image via contributor

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I Have a Mental Illness, but I Am Not a Damsel in Distress

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In my experience, people who learn a loved one has a mental illness will react one of two ways; they either refuse to acknowledge it at all, or they take responsibility for the illness. They take the burden of happiness and mental health on their shoulders.

Now, at the great risk of sounding rude and ungrateful (I mean to be neither)… Neither of those reactions is helpful.

Why, by any stretch of the imagination, should my illness be your responsibility? Why should you believe it is, and why should I let you? Because it isn’t. It can’t be. You’re not in charge of fixing me or keeping me happy, that would be completely unfair. The people who care for those of us with illnesses like this, need to hear this, for them:

You cannot fix us. It isn’t your job, please don’t think it is. You are not responsible for our happiness, you can’t be. If we fall it is not, ever, your fault, never blame yourself. You cannot, no matter how much you want to, recover for us. You cannot take the hurt away any more than you could give us back an amputated limb. Don’t take the burden of our illness, and never let us make you feel like you have to. I’ve been there, over and over, hoping that someone will do something that flips a switch and makes me “normal”… It can’t work. Don’t let us convince you otherwise. We and only we are responsible for our own minds.

Now with all illnesses, mental or physical, there are people who are legitimately dependent on others for any kind of decent quality of live. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist in mental health, it does. And that’s OK. But not everyone. We need support, don’t get me wrong, we need acknowledgement and understanding of our illness, and if we say, “I am struggling, I need you to help me” then help. Lend a hand. Not a back. You cannot hold the broken pieces of us together forever, keeping us whole. One day you will have to leave and we will fall apart again and have gained nothing. You cannot be our glue. You can be our Band-Aid.

If your friend falls you reach out a hand and help them to their feet. You don’t carry them around on your back forever so they never fall… That wouldn’t work. The muscles in their legs would atrophy and they would be reliant on you for everything, and one day if you weren’t there they would be completely helpless. Unable to even get out of bed, and that’s not fair on anyone. Not them, and certainly not you.

It’s not your job to fix me. I’m not a jigsaw puzzle you are responsible for assembling.

I will probably never be “normal.” Depression, anxiety… These are things that don’t always go away. You learn to cope, to live with it, maybe you take drugs to relieve some of the symptoms, but it’s not a cure, it’s a patch. What I need, what most of us need, is to learn how to effectively manage our illness. To learn our triggers, and to implement emergency protocols to deal with it. We have to learn to intercept what we can, stop it in its tracks if we’re able, and if not to cope with it.

No matter how much you want to, you can’t do that for us.

I can only hope that I learn how to manage this illness. That the Very Bad Days will happen less, and the Bad Days will be easier to deal with. Your only job, as my friend, is to be there. To care. To support me. To be the hand helping me up when I fall, not the back I cling to. I will never learn to cope otherwise. I need to know what makes this easier, and when I have a Bad Day I need to know I can turn to you and that you’ll be there to keep me company while I ride it out. I may never love myself, and it isn’t your responsibility to change it and fix it so I do, but under my own steam, with your support, I may learn to like myself, and that is more than some people can ever say.

I am blessed right now to be surrounded by incredibly supportive people who help me at every turn. I will love you all forever, and I owe you so much. You make me laugh and smile. You raise me up. You inspire me. But never think, please, that you are responsible for my happiness. That you are responsible for making me whole. Never feel bad if I have a Bad Day and you can’t snap me out of it. You don’t have to, it’s not your job, and it wouldn’t be fair on you if I made you responsible for my mental health.

I don’t want you to try and fix me.

You are not my savior.

You don’t have to grip me tight and raise me from Perdition.

That’s my job. That’s on me and only me.

I love you for keeping me company. For getting me out of the flat. For making me laugh. For caring. I will do anything I can for you, because words cannot explain the magnitude of what you do for me every day, and I will never be able to repay your kindness.

But please don’t try and fix me.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via ADK-photography

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Why I Decided to Change My Work Situation for My Mental Health

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Most of my life has been ruled by fear of others and what they might say about me. The more authority they have over me, the worse the fear. There have been times when this fear was so debilitating I could barely speak. At school it wasn’t so bad. Teachers were nice to me. In fact, their kind, encouraging words helped me overcome the teasing and name-calling from fellow students. The world of work, however, was very different.

It’s amazing that the words and attitudes of one or two people can have such a major impact on me. It takes so little effort to smile, yet that can make all the difference. You don’t know the difficulties someone may be going through and one smile or one put-down can have a profound impact.

Several months ago, my manager began treating me differently, as though I was not capable of doing my job, let alone train someone new. Furthermore, words were said and decisions made that severely affected my confidence. For the manager, it was about being in control of what her staff members were doing. When you struggle with mental health, these sorts of things make recovery far more difficult. I already felt inadequate and insignificant, there was no need to reinforce these views I hold of myself.

For these reasons, I think it’s so important to treat people with kindness, because words do hurt. They can break you. It certainly tore me down after a year of trying to rebuild myself. I used to use work as a distraction from the things I struggled with at home, but my manager was inadvertently reminding me of these things while at work. There was no escape and I didn’t think I could keep going for much longer.

Fortunately, I work in a large department with several different sections and was able to request a transfer in order to avoid this manager and her second in command. Some people are strong enough to deal with this and I applaud you. But the important thing for me was that I recognized my gradually deteriorating health and managed to act in time.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sergey Khakimullin.

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What People Don’t Tell You About Taking Medication for Mental Illness

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Drake Releases Diss Track About Kid Cudi's Mental Health

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