I Am a Christian, and I Have Mental Illnesses
I grew up in the church. I became a Christian at a young age and growing up, the church was were I felt accepted and wanted. In college I found peace and solace in the church during my most difficult times. I’ve met most of my closest friends through the church. I love being part of the body of believers. I have met so many Christians who have shown grace and love to me — people who are kind and forgive me when it’s difficult for me to forgive myself, pastors who are ready to listen to and mentor me.
But I have also had a lot of bad experiences in the church being attacked for having mental illnesses.
Due to my bipolar disorder, I’ve had long bouts of deep depression that lasted weeks, months or years. I was told by people in my church that I wasn’t focused enough on God’s blessings, and that if I read my Bible more and did good things then I would be happy.
Yes, reading my Bible and being involved at church is good. But it’s not going to “cure” the depression from my bipolar disorder.
Due to my bipolar disorder, I’ve had manic episodes where I am very impulsive and take risks that often end up with me getting hurt. People have told me I’m walking away from God and into sin.
I grieve that I made these choices while manic. But I had a manic episode — I didn’t walk away from God.
I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I was told by people in the church that I just needed to have more faith. I was told if I would only trust in God more, I would be free from anxiety. I was told anxiety is a sin.
Yes, it is good to work on trusting God more. I am working on living by faith. But I have a mental illness. Anxiety is part of my illness.
Due to my dissociative problems, I hear voices sometimes. Some are good and some are bad. I hear voices that taunt me and soothe me. The voices have been the hardest thing for me to understand. The good ones don’t worry me too much, but the mean ones are scary. I’ve talked to a lot of pastors and people in the church about the voices. And several people have told me I’m demon-possessed. Those are the most hurtful words I’ve ever been told.
I’m a believer. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I hear voices that I am still trying to understand. I’m not a threat to anyone; I’m a gentle but confused person. So when someone accuses me of being demon-possessed, it hurts me deeply. I can tell you firmly that is wrong.
Don’t condemn me for my depression. Don’t judge me for how I act while manic. Don’t tell me that the voices are demonic and I’m not a Christian. Don’t tell me my anxiety is sinful.
I have mental illnesses. I am coping the best I can.
Come alongside me and try to find a way to love me. We all are broken in some ways, I just wear my brokenness on the outside sometimes, due to my mental illnesses. I’ve grown up in the church and it’s still home to me.
I pray that my brothers and sisters in Christ will start to understand mental illness better, and find a way to welcome me without judgment.
I am going to a wonderful church right now, with congregation members who have been incredibly supportive of my struggle, lifting me up in prayer for my anxiety, making sure I’m OK after a panic attack and telling me I’m not alone. Many members of my church have shared with me about their mental illness, and my pastor emails me about my progress, sending me “love and blessings.” I’ve been having difficulty going to church lately due to my severe panic attacks, but I know they are still there, glad to see me whenever I am well enough to come.
So if you are a Christian with mental illness who is misunderstood by your church, like I have been many times in the past, I want to tell you that it is possible. There are churches like mine that will understand and love you.
I want to educate Christians about mental illness. Luckily many of them already know. But for those who don’t understand, we just need to keep working to raise awareness and be advocates for everyone else. I have been hurt a lot by the church. But I love the church and I believe change is possible.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Unsplash photo via Aaron Burden.