4 Things I Learned as a Christian Battling Mental Illness
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7 he has a “thorn in his flesh.” The thorn is never identified; nonetheless, Paul looks to the Lord to give him strength and comfort in enduring and overcoming anything the thorn throws at him. Likewise, for those of us who struggle with mental illness, our emotional and mental conflicts can serve as thorns in our side. I believe in looking to Jesus Christ as a way to fight this pain and to not allow mental illness to influence our lives.
Growing up, I always felt out of place; I often felt I was on the outside looking in. I also didn’t feel the most emotionally connected to some of my family members, often making me feel unloved and unwanted. I struggled as I was bullied for most of my middle school and high school years, triggering insecurities with which I still have struggles handling to this day, as well as developing severe self-loathing and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t allowed to participate in therapy, and many of my issues were thrown under the rug when I was a teenager. I didn’t realize until I was nearly 20 years old — and four years as a Christian at that point — that I struggled with mental illness. I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). I also showed symptoms for anxiety (mainly general and social) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Having mental illness is … rough, to say the least. You often feel like you’re drowning without being submerged in water; you feel suffocated, as if the air has been sucked out of you and you feel trapped in darkness, with barely any sign of light filtering through the denseness. Mental illness can make you believe you’re alone and you’re not able to trust anyone; heck, you might not even feel you could be loved due to the “ugliness” of your mind. You can be your own best friend and worst enemy all at once. Mental illness makes you sometimes think you’re not even ill, when in fact, you are — and in dire need of help. And nearly all of the time, you crave answers to the questions behind your sickness, as well as if there’s hope to living a seemingly “normal” existence.
While I was finally given answers to why I had such negative thoughts, panic attacks, moments of severe sadness and hopelessness, I felt I received more internal questions: How was I able to get better? Would I be looked down upon by others —specifically other believers — for wanting treatment for my mental illness? Would I deal with more isolation than when I pretended to be fine? And, how does my faith fit into mental illness?
As I’ve spent the past five years receiving treatment — from therapy to medication — I’ve received the answers to my questions.
1. I was able to get better.
I cut away many negative friendships, relationships and things that contributed to the worsening of my mental disorders. Therapy has helped me to uncover my triggers and trauma to determine how my past influenced my present, and how I was able to improve my future in developing positive coping skills. I’m still a work in progress, my anxiety getting the best of me often. However, I’ve grown in more self-love and in being more able to admit my wrongs.
2. Some people are honestly ignorant and cruel.
There will always be those who will want to condemn you and to bring you down to their level of self-loathing and strife. In regards to believers who don’t believe in mental illness, I truly worry for them and for others. I worry for those who continue to worsen emotionally and mentally because their churches or congregations make them feel unvalued in their struggles, unloved by God for desiring treatment and unwanted in not having their difficulties validated. I worry for those churches and congregations who may be too scared or too naive to be educated on the subject of mental illness, because they’ll never be able to truly help their loved ones, or maybe even themselves, if they have mental illness and are in denial. The Bible does in fact encourage counseling, and has said it repeatedly in the following verses: Proverbs 13:10, Proverbs 20:5, Proverbs 11:14, Hebrews 10: 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and many more. I truly pray for all parties there will be answers, closure and healing.
3. In sharing my story, I have been able to be more of an encouragement to others who face mental health issues.
I’ve supported and validated loved ones’ feelings and decisions to receive counseling and medication. And, in being more real about my problems, I’ve actually gained more real friends and had a wonderful relationship with someone who tried to learn more about mental health and who tried to take care of me and love on me when I struggle to love or to care for myself.
4. My faith and my mental illness work together.
They’re both a part of me; and I know in the end, my faith will win out. Jesus gives us the compassion and empathy we’ll never find in another human being, let alone in ourselves. He constantly helps us to overcome our trials and to embrace our triumphs. He encourages us to be better, and to grow.
My encouragement in writing this is a few things: to become more educated on mental health needs and treatment, to acknowledge and to accept any mental illness you see within yourself and/or others, to receive help for your mental illness and to provide love, support and advocacy for your loved ones. Faith is able to be found and kept in the depths of mental illness.
Unsplash image by Joel Muniz