EG Feature: Dealing With Mental Illness As A Christian

The author chose to remain anonymous.

“If I could sum my testimony up in one sentence, it would be…scratch that, I have no idea what it would be. It’s far too complicated of a story to be summed up that simply. In fact, I don’t know if I really know how to do justice to the miracles that the Lord has performed in my life. But these miracles are not the kind of miracles that I thought they would be, and they’re definitely not the ones that I wanted. They’re not miracles of an incredible healing or of provision or protection or sustenance…at least not in the sense of how I used to define those terms. Instead, they’re miracles of perspective. They’re miracles of strength. They’re miracles of hope and love and faith during a time when those things seemed absent. I’ve had to learn, though, that they’re miracles, nonetheless. Any work of God, whether or not it’s what I wanted, is a miracle, because every work of God is an act of grace in my life.

I do not say these things flippantly.

I have a mental illness.

And can I just say? It really, really sucks.

I learned from my own experience that, until you have actually experienced the incessant torment of being plagued by a mental illness, it’s something that seems very abstract to you – it’s something that, even if you acknowledge its validity, you struggle to actually wrap your mind around. You have no idea how scary, and real, and daunting, and debilitating it can be. At least, I didn’t. I was diagnosed with my illness a little under two years ago, and prior to that time, while I had a great deal of sympathy for the struggles of other people, I just didn’t really understand.

My mental illness was the hell that I faced on earth. I don’t say this to at all belittle the far more horrendous things that other people have gone through. I just mean to communicate that, to date, my struggle with this illness has been one of the hardest things I have had to face.

I don’t know how to actually explain what it was like, nor am I going to waste time trying. Suffice it to say that it’s absolutely petrifying to feel that you are constantly being attacked, or that you might at any moment lose you ability to function. I don’t know how to tell you what it’s like to be utterly terrified by a reality that isn’t actually real, but is just something your mind created to send you into oblivion. And to realize that these “false realities” were nothing but an imbalance of neurotransmitters in your brain? It’s so stupid. But that’s what it was.

I know that what I’m about to say will seem really blasphemous. But please don’t just stop reading. Give me a chance me to explain.

“You need to pray more,” everyone would tell me. “Go talk to God about it – you’re clearly not giving your desires over to Him, or you wouldn’t be having these problems.”

“I want peace, I really just want peace,” I would tell them. “Then go to God for it. If He’s not giving it to you, there’s probably something in your life that you’re not wanting to surrender. You gotta learn how to give that up, and until you do, you’ll never find that peace.”

Ok so that wasn’t blasphemy. Here’s the blasphemy: They were wrong.

Okay so just to clarify: I do not make that statement to at all say that the underlying sentiment was wrong. In fact, there’s a whole lot of truth in those words. But hear me out.

I didn’t know what else to believe, so I believed exactly what everyone was telling me.

“Dang it, you screwed up again. Would you stop being such an idiot?”

“Oh god, self, would you just pull yourself together so that you don’t have to be afraid all the time? Would you just stop it? Seriously?? Would you knock it off?? You’ve got to quit, or God won’t give you the peace and joy and love that you so desperately yearn for.”

Legalism, much?

These were all things I said to myself on a daily basis. I tore myself down to the ground.

I tried and I tried and I tried to uncover these supposed secrets that were buried deep somewhere in my soul that were causing all my problems. I exhausted myself trying to make myself blameless, just so that I could somehow find the peace that I do desperately longed for.

But unlike everyone (including myself) believed, that’s not what I needed. Praying more wasn’t going to solve my problems. And trying to constantly “surrender” more and more things that I wasn’t even aware of just made me legalistic.

I didn’t know that these things weren’t completely true until I received my diagnosis. The racing thoughts? The terror? The lack of peace? The fact that getting out of bed every day was a struggle? The fact that I couldn’t go an hour without experiencing ANOTHER meltdown?

That wasn’t because I wasn’t praying enough. It was because of my illness.

So then I got really mad at God. Like, really mad. I begged and pleaded and screamed out to Him, asking Him to take it away. I fasted. I prayed. I obsessively read scripture. ”Maybe if I do it enough, He’ll heal me,” I thought. More than anything, I wanted healing. I wanted Him to take it away. I wanted Him to fix my brain pathways.

And guess what? He didn’t.

As I dragged my butt out of bed every day to go to class, only to spend the rest of my day in bed sobbing and sleeping, I screamed out to Him. “God, what in the world does it mean that you’re a healer?? If you’re a healer, why aren’t you taking this away?? And You call Yourself the Prince of Peace, yet You won’t heal me of the illness that’s prohibiting me from experiencing the peace that you have to offer?? That’s messed up!!” I completely lost my mind, and nearly went insane.

I was angry. I was confused. I was overwhelmed. I wanted God to do something, but He seemed silent.

I didn’t know what to think about God anymore. I almost didn’t want anything to do with Him, but at the same time, I desperately wanted everything to do with Him. Okay, correction: I really actually didn’t want anything to do with the God that I perceived everyone was trying to present to me. But more than anything, I wanted the God that I knew was there somewhere, but couldn’t manage to wrap my mind around. I wanted the God that I was reaching so far to try and touch; I wanted the God that I knew to be in the Garden – the God of safety, and security, and unashamed vulnerability that I could walk in unaltered community with. I wanted the God that was going to bring everything together in perfect unity as He ushered in the beauty  of complete healing and redemption and sanctification. I wanted the God that was fully just Him, and wasn’t tainted by imperfect perceptions of fallible people in a fallible world. But it made me so angry that none of those things seemed touchable. It made me angry that, being human, I couldn’t understand Him. It made me mad that He seemed so far away, so unreachable. I wanted Him to show up and fix everything in one fell swoop, and it made me mad that He wasn’t following my agenda. I didn’t know how to reconcile the God that He claimed to be with the God that I observed with my finite human senses.

This went on at this severity for nearly 8 months. I was in utter misery, and my illness exacerbated the entire thing, which is probably why it seemed as bad as it did. It’s actually a miracle that I even finished those semesters, much less did as well as I did.

So fast-forward to where the miracles happened – you know, those miracles of perspective and stuff that I mentioned like a million years ago. I actually don’t know how to tell you how they happened, but let me tell you what they looked like:

I learned that God is exactly who He says He is, whether it makes sense to me or not. He’s not any less of a healer just because He didn’t heal me in the way I wanted Him to. Guess what? God still hasn’t taken my illness away. I still struggle with it. It still flares up and causes problems. But you want to know something? God has given me healing. He continues to give me healing. Oh and just to clarify – YES, a large portion of that healing had to result from my growing relationship with Him (so no more blasphemy?). But another large portion of my healing had nothing to do with that. It had to do with therapy. It had to do with medication. It had to do with all these outside resources that God gave me that could aid me in my healing process. He gave me strength to actually continue with those things, because without it, I would have given up. But now, thanks to the Lord’s provision, I am confident. I am whole. I know that, with Him by my side, I can continue to fearlessly conquer.

And guess what? As He continues to heal me, I continually find more and more peace and joy in the little things in life.

I went a good six months without a severe “episode.” That was a big deal. And that brought me joy.

I was able to, after learning how, challenge the fears and false realities that rattled through my brain. And guess what? Through exercising the skills that He gave me the strength to learn, I was able to find peace in turmoil. That was a big deal, too, and was a direct result of the healing that God has given me.

I could go on and on, but I guess the bottom line of what I’m trying to communicate is this: THERE IS HOPE. There is always hope.

It’s not about the legalism. It’s not trying to “be better” and “pray more” so that you can get what you want. It’s about allowing God to give you the strength and the resources that you need to become the best for Him. And it’s about understanding that those resources are sometimes the wisdom and knowledge that God gave other people to give us. Of course, living in a way that would glorify Him is utterly important – I’m not trying to say otherwise. But to say that doing those things will make us “better” is elevating, as John Piper once said, “the gift above the giver.” It’s about making God something whose sole purpose is to give us what we want, as long as we’re “good enough.” It’s about the legalism. And that is a faulty, faulty perspective.

(Also, side note for clarification: I do know that this faulty perspective is more a result of my interpretation of people’s words than it is their intent.)

We all face trying circumstances in our lives. We all experience suffering. We all get pushed to the edge. But I want you to know that, no matter how hopeless things seem, no matter how desperate you feel, no matter how silent God seems, there is always hope.

Galations 5:1 tells us that it was “For freedom (not further slavery) that Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” And John 10:10b straight up says, “But I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus lived His life and sacrificed His life the way He did for a reason – and that reason was not only for salvation, but for freedom and abundant life, too. He didn’t do it so that we could still be afraid, but so that we could become fearless. He did it so that we could have peace and joy, in spite of our circumstances. He did it so we could have hope.

I implore you to believe in that hope, even in the middle of the most trying of circumstances. I implore you to allow His grace to cover you. I implore you to have faith in who He says He is, even when it doesn’t make sense. Then, and only then, can we truly experience the magnificence of His glory and wholeness and beauty.”

One thought on “EG Feature: Dealing With Mental Illness As A Christian

  1. I am so sorry that you had to endure “the pray more” mentality from others. And I am sorry about the illness. But, I am really glad that you got help and are making it through as you rely on the gifts of God through friends, therapy, and medication. One of my friends, writer Amy Simpson, wrote an excellent book called “Troubled Minds”. I think it is good for someone who is experiencing mental illness and for the families and friends of those who are experiencing it.

    I pray God gives you your daily bread and that others will learn how not to treat those with mental illness.

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