Where Mental Health and Jesus Meet

Where Mental Health and Jesus Meet

I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t a Christian, I’d be fully immersed in the mental health awareness movement by now.

I’d be fighting for the rights of people with depression and anxiety, focused on the benefits of medication and psychology, stamping out the stigma.

But as it is… part of me hesitates.

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– – –

On my twelfth birthday, my dad took me out to breakfast and told me that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I didn’t tell him this at the time, but I’d already guessed. I’d seen the books on the shelf: Your Anxious Child and What to Do When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’d just been too afraid to ask who they were for.

My dad told me he had the disorder, too. It felt like a big secret had been imparted on me—something I’d never known before, something he never talked about. As far as I could tell, he just went about his life as though it didn’t affect him. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that he had it. It must have been something he wanted to keep hidden—a shameful weakness.

So I did the same. I kept those three letters tucked deep inside me, my own precious, terrible secret: OCD. I am, I thought, I am OCD.

When I found friends I trusted, I shared it with them in a whisper, terrified to even speak it. They didn’t seem to think much of it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t impress on them the big deal that it was. Many of them said, “Oh, I think I might have that, too.”

No, I tried to correct them, it’s more than just needing to be neat and clean. It’s fear, I wanted to say. It’s irrational fear. It’s worries that I still can’t bring myself to speak out loud—even ten years later.

When I started blogging, I found that I often wrote about the darkness—a vague fear and pain that weighed on my life. It didn’t have a name. I hadn’t put the pieces together. But when the darkness came, the writing came—and with it came the light.

Because of the darkness, I was able to write about Jesus. It resonated with people. I was doing something beautiful—and not only was I helping others heal, but I was healing too.

In my hurt, I could help others heal. In my darkness, I could help others see. It was an incredible and inspiring purpose. It scared me, even. It scared me when I got emails from people who poured out their breaking hearts to me and thanked me for my painful honesty. I didn’t know what to do or say, only to thank them and to keep writing for people like them.

– – –

This June I went to my doctor and I told him how I felt. On the drive there, I kept telling myself that I was overthinking this, that it wasn’t really so bad. But five minutes into the appointment, I broke down in tears.

I remember that he asked me, “When was the last time you were happy?” and I asked him to define what he meant by “happy”.

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I started going to therapy. Therapy was uncomfortable. In my head, I knew that it was okay to be broken and hurting and not understand the reason why. But sitting in my therapist’s office, I couldn’t let her in. I couldn’t be broken without trying to explain it away. I had to weight out and rationalize my answers. There was this tremendous pressure to talk and I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t find the words and I couldn’t fall apart.

I tried so hard to be alright, even in my therapist’s office. And back at home or with my friends, I could hardly get the words “my therapist” off my tongue. It felt like shame. Like I was one of the weak ones. Like I was depending on some other person to tell me how to think and feel.

I felt that in the Christian mind, psychology was the enemy. It was looking at the human consciousness without God. It was wishy-washy, perhaps even Zen-like. It was all based on drugs and guesswork and, most of all, lack of faith.

I still get scared when I say the word “depression.” I feel that all heads in the room will turn and say, “You don’t believe in God enough.” I wish those people could know I’ve already told myself that a million times.

I’ve also held scissors in my hand and wondered if bleeding would make someone pay attention.

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– – –

I started the medication in January a week before my grandmother passed. (Time is before and after now; we measure the weeks in relation to her death.)

Even as I sat outside the pharmacy waiting for them to fill the prescription, I told myself I was overthinking it, that I didn’t need help. I’d been through worse episodes of depression and anxiety. Like when I was fourteen and spent all my free time crying, praying, or finding solace in music. Or when I went through a breakup and couldn’t leave the house without shaking and sweating and wanting to vomit.

It had taken me a week to go to the pharmacy. I’d been thinking and wondering and looking at that little slip of paper from the doctor’s office. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, it said. Citalopram Hydrobromide.

How could I resist? It was a ticket to freedom.

I couldn’t tell if it was working at first. But then I started waking up earlier. Spending at least half an hour on devotions before I got up. Even praying again.

I wasn’t anxious for twelve hours before I went to work. I didn’t snap at my brother as much. I gave up one of my OCD rituals, a ritual I’d followed for years, with hardly a second thought. I created a bedtime routine and stuck to it.

It sounds simple, but to a person who was trapped for so long… it’s a miracle.

Today I am so grateful. And I want to tell people, but then I remember.

I’m taking a pill. A psychological pill. A pill from a doctor that changes my chemicals and not my heart. A pill that doesn’t have Jesus’ name or fasting or prayer written on it.

And I feel the words retreating to a quiet place inside me.

– – –

I’ve often found myself wondering: where does mind end and spirit begin? Would I be a different person without my mental disorders? How much am I shaped by this mind that I have? Does my mind define me?

How I answer these questions tells me who to blame. If the problem is in my mind, and if my mind isn’t me, then those disabling disorders—depression and anxiety and OCD—they aren’t my fault. But it seems like I am both: mind and soul, soul and body. All I can define of me is what I see and experience and know in my own head.

And if it wasn’t in my mind—if all of these struggles were purely spiritual—then I should be seeking help in prayer and not in medication.

But the medication works. Sure, prayer can help, but honestly… I haven’t felt this healthy—the kind of healthy you feel on the inside—in a long time.

“You know what I think?” one of my friends says. “I think the medication silences what’s wrong in your body so that your spirit can go free.”

And it makes sense, somehow, that my spirit is hurting because it’s stifled in this body, and all of it works together, just like all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

I don’t know what causes depression or anxiety. I don’t know how much of it is flesh and blood and how much of it is in the spiritual realm. But what I do know is that this mental freedom, this diagnosis, this antidepressant pill—this is helping. Not just my mind, but my spirit.

Psychological or otherwise, these pills are helping me reclaim my life.

I thank God for the pills. I thank God that the antidepressants are working. I thank God that I am beginning to live a life I enjoy.

Jesus came to give me “life, and life abundantly,” didn’t he?

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– – –

All of these years I have felt like I am the one to blame for my own pain. The mental health awareness campaign says otherwise. It says that there is a name for the pain, and a logical, chemical reason for the pain, and a treatment for the pain.

What it doesn’t talk about is setting your spirit free.

Christians are often all about the spirit and not about the body. The effort goes into doing more righteous stuff instead of into healing. But the amazing thing is that Jesus didn’t do things in that order. He said to first love him, then obey him. He healed people, and then he told them to get up and tell others their testimony.

He loves and heals first, regardless of how we’re measuring up spiritually. He sets us free first, and then enables us to grow into his likeness.

Perhaps the psychologists focus too much on the mind and the Christians focus too much on the spirit. Perhaps we have forgotten the beautiful intersection between the two. And perhaps we, as Christians, have unintentionally kept the spirits of our friends and families trapped beneath the weight of a mental disorder they can’t control.

Getting a diagnosis and a treatment for a mental disorder is relief. It’s a clear-cut explanation of what’s gone wrong in your body. That diagnosis means that it’s not your fault—it’s just your chemicals. What a weight that lifts! It is far more comforting than “Pray harder, read your Bible more, and just have more faith.”

I used to be so angry at God. I fought so hard every day to try to “beat” my disorders. I needed to have victory. I was a person of faith, a strong woman of the Lord. I thought that someday I would finally learn some spiritual truth that would just “click” inside me and make everything that was wrong inside me right again. But no matter how much I prayed or studied, I couldn’t find it. I kept hearing God loves you, God loves you, God loves you, but it didn’t “fix” me. There had to be more. There had to be something I wasn’t getting.

So I kept begging: God, I try so hard, I always try so hard. Why am I still like this? Why haven’t you fixed me? Where are you?

And I still wasn’t healed.

Over the summer, I felt myself pulling away from God. I knew it was wrong, but I just didn’t have anything to say to him anymore. The moments when I sat down to pray felt like the loneliest moments of my life. I couldn’t think of anything to say except to keep asking and asking and asking, Where are you, God? Where are you? No response but silence, my heart hurting more than before. So I just stopped.

Eventually I couldn’t think of anything to write on the blog. I tried to write about why I wasn’t writing. I tried to write about my plans for the future. I tried to write about people Christians had rejected, while still feeling like God had rejected me.

My therapist finally told me that my depression was probably chronic—that I’d have to live with it on and off for the rest of my life. That was the first and only time I cried in her office. That was the moment when I realized that there was no point in fighting depression. I couldn’t get rid of my mental disorders.

Suddenly I was free. I didn’t need to be a “strong faith girl”. I didn’t have to find the answers. I didn’t have to fix myself. I couldn’t fix myself. There was nothing to blame God for and nothing to blame myself for.

At last it was okay to take medication. It wasn’t something I had to be ashamed of.

It’s still hard to talk about, but it’s getting easier. I want my friends to know that it’s okay to hurt. I want them to know that they shouldn’t let shame trap them. I want them to know that there is freedom when you admit what’s wrong, freedom when you accept that it’s not your fault, freedom when you work towards health—whatever that looks like.

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Because now—my body is silent and my spirit is free. I’m free to do the things I once felt I had to do. I want to know God and I want him to lead my life. I am grateful that I get to spend time with him, grateful that I’m finally able to rest in his mercy, grateful that I can love him freely.

Best of all, I’m not angry at God. I no longer feel obligated to love him. I no longer feel like I constantly need to be fixed. I feel free to love him and seek him and participate in his plan for my life. I feel free to follow him as it comes naturally. I feel free to fall down and get back up again, to experience a whole range of emotions and no longer be ashamed.

My mental pain was blinding me to the freedom I have in Christ. I am so grateful that the blindfold has been lifted.


6 thoughts on “Where Mental Health and Jesus Meet

  1. Thank you for writing this. It gives me something to identify with as I deal with a midlife acknowledgement that I came from an abusive home and am therefore under a new label, “Abuse survivor.” When you mentioned a negative perception attached to “I’m seeing a therapist” I couldn’t help laughing. I will therefore share the story in hopes it will bring you a smile, too.

    When I first referred to “my therapist,” it brought me a sense of chic, hip, and trendy. Suddenly I was standing poolside in so-Cal, wearing spotless name-brand leisure clothing and $1000-sunglasses under a cloudless midday sky in 90-degree desert air, sipping fancy drinks with one of my moderately famous Orange County friends, both of us occasionally throwing in “something my therapist said.”

    It became gossip about which of our friends is seeing which therapist and then things like, ‘Oh, isn’t that the guy Tom Cruise used to go to before he got into Scientology?” and, “Madonna used to go to her before she discovered Kabbalah…” As the spirit of “my therapist is better than your therapist” grew, I felt IQ points draining like money to a gas pump and I swiftly killed my daydream.

    I have since gone out of my way to say “counselor” instead of “therapist.”

  2. I love that you were courageous enough to post your story in relation to medication. I’ve dealt with depression all of my life, and a long list of anxiety disorders.
    It was a journey to find a medication that helped, but when I did, it made a world of difference. For me, the meds that I take lift some of the heaviness off of my shoulders in order to allow me to spend time with God, be in relationships with others, and, quite frankly, get out of bed in the morning.

    I believe it’s finding the middle grounds, and the right tools for you. For me, it’s a certain medication and seeing a counselor, but it looks different depending on who you are.

  3. Hi, I literally cannot believe how relate-able you are in your writing. As a Christian who struggles with his faith and beliefs and as someone who deals with depression, you write in a way that makes me go “Wow I can’t believe someone else knows exactly what I feel/felt in those minute details”. I think you’ve got a gift.

    Sam

    1. Hi Sam,
      Thank you for the encouragement! I hope so much that I can be a small light to anyone who is struggling, even if it is simply in the hope that they aren’t alone, and that it’s okay to be a Christian and to still struggle. So your comment means a lot to me.

  4. The way you express this concept is amazing! These are the words I have been searching for! I was recently diagnosed with social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and depression (things I’ve struggled with for my entire life but, for various reasons, I am only finally getting help for at 22) and I’ve been desperately trying to express how I feel about taking medication and the way that connects with my faith. You expressed it perfectly and I think more Christians need to read this. For years all the things that I heard growing up in the church convinced me that all my mental health struggles were the result of not trusting God enough. I felt inadequate and isolated, which only exasperated my issues. Now I’m finally feeling alive for the first time. I finally understand what “abundant life” means, but it’s difficult for me to share that with others in the Christian community because that feeling of vitality has only come after I started taking medication. I have felt like that diminishes my experience and my faith and I have struggled to reconcile medication and faith. Please keep sharing your story – others need to hear this! It’s such a shame to finally be feeling healthy and free and to feel like you can’t celebrate that with others.

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