“For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds.” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6
This one is a hard one to write, but I think it’s important and relevant. When I wrote about my anxiety in Steps Ordered By The Lord, I mentioned my hesitation in discussing it and reasons why. I don’t think that mental illness is given adequate attention and seriousness in our society. Yet, many Americans face mental illness and its effects on a daily basis.
According to cdc.gov, “In 2015, there were an estimated 43.4 million adults –about 1 in 5 Americans aged 18 or older – with a mental illness within the previous year.” It goes on to state that in that same year, about 9.8 million adults had a serious mental illness. The site defines serious mental illness as “a mental illness or disorder […that causes] serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”
Well, along with my anxiety, I also deal with serious mental illness – that includes major depression and a list of others. However, with the help of the Lord, care, and medication, I am able to function, work a job, and manage my conditions. There are many other people like that as well. You can’t look at most people and tell if they are mentally ill – especially those people who are stable and manage their illness well.
The face of serious mental illness is not the deranged patient sitting in a chair in a psych ward rocking himself back and forth. No, I’m not talking about him. Everyone can associate someone in a psychiatric hospital with mental illness. But what I’m talking about is the people you would never think are mentally ill. It’s your coworker, your fellow church member, your soccer teammate, your banker, and your mail carrier. It could be anybody else.
Christians deal with mental illness just like unbelievers; it has nothing to do with your faith in God. Some congregations of the church have recognized the problem and have brought on full-time mental health professionals to help members to cope with their conditions. I think it’s a great idea. I would much rather see a Christian therapist or psychiatrist than a non-Christian. Part of that is because of my condition; I don’t trust anybody – including mental health professionals. I’ve gone to see so many different counselors and psychiatrists over the years, and I almost always end up severing the relationship because for some reason or another I begin to think that I can’t trust them with my care. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Looking at me, you would probably never think that I sometimes confuse people, places, thoughts, and ideas, or that I sometimes have hallucinations (I don’t believe that it happens to me but it does to other people) or that I, at times, have covered doors to the outside of my home by nailing several pieces of wood up to them (that’s really happened), or that I have often slept in my closet behind three barricaded doors (a few times, yes), or that I’ve been hospitalized in a psychiatric facility. Someone joked with me that I will end up being like the character from Better Call Saul who covers everything in his home with aluminum and avoids technology and people. Like I said, you can’t necessarily tell by looking at someone – or even by being around them, if you are not trained in observing certain behaviors.
I am a smart woman who is rational, logical, and reflective in my thinking. Just because I have a mental health condition does not mean that I cannot function, carry out a job, or be a productive member of the community. It also does not mean that I cannot formulate logical thoughts. The movie A Beautiful Mind is a prime example of what I am talking about as it relates to intellect, reasoning, and mental illness.
Now, when I’m not regulated on my medication, it’s a different story. Just this past week when my job was closed for about a week in preparation for the hurricane, I left the state without my medication refills, not knowing that I would be gone for so many days. So I went without them, and it had a significant impact. I almost had a major episode of decompensation and I was seeing and hearing things and hallucinating in my sleep, even up to this week. Yes, that’s possible; my mental health providers have stated that that is when most hallucinations occur – during sleep. Since I’ve gotten my medications now, my mood and thought processes have yet to stabilize. It normally takes a while when I get off track for some reason. I see the importance of medication in managing mental illness, though I did not at first.
I’ve always been opposed to taking medication, unless absolutely necessary. I am a problem solver, and I am independent. I like to try to handle problems on my own, without involving additional resources or people. When too many hands are in the pot, the recipe becomes a disaster. I have always firmly believed that with hard work, a person can accomplish any goal and solve any challenges before them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I had the idea that with effort and changing my thinking that I would be able to overcome my mental health issues. So, it took some time for me to see that mental illnesses, in many cases, are a result of a chemical imbalance. Medication only serves to normalize the body’s functioning and bring back balance.
Sometimes people make statements that are insensitive and incongruent with what people actually experience with mental illness. Some people may say things like, “I love myself,” comparing themselves with someone who commits suicide, as if to say that that person didn’t. The family who lost a loved one to suicide after a long bought of depression, trying several different medications, and actively seeking help from mental health professionals will readily disagree with those people’s line of thinking. In all their efforts to try and help their loved one, they did what was the right and loving thing to do. How could that or that person be considered evil or unloving. It isn’t and he or she isn’t. Sometimes people are just really sick and their illness causes them to behave in a certain way or say things that are not true or don’t make sense.
Because we never know who is dealing with what, we need to be careful in how we treat people and what we say to them. A lot of times an individual’s symptoms are exacerbated by some mistreatment or abuse by other people. One mental health professional told me that it’s normal for people who have experienced some sort of trauma or abuse in their childhood to sleep in their closets. I never connected the events, but when I was a child, someone burglarized my family’s home. The burglar came in through the bathroom window.
For a long time, I had trouble sleeping, and I was afraid to go into the bathroom. That was difficult because there was only that one. Someone would stand by the door or help reassure me before I could go into that room. Years later, becoming more pronounced when I lived in Missouri and in New Jersey, I often would awake from my sleep throughout the night and rush to the window to look outside, walk around the house, and check all the doors and windows several times throughout the night. That abuse that happened in childhood definitely had something to do with my adulthood conditions – either causing them or worsening something that may have already been there.
We must treat everyone with respect. Someone may be in a volatile and vulnerable state, and we can’t even tell. And all it’ll take is one disrespectful tone, one harsh word spoken, or one misplaced and inappropriate joke. And that could be the one thing to make that person snap or send them into a deeper depression or worsen their condition, whatever it may be.
I hope that we can all be more mindful of the way we treat one another. Its effects can be lasting. I only write about these things to bring awareness, to promote respect of and among all people, and to help in my journey of coping and healing – and possibly someone else’s.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23