My daughter and I were watching TV yesterday and a commercial for a movie trailer popped up. It was a dark thriller about somebody with severe mental health issues. My daughter being only a few weeks away from 18 was intrigued. Her dream is to one day become a psychologist. I remember finding mental illness stories fascinating as a teen too. Stories of people with split personalities or poems about depression. Mental illness seemed so far away and surreal when I was a teen. As much as these stories caught my attention as a teenager, nobody ever told me that this world actually existed. I had never heard of intrusive thoughts, harm OCD, religious OCD, suicidal despair, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, disassociation disorders and so on. When I was a teen looking into the realm of mental illness, you were either crazy or you weren’t -and I loved learning about ‘crazy’ from behind the glass.
What nobody ever told me was that this glass was not a glass at all and there was no black or white about who suffered and who didn’t. Nobody told me that one day, I would be on the other side looking out, wondering if I would ever be ‘normal’ again.
When I found myself on the other side of this glass several years ago, I felt so alone, isolated and lost. As I began to navigate this realm I discovered that this new world of mental illness was made up of people just like you – moms, dads, pastors, teens, kids, teachers, and so on. This was where people lived hidden, going about their day, acting like nothing was wrong trying to hold it all together. They pretend they belong on the other side of the glass but inside their mind is tormenting them reminding them they are prisoners.
Many of you know my story, so I won’t go into it again in this post ( I will lead you here if you haven’t heard my story.)
Today I want to share with you, my heart…
I recently conducted a survey asking Christians to share their experiences… here are just a few of the 95 responses I gathered in just under a week.
When I asked If you could change one thing about your mental health what would it be…
- I would love to go back to my old self where I was not so self-aware of everything and worried about every tiny detail that it might turn into anxiety, I wish I was able to let go and be carefree mentally
- The stigma attached to it. The way it’s not socially acceptable for me to be mentally ill. The looks, the eye rolls, the “oh just calm downs” or “at least it’s not cancer.”
- Ocd, Irrational fear, themes
- to be able to trust God’s Word and Sovereignty in my life and step out in obedience IN SPITE of the fear and anxiety
- That I wouldn’t be so fearful.
- Not being depressed
- Not have to work so hard to be calm
- to get rid of religious OCD
- get rid of my chronic depression completely
- Learning more of how to heal from PTSD
- no depression or fear
- Be comfortable in the large social setting of group interactions with a lot of mingling.
- The negative thoughts associated with physical sensations
- to never have to count the minutes until all my children are in bed, safe and asleep because I can barely hold it together and I know I am about to fall apart. To be as strong as the world thinks I am on the outside even though they can’t see how much glue it takes to hold that facade together even for an hour, sometimes five minutes.
- Stability, a sense of assurance. I wish I didn’t always have to second guess everything I do.
- Self-condemnation for being the way I am and the effect it has on my loved ones. It self-perpetuates because I feel anxious about not being able to get my anxiety under control.
… and 75 other comments just like this… all believers
In this world there wasn’t a lot of solutions for me as a Christian, like many of my survey respondents finding support in the faith community, finding resources that balanced my beliefs with tools that ACTUALLY helped was really hard.
Spirit Wars: Winning the Invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy, was one of the few books of Christians who even mentioned an anxiety disorder but it was just to make points in the book and didn’t tell me HOW TO HEAL!
I then asked in the survey What are some of the well-intentioned advice from Christians that have hurt more than helped…
- That I am made to feel guilty (lacking faith) when I feel anxious. That there’s no acknowledgment that our intrinsic weaknesses are directly tied into our holistic person and who we are including our intrinsic strengths, like a double-edged sword
- One thing that frustrates me lately is feeling like I can’t talk to my church only because they don’t understand or know how to help me.
- People who assume you can just “get over it” or that I can just stop myself from thinking like that if I try harder.
- I have really only received encouragement thankfully, I don’t have many narrow-minded Christian friends so I haven’t received any unwarranted advice. I would say though that the only frustrating thing is there is not much Christian advice out there except pray and take your thoughts captive which is super great unless you are struggling with physical problems as well that don’t feel like they are being touched by prayer, not that they can’t be but I have often felt like I can’t just “pray myself out of a situation” that I’ve been feeling intense anxiety during.
- Usually, I am told that medication is unnecessary and that it can be prayed away. If I could pray it away I would have.
- personally, that anxiety has nothing to do with religion
- Comments like “It’ll get better”, “you have so much to grateful for”, “quit living in the past”, “get over it”. I am a poor practicing Christian, I do not attend church & hardly know much about God. I do identify this way though and would love a stronger faith-based support circle.
- People think is Demons or they thinks is so easy to have positive thoughts and feel relax. Not everything is spiritual, some people may have a vitamin deficiency that is causing their anxiety.
- The approach that only Scripture will help. Not giving any thought that there could be a physical factor that contributes to the mental state. Or that there could be an emotional issue from formative years that shaped emotions and thoughts. (Anatomy of a Soul and The Relational Soul) What attachments were formed early on? How do they affect coping, thinking, etc?
- Accusations of having the lack of faith. Not praying enough. Not saying the right verses and prayers that are for deliverance. Being under demonic possession and not attending church enough. Apparently, it’s my fault because I’m not a strong enough Christian.
- I’ve been told to “just stop”, that I’m sinning, that I need to pray/read the Bible more, that I’m selfish, that Christians with anxiety shouldn’t see a therapist, and that taking meds isn’t “relying on God”. All ridiculous; it makes me mad just thinking about it haha.
- When insensitive people say, “The bible says to be anxious for nothing…” as if that will make the anxiety instantly stop. They make you feel like they are crucifying you.
- the lack of assistance in the community for those suffering from PTSD that is not related to serving in the Armed Forces or as a First Responder.
- Few people really understand
and there are 75 more responses just like this…
I don’t share those responses to accuse the church of being cruel towards those with mental illness but like the last point said “few people really understand” and that naivety leads to insensitive advice that doesn’t help. It’s not intentional there are just so few resources available to Christians who are struggling with mental illness, anxiety disorders to be specific.
I can help
Few years prior to my breakdown someone had prayed for me and told me that they felt that I would have a deliverance ministry in the area of anxiety, depression, and OCD. I never once imagined that a prayer like that would lead me right to the other side of the glass and that I would have to experience the suffering of so many others.
That’s often how purposes first show up, first in the confusion, first laying in the pit, then in the prison, then lifted out.
One of my ‘readers who recently took my Fearless Travelers course wrote …
“In this course, you can taste the rawness of Sarah’s story and the certainty of her Hope. It’s not just textbook answers or well-intentioned comments from people who have never been there before. I appreciated that so much. This course is so well thought out. Tackling every area and not shying away from anything. …This course gave me such hope and even taught me how to see the beauty in this mess.
I don’t think you could put a price tag on a course like this. This is life changing, life giving and I will never forget how much this has impacted me. Because of this course, my family will get their wife, mom, daughter, sister back. – LOLA
Jesus came to set us free. I believe with all my heart that if you or a loved one are battling anxiety and you are reading this post it’s not by chance. I believe that Jesus has his arm around you right now saying “it’s time to break free.”
You’re not alone anymore.
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