Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. –Philippians 4:6
My eyes were blurry with tears as I gazed at this verse in my Bible. I was in the chapel at my college for what felt like the hundredth time that week and yet even reading those words couldn’t relax the knots in my stomach and the obsessive fears cycling in my head. “Why are you doing this to me God? Why can’t I feel normal again?” I remember thinking as I tried to stifle my tears.
At first, I was confused. I didn’t understand why all of a sudden I couldn’t turn off my thoughts or make them stop. I didn’t understand why I had gone my whole life never having a panic attack and now a wave of them hit me every day. I didn’t understand why I had to force myself to eat and dreaded the thought of trying to sleep at night. To those who have never experienced having OCD or any type of anxiety, I describe it as the feeling you have when you know you’re in a nightmare and that it’s just a dream, but you can’t get yourself to wake up.
The first thing I felt was shame. As I talked to many of my friends who had suffered from similar problems, one thing became apparent, I would need to seek help for this. I had never felt weaker in my whole life. Why wasn’t God answering my prayers? I kept hearing the chant of “Do not worry,” in my mind like a children’s song. Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry. But why couldn’t I stop? Why did I feel so awful even though I kept trying to lean on God? Did it mean I didn’t trust God if I went to a counselor?
But I decided to give it a try. Then, the fateful moment came when I had to step into her office and actually talk about my problems. I wasn’t this person. I wasn’t the person who gets panic attacks and has trouble eating. I was the person who helped people like me. I wasn’t the person who “needed help.” But here I was. I sat on the couch fiddling with my ID as she asked the dreaded question, “So what is going on?” with a smile lighting up her face. I took one look at her kindness, and it all came out like true word vomit. She told me what I was going through was completely fine, normal, even though I felt like a mess. Here I was feeling so bad for daring to rely on someone else, sure someone would send me to an asylum if they heard the craziness of my thoughts, to get the opposite of all that, relief.
Because if we fail to rely on other people, those great Christian friends, family members, and mentors, we only are left relying on ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I am definitely not up to doing this life on my own. Sometimes God has to give us trials, so we can learn that all we can truly count on in this life is Him.
For so long I let myself believe the so-called sayings that the church tells us about mental illnesses. That if we worry that means we don’t trust God. That if we doubt God that means we don’t love Him. That it’s all in our heads and we must just not be praying hard enough.
I discussed this briefly with my counselor who made a great comparison with getting help for mental illnesses. She said that not getting the help you need, whether that be counseling or medication, is like telling a diabetic to pray away their disease. You’re just not going to get better. God is not angry with us when we can’t calm our fears. He knows the very anxiety that cripples our souls and He loves us anyways. He doesn’t want us to live in that state, that’s why He equips us with Christian counselors and even medication if we need it. Mental health illnesses are not something that you can control, and they are not something to be ashamed of. God gives us all different trials to endure during our lives and specific reasons for those.
I love the verse in 2 Corinthians 1:4, “Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
That verse truly helped me the most when I was overcoming my own battle with obsessive thoughts and anxiety. I just had to keep believing that even though this was probably the most difficult thing in my life so far, God can use anything for His glory. I had to believe as I sat there unable to understand my tears in that chapel that my suffering was going to result in a greater good. I have been able to relate to so many more of my friends and loved ones because of own mental illness battle. I have been able to pray for them and tell them what they needed to hear. I was able to meet them in that dark place they were in and help to pull them out.
You would think that all that pain would have pulled me away from God, but it was the exact opposite. I knew if there was one thing I needed and couldn’t lose during this time it was my relationship with the Father. I was able to fully understand the depth of His love, see His always perfect timing, and thank Him for the wonderful people He had surrounded me with specifically to help me during this ordeal. I learned that if you are swimming in a sea of pain, frustration, and exhaustion, God isn’t going to just try to pull you out slowly. He’s going to dive in after you.
So if you are someone who is struggling with any type of mental illness today I would encourage you to take these steps:
1. Seek counseling. There are so many wonderful Christian counselors out there who have been called to help you during your roughest time. You need to have that accountability and take that first step. Many churches can supply you with the information you need to get the best help available.
2. Realize this isn’t going to last forever. When you feel alone in that black hole of depression or anxiety, it can be hard to feel like you’ll ever be normal again. But you will be. Don’t let the enemy or yourself deceive you. You will get through this, this is the beginning of your story not the end.
3. Don’t shy away from medication if it is absolutely needed in your situation. I have been treated for my OCD by medication for six months now. Think if someone got strep throat, another disease you can’t control, would you tell them to suffer and not take medicine? Of course not! Now, medicine is not the treatment for everyone, but for some people the effects of their mental illness are related to the brain and only treated well through medication. You are not less of a Christian, less able to further His kingdom, or less of a person because you have to take a pill the size of your thumb every day so that you don’t get panic attacks. God allowed this medicine to be available. If you need it, don’t be afraid to use it. However, just make sure you first try other options like counseling and get a proper medical diagnosis and prescription. Too often, we rush too quickly to medication without first trying to resolve the issues holistically.
4. Don’t let your relationship with God stagnate. It can be easy to blame God and to be angry with Him, but now is the time you need Him more than ever. No one understands what is going on with you better than He does. He knows every thought you have ever had and every fear you couldn’t quiet. He is the answer to your problem. He is the ultimate Healer. The psalms are a great testament of David going through trials and pain, not hearing from God, and not giving up on Him. Every time David goes through a bout of sorrow, He ends the psalm glorifying God in praise. Turn to prayer and Bible study daily to write His Truth on your heart and mind. He will give you peace and joy that transcends human understanding.
Yes, I have a mental illness and some days are a little harder than others, but I realized that it only defines you if you let it. I chose to be defined everyday as the daughter and follower of Christ. What are you going to let define you today?