Mental Health challenges can feel isolating
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Mental Health – Not Okay Christians

I’m Not Okay

Long before I accepted Christ, I heard people described as “a good Christian.” The phrase caused some spiritual confusion. It wasn’t enough to just be a Christian. I needed to be a GOOD Christian and I didn’t know what that meant.

Do Good Christians read their Bible more?

Do Good Christians pray more often?

Do Good Christians ever miss church?

What do GOOD Christians do differently than I did? How GOOD did I need to be for Jesus to love me?

Want to know a secret?

Jesus loves all of us the same (regardless of how many times we grace the doors of a church).

There isn’t an imaginary sanctity scale to measure us. A Christian is a Christian. Period. To be a Christian, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior. That’s it. There’s not an attached list of ritualistic demands to follow.

Of course, that doesn’t negate some Christians have more discipline than others (or a more developed relationship with Christ). Let’s be honest, we can’t exactly have a relationship with someone if we never listen to what they say. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, worship…are all ways to know Christ more.

I did those things some.

Still, I knew something was different about me.

I was still sad…a lot.

I had battles with rage.

I was angry.

I couldn’t concentrate.

I had no focus.

I couldn’t keep a job for more than a few months at a time. I would get tired of it and quit.

I couldn’t sleep.

I had nightmares.

I couldn’t stop certain thoughts from entering my head.

I relived horrible moments over and over and over again.

I felt things I couldn’t explain when I heard certain words or saw certain people.

I couldn’t keep a routine.

I avoided people I loved.

I avoided people period.

I felt like no one really wanted me around.

I avoided certain places and would literally cross the street when people with certain physical features approached me.

I struggled to fit events and timelines together, especially around certain events that had happened.

I couldn’t remember crap and couldn’t concentrate.

I felt hopeless.

I would jump at loud sounds, felt anxious in crowds, and scared.

All. The. Time

Then came the guilt.

I was SUPPOSED to be a Christian. I was supposed to have peace. I was supposed to produce fruits of the spirit as a testament of being a child of God. Clearly, I was NOT a good Christian because I didn’t experience any of that.

Instead, I thought about ending it all.

I didn’t meet the criteria that normally describes a Christian. I wasn’t outgoing and kindhearted. I wasn’t graceful or full of humility. I didn’t have the Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self Control referenced in Galatians.

Something was wrong with me. God didn’t love me enough to allow me the experience of those characteristics and I wanted to know why. At 33, I sat in a therapist’s office sharing with her information only two other people on the planet knew at the time. She gave me something I had spent the previous two decades searching for: an answer.

Diagnosis

She gently explained PTSD.

A four-month period of my life, twenty years before, manifested as my laundry list of problems. It’s something I reference in my TEDx. Abuse, death of loved ones and rape led to my having PTSD.

Any one event could have been enough but combine, I was…AM…a mess.

But mental health is not something Christians talk about a lot. Feeling down? Read your Bible. Got the blues? Spend time in prayer. Hurting? Go to church. I was embarrassed of the diagnosis, embarrassed that I needed help and ashamed because Jesus wasn’t enough in my life for me to be a “good” Christian.

I spent years avoiding the help I desperately needed. Then, I just got mad. I got mad about time spent not being mentally healthy because I was too worried about what others would think.

Getting Real


Feeling down…the blues…hurting…let’s call it what it is: DEPRESSION.

Having memories of being raped by someone close to me, then raped again less than two months later by two complete strangers is not “spiritual warfare.” It’s called FLASHBACKS. Being abused and taken advantage of, being suicidal, panic attacks and avoiding people because I didn’t feel worthy isn’t solved by reading my Bible. It’s called POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER and is treated with medication, intense therapy, and time.

We tell people who are considering ending their lives they need to go to church, instead of encouraging them to get help.

We treat the words “psychiatric treatment” like they’re offensive vocabulary and, as a result, perpetuate the stigmas that surround them. We inadvertently belittle people who seek help and hide those who need it; Dismissing their mental health issues as “backsliding Christians.”

Expectations

Christians are expected to be “okay.” We should have it together, to be examples of Jesus. Admitting a Christian has mental health issues might taint the view of who Jesus is.

It also might make people question the healing abilities of Christ. To the contrary, I believe, mental health issues expand Christ’s abilities.

For those of us who struggle with any form of mental illness, our loved ones may not understand but Jesus does. Our loved ones may be embarrassed by us, but Jesus isn’t. Those closest people to us make excuses, hide us away and ignore our symptoms. God’s word, instead, tells us to seek counsel and a lot of it.

The Bible doesn’t directly talk about therapy, but it does directly talk about getting an objective opinion to our situation. If someone is telling me to treat my mental health issue by isolating myself and studying, it’s okay for me to get a second opinion on that instruction. If a person is prone to hearing voices or seeing hallucinations, that kind of advice could be detrimental.

A psychiatrist shouldn’t give spiritual guidance and a pastor shouldn’t treat your mental illness.

Getting Treatment


For me, therapy did more than get my thoughts on track. It enhanced my relationship with Christ. Recognizing why my brain (more specifically my thought pattern) processes the way it does, revolutionized how I understood Christ. It redirected how I see Him entirely.

Jesus does love me.

Jesus can use me.

Jesus knows I’m broken but never turns his back on me.

Jesus doesn’t expect me to be like any other person.

Jesus understands how my mind works and is forgiving of it.

Whereas before, I couldn’t imagine having purpose in Christ.

Change

The stigmas surrounding mental health need to change. They need to change for Christians and non-Christians alike. When our brains are broken, we need to have the same attitude towards treatment as we would have with any other disease. Healing won’t begin until we have recognition of the problem.

Until then, Christians, it’s okay if we’re not okay. It’s okay if we’re struggling today. It’s okay if we aren’t understanding why we’re feeling a certain way or if we need to get help understanding what’s going on in our mind.

What’s not okay is suffering in silence with a mental illness. I can assure you, there are millions of other Christians feeling the same way. Too many feel forced to pretend otherwise. There’s no support. They aren’t encouraged to share the struggles and, are embarrassed to admit what’s going on in their head.

If this is you and if no one else is willing to admit it to you, you are not alone.

I’m a Christian and I am NOT okay, but thankfully, Jesus loves messed up Christians too.

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