What Changed My Mind About Mental Illness

What Changed My Mind About Mental Illness

Padded rooms. Drooling mouths. Heads banging on walls. These are the images that come to mind when someone mentions mental disorders. We can’t help replaying Ken Kesey’s portrayal of life in a mental asylum in our heads. And who can blame us? Mental disorders are greatly misunderstood by our society. I’d like to shed some like on mental disorders by telling my story. 

Throughout my short life, I have had two different mental illnesses both of which happen to fall into the emotional disorder category. My struggles with these disorders really opened my eyes to the world of mental health. It helped me look past the name of the disorder and look at the person suffering from it. Just like every person is different, every person’s disorder is different, which helps perpetuate the struggle to understand mental disorders and mental health.

Anorexia Nervosa

In college, I developed anorexia nervosa. A quite common problem among women, this disorder is often downplayed and blamed on low self-esteem and the media’s portrayal of women. Though these things can definitely play a factor. You are oversimplifying it by claiming that’s the only thing to it. Growing up, I always scoffed at girls who struggled with their body image. I thought they could just turn it off if they put their mind to it. “If they really wanted to stop, they could”, I thought. Looking back, I now see how insensitive and ignorant I was. Every eating disorder is different but anorexia nervosa symptoms include the following

  • Inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low.
  • Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.
  • Inability to appreciate the severity of the situation.
  • Binge-Eating/Purging Type involves binge eating and/or purging behaviors during the last three months.
  • Restricting Type does not involve binge eating or purging.

While in the midst of this disorder, I was obsessed and terrified. I was distrustful of my own body and my own stomach. I ultimately lived in a fantasy world where my body was out to get me unless I took matters into my own hands. It was an extremely draining time for me. Every waking second, I was thinking about my weight, my body, and what I would eat at my next meal. I was a slave to the scale and with every pound I dropped, my obsession increased. 

By the grace of God, I had friends lovingly point me to Truth and lead me out of the darkness I had gotten myself into. This was the first time I was able to put a human face on eating disorders. I was able to understand the pain, the struggle, and the recovery someone with an eating disorder has to go through. It was life changing. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

For the last year and a half I have struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and for the last year I have been on daily medication for it. I never thought in a million years I would say that. But the chemicals in my brain are not cooperating with me in this season of my life. This is another disorder I was ignorant about. “Just stop worrying”, I would say. Easy enough, right? Oh man was I wrong. 

GAD

As a Christian, I know that disorders like anxiety and depression (which are closely related to each other) are very misunderstood by the church. We often look to Bible verses about prayer and anxiety as an easy fix. Just read this verse every day and your anxiety/depression will go away. Sadly, God did not create our minds to be that simple. Instead, He made us so complex that psychologists don’t understand everything that goes on in the human brain. Another ‘quick fix’ thrown into the ring is the fact that the person struggling with anxiety/depression has brought it upon themselves. Though this is sometimes the case (because sin sucks), a quick flip through the book of Job will prove this theory wrong. In the beginning of my battle with GAD, I would beat myself up thinking I was doing something wrong. I tried to white-knuckle it. But loving Christian friends of mine encouraged me to see a doctor. They explained that medication is not distrusting God and so I got put on meds. I thank God continuously for those tiny pills. 

Before medication, I couldn’t even pray because my mind would not slow down enough for me to focus. My thoughts would dart around like ping pong balls escalating to doomsday scenarios. Constant pounding heart. Constant shortness of breath. I was jumpy, I was sad. I was terrified, hopeless. It was a regular occurrence for me to be on my knees or in the fetal position crying out to God to make the thoughts stop. It was torture. I couldn’t control my own mind. It had betrayed me. I knew the truth: God loves me and has a plan for me. But my body took that truth and twisted it to make be believe all my nightmares would come true. I truly believe God uses medication for His good and His purposes. I have seen medication work in my own life. It has allowed me to actually face and work on my negative thought cycles instead of being trapped by them. I am now able to pray and to seek Christ in all of this because I can hear myself think. It’s a miracle. 

Though I still struggle with GAD, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And as terrible as this disease has been, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Why? Not only has it taught me to rely on God in the midst of struggles but it has given me a tiny glimpse of the daily battle people with depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and the many other mental disorders go through every day of their lives.  

I am excited when I see films, books, news articles, and blogs about people with mental disorders because it breaks the stigma associated with them. Like eating disorders aren’t mental disorders or that depressed people just need to get over it… to name a few. I get those stigmas because I once believed them. All we need to do is start having conversations. To see the human brain as something complex. To learn that mental illness falls on a spectrum and to stop shaming people because they struggle with stuff because at the end of the day, we all struggle with something. 

If you are interested in mental disorders and the people who have them, check out the following:

Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

We’ve all been through trials, though they look different to everyone. A trial could be a bad day at work, parent’s divorce, battling depression, or a a midlife crisis. One person’s trial is no different than another’s and all can be pretty tough to deal with. I’ve had a pretty rough time these past few months and through the pain, confusion, and despair, God has amazingly shown me the benefits of going through tough times:

  1. Compassion for Others
    I have always considered myself an empathetic person, but no matter how empathetic you are, it is still hard to relate to something someone is going through if you’ve never been there. For example, I have never lost someone super close to me so the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one is foreign to me. Suffering through a trial creates relatable experiences and opens our minds and hearts to others’ loss.
    “…That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:25-26“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15
  2. The Realization that we need Christ
    Even if your trials are not brought about by a sin you committed or something you have personal done, they have a way of humbling us. I have never felt so unredeemingly broken as I do when going through a trial. I have felt lost, confused, a sinner, not enough and too much all at the same time. And Jesus lovingly reminds me that it’s ok. He doesn’t need me to be anything else than what I am. I don’t need to do anything. Just wait on Him as He moves.
    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39
  3. Patience is a virtue
    I always think I am the most patient person ever until I have to wait on a trial or ‘season’ in my life to pass. WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?  I always wants to be ‘fixed’ now. Learn whatever God is teaching me NOW. But alas, God has his own timing. And me being impatient often makes the trials even more agonizing. I’m still learning to trust God and his way of doing things. Because if I’ve learned one thing in my life, its that I have the worse timing.“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! “- Psalm 27:14

    “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”Habakkuk 2:3

    “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

     

  4. The Need for Others
    Growing up I always kept things to myself. I kept all my emotions, worries, and fears locked inside a tiny box deep inside and wouldn’t share them. I have come to find that my reasons for that were two things: The fear of being “too-much” for people and the desire to be completely self-sufficient. And unfortunately, I didn’t have the community I have now back when I was little (or at least I didn’t reach out to one). Over the past year, God has shown me the power that comes from biblical community. There is love, compassion, accountability  and strength in that power. And we need that. God did not create man to be alone. And through community I have learned that I am never “too much” and that God gave me community to share my burdens with me. And most importantly, I can’t depend on myself. I will undoubtedly lead myself down the wrong path if unchecked by loving and faithful community. I need to depend on Christ and on the people he put in my life.“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Hebrews 10:24-25

    “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

  5. Hope
    Hope. It sounds easy but it’s actually quite hard. It requires faith. And though Faith is my middle name (true story.) , in the midst of a trial its pretty shaky. It’s hard to believe in something good when everything around you is anything but. But God promises good to us. To those who know and love him. And though we may not feel hopeful or cheery and the idea of considering the trial “as pure joy” is infuriating, it doesn’t matter. God’s truth remains true. Everything will work out for our best.“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

    “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

    Hebrews 12

So my ‘trial’ isn’t over and some days I feel like giving up, curling into the fetal position, and crying. But I am confident that God’s goodness will prevail over my circumstances. And that gives me the strength and stubbornness to reject Satan’s lies. And though James 2:3-4 can make me so mad sometimes, I am starting to see how you can truly consider your trials as pure joy. And I am excited to see the end result.