If you don’t have mental health issues, what does awareness month mean to you? Probably nothing. And I wouldn’t blame you.
The question is, what should it mean to you? And the answer to that varies. Does someone you know struggle with any of the following: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, body image disorders, and dare I include gender identity issues? Yes. I dare. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, excessive thoughts/complaints about health, anger or aggression or violence, delusions/hallucinations, or even denial of problems?
Well then. The answer to the question is that if you know them well – if they’re a frequent part of your life – you need to be as aware as you can of what the problem[s] is and how to handle it, especially if you have children and/or mental health problems of your own.
But what if by “frequent” I mean someone you work with, but aren’t friends with, for example, or a family member of some sort? Chances are, if you don’t have experience with the proper handling of mental health problems, this person – or these people – make you angry or uncomfortable, to say the least.
It’s easy to judge. On all fronts of dealing with mental illness, it’s easy to judge. Some say their mental health doesn’t define them. Personally, I think that’s an easy way to think of yourself as someone free from the intense burden of grief over your life.
It absolutely defines me. Let’s see. Severe clinical depression. Panic/anxiety disorder. PTSD. Body image disorder in the form of bulimia. I lost 20 pounds in one month. I was a size 8 when I started losing weight. I was skin and bones when I was done. I thought I was beautiful. It made my Daddy tear up and ask me what in the world had I done to myself.
“Even if you hadn’t been born with genetic mental health disorders, after what has happened to you over your life, you’d have at least one,” said my first therapist. That was 18 years ago. I was a baby then, a 19-year-old myself!
I’m not going into specifics here, and it’s not because I’m ashamed of the things that have happened to me – and the things I’ve done because of it – it’s because there are people involved that, no matter how hurtful they’ve been, have a right to privacy. Frankly, people who didn’t handle their own mental health issues well. I can’t fully blame them for how they treated or “loved” me any more than I can blame myself for what I did to them. They didn’t have a clue what they were doing with their own lives. I certainly didn’t either.
I first and foremost have to give anyone struggling with mental illness this piece of advice: God is HERE. I was raised in a “Christian” family. Went to church every time its doors were open. And I hated myself so much, and knew of the hatred towards me of others (in my own house), that I was convinced God was DONE. Saved and baptized at age 9, I thought my chance for heaven and happiness was over. I had screwed up too much to be loved by God anymore, and – here’s the kicker that many of you know full well – I was so, so terrible that I deserved what people did to me – violence, sexual assault, infidelity, mental/emotional/physical abuse – all the way through to adulthood.
Yes. It doesn’t stop at childhood, for example, if that’s where it started. It follows you everywhere – until you decide enough is enough. How that happens and what that looks like for you, I have zero idea. I have no experience with, for example, schizophrenia. I know enough about it, though, to realize that it takes a village to get that mess under control, and in society – regardless of where that society is geographically – it’s not “proper” to talk about it or seek help for it.
Y’all, there is no reason to live your live surviving. There is no reason to let someone else you love do that. God put us here to THRIVE! To be fruitful, to blossom, to bloom! That recently happened to me. All because I decided to take a chance.
What did that look like? To you, it might be laughable. I got out of my husband’s car and walked into our church. Alone. Up the stairs to the Upper Room. Alone. I was acquainted with one or two women in the Bible study group I was joining. That was it. I sat there, before it began, my heart pounding. Intense nausea made it hard to think. I was shaking so hard and terribly ashamed because I knew that some of the women could see me doing it. But I looked at the book I’d been given and almost laughed.
Armor of God, by Priscilla Shirer. And I felt this seed of determination begin to build, y’all. Like the person I used to be, before my anxiety made me turn into an agoraphobic. Someone who got sick on car trips from being closed into a vehicle. Someone who got dizzy and faint just walking out the front door alone.
Second, if you know someone suffering from mental illness, PLEASE take note:
1. Don’t question their faith. Faith from YOUR point of view has nothing to do with it. I had a true love of God for many, many years. It did not stop satan from taking over my life, and it did not stop me from letting him. It did, however, save me countless times from suicide attempts, for example.
2. Don’t embarrass or discourage them to make a point about your own ignorance. I get that this is frustrating and hard for you,too. Especially if you’ve never dealt with this in your own life. It seems so simple – just get out of the house! Of the relationship. Of your head.
Guys, fear doesn’t work like that. It takes over your life, and when the people who are supposed to love you make you feel small, that fear erodes all trust. I have family members I barely speak to because I do not know how to bridge the gap of lost trust. Of judgment and criticism because I wasn’t what they needed.
3. It’s ok to get frustrated. It’s ok to get angry! There is something insidious and dark taking over the life of someone you love, and you are powerless to stop it. No one would blame you for feeling like that, least of all the person it’s happening to. They completely understand! Show unconditional love – which does NOT mean you never feel negatively about that person. It means you keep coming back and you never give up.
4. Learn your place. You cannot heal anyone; only God and, at times, medical help, can do that. You are there to pray over, try to guide, and love that person. That’s it. No one expects you to be perfect, or to always handle it well. You’re human, and everyone knows it.
5. Don’t let it erode your own life. Take care of yourself, because if you don’t you can’t fully take care of someone else.
6. Give it to the Father, y’all. His shoulders are perfectly capable of carrying and bearing your burden. Lay it at His feet every time it rears its ugly head at you, and you will be totally amazed at what He can do.
Whether you’re struggling with mental health problems, or someone you know and love is, hang in there. Seek help. That may be a doctor or a medication. Don’t be ashamed of this! There is PLENTY of love out there for you! God, others – we are HERE. Comment below if you have questions or just want to chat. Bless all y’all!
Here’s a prayer I was recently told about by a wonderfully sweet woman in my Wednesday night Bible study. Let these words of love soak into your parched heart – your dusty soul – so that you are lifted up and away from the evil of satan that is clutching your body. Your mind. Your soul. May God heal you, may He comfort you in times of distress. May He send satan straight back to hell where he belongs!
Ephesians 3: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.