(For part 1 - the Battle go here)
I was sitting in a large Christian conference with a much-loved spiritual leader up front speaking about something in the Bible. Honestly I don’t recall because I was reeling from her statement on how there is something wrong with a Christian struggling with mental illness. She went on to say that taking a medication for one was equally as wrong. I sunk into my chair in shame, hoping I wouldn’t be found out.
As a Christian I believed that if I prayed hard enough and clung to Scripture my bouts with mental illness would simply go away. They did not. Instead, the self-imposed stigma I heaped on myself was made worse by thick shame and constant disappointment with my inability to be spiritual enough.
What was wrong with me that I couldn’t pray my way out of this? Was it a lack of faith? Lack of discipline? Lack of earnestness and spiritual pursuit? Was I a poor witness?
God lifted my head and had me take a good look around that conference room. I noticed I wasn’t the only one sinking in their chair. Since that time, some fifteen plus years ago, I have heard countless other believers voice these same questions of doubt about how a Christian can struggle with mental illness and it not be a reflection of their faith.
My first step towards recovery was accepting the illness before me and being open to whatever God would bring to help me heal. At the starting line of this journey, I had no clue what recovery would entail. Turns out holistic change was required - spirit, soul, and body.
“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Corrie Ten Boom
I had asked my husband to come in and pray for me as I lay in bed, unable to sleep, and in a very dark and scary place. The discontinuation of one psych medication to move onto another brought the highest of highs and subsequently the lowest of lows. It was in that pit he sang over me, “You Never Let Go,” by Matt Redman. I clung to every word and pleaded with God to help me. He met me there.
Oh no, You never let go Through the calm and through the storm Oh no, You never let go In every high and every low Oh no, You never let go Lord, You never let go of me
To this day that song still comes to mind when pits show up challenging my belief that God is deeper still. He is the God who sees and He sees when His children are suffering and rises to meet them.
God heals in relationship!
It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust as I step into a very dark room. Huddled in the corner is a small girl balled up as tight as she can manage. She is clearly wounded, clearly in pain, and clearly alone. My heart breaks and my first instinct is to scoop her up and assure her she is okay.
Despite my soft stance and a tender voice telling her that I am here to help, she refuses. At first, she states she is okay and doesn’t need my help. When I insist, she lashes out to ward off a danger that doesn’t exist. To force this child to accept my care would only bring further fear so I wait patiently and show myself trustworthy should she decide to open up and receive what is being offered.
This was the state of my soul for many years.
In light of all the abuse, neglect, and abandonment I suffered it just makes sense. When Jesus entered my broken and defensive heart at fifteen, I opened up to the only One I felt I could trust. I had erected a massive wall to protect myself and He slowly but steadily took it down brick by brick.
He doesn’t force, He offers.
There is always a choice on whether to receive.
Walls don’t keep you safe and they trap you in the very place you don’t want to be - isolated, lonely, and unhealed. God heals in relationship! God has gifted me with many caring relationships through the years that have been His balm to heal my soul. The extent to which I have let the walls down and engaged with others is the extent of my healing. Walls also keep you from loving others. We are called to love.
You are never so free as when you are free to love.
Everything psychological is biological.
I have been on ten plus psychotropic medications over many years and although they helped level the playing field so I had a fighting chance to recover, they never cured me. Every pill brought its own form of torture in the way of side-effects from numbed apathy to fatigue to weight-gain to acne to damaging organs. They worked for a while and then not so much. I was at my wit’s end after years of dealing with this and the real possibility of going on a concurrent third medication to curtail my mania when I cried out to God in desperation.
My specific prayer was, "God lead me to just one medication that will work." One that would keep me steady and not make it worse to be on it than off it. He had something different in mind.
It is 4:30 am when my alarm goes off - day one of my 2013 New Year’s resolution to get up and exercise. “This is stupid!”
My packed gym bag awaits me in the hall as I ponder the ludicrous decision and equally ludicrous time of day. I want to give credit to the muscle-bound angels that shimmied me out of bed that day, cause I fought hard against what God was calling me to do but no clue as to why. Consistently rising and working-out eventually became a habit that I still have to this day.
The second resolution I reluctantly agreed to that year was my daughter’s insistence that we start eating “clean.” After googling what in the world she was talking about, I pictured some hippie kale-eating, make-your-own-soap loving, organic-only type person who I couldn't relate to.
I had to actually research how to eat real food. If it didn't come from some form of a container I wasn't sure what to do with it. My freezer and pantry were filled with food for convenience, not health. My shopping trips became an exercise in passing aisle after aisle of food I was accustomed to but no longer on the list. To boot, I had a mean sugar addiction that fought against me every step of the way. I’m not going to lie to you, the journey to eat clean was long and arduous, and many tears were shed... like a lot of tears.
Step by step we moved away from the standard American diet and towards unprocessed and whole foods. It wasn't long after I stopped putting man-designed food into a God-designed body that things changed with my health - physical and mental.
At the end of 2013, unknown to me, I was on my last psych med. It was running out and I couldn't find a psychiatrist willing to work with me to find just one med. So I stopped and waited for the mania to show up again as it had every time I stopped my meds. It has made a few weak appearances, but nothing to throw a medication at. Seven years have passed and with each year I gain confidence that I can now live my life medication-free.
God's prompt to change my lifestyle habits was the answer to my prayers. Turns out circadian rhythm is key for bipolar disorder, exercise levels brain neurochemistry, and food is medicine.
As much as I would love to declare complete victory and that I will never face the ugly beasts of mental illness again, I hesitate because I don’t underestimate their ability.
I am confident of this though... that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion and it is in Him I place my hope.