A few months ago, one of the minsters at my church asked me to make a video for the online service that week. (We are still meeting virtually thanks to COVID.)
He asked me to talk about my mental health journey. I’d been itching to tell my story, so I gladly accepted. I wrote a script for myself and memorized it. I delivered it to my computer’s camera and sent it to him.
In the video, I talked mostly about my suicidal thoughts, which started when I was 14. I’ve written about my suicidal thoughts here before, and that’s not what I want to write about today.
I’ve heard horror stories from people, especially Christians, who experience severe judgment and ridicule when they tell people in their community they have a mental illness.
Apparently, some people think it’s a hoax.
Pray hard enough, and everything will be okay.
If you are struggling, you must not be very close to God. You need to ask him for forgiveness.
Taking medicine is a sign of a lack of faith. You aren’t spiritual enough if you have to take antidepressants.
And on and on.
But, here’s the thing. I’ve never personally received any derogatory comments from anyone in my faith community. In my nine years since being diagnosed, not one person has ever derided me for taking medicine. Christian or not.
As I created my video, I spoke from the heart, and I didn’t filter anything besides language. It was a tell-all.
Once I submitted it, I started having doubts. How were people going to receive it? I’m very open about my illness, but not everyone at my church knows. I felt good about what I said, and I was still anxious.
What if I offended people, or said things that made people not like me anymore? And since we were meeting virtually, there was a chance I wouldn’t get any feedback at all. I would’ve preferred to do it in person, even though the vulnerability element would’ve skyrocketed.
All my fretting was for not. I had over 20 people text me the morning the worship service was posted. Everyone said affirming and life-giving things.
A lot of the messages came from people with whom I am not well acquainted. My vulnerability opened me up for love in a way I’d never experienced.
My closest friends also reached out and demonstrated love and care and happiness—in the video I talked about overcoming the suicidal ideations. They rejoiced with me, and I was overwhelmed.
I did not expect such an outpouring. It’s really a testament to the power of vulnerability and openness.
Some of the people who texted told me about their own struggle with depression and mental illness. I was able to dialogue and relate with people who’ve either gone through or are going through similar valleys. None of that would’ve been possible if I didn’t make the video.
My experience is why I have a hard time fathoming Christians downplaying and mocking mental illness. No one has ever told me I’m not a good Christian because I have a mental illness, or that I am somehow less spiritual because I take medicine. I’m sure those people are out there, but in my faith community, they either don’t exist, or they don’t have technology, or they know enough to keep their mouths shut.
I am sorry for anyone who has been told these things. Christians are by no means perfect, and slights like this sting a little more when coming from people who claim to follow Jesus.
I am blessed beyond measure, and I know my support system is one of the main reasons why I recovered from my psychotic break so quickly and so thoroughly.
My friends and family have loved me and put up with me through the good and the bad.
They are always there to help me find my way if I lose track of where I’m supposed to go. They remind me of who I am and what I’m striving for if I become bogged down in a depression. They ground me when I’m flying a little too high, a little too fast.
They know me, and they know when I need guidance. And conversely, they celebrate my wins and accomplishments, and they do so genuinely.
I am a better person because of my friends and family. I try not to take them for granted.
If I ever have kids, chances are, at least one will have a mental illness. My friends and family give me hope for my kids’ future.
May we work on a future where mental illness isn’t a stigma or something to be ashamed of.