Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that he has a “thorn in his flesh.” The thorn is never identified; however, Paul looks to the Lord to give him strength and comfort to endure and overcome anything the thorn throws at him. Likewise, for those of us who suffer from mental illness, our emotional and mental conflicts serve as a thorn in our side – and we need to look to Jesus Christ as a way to fight this pain and to keep mental illness from overtaking our lives.
Growing up, I always felt out of place; I often felt that I was on the outside looking in. I also didn’t feel the most emotionally connected to some of my family members, making me feel often unloved and unwanted. I suffered through bullying for most of middle school and high school, triggering insecurities with which I still struggle to this day. I also developed severe self-loathing and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t allowed to participate in therapy, and many of my issues were thrown under the rug when I was a teenager. I didn’t realize until I was nearly 20 years old – and four years as a Christian at that point – that I struggled with mental illness. I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I also showed symptoms for anxiety (mainly general and social) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Having mental illness is…rough, to say the least. You often feel like you’re drowning without being submerged in water. You feel suffocated, as if the air has been sucked out of you. And you feel trapped in darkness, with barely any sign of light filtering through the denseness. Mental illness makes you believe you’re alone and that you’re not able to trust anyone; heck, you don’t even feel that you could be loved due to the ugliness of your mind. You’re your own best friend and worst enemy all at once. Mental illness makes you sometimes think you’re not even ill, when in fact, you are – and in dire need of help. And most (if not all) the time, you crave answers to the questions behind your sickness, as well as if there’s any hope of living a seemingly normal existence.
While I was finally given answers to why I had such negative thoughts, panic attacks, and moments of severe sadness and hopelessness, I felt that I received more internal questions. How was I able to get better? Would I be looked down upon by others – specifically other believers – for wanting treatment for my mental illness? Would I deal with more isolation than when I pretended to be fine? And how does my faith fit into mental illness?
As I’ve spent the past four years receiving treatment (from therapy to medication), I’ve received the answers to my questions. First of all, I was able to get better. I cut away many negative friendships, relationships, and things that contributed to the worsening of my mental disorders. Therapy has helped me to uncover my triggers and trauma to determine how my past has influenced my present, and how I was able to improve my future in developing positive coping skills. I’m still a work in progress, my anxiety getting the best of me often. However, I’ve grown in more self-love and in being more able to admit my wrongs.
Secondly, I’ve learned that some people can honestly be ignorant and cruel. There will always be those who will want to condemn you and to bring you down to their level of self-loathing and strife. In regards to believers who don’t believe in mental illness, I truly worry for them and for others. I worry for people who continue to worsen emotionally and mentally because their churches or congregations make them feel unvalued amidst their struggles, unloved by God for desiring treatment, and unwanted in that their difficulties have not been validated. I worry for those churches and congregations who may be too scared or too naive to be educated on the subject of mental illness, as they won’t be able to truly help their loved ones – or maybe even themselves – if they have mental illness and are in denial. The Bible does in fact encourage counseling, and has stated this repeatedly in the following verses: Proverbs 13:10, Proverbs 20:5, Proverbs 11:14, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and others. I truly pray for all parties that there will be answers, closure, and healing.
Third, in sharing my story, I have been able to be more of an encouragement to others who face mental health issues. I’ve supported and validated loved ones’ feelings, along with their decisions to receive counseling and/or medication. Also, in being more open about my problems, I’ve actually gained more true friends. I’m especially blessed to have a wonderful relationship with someone who tries to learn more about mental health and who tries to take care of me and love on me when I struggle to love or to care for myself.
Finally, my faith and my mental illness work together in that they’re both a part of me – and I know that in the end my faith will win out. Jesus gives us the compassion and empathy that we’ll never fully find in another human being, let alone in ourselves. He constantly helps us to overcome our trials and to embrace our triumphs. He encourages us to be better, and to grow.
My hope in writing this is to encourage action in several ways: to become more educated in mental health needs and treatments; to acknowledge and to accept any mental illness seen within yourself and/or others; to receive help for mental illness; and to provide love, support, and advocacy for your loved ones.
Faith is able to be found and kept in the depths of mental illness. ❤
Written by: Neena Maria Biello
Neena is a Psych major whose goal is to become a therapist. She writes, draws, and reads in her spare time, and desires to grow in her faith and character every day. You can learn more about Neena and read some of her writing by clicking here.