What I’ve Learned (So Far) About Mental Illness

Struggling with mental health issues has been almost a lifelong journey for me. Anxiety, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), and depression developed in my early teen years and have shape-shifted in my life for the past two decades.

But dealing with mental illness doesn’t mean that you can’t fight it and determine how to thrive. It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and grow. It doesn’t mean that you can’t overcome.

To that end, I’d like to share a few things that I’ve learned during my mental health journey that will hopefully help others who are fighting a similar battle.

  • Mental illness is real. Others may say that there is no such thing as mental illness, or that you’re making things up. They may say that you’re going through a phase, or that you need to slap yourself out of the funk you’re in. As a Christian, I’ve even been told that my mental illness could be the result of a demon living inside of me. This made me feel horrible and like it was my own fault. But I’ve come to believe that mental illness is real – and thankfully, it can be treated.
  • Seeking help is a good thing. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression or something similar and it has become overwhelming, PLEASE get help. You can start by talking to someone you trust: someone you care about and someone who cares about you. If that doesn’t help, you might want to seek professional help. It can be difficult to find a good doctor that you can afford, but don’t give up. Keep trying until you get the help you need. If you are in a crisis or are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and confidential, and someone will be able to talk with you.
  • Mental illness can morph. As I mentioned earlier, my anxiety, depression, and OCD have changed over the years. I’ve found that at any given time, one of the three is foremost in my struggle. For example, my OCD plagued me for a long time, but as I worked to overcome it and finally found some relief, my depression came to the forefront. This is probably different for different people. I guess I just want to emphasize that mental illness can change over time. It is a complicated beast and it demands a multi-faceted plan of attack.
  • It’s okay to not feel okay. Being honest about how you’re feeling is a big step. I used to be so worried about what other people would think that I held my thoughts and emotions inside. But it’s okay to feel how you’re feeling. And it’s important to find ways to share what you’re experiencing – ways that you find comfortable. You can talk to a trusted friend, write a poem, draw, journal, or any other activity that will help you release some stress. As you share, there’s also the possibility that you can help others who are in a similar situation.
  • Practice self-care. When you’re struggling with mental illness, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. You lack energy and motivation, and it may even feel selfish to tend to your own needs. But it’s not selfish to practice self-care. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself some grace. And take the time to care for your physical needs, such as getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy meals, exercising, and spending time outdoors in the sun. As I’ve struggled with mental illness, I’ve come to see learning to practice self-care can be a process. It probably won’t happen overnight. But you can take one day at a time, and celebrate each baby step that you take forward. This will encourage you to keep going!
  • Rely on God. For me, one of the main reasons I’ve been able to make it this far is because of my relationship with God. He’s there when you have no one else to talk to. He understand what you’re going through. He promises to give strength and help when you ask Him. He will never let you down. Draw close to God through His Word, prayer, and relationships with others who love the Lord, too. You’ll find that your burdens start feeling a little lighter, and that you begin to have hope. This will give you the strength to keep going – and to not give up.

I hope that these points have been helpful for you. This is obviously not an exhaustive list – it’s merely a list of a few things I’ve learned during my struggle with mental illness. If you have any other ideas that you would like to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments below! And as always, thank you for reading. ❤

Finding and Keeping Faith in the Depths of Mental Illness (Guest Post)

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.


Photo by Andrii Podilnyk on Unsplash

Coming Alive

I feel like this particular post has taken the better part of twenty years to compose.

Many are already aware of this, but for those who aren’t: I first started struggling with mental health issues in my teen years. Family problems, spiritual struggles, physical maladies, and destructive natural tendencies plagued me…and they all seemed to converge in the development of severe anxiety, depression, and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).

It didn’t all happen at once. These issues took years to form and develop. And they continue to grow and warp and progress to this day. But somehow in all of it I am starting to be able to look back and to see God’s hand. During the time it seemed like it was a hand of anger and of hatred towards me…but in truth it was – and is – and always will be – a hand of love.

Never have I and never will I (until I see Him face to face) be able to fully understand how God works. His ways are mysterious and beyond my comprehension. But as I continue on this journey that God has planned specifically for me, I am learning that He knows what is best. He has my best interests at heart, and He is so incredibly good. The difficult, the hurtful, the almost unbearable circumstances that He allows into our lives at times…they are horrible. They are heart-wrenching. They are discouraging. They are unthinkable. And they are so out of line with His character, that it makes you wonder if there truly is a God – and if there is one – if He is truly a loving being. I won’t even pretend to have a complete answer for this age-old question. But I canshare with you how God has worked in my life, and what He has taught me through everything so far.

As I mentioned, my mental health issues began to develop about twenty years ago. During that period, I have had many up’s and down’s. Many good and bad experiences. A lot of blessings and answers to prayer, but also a lot of heartache and suffering that led me to be suicidal at times. I have been in and out of the hospital, through numerous out-patient programs, have seen more psychiatrists and therapists than I can count, have been on almost every medication available for my problems, have gone through forty ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) treatments, and have endured around six months of daily (5 days a week) treatments with TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). And it still seemed like each day brought a new form of torture. I would “conquer” one stronghold, only to have another one appear and take its place.

I mention all of this because I want you to be able to understand the depths of the pit into which I had fallen. My heart cried out to God for help, but no clear answer seemed forthcoming. There was no easy cure for my problems. I knew that God could heal me completely if He wanted to – and I did pray for this – but His answer came as a firm “no,” or at least, “not right now.” But He did answer my prayers for grace; for strength; for patience; for peace; for joy; for everything I needed to be able to take that next “baby step” through the mud and the mire. And now I’m starting to feel like He has begun to pull me up out of the pit and into the sunlight. I still struggle constantly, but I’m learning that it is for a greater purpose. And I believe that purpose is to make me into the person that He wants me to be, and to prepare me for the work that He has for me to do.

Things changed drastically when my husband and I decided that we wanted to try to have a baby. I had to go off of almost all of my medicines. With the guidance of my psychiatrist, I lowered the dosages of four of my medications over the course of several months, until I was off of them completely. My body did not react well to this. It was used to being on heavy medication for many years to control my symptoms, and without them I began to spiral downward. I experienced horrible withdrawal symptoms that I didn’t know if I would be able to endure. But after a lot of prayer, close collaboration with my psychiatrist and therapist, and wisdom and encouragement from my family and friends, my Hubby and I felt that the Lord wanted us to move forward. If I had to begin taking the medications again, I would – but for now we felt that God wanted us to take a few more baby steps. And let me tell you, they were very difficult baby steps. But I am grateful to say that I am taking only one main psychiatric medication now, along with an over-the-counter med to help with my persistent insomnia.

What has been the result? Well, we’re not pregnant just yet! But we’re praying and waiting on God to see how He wants to work. I struggle with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), so it may take a while. However in the meantime, I have been blessed with another benefit of coming off of most of my medications:

I feel like I am coming alive again!

I can think more clearly, I can experience more emotions, I can joke around about things. I am more snarky, more quick-witted, more empathetic towards others. In short, I am able to enjoy life more fully! Now believe me, this does not come without its drawbacks. I have slept very little over the past several months, as the medicine I used to take for insomnia is not safe for pregnancy, and nothing else seems to work well. Also, since I don’t have all of the other meds to help control my symptoms, they have been returning…sometimes in full force. The OCD has been creeping back into my daily routine. The anxiety and racing thoughts are extremely persistent. And I still feel very low sometimes. But as I mentioned earlier, I have been following the instructions of my psychiatrist and trying to see my therapist weekly to assist me in handling these symptoms. At the recommendation of friends and family, I have also been using more natural methods to combat these problems, such as daily exercise and exposure to the sun, eating more healthfully and making sure I drink tons of fluids, taking a bath or shower before I go to bed and using essential oils to help me sleep, and meditating as I go throughout the day. And it’s been working! 😀

I’d also like to share a warning regarding my experience. What I did as far as going off of most of my medications is not for everyone – truthfully, it’s probably not for many people who are taking meds for mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, OCD, and other forms of mental illness are not to be taken lightly (just as any other forms of illness are not to be taken lightly). If you feel like you are in a pit of despair because of your symptoms, or you are taking medications for your symptoms but feel like they are making things worse, please seek out help! Know that there are people who care and who want to listen. Do some research and locate a good psychiatrist and/or therapist – if you don’t see one/both already – and follow the instructions and suggestions that they give you. Please don’t stop taking your meds without the approval and guidance of your care team. And if you ever need a listening ear…feel free to send me an email! I would love to hear your story. Thanks so much for reading! ❤

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the LORD.

~ Psalm 40:1 – 3 (NLT)

Photo taken by: Crystal Knauss