Friday, June 03, 2011

Mental illness and Christians

I recently received an email from someone who had some questions for me - questions that are not easy to answer. However, I would like to try, and I will do it here on my blog, hoping that others might want to join in the discussion.

This person wrote the following:
"...lately I've turned to Christ in a more serious way (in the past I was so disintegrated that I simply couldn't grasp what faith in Christ meant on a heart level). I know I'm saved now, especially because the Holy Spirit has turned my thinking upside down to a more Christlike view. My soul is literally changing, reflecting the fruits of the Spirit. The problem is, the physical/emotional systems remain unabated. I'm somewhat catatonic, with most of my life spent in front of the TV in a fetal position when things get really bad. Suffice it to say I'm not literally experiencing the peace, love and joy promised by the Scriptures.

Question: How do you handle your pain and issues when things really get bad? How has it affected your Christian walk? And if I remember correctly from the excerpt from your book, you suffer from off again - on again bouts of bipolar disorder. Are there times when you simply shut down? Do things get so bad that you feel that you can't handle it anymore? I've been doing lots of online searches to find people's viewpoints on these issues, but so far they have been elusive."

John (not his real name) talks about how "the Holy Spirit has turned [his] thinking upside down to a more Christlike view. [His] soul is literally changing..."

This is such a good thing, John. You are going through a transformation - the kind of transformation that happens when you start to follow Christ in a real way. But transformations happen slowly and there will be setbacks when you suffer symptoms of your illness. But what I've found is that every time I go through a hard time, even to the point of considering ending my life, I come out - at the end - being a stronger person - especially when, as I go through the bad stuff - I try to hang on to God's hand. I keep trying to trust, though it can be hard. (sorry for this long sentence)And, each time I recover, I've changed a bit - I've become a bit more transformed.

Jesus suffered in a great way too. Consider what He went through at Gethsemane. God fully understands what we go through and we can gather comfort from that knowledge. We're not alone in our suffering. He will help us carry it. Try to hang onto that promise.

Over the past few years, I have prayed much for an other-centeredness. A not-thinking-so-much of myself alone. These self-consumed thoughts and feelings are natural to have when you're suffering and you shouldn't feel bad about yourself having that tendency. However, if you can, it's great if you can try to think of others - of their needs - of how you can be of help to them.

I fail at this when I'm having a really hard time. And yet, during my last big depression, I read in a book about how we don't live for ourselves alone. And how that comforted me! It's not all about me! And for a short while I was encouraged. Likewise, when I was suicidal, I asked my pastor to please remind me of why I should live. He responded, "The reason you live is so that you can give others a reason to live." That encouraged me greatly and I tried to hang onto that thought.

2 Corinthians 1:4 has come to mean a lot to me.
"Praise be to God...the Father of compassion...who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

As you become more and more transformed, John, you will find an ability to be more and more compassionate to others who suffer as you do - more and more Christlike. You will have the ability to help others bear their suffering, because you'll understand them better than anyone else could. You'll be greatly blessed as you share of yourself with them. You will experience the peace, love, and joy promised in the Bible.

But the road will be rocky. Transformation does not mean you'll never suffer again. You will have many setbacks where you will have to hang on for dear life to your faith in a loving God. But each setback should eventually lead to making you a bit stronger.

Surround yourself with people who will be able to support you as you go though those rough times. I pray that you will be able to find friends in your life who will be God's hands for you, when God Himself seems far away.


Bayleigh Marie said...

Welcome back, Marja! I missed you!

This is a great answer for John. Great job. One thing we have to remember is that being a Christian doesn't mean being problem free and everything running smoothly all the time. It just means that God is there to walk with us and to work things out to our benefit.

Marja, this is my new id. Spin is only associated with my domestic violence blog. Hope you come by soon! <3

marja said...

Hi Spin (Bayleigh)

Yes, I'll come visit soon.


Nancie(More Than Conquerors) said...

Dear Marja,

This is such a beautiful and encouraging reply to John. Truly even as Christians we face many ups and downs in our life, whether with bipolar, depression or other challenges in our life. Our faith does not exempt us from sufferings. But by God's mercies, these sufferings are used by God to draw us nearer to Him, to know Him and His love and mercies in very real and personal ways. They are also used by Him to enable us to feel for others and to serve Him and them, by comforting them with the same comfort God has comforted us with.

Sometimes in my own suffering, I have found that it is so hard to go on and I feel myself not having the strength nor direction to do so. It is at such time that the only thing I could do was to keep trusting our Lord and keep committing all things in Him, and hoping in Him, despite how I feel. The inability to feel aright or feel God's presence is often due to depression. God in His mercies will lift the depression by and by, and His joy and peace will return once again.

I am praying for John that our Lord will hold him in the palm of His hands and lift him up in His time, and continue to transform him and draw him closer to our Lord.

I have missed you, Marja. I am still tied down with various things and unable to write or visit regularly. But you are in my thoughts and prayers. May God bless you with a very blessed week.


marja said...

Hi Nancie,

So good to hear from you again. I've missed you as well. And it's good to see you writing again on your blog as well. Hard to keep it up when you're busy though, isn't it?

I'll now come and visit you. I see you have some recent entries.