I want to share with you some of my personal story. It is, ultimately, a testament of God’s protection; his mercy; his patience; and his refusal to give up on me.
My first visit to a psychiatrist occurred in my senior year of high school when my parents took me to a nearby Christian psychiatric center for an evaluation because I had begun to exhibit some signs which alerted them to the fact that something was wrong. I sat in the chair next to the psychiatrist’s desk and we casually talked…or at least, he talked; I was casual.
Excusing himself, he left the room for a moment and then re-entered. I had picked up a small sculpture in onyx of an elephant during his absence and hastily set it down as I heard his footsteps returning. The young doctor asked me –oh so offhandedly—“What were you just thinking while I was gone?” I laughed to myself because the whole disappearance and re-entry followed by this off-hand, matter-of-fact question was such an obvious and such an awkwardly accomplished set-up. Without missing a beat, I said, “I’m thinking about onyx elephants.”
“Onyx elephants?” said the poor man, probably thinking he’d stumbled over a classic thought disorder. “Yes,” I said emphatically. “I collect onyx and this elephant of yours is rather nice.” The disappointment on the doctor’s face made me want to laugh. If he thought he was going to find something wrong with me…he had another thought coming! It was years later that my parents divulged to me the results of that conversation and the barrage of psychiatric testing that I’d undergone. The doctor’s conclusion?…That I had a serious psychiatric illness, but was too guarded to undergo treatment at that point. So it seems that I was the chump that day and not him!
It was toward the end of my freshman year in college that the thread to which I was clinging snapped and I tumbled headfirst into an abyss of despair unlike anything I’d yet experienced. My depression was so profound that continuing to breathe seemed to take more energy and commitment than I felt I had in me. I, who had always been a straight-A student, now found it difficult to attend classes and even more difficult to care about the consequences of missing them. I got into frequent clashes with my roommate which ultimately concluded with her moving out of the dorm room to another one and telling everyone that I “had a problem.”
I remembered praying and begging God to lift this despair and to help me to regain my footing…but the air in that dorm room rang with Sovereign silence. Ultimately, I lost the battle with the emerging illness that I was fighting so desperately. I took a bottle of pills one day…a pathetic attempt to end the suffering I was in which failed miserably…yet which landed me in a medical hospital and ultimately in a psych hospital for the ensuing six months.
While there, any pretense of my being in control of myself was abandoned and most of the time I sat motionless as a statue –lost in a hopelessness and a lack of energy that was too painful to be called apathy. There were times when, overcome by rage and fear, I was not in control of myself and needed to be restrained. Voices began to shriek and howl at me constantly. There was never any quiet; never any peace.
All pretenses of being a follower of God fell away, and I was lost, tumbling head over heels down, what I now refer to as: “the rabbit-hole” (a la Alice in Wonderland.) This was a free-fall with which I was to become very familiar in the following years. I went from one hospitalization to another: short-term and long-term…the longest being 14 months in one facility…then I would be out and “free” for a short time, and then some episode or psychotic break would occur and I would be readmitted.
Throughout that time, my grip on reality became thinner and more tenuous until there was very little doubt that I had a psychotic disorder. I was diagnosed, first with “depression with psychosis,” then with “chronic paranoid schizophrenia,” and ultimately in the past couple of years, with “schizoaffective disorder” which is really a combination of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
I was very blessed to have a period of about 14 years which extended from the time of my daughter’s birth until she was a teenager, where I was fairly “normal”…(at least as far as people with my diagnosis go). Because of my illness, however, I fairly continually experienced paranoid thinking and also was not exceedingly affectionate with my family or friends… I tended toward a flat, expressionless face and a distance in my relationships which my family had to struggle to accept.
Finally several years ago, all pretenses of normalcy were stripped away as I once again plummeted into psychosis and tumbled again from one hospitalization to the next. The major difference between these years and the ones several decades ago is that I am now in love with the Lord Jesus and his love for me keeps me grounded on a rock foundation despite the high waves and howling winds of psychosis.
Now, once I get done throwing chairs and conversing with people whom no one but I can see, I am able to be a light of God’s love to the suffering people in those psych wards. And my periods of psychosis only last for a few weeks instead of for months or even years.
Some people in the Church have unintentionally made me feel as though there is something wrong with me spiritually because I have a mental illness. They have confused a physical disease with a mind and heart-set of despair and instability…and also with demon possession. I cannot emphasize strongly enough my plea for the Church to understand and integrate the knowledge of and education about mental illness in its genetic and biological reality. The self-doubt caused by such an inference is horrible to undergo…especially to someone who does not have an integrated sense of him or herself to begin with.
It gives me great joy to report, however, that the majority of the people in my present home church have embraced me and exhibit great love and acceptance toward me…despite the fact that I have had some singular “melt-downs” in their presence. This is the first church where I have not felt like an outcast or the church’s resident psychopath! I am glad to say, from the pastor down to the attendees, most of the people here are loving and gracious toward me.
As in any other medical problem, God can heal and sometimes does…but a “failure” on his part to do so, should be understood as part of his omniscient and wise plan for that individual’s life…a means by which he plans to “help and not to harm (them); to give (them) a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Yes! That promise is aimed at the mentally ill as well!
Who are we to second guess God or to condemn those whom he loves? God does not condemn them; who are we, the Church to do so? As in the cases of cancer where healing does not occur, God is in sovereign control and we cannot claim to have a grasp on or understanding of all of his reasons…but there are times when we can get a glimpse of them… Just be thankful for those times and surrender the other times to his keeping as I must do every day as I wake to recurring symptoms.