This is a post by one of my beautiful friends. This is her story. She has chosen to write anonymously but I would love to pass on messages of encouragement to her!
Mental illness. It’s something that has been popping up in the news in the last few years-teen suicides, bed shortages, criminal trials, just to name a few. It is estimated that 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. That’s 1 in 5 people. If you don’t personally have an illness, it is likely that someone close to you is struggling, whether you know it or not. Mental illness is not like most physical illnesses. Most of the time you can’t see it. And many individuals hide their battle due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health today.
I, like many others, became quite skilled at hiding my illness. I’ve had people tell me that I have a “perfect” life. And superficially I did-I had a handful of friends, a loving family, was doing well in school, was athletic, etc. But nobody knew what was going on under the surface. To be honest, I didn’t even know what was happening until my depression was overwhelming.
Eventually I did seek treatment. However, with every medication they gave to me, the worse I got. And no amount of cognitive therapy made any difference. After several visits to the ER I was finally admitted to the hospital to keep me safe. I stayed for over 6 months, and spent almost 2 months on “constant observation”. That meant a nurse stayed by my side 24/7-into the bathroom, the shower, everywhere. After I’d been in hospital a few months I started ECT. Basically they put me to sleep three times a week and then applied electricity to my brain to induce a seizure. It’s about as fun as it sounds. But after a few weeks something completely unexpected (for me) happened-I started to feel better.
I’ve since been discharged from the hospital but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. My mental illness is still there. It’s not like an infection that goes away completely after a week of antibiotics. My antidepressants help, but they don’t remove my depression.
Having depression sucks. Depression is not just being “sad”. It’s a feeling of such complete despair and hopelessness that suicide becomes an option-an enticing one too. It turned my life (and my family’s/friends’) upside down. I was supposed to graduate a few weeks ago, but that didn’t happen. I had to quit my job. Several of my friends walked away. And I felt like God was a million miles away. It is so hard to believe that God is still there and that He still cares when you cannot feel His presence or comfort.
The most important thing that I have learned so far in my journey is that feelings are not facts. And to be honest, most of the time my feelings are the complete opposite of the truth. Just because you can’t feel God does not mean He is not there. Just because you feel like things are out of control does not mean that God is not carrying out his perfect plan for you. You are not useless, unimportant, unsavable, worthless, or unlovable. It is so easy to fall into believing these false truths simply because your mind tells you they are true.
Stop listening to what your brain is telling you and listen instead to what God has to say. God made you and says you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). You aren’t just a clump of cells that somehow managed to form a human being. Furthermore, God loves you. He loves you so much that He died for you. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done or what has happened to you-the cross was enough. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). If you have accepted Christ as your Saviour, God “remembers your sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12) and you can approach Him with confidence, knowing that because of Jesus you are blameless in His sight (Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 10:19-23). Finally, you have a purpose. God has a perfect plan for your life. A plan that will bring you closer to Him and help others that cross your path in their own spiritual journey. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 2911). It’s hard to believe that sometimes. The Bible tells us “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Mental illness does not feel good at all. And it’s hard to see how something so painful for so many people can possibly be good. But God has a plan. He knows exactly what He’s doing and how this is going to turn out.
You can’t let your feelings dictate your life. I know they are there and they are intense and very convincing. They appear to be the truth. But they are not. You can’t control them or make them go away, but you can choose to not let them control you. It’s not easy (nowhere close actually) but with God it is possible. Ask Him to help you distinguish between facts and feelings. Write verses on cue cards and plaster them where you will see them frequently. Read your Bible. Have a few people you trust that can gently and lovingly tell you when you are believing your feelings and direct you to the truth.
Not once does God ever promise that our lives will be easy. In fact, He often tells us the opposite. However, He does promise that He will be there beside you constantly (Deut. 31:6). Even when you can’t feel Him. Especially when you can’t feel Him (Psalm 34:18). He also promises that in the end, He will win (John 16:33). Today it may feel like you’re losing the battle. But God will win the war. He will destroy evil, and the pain of this sinful world will be erased. Keep fighting- God’s got this.