Being a Christian with a Mental Illness

As I write this, I am currently still struggling with my “mental illness” depression, panic attacks,
anxiety, (however you want to label it). I just want to encourage you, that there is light at the end of
the tunnel. I do not profess to be an expert, and by no means do I intend to belittle those that suffer
with any kind of mental illness, but I am in the midst myself and want to share some of the things
that the Lord has taught me so far and some scriptures that I have found uplifting and encouraging.

Being a Christian does not make us immune to mental illness! Christians are just less likely to admit
to struggling mentally. We can be very “stiff upper-lipped” about such things. We can't possibly
have depression because we have Jesus as Our Saviour! I have even read recently that a Christian
ought not to be depressed because it is a bad witness for the Gospel! But lets face it, we all struggle
from time to time! Many medical professionals now speak of depression as an illness, whereas, I
agree with this, I also believe that Satan is allowed to test us too. Even some of the greatest men in
the bible had their fears and struggles, I'm fairly sure Job, David, Paul and even Jonah, when he was
in the stomach of the whale, may have been depressed at some point. The Psalms are full of
David's struggles, but they are also a great source of encouragement and help, for example:

Psalm 121 - “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh
from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that
keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The
LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by
day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for
evermore.”

Psalm 91 - Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I
will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will
save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his
feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in
the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, “The LORD
is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster
will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your
ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You
will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he
loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and
honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Over the last year I have experienced feelings and emotions I have never experienced before in my
life (well not all in one go anyway); fear, inadequacy, deep sadness, panic, anxiety, paranoia and
many more. In the beginning I just wanted to run away and hide, “go into my cave”, but I have
since realised that that isn't the way forward and in the long run isn't going to help me.

I always saw myself as being very much an “in control” person. No matter what life threw at me I
just took it all in my stride and dealt with each situation at a time. Or so I thought! In actual fact
what I had done was create a space that I could just throw each situation into, shut the door and say
“I've dealt with that” - “My Messy Room”. The thing is with messy rooms, they inevitably get full
and things start to spill out of the room. Issues and hurts you may have thought you dealt with years
before start to come back to memory, and in a sense, haunt you until you well and truly deal with
them.

For me it was one day in December 2010 that everything changed, I couldn't function, it was as if
my brain shut down, I found myself not really knowing who I was or what I was doing. It was
absolutely terrifying, simple things became mountains to achieve. I couldn't go shopping without
having a panic/anxiety attack, (mind you, some men will tell you shopping will always cause them
to panic). I had also not slept through the night for a long time (approx 5 years), which as most new
parents will know sleepless nights can cause all sorts of irrational feelings. But I want to encourage
you that it will not always be that way. There is One who can Comfort and there are ways to help
with these symptoms, I believe you can use the medical profession and your “Toolbox” of
scriptures and lessons the Lord can teach you.

I believe this was the Lord saying to me “Enough is enough, it's time to tidy that messy room, I can
not fill you until you are empty.”

It has been said on many occasions “You travel in the direction you are looking”. I completely
agree with this; if you are continually looking down then you will travel in that direction, but it is
also easier said than done. There have been times that when, no matter how hard I've tried focusing
on the Word, using scriptures from my toolbox or listening/singing praise and worship songs to the
Lord, that the darkness has just continued to consume me, like I was being suffocated. That is when
I believe the Lord uses the people around you to carry you. I am very fortunate to have a very
loving and supportive husband and daughter to just be there for me when I need them. I have also
set up trusted people who I know will pray for me and I can text when its all too much, my compass
points. At times in our lives we all need the support of others, I have found it good to have safe
places you can go to when it all gets too much.

One thing I do know, whilst I have and am in the midst of the darkness, the Lord has and is there
with me. Its only when I have moments of clarity that I can see this. Everything that happens to us
in life no matter how big or little, I believe is for a reason. Build your toolbox and hold onto the
promises God has for you. Keep looking up and keep going, I am.

Romans 8:28 - And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those
who are the called according to His purpose.
 

You've opened my eyes to something so new
A love unconditional, a love so true
Like a mother's love for her new born child
A love so dangerous, a love so wild

Your love never fails, Your love never dies
Your love is the thing, that keeps me alive
Your the Alpha, Omega, beginning and the End
Your love is never-ending, you are my true friend.

You gave me a glimpse of your Glory
When you spread your arms out before me
My Saviour, Redeemer, My Comforter my friend
I will follow you until the end


Joanna Pratt, Worship Leader, Bont Elim Church, Pontarddulais. September 2011

Joanna Pratt, 20/11/2011