The Struggle is Real

Mental Illness…it’s something some people would prefer to leave in the shadows. It’s something many Christians often chalk up to “sin in your life.” or “selfishness.” It’s something that I personally have experience with, and it’s one of the hardest things to write about. Specifically, I’m going to attempt to write about depression from a personal angle and trauma/post traumatic stress…and what it’s like to deal with those two.

Lately I have been so…angry. So incredible Hulk taking down a building angry. I never knew I could feel that emotion this strongly. But really, I’m not so sure it’s angry so much as the underlying fear and sadness beneath the anger that’s been flooding through everything I do lately. Fear. Sorrow. Pain. It seems a never ending, bloody, piercing pain. This is what the trauma of sexual abuse leaves you with. Anyone who says otherwise–who says you can move on with your life and put your past behind you easily–well, I’d have to say to them that they don’t understand the long lasting effects of trauma.

The best way I’ve found to explain is two-fold: 1. an analogy of mental illness as a monster, and 2. through music. The first especially helped me when I thought of it this way.

Depression is like a 500 lbs monster sitting in the darkened, cobweb filled corner of the room, trying to go unnoticed but yet refusing to be ignored. It casts a dark shadow over one’s life. And no, it’s not a choice. If it were, I would have chosen not to deal with depression a long time ago.

But if depression is a monster, post traumatic stress feels like an even bigger monster in my life. The post traumatic stress monster buddies up with the depression monster–affectionately nicknamed Fluffy D–takes up the entire house. It feels as if it’s suffocating me slowly but gently…apologizing menacingly¬† for interrupting my nice quiet life with its nightmares and flashbacks.

If Depression (fluffy D) weighs 500 lbs, PTSD seems to weigh a thousand. With this image in mind, one would think these monsters are constant enemies but at times they’re more like close friends who betray you at your lowest point in your life. They’re more like frenemies.

For those who would discredit mental illness as a legitimate struggle, I would challenge you to take a long hard look at those of us who know these struggles are real. Most of us aren’t just making this up to get attention. Our worlds are shrouded in the darkness of mental illness and no, it’s not all selfishness and sin.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think there’s hope or that I’m just going to wallow in self-pity. I firmly believe there is hope. And that Jesus has given us that hope. But…Life. Is. Hard. The mind gets sick just like the body. And that isn’t just for the “weak minded” who don’t have enough faith. It’s part of living in a fallen world that Jesus is coming back for. It’s not all going to be fixed in this lifetime. Chemicals and hormones in the brain get out of balance. People go through traumatic things that scar them mentally. This is life. and death. Death to a false reality where everything goes right and works right if you’re living right. Mental illness involves monsters for some people–regardless of their spiritual status.

Now, to the more musical/poetic side. I’ll end with a song I wrote about dealing with sexual abuse and its after affects.

Hold My Trembling Hands:

You wake me up ’cause I’m screaming.

Screaming again

Please help me see that I’m breathing

I’m still breathing on my own

I’m in a crowd but my mind’s not there

I’m a thousand miles away

This place I go in my nightmares

I can’t see the light of day

Please help me out of this darkness

Hold my trembling hands

I need a way out of this chaos

Without you I can’t stand on my own, on my own

On the outside, I’m smiling

But on the inside I’m shaking

The walls I’ve put up are collapsing

All around me there’s debris, all around me there’s debris

Please help me out of the darkness

Hold my trembling hands

I need a way out of this chaos

Without you I can’t stand on my own, on my own

My defenses are up, but my heart sinks like a ship-wreck lost at sea

My defenses are up, but my heart sinks like a ship-wreck lost at sea

Can’t you see me?

Please help me out of this darkness

Hold my trembling hands

I need a way out of this chaos

Without you I can’t stand on my own, on my own

Invisible Wounds

Dear Church,

Beautiful, loving body of Christ–the extension of the hands and feet of God,

Spiritual hospital for the invisible wounds so many people carry into your great assembly,

Beautiful, messy, broken church of God–the bride of Christ that He will make clean one day:

I love you. But we have a problem. Within your masses, there are hurting people who come through your doors every week.¬†You can’t see that they’re hurting–or maybe you can, but choose to ignore their pleas for help.

These people look just like you, believe just like you, but yet they do not feel that they are a part of you. They do not feel safe to be themselves–to be vulnerable with you for fear you will turn them away as soon as they speak their minds. For fear that they cannot express themselves freely because they have to be plastic–constantly smiling and polite.

Sure, you know their names, their faces, maybe even their family and where they work. But you don’t really care to know people for who they really are.

They have invisible wounds they hide because you told them they have to be a certain way to be accepted. They have to pretend–pretend everything’s okay.

But it’s not.

They need your help. They need your love and support.

Would you truly accept them for who they are? Would you love them like you say you love people?

“Absolutely,” you say. “We include everyone here! We hate the sin, and love the sinner. There’s room at the table for all. We’re family here.”

Ah, but you don’t know what pain these people have been through by your own hand already. You don’t know yet their struggles. Every time you open your mouth to talk about those you claim not to hate, you spew such wicked, awful inhumane words about people created in God’s image just like yourself.

So, they politely smile and listen on the outside. But on the inside–you have wounded them at the core of who they are. Silently they speak volumes with their body language and that imperceptible change of face as they steel themselves for your harsh words.

Until one day they choose to tell you what’s really on their hearts. One day it’s not going to be enough to hide in the shadows. One day they will trust that all your talk of loving people as they are is true.

And I hope you don’t fail them. And I hope you will listen to love like you say you do. I hope that it happens for them like I dream that it will happen for myself.