Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul (3 John 1:2)
This is MY story. I am not writing this to dictate or direct how your story should go. I am writing this because it is MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH and I want to encourage you to care for your mind, your mental health. I am writing this so that you have something tangible to refer to should you need reminding that Jesus, a therapist, and medicine to help your mental health are not mutually exclusive.
I had been told and taught that all I ever really needed was Jesus. I never took it literally; I was guided by the intent of the message. I always knew I’d need something else physically like food, shelter, clothing, and sometimes medicine. I knew I would still need more emotionally, like human relationships. I knew I would still need more sexually, I mean, I love Jesus and all but… (looks away embarrassed and disgusted). I knew I would still need an education, money, a profession. I understood that Jesus was never meant to be a substitute. Instead, I interpreted it to mean that Jesus would guide, provide, and protect. To say that all I need is Jesus is to say that my life is in hands greater than chance and that human beings do not have the ultimate say over my life.
I believe this. My life is a testimony to this. However, over the last few years, I realize how much I accepted this in every aspect of my life except my mental health. In the other areas of my life, Jesus was the One who led me to or brought to me the things and/or people I needed. Jesus provided the wisdom and discernment to choose wisely how I satisfied my needs. And Jesus was the giver of multiple chances that got me though my multiple mistakes. Except when it came to my mental health. When it came to my mental health, Jesus was my substitute. To need more than Jesus to keep your mind right was weakness, at best, and sin, at worst. If my mind was stayed on Jesus, and my heart believed in Jesus, and my spirit was surrendered to Jesus; if I was saved by Jesus then I’d never need anything or anybody other than Jesus, mentally.
And as I write this, the contradiction is clear. Yet, accepting help when it came to my mental health, other than the peace that comes directly from Jesus, has been a process.
Almost 13 years ago, I had my first experience with counseling. It was after my grandmother died. Her death was sudden, traumatic, unexpected. The grief was overwhelming. At the same time, I was under extreme stress in other areas of my life. I was making bad decisions and thinking thoughts that frightened me. I didn’t want to die, but I wanted “out.” I was sad and tired from a sadness and weariness that seemed to come from the depths of my soul. I knew I needed help. I prayed and then called a member of the congregation (who was a psychologist) for a referral. I chose her because I respected her as a professional and knew she would keep my confidence.
I stayed in therapy for almost 2 years. My grandmother’s death enabled me to make this step. It was a “good enough” reason to go. It was “understandable” and that helped mitigate the shame I felt about it. However, her death was only the tip of the iceberg of grief and weariness built from a lifetime of struggle to survive things that had become normal to me. Therapy was an unexpected blessing because it gave me space to be honest without the emotional backlash I feared or guilt for feeling like I did. It provided me with a place to unload everything that had built up during the week and unpack a bit of what I had been carrying around for years. Therapy confirmed that I was not “crazy,” damaged, or broken beyond repair. Instead, I began to see myself as resilient, even admirable. Most importantly, I learned that seasons had changed. I was no longer in survival mode and if I wanted to thrive, I needed to stop functioning in old ways.
My second experience began almost 2 years ago. I was angry a lot, too much, and not in proportion to what triggered my anger. And like the meme said: “I sat with anger long enough for it to tell its real name was Grief.” Again, I had lived through a string of unrelenting losses and struggles. Therapy came back to my mind; it had helped me before. I prayed and reached out to a counselor I knew for a reference. Interestingly, I treated my mental health situation like I would a physical health situation, but I still struggled with needing help.
I went into these sessions with clear goals: unload what I was carrying, get to the root of my anger and discontent, and develop new strategies that took into account my present realities. Once again, I was getting my stride and was ready to extend the time between my sessions. Then, some more of life happened.
After an amazing summer, I discovered I was pregnant. Then I miscarried. It was a long process which left me severely anemic. I recovered from that and developed an upper respiratory infection that put me on antibiotics and steroids. At my follow-up, my PCP reminded me that I hadn’t had my annual mammogram. I scheduled it and the results came back unclear. I went in for a second one and then a biopsy and then was told I had cancer. Next, I found out I was BRCA1 positive and my lumpectomy turned into 3 surgeries: the removal of my ovaries,10 hours for double mastectomy and reconstruction, and a follow-up surgery to complete my reconstruction.
Between the diagnosis and the surgeries, I was sluggish with little to no energy. I was overwhelmed by my impending “losses.” I felt like getting dressed was a major accomplishment. I repeatedly told my husband, “I have nothing left to give.”
One morning, before my therapy session my husband asked if I had been evaluated for depression. He tenderly spoke to me about his concerns and what he noticed about my behavior. He told me that he believed there was more for me than barely making it and that I deserved to be happy.
Long story short, I talked in detail with my therapist that day. We put a plan in motion: I was going to call my PCP about evaluating me and prescribing an antidepressant. My therapist would monitor my behavior and we could continue working on my self-care and coping plan. I let my husband, therapist, and doctor know my fears about this next step. I didn’t want a “happy” pill or to become dependent on a pill for my joy. I wanted to be me, functioning at my normal level. And thankfully, I was/I am. Even though I decided to go on antidepressants, I continued to struggle with this next level of caring for my mental health. I felt weak and deficient as a human being, a Christian, especially a clergywoman.
One Sunday, during praise and worship, this thought slid so easily into my mind and arrested my attention to the point that I grabbed my phone to type a note to myself. I wrote:
Do not limit the ways, people, or things God can use/work through to heal, deliver, bless. Too often we let religion narrow our views on what is acceptable. That isn’t even God, but our pride based on our perceived notions of how things [should]work. The “thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.” He’s killing, stealing, and destroying by making us close doors, close ourselves from help that doesn’t manifest from a direct touch from God.
Sometimes, most times, God’s help is mediated. It comes through someone or something else. This is biblical. Humanity is saved by Noah. Joseph saves his family, the children of Israel, from famine. Moses delivers them from Egypt. Jesus uses spit and mud to heal; bread and fish to create a meal. In my own life, God had used a myriad of people to get me to where I am now. God speaks to me through God's word, preachers, teachers, random conversations, and books. The number of times I have gotten a direct "revelation" from God is far less than the countless things, people, and events God has spoken through.
Yet, when it came to my mental health, I felt that only a direct touch from God would do, should do. I expected a "touch" or an "unction" or some supernatural intervention in my very natural circumstances. There "shouldn't" be any need for medicine or a therapist because I had determined the way God should deal with my mental health. I had decided along the way, unconsciously determined, that mental health was achieved only through prayer or a close personal relationship with God. No one ever told me this so I am uncertain of how this line of thought all came together.
On that Sunday morning, my understanding of things was disentangled from what I heard the Spirit communicating to me. I became keenly aware of how I had limited the ways that God could work things together for my good in this area of my life. In that moment, a lot of the shame left me. I knew that one day I would write about "Jesus, a Therapist, and an Antidepressant" because my testimony is that Jesus led me to a therapist and an antidepressant. Jesus saved me in a way I never imagined. So, during MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH 2020 with Rona running wild, (grabs the mic and stands up straight)
I want to give honor to the Lord who is the head of my life. I thank God that I am here today and “clothed in my right mind”!