I am grateful for the gift of mental illness that upended my life 15 years ago. Why? Because of what I went through, I am more grateful, more apt to refrain from judging others, and more earnest in my pursuit of God.
Mental illness is in my genetic code. My grandmother was an institutionalized paranoid schizophrenic and I have family members who deal with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I don’t tell you this so that you feel sorry for me, but rather to help you understand why I see the temporary bought I had with major depression as a gift. Initially what I experienced brought me pain. But my mental weakness also opened up a path to emotional wholeness, and a relationship with Jesus Christ that I truly believe would not have been possible otherwise.
THE PAIN OF MENTAL ILLNESS
When pain strikes – physical or mental – it is our body’s way of alerting us to an imbalance. If we have the flu, our body becomes feverish and aches as it rejects the viral invasion. If we break our arm, our muscles and tendons swell, and our nervous system screams. And if we suffer with paralyzing anxiety, become paranoid, or hear voices, our body is also warning us that something is wrong.
The pain of mental illness, is like any pain. It is scary. Not only the symptoms themselves, but the large, looming, unknown of what’s to come. But once the initial shock wears off, acceptance settles in, and a plan of action begins to formulate. This process of shock, acceptance, and action is the same with any serious, life-impairing, diagnosis. So once the individual and their family realize that pain is pain, and illness is illness, no matter what type of pain or illness it is they are better able to move forward.
For me, the stigma and fear of mental illness kept me from going to the doctor for a very, very long time. And so just like any other disease that is left to run rampant, my condition deteriorated to the point that the psychiatrist recommended hospitalization. But thankfully, we were able to settle on outpatient therapy.
The Gift of Mental Illness
I will forever be grateful for the major depressive episode I had. It was a beautiful gift wrapped in an unseemly package that taught me a great deal about myself, my family, and my God.
The Gift of Mental Illness forced me to look beneath the covers, and see myself as I really was. This in turn brought immense inner healing and courage.
The Gift of Mental Illness strengthened the relationships that mattered most to me. (Crisis is an incredible proving ground.)
The Gift of Mental Illness brought me to the throne room. In God’s presence, I found refuge and restoration. Doctors helped to get me to the survivor stage, but the Lord Jesus brought me to a life of abundant joy and liberty.
The Gift of Mental Illness made me an intercessor. I learned from those who interceded for me when I was in my darkest hours what at difference intercessory prayer can make.
Holocaust Survivor Victor Frankl said: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Oh how very true this is. Every day I thank God for what He allowed me to go through because it changed me and helped me to grow.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
Please know, that I am fully aware of the torment involved for those dealing with a mental disorder, and for those who love them. And in no way, is this post meant to diminish or make light of the suffering involved for all those for whom mental illness has touched. I simply wanted to share, that all suffering has within it the power to be embraced, and from that embracing it is my belief that beautiful gifts can be born.