She was no stranger to the realities of suffering. By her mid-twenties she’d nearly died from the effects of pervasive domestic abuse.
She had given her time and energy to service in her church and to her family. She had pursued Christian literature on topics of marriage, biblical submission, and living self-sacrificially; she had begged God to take the oppression she was suffering from her shoulders. Still, her world went dark.
Her shoulders sagged beneath the invisible weight of grief and of depression as she walked into the office that first day. Unwilling and even unable to meet the gentle eyes of the therapist sitting across from her, she began to slowly edge the door open to her story. Her tone devoid of all emotion, she began revealing the harrowing details of her life.
That woman was me.
I was suffering from a deep depression – A mental illness resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. In my case, something we believed happened as a somatic response to the chronic suffering I had endured. I needed help, and fast.
I began working with a trauma therapist and slowly learned to allow the deep resounding cry of lament to reverberate through my soul. My recovery, the beginning of my journey back to mental health, was through treatment by a trained mental health therapist. It would become the single most gracious act of the Divine I have ever encountered.
Under the weight of chronic and repeated abuse I, like many other women in similar circumstances, began to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) becoming widely known in the mental health community of practitioners as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or c-PTSD). As with PTSD, alterations to regions of the brain result in the classic symptoms of depression, anxiety, issues of memory, and even reasoning. Other signs of c-PTSD include hypervigilance, dissociation, difficulty with emotional regulation, and pervasive negative self-view among others.
The Healing Truth
We hear stories like this with alarming frequency within the walls of the church. Too often we have taken in a doctrine that translates the message of prayer, submission, and forgiveness into a death sentence of chronic suffering because we don’t know enough about what God desires for our emotional well being.
Mental illness needs to be approached with a holistic understanding – One that encompasses both the scientific and the deeply spiritual. The church has a responsibility to become aware of the intricate realities that the body of Christ faces in the areas of depression, anxiety, addiction, and a multitude of other psychoses. It is not enough that we teach repentance, prayer, contemplation, community and self-care. While these are necessary tenets of emotional wellbeing, they are not treatment of mental illness.
Mental Illness Vs. Mental Health
Mental illnesses are diagnosable medical conditions that result in changes in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. They lead to ruptures in the functioning of relationships in work, school, and families, causing distress for the bearer and their community. Mental illness is indiscriminate, affecting any person regardless of demographic with nearly one of every five people within the pews across churches in the United States experiencing some form of mental illness (American Psychiatric Association, 2019). The good news is that mental illness is treatable if we give our people the right and consistent access necessary for healing and recovery: Trained clinical therapists and medical doctors.
Sometimes the language we use to discuss the intricacies of personality and/or characteristics of the people around us can be confusing. Mental illness is different than mental health. Mental health (aka: emotional health) is centered around the idea that with intentionality and awareness we can influence the way our brains affect our mood, thus impacting either positively or negatively our relationships. Healthy, helpful mindful awareness is the act of nourishing the body, mind, and soul.
It may look like any number or combination of the following:
- Contemplative prayer (Lectio Divina)
- Body movement
- Time spent outdoors
- Striving to maintain a healthy diet
- Boundaries in relationships (including the use of the word “No!”)
- Healthy sleep hygiene
When we engage the holistic body with gentleness and gratitude we ultimately honor the God of all creation who asks us above all else to love and be loved. The invitation we have been given is to sit in the presence of holy whether in relationships with others, in quiet before God, or within the beauty of nature or any other number of ways God reveals himself to us.
I was once burdened with deep depression and will likely always be in recovery from c-PTSD. However, I was also given access to healing through a trained mental health professional and medical intervention. This access gave me the tools I needed to decrease my symptoms, and regain my connection to the presence of Holy. Others deserve the same. You deserve the same.
Properly understanding the impact of mental illness allows us to join hands with those around us in the holiest calling ever given: love God and love others well. Love is where compassion is expressed and healing is found. Love is the sacred invitation to return to Jesus who asked us simply…to show up.
About the Author: Kimberly is passionate about the way life is lived out in relationships. She’s smart and sassy, compassionate, and a little sarcastic too. A sole parent to three bio teens, and parenting two more, she is on staff with YoungLife in their ministry to teen moms and is a pre-licensed trauma therapist in Oregon and SW Washington. Her work has focused on domestic violence advocacy and trauma recovery utilizing a relational neuroscience model integrating the science of neurobiology with the art of attachment. Find more information about Kimberly’s practice here, and link to more of her writing on the Redemptive Grace blog