I’ve decided to get really personal with this post, on mental illness.
I’m a person who has struggled for years with mild mental illness (mostly depression and mild anxiety). I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by people who have dealt with differing forms of mental illness: Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar/Manic Depression, Depression, PTSD, Addiction, etc. I’ve lived in terror over the last decade of triggering some benign, evil, major mental illness, just waiting to rear it’s ugly head and attack my family.
I’ve heard Christians minimize these diseases, saying things like: Christians don’t get mental illness, they just need to pray harder, or medication is not necessary. To them I give the examples of David, possibly Paul (the unexplained “thorn in his flesh”), and of Jesus driving out demons (While I do think many were actual demon possession, I can definitely characterize a schizophrenic episode as dealing with a demon).
I’ve had a doctor want to prescribe me medication for my (at that time) mild, seasonal depression. To him I said “not now”, as I had seen the long term effects of the body tolerating medication and needing ever increasing doses, horrible side effects, and even rejecting the medication altogether (I also didn’t think I had a problem).
So I write this for several reasons: to try to reduce the stigma, to stop hiding, and to help others feel “normal”. So while this is very personal, if it helped you in any way or you know of someone who it might help, feel free to share it. These afflictions are a lot more common than most people realize, and yet no one wants to talk about them like they do with cancer or other diseases. I’m also going to do my best to keep it personal and focus on what I’ve dealt with.
I grew up with a grandmother with Schizophrenia and another relative with Bipolar Disorder (then called Manic Depression). I would hear stories from my mom about what her mother went through. I would occasionally hear my grandma say some odd things, or see her deal with medication changes, or dosage adjustments. I would hear about my relative going days without sleep, and see the massive projects she would undertake. Let me tell you, I have total respect and awe at what my mother and grandfather went through, dealing with this a few decades ago. Many men would have walked away, and many children would not have been able to bear the added responsibility my mother took on.
I have suspicions that I have other family members that deal with other forms of mental illness, but it was either never diagnosed or never open in the family.
So while this area has always been a “normal” part of my life, I had constant fear, especially in my late teens and early twenties, that I would do something to trigger some horrible gene hiding inside me and I would turn into my grandma or one of my other relatives. Let me tell you, it is a horrible thing to deal with. I remember at one point opening up to my dad about this fear I was living with. I knew that it was when they were in their early twenties, my grandma just starting her family and the other in college, that their illnesses were triggered.
And when I would hear friends say things minimizing these diseases or saying things like “this is something Christians don’t deal with”, I would do my best to not get angry and just share what I had experienced growing up. I know that their faith and a wonderful walk with their Savior was the only thing that kept my family “together”, along with necessary medication.
When I turned 30, I remember this feeling that I’d survived breaking. My risks of triggering the inner monster were minuscule now.
But did I really?
I’ve always dealt with “down” feelings, being overwhelmed, or being overly stressed. I realize now that I dealt with Post-Partum Depression with my first two children. I know that when my daughter was a toddler, my doctor offered me medication for my depression, but I shrugged it off because I knew what mental illness really looked like.
A year or so later it all came to a screaming head. On the outside I had it all together. I was running a restaurant in a nationwide fast food chain. I was working 50-60 hours a week. My bosses praised me, my employees appreciated me (okay, some walked all over me), and my customers loved me. But I was stretched so thin, barely holding it all together.
I wasn’t sleeping. I barely saw my kids. My husband was bottom priority to me. I was missing a lot of church. I didn’t have any real friends. I was smoking. In hindsight, I think I was even trying to sabotage my marriage. Everyone important in my life could see how stretched thin and depressed I was. I was only hiding it from myself.
I finally woke up to it when I realized I was emotionally cheating on my husband and was barely keeping myself from physically cheating on him. It really hurts to say all this! We knew something had to give. So I gave up managing the restaurant. I tried at first to just go down to part-time, but the environment was not healthy for me.
So I stopped working to stay home with my family. While finding ways to stretch my family’s budget and naturally help with depression, I stepped into this wonderful world of natural living!
I wish I could say all is wonderful. With my youngest; a wonderful, healing VBA2C, I had my first post-partum period in which I didn’t deal with PPD. But now that he’s 10 months old, I realize that with all the stressors around me, I’ve recently been experiencing some depression and anxiety. It seems that even though I’ve found some of my triggers and tried to eliminate them, there are more that I have yet to discover. Plus, I know that when life seems to be going well, Satan likes to try to make it all fall apart. So I’m doing my best to try to view these stressors as God pulling me back to Him.
And in the last few years, I’ve seen my grandma (and my family) go through a really tough time. Her body has completely rejected the medication that has worked for her for years. It exhibited itself by allergies to foods and clothing that had never been present before. I see her spiraling deeper into a scary world where she feels she can’t trust the people who love her. I see my family try to get her help. I feel my lurking monster inside, trying to resurrect the fear that I could become that.
I understand what she’s going through, afraid of how medication makes her feel. But I also know that she doesn’t understand what her family is going through. She can’t see how she is when she gets lost inside who she is. When her biggest enemy is my grandpa, who loves her and just wants to get her real help. All she can think about in these times is the horror stories of others being institutionalized, or being “doped up”, two things that my grandpa has never done to her.
So I’m thankful I only deal with a minor mental illness. That can be managed through prayer, diet, elimination of triggers. I respect anyone who deals with a major illness that tries to make it work through the same mechanisms. But I also know that in many cases, medication is the only way to effectively deal with it (though prayer and diet definitely helps!).
This is also why I try to make so many things from scratch. Why I try to eliminate, or at least minimize, as many chemicals in my life as I can. Why I’ve decided to no longer vaccinate my children. Why I try to live as naturally as possible. A small part of it is because I feel like I’m a ticking bomb waiting to be triggered. But that is also biggest part part of it! I know that the world around us is a huge factor in all the illnesses that people deal with. Why should I, when I know first hand what can happen, be willing to let my family be continually exposed to toxins, chemicals, and other triggers that can cause so many issues, many that we don’t even know about, and many that can’t be reversed!
Sorry for the long ramble inside my head. It’s something that’s been building for awhile. It’s something that hopefully helps someone see another side to the reasons why I live the way that I do. And ultimately, helps someone else feel less alone. Because I know that I often do.