Mental Illness: Too Scared to Share – Why most Christians won’t talk About “IT”

The “IT” in the title of this blog is in reference to the Mental Illness that afflicts approximately 25% of people from all walks of life.  There are numerous reasons for our silence but I would say that the biggest, is the fear of how people will view us and even treat us once they know we have a mental illness.  We know there is stigma attached to it.  We know that most people won’t have the basic knowledge in regard to the cause and the effects of our particular illness that would allow them to view it as a valid affliction.  We know that there are uneducated ideas born out of assumption and presuppositions that people have accepted for most of their lives in regard to mental illnesses. So when we are struggling and suffering many of us just stay silent.  I know we do because I did that for most of my life. It can be especially hard to open up in Christian circles because there still exists this false assumption that mental illness is either the result of a person sinning or having a lack of faith.

I remember sitting in my adult Sunday school class during a particularly bad flare of my  Pure O -OCD.  It took all the grit I could muster up just to go to church.  My mind was in a continual state of terror, my body tense every waking minute. I had been unable to sleep for weeks on end, unable to eat due to the nausea that always accompanies a bad flare of my OCD.  The distress had reached a debilitating level and I wanted and needed for God’s people to pray for me.  I finally made the decision to lift my hand and ask for prayer.  I remember how furiously my heart was pounding in my chest, how hard it was to even breathe at that moment.  The hives on my skin were just raging and I could not control the trembling in my hands or the nausea that was churning in my gut, but I was desperate for my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for me and yet this is all I could manage: “I’m going through a rough time, please pray for me.”

I just couldn’t bring myself to say what I really needed to say: “I am really struggling with a horrific flare of OCD right now and the mental anguish of it all has become nearly unbearable.  I would SO appreciate your prayers for me as I walk through this valley.  Pray for me to persevere. Pray for me to lay hold of God’s grace and strength in and though this. And please pray that I’ll feel better soon. Thank you!”

If I had said that, would people even understand that I was asking for prayer for a valid affliction? Would they know what it meant for a person to suffer with OCD in the same way they might know what it meant for a person to suffer from things like Crohn’s disease, chronic migraines, cancer, heart disease, lupus, diabetes, etc.?

I had to assume that they wouldn’t know because I had never heard a person with a mental illness lift their hand in church asking for people to pray for them in regard to their: Depression, Panic disorder, OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, etc., and I wasn’t about to be the first one who did.  I was terrified of what people might think of me after that.  I was afraid that my illness might be viewed as an obstacle to my being able to take on any kind of role in ministry.  I was afraid because I had sat in a Bible study and kept my mouth shut after hearing this statement:

“They say that all mental illness is rooted in anger at God.”

I have no idea who “they” were as represented in this statement. I wondered if “they” even had a medical degree. What I didn’t need to wonder about was how this statement made me feel, especially when every other person in the room began to nod in agreement.  No one challenged it.

Then, on another occasion I sat completely mute and stunned when mental illness was included in a list of “sins” for which restoration through repentance were possible.  Here’s the list: “Adultery, gambling, abusive behavior, addictions, sexual sins, pornography and mental illness.”  That was a hard one to swallow and in fact, for a few moments, I actually couldn’t swallow after hearing it because that is a common symptom of anxiety for me.  I recall feeling so ashamed and really just wanting to  crawl under the table. I wanted to challenge it.  I wanted to say something like; “why on earth is mental illness included on a list of sins and how can I possibly repent of something I haven’t chosen?”  Instead I just sat there feeling those stupid hives pop out on on my face, neck and torso which stood as a very real reminder that I had an Anxiety disorder, a mental illness.  I had made “the list.”  I was the person in the room who needed to figure out how to repent of it so God could forgive me.

So yeah… it’s pretty hard to talk about “IT”.

Finally I broke my silence and I began to open up and share about my particular “IT”.  And, as I did, I was amazed at how many people just needed to hear that they weren’t alone.  It’s been an incredible blessing to be able to encourage others just by telling my own story. Doing so has provided an opportunity for me to be of comfort to others as they finally are able to talk to someone who knows what they’ve been going through. Suddenly they know that they are not the freakish anomaly they’d always thought themselves to be. It’s been a privilege to be able to reach out in sincere empathy and to have an opportunity to point others in the right direction so they can finally obtain very real help for a very real and often very excruciating disorder.  Finally, sharing the lessons that my OCD has brought about in my own life;  the incomparable gift of embracing God’s grace, strength, provision and purpose IN and through my affliction is something that years ago I could have never imagined.

What I’ve discovered,  is that when I dared to share,  that God would also bless my heart by bringing the most amazing and dear people into my life.  These were people that He had prepared to come alongside and encourage me because they also knew what it was like to live with OCD.

Does it still feel risky to talk so openly about my OCD?  Yeah –  it does, but the privilege and joy of being able to encourage just one other person has made this risk seem insignificant to me.  My prayer is that, in time, people will be able to share about their mental illness without any fear of stigma.  I believe the tide is turning  and I want to be a part of that.

My name is Mitzi VanCleve and I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  I have OCD and Panic Disorder and I thank the Lord for the lessons He is teaching me in regard who He is that I may have never known apart from these afflictions.  I agree with Mr. John Bunyan when he proclaimed: “God doth order it for my good!!”

My Story:

http://www.amazon.com/Strivings-Within-Christian-Overcoming-Anxiety-ebook/dp/B00EP4ODPK/ref=sr_1_17?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422059039&sr=1-17&keywords=OCD

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11 thoughts on “Mental Illness: Too Scared to Share – Why most Christians won’t talk About “IT”

  1. 71 & Sunny January 24, 2015 / 4:08 pm

    First, I just want to say how sorry I am for all of your suffering. OCD is a particularly cruel illness, made even more painful by our feelings of shame. I too struggled in silence for many, many years – just sure that if other believers knew my secret I would be ostracized and rejected. While seeking CBT/ERP treatment, my psychologist strongly encouraged me to slowly start opening up to others that seemed compassionate and trustworthy. The response I got in practically every circumstance was love and understanding. I have come full circle and the OCD is now something I talk very openly about with anyone. I started my own blog about 3 years ago (anonymously) and roughly 2 years back I decided that I had had it with anonimity. I had done nothing wrong. So I plastered my name and face on it for the world to see. The most interesting thing that has come out of my openness is that I have heard from so many fellow Christians, “Yes, I struggle with anxiety (or depression, or this, or that) too!” I will be ordering your book and I’m really looking forward to reading it. The only other thing I’d like to mention is that CBT/ERP is an effective treatment for OCD, and after a LOT of tremendous work in therapy, my life has been given back to me. I’m so grateful to The Lord for providing good treatment. Thank you for being a fellow stigma fighter. I do believe we are making some progress. God bless!

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 January 26, 2015 / 8:51 pm

      Thank you for your comments, Sunny! It takes courage to put yourself out there about your OCD, but doing so opens up so many doors to help and encourage others and you may even be able to lead people to get a correct diagnosis too. So many of us didn’t even know we had OCD until we heard from other’s who were willing to open up about their own OCD.
      I completely agree with you about CBT/ERP. It’s a huge part of the recovery/management process. So happy to hear how well you are doing, but more importantly that you are reaching out to others and “fighting the stigma”. BRAVO!!!

      Like

  2. kbailey374 January 30, 2015 / 3:04 am

    Excellent post! I don’t dare say a whole lot about my bipolar, depression, anxiety, or any of the symptoms. You give me courage! I have found it wonderful when I can help another sufferer to know that there is someone who understands. They are hard to come by!

    Like

  3. ocdmitzi77 April 17, 2016 / 1:33 pm

    Reblogged this on The OCD Christian and commented:

    Decided to Reblog this today because it’s such an important issue within the body of Christ. Praying for God to raise up more people to speak up and out about their experiences with mental illness, so that they can lay hold of the richness of God’s grace in and through their suffering – yes – even the suffering of a mental illness. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    Like

    • Catherine July 17, 2016 / 2:09 am

      Dear Mitzi,

      As I read your book my eyes are filling with tears.
      Its like your are describing my life.

      Im dealing with a spike of OCD and like i always do, I “ran” to my phone to try and get my mind off it. But i started searching endlessly….again….the web for something or somone, that might “stop” my spike from turning into a tornado. I came across your blog because i noticed it stated, 2016. All the other sites and blogs I’ve found are from 2010 or older….they help, for a little bit, but I always wish i could hear from somone who is dealing with the same thing at the same time.

      Im 24 years old, 8 years ago this Aug. I experienced the same panic attack you endured. I was 16

      I was a happy, healthy, Christian 16 year old…..with nothing wrong at all in my life. And it hit me…just like it hit you. I did everything you did….reasuring, hiding, moving, faking, hating myself. Worst thing i ever thought i would deal with…..until 2013 when the OCD H attacked me.
      It attacked just like it attacked you….although I don’t or didnt have children at the time. But my main profession was based arounded children.

      I’ve gotten “better” since that timeb with Gods guidance, medicine, exercise, wisdom and prayer ….but i still deal with the same battle. And it still feels like im fighting for my life.

      Thank you for writing your book. I pray and hope God uses me like he did you.
      Thank you for sharing. Thank you.
      I dont know if i couls have done what you dis by writing it.

      Thank you for showing Im not alone.
      I praise God for you and your life.

      I hope God sends me a friend or counselor like you that can help me with this battle.

      – Catherine

      Like

      • ocdmitzi77 September 30, 2016 / 11:22 am

        Thankful to our Lord that He is using it to encourage you!

        Like

  4. Bill April 18, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    Dear Mitzi,

    Great post and good inspiration for those of us will OCD and mental illnesses. I think you nailed it on some of the reasons why there’s a stigma attached to mental illness.

    I have increasingly told people about my OCD struggles over the past few years. I still don’t tell everybody I talk to, but I have found that people don’t reject me or look down on me for it. I started blogging about it several months ago and have discovered several other bloggers who are Christians with OCD. That’s very encouraging!

    I’ve got a bit stack of books I’m reading, but would love to read your book one of these days!

    Blessings,

    Bill

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 April 18, 2016 / 2:21 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments Bill. I think it’s wonderful that you are gradually opening up about your OCD. There’s nothing quite so comforting as finding just one person who really gets what you are going through. When we share about our experiences with OCD we have an opportunity to educate those in the body of Christ so that empathy, compassion and support will overcome the stigma. Warmest Regards! Mitzi

      Like

  5. Catherine July 17, 2016 / 2:10 am

    Dear Mitzi,

    As I read your book my eyes are filling with tears.
    Its like your are describing my life.

    Im dealing with a spike of OCD and like i always do, I “ran” to my phone to try and get my mind off it. But i started searching endlessly….again….the web for something or somone, that might “stop” my spike from turning into a tornado. I came across your blog because i noticed it stated, 2016. All the other sites and blogs I’ve found are from 2010 or older….they help, for a little bit, but I always wish i could hear from somone who is dealing with the same thing at the same time.

    Im 24 years old, 8 years ago this Aug. I experienced the same panic attack you endured. I was 16

    I was a happy, healthy, Christian 16 year old…..with nothing wrong at all in my life. And it hit me…just like it hit you. I did everything you did….reasuring, hiding, moving, faking, hating myself. Worst thing i ever thought i would deal with…..until 2013 when the OCD H attacked me.
    It attacked just like it attacked you….although I don’t or didnt have children at the time. But my main profession was based arounded children.

    I’ve gotten “better” since that timeb with Gods guidance, medicine, exercise, wisdom and prayer ….but i still deal with the same battle. And it still feels like im fighting for my life.

    Thank you for writing your book. I pray and hope God uses me like he did you.
    Thank you for sharing. Thank you.
    I dont know if i couls have done what you dis by writing it.

    Thank you for showing Im not alone.
    I praise God for you and your life.

    – Catherine

    Like

  6. catherinejustus July 17, 2016 / 2:14 am

    Dear Mitzi,

    As I read your book my eyes are filling with tears.
    Its like your are describing my life.

    Im dealing with a spike of OCD and like i always do, I “ran” to my phone to try and get my mind off it. But i started searching endlessly….again….the web for something or somone, that might “stop” my spike from turning into a tornado. I came across your blog because i noticed it stated, 2016. All the other sites and blogs I’ve found are from 2010 or older….they help, for a little bit, but I always wish i could hear from somone who is dealing with the same thing at the same time.

    Im 24 years old, 8 years ago this Aug. I experienced the same panic attack you endured. I was 16

    I was a happy, healthy, Christian 16 year old…..with nothing wrong at all in my life. And it hit me…just like it hit you. I did everything you did….reasuring, hiding, moving, faking, hating myself. Worst thing i ever thought i would deal with…..until 2013 when the OCD H attacked me.
    It attacked just like it attacked you….although I don’t or didnt have children at the time. But my main profession was based arounded children.

    I’ve gotten “better” since that timeb with Gods guidance, medicine, exercise, wisdom and prayer ….but i still deal with the same battle. And it still feels like im fighting for my life. Its so scary and lonely…..i still deal with feeling like ive become the monster I’ve always dreaded.

    Thank you for writing your book. I pray and hope God uses me like he did you.
    Thank you for sharing. Thank you.
    I dont know if i could have done what you did by writing it.

    Thank you for showing Im not alone.
    I praise God for you and your life.

    – Catherine

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 September 2, 2016 / 2:13 pm

      I apologize for my late response. It’s been a rather busy/chaotic summer. Thank you for your kind words of support and encouragement. It wasn’t easy to write my story, but the need for all of us to know we aren’t alone in this struggle and that there is hope and help was the motivation which gave me the courage and determination to do so. I pray that God will lead you to the exact combination of meds.and/or therapy to manage your OCD. It certainly takes a lot of perseverance to press on and to learn and apply the things which keep the anxiety managed. All of us who live with chronic anxiety disorders need patience and perseverance in abundant measure. God bless!

      Like

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