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!!”