Video courtesy of CBN News
Republished in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
When you see a man walking down the street talking to himself, what is your first thought? Most likely it’s, “He is crazy!” What about the lady at the bus stop yelling strange phases? You immediately become guarded and move as far away from her as possible. I know you’ve done it. We all have.
We are so quick to judge others on the surface level without taking the time to think that maybe God is placing us in a situation for a reason. Maybe it is a test and in order to pass, you must show love and compassion for something or someone that you do not understand.
Perhaps the man or woman you judge are suffering from a mental illness. However, do not be deceived by appearances, because mental illness does not have “a look.”
More Than What Meets The Eye
When most people look at me, they see a successful, 20-something-year-old woman who is giving of herself and her time. In the past, they would only see a bubbly, out-going, praying and saved young lady who is grounded in her faith. When outsiders look at me, they often see someone with two degrees from two of America’s most prestigious institutions, an entrepreneur who prides herself on inspiring others to live life on purpose, and simply lets her light shine despite all obstacles.
However, what so many do not know is that there was a time when I was dying on the inside. On a beautiful summer morning, at the tender age of 25, I suddenly felt sick. It was not the kind of sick where one is coughing with a fever and chills. I felt as if there were a ton of bricks on top of my body and I could not move my feet from the bed to the floor.
Then, there were times when I was unable to stop my mind from racing. I had a hard time concentrating on simple tasks and making decisions. My right leg would shake uncontrollably and I would get so overwhelmed by my mind.
It was in those moments when I inspired to begin researching depression and anxiety. I had the following thoughts as I read the symptoms: “This sounds like me. But, if I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety, does this mean I am no longer grounded in my faith? Would I walk around claiming something that the Christians deemed as not being a “real” disease? Am I speaking this illness into existence?”
Who Can I Turn To?
According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and one cannot “just snap out of it.”
NAMI also describes anxiety as chronic and exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks.
As the months passed, my symptoms became progressively worse and I became so numb to life. I slowly began to open up to my church family and some of the responses I received were so hurtful. I received a variety of suggestions on everything from speaking in tongues for 20 minutes to avoiding medication because it would make my condition worse.
As a result, I did not know what to do. I felt lost and alone, because a community that I turned to first in my time of trial and tribulation did not understand me. I was so deep in my depression that praying and reading my Bible was too difficult of a task to complete.
As time went on, I eventually went to the doctor and guess what? I was right. I went undiagnosed for over 10 years. Imagine the consequences if a person with cancer, AIDS/HIV or diabetes went undiagnosed.
The Breaking Point
I eventually found myself in the hospital after a friend called 911 to notify them of my suicide attempt. I was so removed from life that when the doctor asked me the day of the week and date, I could not tell him.
Honestly, I can tell you a number of reasons why I tried to commit suicide. Some of them were external factors, such as finances. Some of it was burn-out. Some of it was unresolved childhood issues and genetics.
However, after learning my family medical history, I discovered that several members of my family battled mental illness during their lifetime. Both of my parents battled mental illness, and my grandfather informed me about the time he tried to commit suicide at the age of 14. My uncle was admitted to the hospital due to schizophrenia.
A Bright Future
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. God has placed amazing people in my life from family members, friends who are simply extended family, doctors, therapists, and medication.
While my goal is not to rely on medication for the rest of my life, I am grateful that I found something that works while I work through recovery. Looking back to where I was about two years ago, I would have never saw myself living life with depression and anxiety.
I believe in the power of prayer and God’s word. As the scripture states in James 2:17, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” This leads me to believe that no matter how difficult the situation is, I will have to work towards healing and recovery even though I have a strong foundation and faith.
Do you have words of encouragement for someone who is battling mental illness? Share your thoughts below.
Dealing with a mental illness is never easy but with the proper strategies and tools, you can learn to manage your mental health while living a happy life.
Self-care is the root for coping with mental illness. I never understood the meaning of self-care until I was hospitalized. It sounds simple to take care of yourself but you would be surprised by how many people neglect self-care.
Many of us tend to take care of everyone else without realizing that we are more valuable and effective if we take the time to give ourselves some TLC. 3 John 1:2 says “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”
God desires for us to be healthy. But, how can He dwell within in us if we aren’t healthy in our mind, body, and spirit?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States. It is also common for individuals with depression to have an anxiety disorder or vice versa. In fact, 6.7 percent of the United States population has major depressive disorder (MDD).
However, the good news is that 80 percent of those treated for depression and anxiety show improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. In addition to clinical treatment, there are a variety of coping mechanisms that help manage your symptoms.
Feeding your spirit can include praying and/or reading your Word. However, we, as Christians, may also want to consider opening our minds to additional coping strategies that will impact one’s spirit, body, and mind.
I have been in therapy for a year and a half, and it has been a long process but I am reaping the benefits for sticking it out. Find a therapist that you like and feel comfortable talking to. Therapy offers personal insight, empowerment, coping strategies, prevention of future illness distress, and someone to talk to without judgment. I was hesitant in the beginning because I thought to myself “I am not crazy. I do not need therapy.” However, I am glad I put my fear aside and gave it a try. While you can talk to a friend, family member or pastor, I recommend that you speak with a person who has a background in mental illness.
2. Balanced Diet
It is not rocket science but the foods we eat impact our illness. If your mental illness is a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to be conscious of how food affects you. I have noticed when I consume an obsessive amount of comfort foods such as ice-cream and cookies, I feel worse. Here is the problem with overeating; it decreases your energy because your body must work harder to break down the food. Not to mention, overeating can lead to being overweight. A balanced diet helps with concentration and energy levels. According to Everyday Health, foods such as turkey, walnuts, fatty fish, whole grains and green tea help with depression.
You do not have to go to the gym every day if that is not your thing but you can take a walk, attend a dance class, play sports or play with children. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals , such as endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemical, interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also helps to alleviate stress, improve self-esteem, and sleep.
4. Create a support group
It can be frustrating when you have a mental illness and no one understands you and/or judges you. Finding the right support team is important. This may include a life-coach, therapist and/or psychiatrist, significant other, family or friends. Each individual should help in some way by meeting a need or needs. If the relationship is not healthy then you may want to consider removing them completely from your life. You should be able to share with your support group whether you are having a good or bad day. When you struggle with a mental illness, every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, and that is okay.
5. Listening to nature sounds
Before I go to sleep, I play sounds of waves as it helps to relax my mind and body. I enjoy hearing the sounds of waves, raindrops, and waterfalls. When most of us take vacations, we tend to go to the beach, tropical islands or lakes to relax and rejuvenate. So, it makes sense that the sound of nature such as birds chirping and waves help many relax, specifically, the sound of water. According to an article by the Huffington Post, water gives our brain rest from overstimulation and induces a meditative state.
6. Himalayan Salt Lamp
I had no idea of the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp. The lamp is a carved piece of rock from the Mountains in Northeast Pakistan and stretches across approximately 186 miles from the Jhelum River to the Indus River. The Himalayan salt lamp releases negative ions which promote a relaxing environment and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. WebMD explains it perfectly. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin which help to alleviate depression, stress, and boost energy.
While journaling is not anything new in the mental health world, I think it is important for anyone struggling with a mental illness. It helps you be honest with yourself, track changes, create goals and express feelings through journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can be as free as you want and it is a judgment-free zone. You can journal once a day, a few times a day or every few days; there is no set schedule so it does not feel like a chore. If you are in therapy, journaling can allow you to write topics and concerns that you can discuss in therapy that will better aid you in your recovery and healing. Journaling helps to clarify your thoughts, reduce stress and solve problems. It has also been proven that journaling is one of the most effective coping skills.
While the above seven strategies mentioned are not the only strategies for coping and taking care of yourself, it is important to find what works for you. Take the time and step outside of your comfort zone for managing your mental illness and begin your journey to healing. God often pushes us outside of our comfort zone to strengthen our faith in Him and ourselves.