Hope through Mental Illness

The other day a dear friend showed me the latest book he was reading – My name is Hope: Anxiety, Depression and Life After Melancholy.  When I read the title, and felt the canvas covering in my hands, a pit formed in my stomach and my eyes welled (read the previous post where I ALLOW my healthy emotions to happen instead of stuffing them).  I had to take a moment to think on why I got emotional.  I got my answer very quickly.

I care that people take the topics of depression, anxiety and mental illnesses very seriously. Plain and simple. The reason why is because I have both experienced and witnessed first-hand what happens when people ignore it.

I’ve written before about people pushing things under rugs because they don’t want to, or don’t know how to, deal with things.  … but in case you missed the memo…

I talked to a mental health professional recently about the book.  I told her how I was moved that my friend was reading it because I WANT people care about mental health issues and to BE mentally healthy, yet so often I feel many just aren’t. I gave her an example, a VERY sad story, of a close friend of mine who I think really should see a professional but she will not. Then I asked her if my thoughts on this were correct.  I asked her, “Does it really matter if people address bad things from the past or traumatic events?  If they seem to be fine or they feel fine do they really need to see a therapist?” She assured me that my thinking was correct and here’s why…

She told me that mental problems left “untreated” can ruin a person’s life (I’m using the term “mental problems” as a very broad paint brush to address things as simple as a life-changing event like a death, diagnosis, divorce etc., to a diagnosable mental illness).  Sometimes people take on addictions to mask or “deal” with their problem(s). Other people may not do anything, they may feel fine and then out of nowhere the “thing” wants to be dealt with.  She told me that we cannot control WHEN the “thing” needs to eventually be dealt with. It could be happen at any point in time.

She said that even memories blocked from childhood can resurface at any point.  If those are not handled appropriately (with a professional) things can get out of control.

I’ll give you ME as an example.  Most of my entire life I have existed in the land of “I should.”  “I should say yes to this event because to say ‘No’ would be rude.”  “I should do what this person is asking because they need help.”  “I shouldn’t allow myself to feel angry because he’s my husband.”  “I shouldn’t be mad at her for treating me badly because she’s been through so much.”  “I should not approach my co-worker about how they are negatively impacting my job because I don’t want my working with them to be uncomfortable.”

I am a recovering people pleaser. I prided myself on being a “yes” person. I didn’t want to be a “no” person. I had some “no” people in my life, with healthy boundaries (the honest “no” people, not the passive aggressive “no” people who weren’t honest and forthright with their “no”) and it baffled me.  I wondered where their “should’s” were and how they delivered their “no” without guilt.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

Almost 40 years of being a “yes” person was taking its toll. I had control of only a few areas of my life, my health and my friendships, and that was about it. Everything else was out of my control because I allowed other people to control it (and my health and friendships were actually a debate at times as well).  I didn’t see my life as my own to control.

This didn’t seem like a huge problem for me. I was raised by a martyr who was raised by a martyr. It seemed to me this was my lot. I was supposed to act this way.  It seemed to me very selfish to seek happiness and it seemed ungrateful to be unhappy. I kept focusing on my ungratefulness every time I did a gratitude journal. I named off all of the blessings in my life, trying to convince myself that I had so much to be thankful for. I SHOULD be happy.

Yet, I wasn’t.

I wasn’t so bad off that I had developed any kind of addiction to deal with my problem. I also wasn’t diagnosed with any mental illness. However, my “thing” needed to be dealt with.  My “thing” was impacting my life but I didn’t know what my “thing” was.  I needed someone to listen to me and help me.  Looking back now, laughing, I actually sought help to figure out how to be happy with my life and all of the dysfunctions within it…  wanting to live a martyr’s life happily.  My mental health professional helped me figure out so many different areas of my life.  We turned over so many rocks, I read so many books…  we dealt with (still at times deal with) the many side-affects of my people pleasing (there are so many).

Anyway, that’s just me. That was my problem.  To tell you the positives in my life from dealing with a “little” problem like people pleasing would make this post too long. You’d be sleeping, if you aren’t already.

My point is that I care, deeply care, that people take the mental health topic seriously.  I hear story after sad story from my friends about their upbringings, some much more severe than others, and I wonder how much better my generation’s lives could have been if our parents took better care of their mental health…  if it wasn’t a shameful thing to have to deal with.  Maybe it’s the company I keep now, or the people who have been brutally honest with me as of late, but there are so many of us taking this seriously…  for our own sanity and also for our children’s future.  With God in the driver’s seat we are kicking some tail.

I also care because I love my people. My people are the ones whom I ask for prayers from, the ones whom I cry to when my world isn’t right, the ones whom I share my anxieties about my children with, the ones whom I DO seek advice from… you know who you are.

Also, my people will/are impacting my children. It makes sense that I want my people to be healthy in ALL areas of life because they will be steering my children too.  I’m wise enough to know that my children will develop relationships with adults as they get older, I know because I did.  God willing, the adults in my children’s lives will be stable individuals who will work with me to guide my children in the right direction.

Lastly, it is my firm belief that God wants us to be happy. I don’t use this phrase in an unbiblical way. Yes, there will be unpleasant seasons. There will be consequences for our incorrect actions. Yet, God doesn’t want us to be miserable. Even in hardships He wants us to experience joy. He wants us to feel His love. We won’t experience the joy if we aren’t “right.”  If our priorities are backwards or we are always living in fear (fear either of our issues or what other people think of us, blood relatives or not) we won’t feel His love.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

I know too many Christ followers who think to seek professional help is going “against” God, that other people’s ideas or insight is serving their own purposes and we won’t hear God’s.  Many fail to recognize that God gives us tools, people, to help us. I recognized it immediately how God brought MY counselor specifically to me. The way her name kept appearing in the google search, her demeanor, her hobbies, her Christian background and even one of her favorite rock bands… I knew I was being cared for.

… and that picture up top?  I was sitting in the waiting room of the auto repair shop a month before I e-mailed my miracle worker for the first time.  This was up on the wall.  Weird, isn’t it?

God DOES give us tools to get through our hard times. Will you use one?

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2 Comments

  1. Aaron Patton

    Thank you Jamie! I’m convinced that so many mental issues stem from our hearts and we rarely deal with the issues and problems going on there. Once we get to those roots we are often able to see healing and hope!

    • I think I agree but I don’t think everyone can address their “heart” issue if they don’t face their problems. Maybe it’s a chicken and the egg thing…

      Coincidentally, unresolved mental issues lead to heart disease. So, you’re correct in that it is a heart issue.

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