Sometimes it isn’t until we hate our sin and what it brings us enough that we are willing to confess, repent, and change. In other words, seek God’s help.
Figuring out anxiety/OCD was like that, too. I tried to manage alone for a while. It had to get so bad that I admitted that having the label was worth the cost of getting help.
Can I tell you what that time was like?
It was like 8 months of joy (dating) followed by the worst low I have ever felt in my life. It started shortly before I got engaged, when I knew that was a possibility.
In the moments of panic and intrusive thoughts, I couldn’t worship. I couldn’t pray. I prayed and worshiped and felt like it didn’t felt dead and not powerful. I read the Bible, and it made me feel more condemned. The name of Jesus lacked the power to help me feel God’s presence…which was new. I would have intrusive thoughts at my husband’s church most weeks.
I was so scared of the intrusive thought being true. More intrusive thoughts seemed to confirm them. My thinking that “thought = sin” only made it worse. It made me repent (even though it was something I couldn’t control) and weep because didn’t that make me a killer and a violent person and a lustful person etc etc. Any and all of these thoughts could make me spiral for hours.
Can I be honest with what this looked like, starting in December 2017?
-Two weeks of obsessively debating whether I should say ‘no’ to a proposal because of the fear that I might turn homosexual (due to PCOS?) and not just know it yet. And though it abated for awhile, that fear sprung back up (due to intrusive thoughts) even after we were engaged.
-It was telling my new fiance that I was not willing to have my ring sized yet because I felt overwhelming fear and was not sure that I was making the right decision. After all, wasn’t I supposed to feel elated? And now, instead, there was all this fear.
-It can be the thought popping into your head while you’re angry that you might stab your husband in an argument because you’re upset with him.
-It can be fear of seeing (and avoidance of) children because you’ve had the intrusive thought that you might harm them one day, from nieces and nephews to the children at the school adjacent to the backyard
-It can be describing the fear of pushing a stranger in front of a bus to a pastor and having him shame you because he doesn’t understand– and imply that you’re too broken and not worthy for marriage as you are…and that was your “safer” intrusive thought.
-It can be having “intrusive dreams” that just seem to confirm your “intrusive thoughts” and thinking they must be your sub-conscious trying to tell you something.
-It can be screaming at your fiance over the phone that you’re afraid of yourself and you can’t do this because you pushed your cat off the bed forcefully and angrily, and isn’t harming animals the first step of becoming a psychopath?
-It is sleeping 2-4 hours a night before you wake up distressed and can’t fall back asleep.
-It was that one time you texted your fiance that you’d rather have God take you…you’d rather be dead…then go on like this. It was telling him a good 20 or 30 times that you wouldn’t blame him if he broke it off, because you feel like he’d be better off with someone–anyone–more psychologically sound.
-It can be feeling totally inadequate relative to his past girlfriends because of this, even though you know that you’re a good fit in all the other ways.
-It can be wondering if you should have kids if you risk passing this on.
-It was obsessively wondering if you’re going crazy and going to end up in a mental institution. It’s wondering if this is going to drive you suicidal at some point in life.
-It can be needing to see your fiance every other weekend or else feeling like it’d be too much to deal with. It’s trying not to let remarks of people who don’t understand that bother you.
-It was hating that God made it so clear that he wants to plant you in Philly, because you know this adjustment wouldn’t be so hard if you were able to stay in Albany.
-It can mean feeling like you’re being disqualified from any type of ministry. Spiritual work still happens in your heart in the in-between periods, but what right do you have to share them when you’re such a total mess much of the time?
-It can be needing to go to the rehabilitation gym and crying for 20 minutes because intrusive thoughts at work are impacting how you do your job.
-It’s feeling fear that your new family wouldn’t love you or approve if they knew or knew all the details (particularly as they’ve had long-term experience with mental illness). Or would just plain think you’re weird or crazy.
Had it not been for my older friend, Kristen, discipling me and God’s clear hand in bringing my husband and me together, I probably would have broken things off. Kristen met with me weekly, listened to me, and prayed with me. She was totally safe for every fear. She helped me understand how God wired me. She eventually felt prompted to encourage me to get help (medicine). My sensitive doctor provided the script a week before I moved but gently encouraged me to get counseling as well.
While things got better when I moved without counseling, I would still spiral every week or two for one to five days.
I contemplated seeing a Christian counselor. I was a skeptical. My experience telling a pastor hadn’t gone so well. My experience telling another person (not Kristen) had been met with not-understanding. It felt like the church was the least safe place to bring this type of brokenness. I couldn’t blame them. It would sound crazy to me too. I knew the intrusive thoughts were sin. Ironically, that fear of them is what helped sustain them.
I was afraid of having a few trite Bible verses or truths thrown at me (that I already knew). I was afraid of not being able to share all the intrusive thoughts I had safely. I did some research on OCD and felt better. Other people had these thoughts. Maybe a Christian psychologist would be a better route.
I completed the intake form anyways. I wrote on it that I wasn’t sure if they would address the cognitive side, too. I prayed. The intake coordinator sent me this
It described almost every obsession that I faced and allowed me to trust that I could be honest without fear of being judged, watering it down, or being ashamed.
Over the coming days and weeks, I want to share what God has taught me through the experience of having a mental health issue. But first, I wanted you to see…really see…how bad the worst parts were. There were good times too, and my fiance always reminded me that he knew this wasn’t the real me. He didn’t love me only when there was a certain proportion of Good to Bad experiences. He loved me all the time–and he takes the hard with the good. He prayed for me and read the Bible to me when I couldn’t read it myself and held and served me when I wasn’t able to be the person I normally am.
I’ve glossed over how bad it was because of shame, but Jesus really impressed upon me this week at church “I am the shame breaking.” I am not as afraid of the invisible thoughts of people who don’t understand. He is breaking that in me.
I don’t think this will help encourage anyone in my friend group who deals with something similar–because I have never met someone who dealt with something similar–but I do hope that maybe it will help you help a friend down the road.
There are four things I want to leave you with today:
- There is hope
- Getting help is accepting that sometimes God works through other people and their gifts/knowledge–sometimes God answers our prayers–through other people
- The enemy attacked my strengths (my relationship, kids, sharing God, work), not my weakness
- We as individuals and the church, need to be a safe place for things we don’t understand. And if we don’t understand, we need to consider not offering advice. Just listening, praying, and LOVING. It’s like the first rule of medicine: Do no harm.