A Heart of Flesh is a new website dedicated to sharing my and others’ experiences of mental health issues as they interact with faith. I originally began this journey of documenting my experiences and thoughts on these subjects on the blog Of a Mind to be Reformed, which was far more concerned with relating mental health issues to the Reformed Theology doctrines.
In the course of time I have grown in my faith to embrace many tenets more traditionally associated with forms of Christianity which lie outside of the Reformed Theology or Calvinist branches of doctrine. Although I am a regular member at an evangelical, reformed Anglican church I no longer consider myself a strict Calvinist.
In addition I have discovered, with some great counsel from others including an online friend and brother who moved to the Eastern Orthodox faith some years back, that the evangelical perspective is not always the most conducive to recovery from all mental health disorders, though I myself belong to a local evangelical church and intend on remaining committed to this church.
Thus I have, after some very profound researches and experiences, started this new blog which is intended to be far wider reaching.
My Own Mental Health Issues
My own personal mental health situation is a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia for many years before this was – in my belief erroneously – re-diagnosed as drug-induced psychosis. I recently spent two periods under a Section 2 incarceration which had the labelled diagnostic reason as a psychotic relapse.
I have also suffered greatly from depression – resulting in numerous half-hearted suicide attempts and two actual, serious attempts on my life which were nearly “successful” – and from intense anxiety, especially social anxiety.
My Intentions for A Heart of Flesh
My intentions for this blog are five-fold:
To encourage and comfort those of the faith who suffer from or have mental health issues
To spread the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially among those who have mental health issues
To encourage where appropriate and to challenge where needed the generally accepted norms and philosophies regarding mental health, mental illness and psychological and psychiatric thought and practice
To share my own story of mental illness, mental health disorders and my own journey of faith and how Jesus has been faithful and true and has never abandoned me to the evils of utter madness and wickedness
To help Christians, especially those in church leadership, to better understand those with mental disorders and how to facilitate their entry into and continued participation in the Body of Christ and to be beneficial and vital parts of a local church, the whole Universal Church as well as their local and wider communities
A Warning About Me!
First, a warning! And it is a warning about me and my own journey and experiences.
I am far from a theological expert. I am far from being a wise man. And I am far from being a perfect man who is without sin!
And, due to my own sinfulness and my own life experiences and choices I have engaged in many beliefs and practices which are not beneficial, not convenient and, in fact, have caused both myself and others great harm.
Yet I am saved by the gracious mercy of God through His Son Jesus Christ. This through His righteous sacrificial death upon the cross and through His glorious resurrection, and that alone. (Though I do believe that works are vital – if one is able to perform them – and do not subscribe strictly to the common understanding of what are known as the Five Solas nor strictly to the common understanding of the Doctrines of Grace, though on both matters I am looking into the summations much more intently than hitherto, and I am not well-versed in the deeper doctrinal basis for these summed-up lists, so cannot state that my perspective on these will not change.)
I do, however, believe in the ancient philosophy of the Celtic Church – the predominant Church in the British Isles prior to Augustine’s mission to England – in regard to the belief that all that can be redeemed should be redeemed, and that to trapple underfoot that which is compatible with the Holy Scriptures in other cultures and religions, even if those religions as wholes are riddled with error, is wrong and even hinders evangelism. Nevertheless, Holy Scripture should be the test as to whether things are accepted or rejected.
If I speak of doctrinal or church matters please do test them against Scripture under the guidance of a mature brother or sister (depending upon your own biological sex) or a minister at your church.
With that introduction given, do read what I will share here and, if you find anything helpful, please do share with brothers, sisters, church leaders, friends and family and, perchance, even enemies whom we are called upon to love and bless.
[I wrote this testimony of pain on my birthday, mid-July 2018. It was a raw expression of how I felt at that moment. Some historical references may not be fully accurate but were as I remembered them at that moment. I have not edited it except for correction of spelling and grammar and, where necessary, for censorship of filthy language and/or false witness.
This Testimony of Pain I share so that you, too, may know you are not alone in your deep suffering and that perhaps, one day, you may find that blesséd relief which only truly finding Jesus can bring.]
My Day of Mourning.
Today I am 45 years old. I turned 45 at around 2pm local time. It is a day everyone expects me to celebrate, to have joy and to find blessings in the fact I am a year older. I do not fear nor regret growing older. I have no fear of agedness and my fear of death is quickly diminishing. But I do not celebrate.
Why? Why, people, do you want me to be the centre of attention? Why? What have I done to you that you want me to revel in some pride in getting to be born in the first damn place? Maybe it was actually my choice to enter my Mum’s womb? Maybe I did choose to be born into that womb. Maybe the pain and heartache I caused my Mum all those years actually was my fault on every level? She wanted a normal child. But I wasn’t normal as a baby and I am far from normal now.
You send me messages of encouragement. My Nan tries to encourage me with hope in her love and the writing in the card. But all I do is mourn.
I try. I try to see you, to meet up. I try to thank you. I try to remember that you are showing me love. I try to meet for a meal or some other traditional way of rejoicing. But I mourn. Each and every card brings pain and the presents make me feel let down and then feel even more pain because I am so ungrateful. This is my day of mourning.
Curse the Day!
I could curse the day I was born. But hey! Wednesday’s Child is already the Child of Woe. Why curse the day any more? I could curse the womb that bore me. But I put my Mum through enough pain already.
Why is the greatest memory of my childhood my pride at taking a marrow to church and giving it to God? And all the while I sat there in judgement of the other kids who couldn’t be bothered and simply got their Mum to buy a tin of peas from Tesco’s? Why did everyone think I was aloof? These kids are weird, Mum! I can play. I can do that. But they don’t feel properly!
Why? Why didn’t the measles kill me? I’m told it could be fatal but all I did was have strange dreams in my sickbed for days. Why? When both my lungs had collapsed and without help I would have suffocated? Why? Why! Why did you put my lungs back up again?
Why have I hurt you so much? Why do I still do?
Why didn’t Nan’s heart pills work? Did I not take enough? Why? Why? Why did my belt break as I hung from that tree and all I ended up with was a cop car picking me up as I jumped in front of another car? Why when I took the paracetamol overdose did I go to A&E? Why?
Why? They told me that just follow Jesus and He will give you peace and joy. I am. I do not have peace and I do not have joy. Has Jesus let me down? Have I let Him down? Do I know Him at all?
Why? When I see something others do not my sister orchestrates a show down and the family falls apart? Why did my niece admire me so much that she thought mental illness might be a good way to deal with her pain?
Am I such a tramp that people really have to offer me £5 notes as I await my taxis? Do the taxi drivers really have to open their windows when I enter their car? I know. I need a bath. It’s a big thing, though, isn’t it?
This is my day of mourning.
People wonder why mental health freaks do not open up more? It is because we know the pain. We want you to experience it a bit. We will play with, manipulate you, strike fear in your hearts and load guilt trips upon you. But we will never let you know how we really feel. We can cope with this. You could not.
I am 45 years old today. I know many, and some very personally, like Lenny who I gave lip-kisses to because we thought it would be a fun thing to do in front of bigots – and, besides, I loved him. They are not here on earth now. And I have no guarantee they are in heaven. They are gone. I remain.
Thrive? B**locks. I cannot thrive. I survive. I will continue to survive. That’s my best. And if my best is not good enough for you then please, do not even +1 my posts or smile at me in the street. You can’t kid a kidder, they say in AA.
When you see the world as it is, even if only through a glass darkly, why do people think you are no longer close to Jesus? Why do they still insist that everything is better now than it was in the past? “You’ve never had it so good!” goes the advertising and propaganda slogans. Why can’t Jesus come back soon? It is my earnest prayer that He does because my pain is nothing compared to the child with his leg blown off and the bread he just bought is covered in blood. The homo who gets stabbed with a switch knife up the anus because the preacher was particularly fiery and “right on” that day? The raghead who has his apartment raided and all the writings of Mohammed and Ali are removed for future investigation? My niece’s boyfriend who is abused because he is not “British” and we have voted to leave the EU? The dead millions killed by the CIA and MI6 operations? The people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who have extra bits in their bodies? The Jews who think the perfect response to the Holocaust is to abuse Palestinian kids and call Mary a whore in the graffiti on church walls? You know what my American and British friends? If you call this the least violent and least suffering age on earth I would suggest that you widen your reading material. Seriously.
This is my day of mourning. I mourn. For me. For others. For you. But I will survive. And as for me, I will serve the Lord.
(The shared song is important. As a Christian-influenced band the lyrics are perhaps best heard as a conversation between the protagonist and Jesus.)
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
1 Corinthians 13:8
What is the purpose of sharing all these testimonies with you? Perhaps in the beginning I wanted to show off, to be someone great. Certainly I thought myself called to great things, even perhaps one of the final two witnesses. But what does Jesus say to me: to love.
I have suffered many years of mental illness. Was I possessed by demons? I do not know for sure for I am no expert on these matters and am a brute of a man with little wisdom. Was my mental illness my fault? I do not know. Things happened in my childhood which I do not want to speak openly about but have had a lasting impact. I am healed of those hurts but the scars remain.
I have been thinking even as I have been preparing these posts of doing another blog sharing “my great knowledge; my great wisdom.” But whatever the future holds for me I do know this: that I must go to my own and tell them of the great things the Lord has done for me. That is why I am choosing to share these testimonies. And I am sharing them here, on a blog for those with mental illness like me.
Were my dreams and visions real? Or were they some sort of fantasy? I do not know, but I do know the effect they are having on me and I am so thankful to my Lord for them.
I shall, if the grace of God permits, continue in the faith, continue at church and continue to tell of what the Lord has done for me. If He wills I share share some things I have learnt, but I cannot say if I will do that just yet. For now I would encourage you, whatever your diagnosis, be it depression, anxiety, a psychosis or BPD or PD or any other. Whatever sins you may have committed, whether your illness is your fault or someone else’s or a combination of the two, know that Jesus loves you and died for you. Yes! And is even risen again and is seated at the right hand of the father.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13
In these present times, at least in the monetarily richer nation states, there is a huge range of potential routes to take in order to explore the possibilities of healing. In this article I want to explore some of those different routes.
Obviously I come at this from my own perspective, so it is perhaps best to state, as briefly as possible, the major aspects of my journey on this Earth which have brought me to the perspective and conclusion which I hold to.
I was raised with a large degree of Christian influence. Though my mother was not a follower of Jesus Christ and my father according to the flesh was certainly not, both of my maternal grandparents were strong believers in the Risen Lord. I was taken, very willingly, to church most weeks on the Lord’s Day. I was baptised in a Methodist church as a babe.
When I was in my teens I explored a variety of different spiritualities and at the age of twenty I had a major deterioration into madness. That madness lasted to one degree or another for some twenty years after. During this time I returned to the Church. I was on prescribed medication for virtually the entirety of twenty-five years and I still take a very small dose of major tranquillisers (also known as antipsychotics) due to their highly addictive nature. (I am slowly weaning off this remaining substance.)
Recently I began to come off my medication. I have done this without any support from any doctor or other “expert.” It has been extremely painful. At times I have thought that I would’ve committed suicide if I hadn’t previously made a firm vow to myself that I would not again attempt to take my own life. At times I have strongly considered going back to the psychiatric system and doing all they dictate. Yet despite those immense temptations I have endured and persisted. I am now free from all chemical medications except for the previously mentioned very low dose of major tranquilliser, which is far below the stated therapeutic dose.
I have now experienced profound and lasting healing, a knowledge of Jesus I had previously considered unattainable – not knowing about Him but knowing Him – and in my prayer and meditation have been able to reflect on my journey and draw conclusions, albeit imperfectly.
The Various Avenues Towards Healing
There are so many different routes to healing but I shall group them into three types.
“Faith” Healing – “Faith” healing includes a whole plethora of different versions. What they all have in common is the belief that there is some spiritual being or force which can effect healing. The majority of these are fakeries, even demonic in nature. That is one reason why “faith” healing gets such a negative press. The beings which these “faith” healers access, or the spiritual “forces” they harness, come not from the Living God but from a dark and dangerous entity in the spiritual realm. As mental illness is often caused or exacerbated by this dark side resorting to your tormenter for healing from your torment cannot be considered wise nor beneficial. Sometimes they may well seem to have done the trick, yet that is all the apparent healing is: a trick.
Examples of this demonic form of healing are spiritism and other arts of mediums (even when deceptively monikered “Christian”); the teachings and practices of the Word-Faith movement (the teachings of Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer et al); the calling upon the gods (such as Masonic rites, Satanic practices and witchcraft, and many others.
Yet there are true forms of faith healing. Exorcists in the cases of actual demonic possession or influence can be extremely beneficial. There are, however, very few true exorcists. Most a deluded individuals who do more harm than good. There are no trained exorcists within churches such as the charismatic, Pentecostal and other non-Apostolic churches. There may be some who are able to perform exorcisms, yet when dealing with extremely vulnerable persons an untrained “helper” can be extremely disturbing and even dangerous. The only church in which I have heard of good and holy approaches to mental illness and especially the matter of exorcisms is the Orthodox branch of the Church, although Romanist exorcists also have to undergo rigorous instruction.
Prayer itself can be extremely beneficial. Prayer is that wonderful thing: it doesn’t matter too much if the person praying has sufficient faith or if their words are accurate or even desired by the sufferer; it is God who answers the prayer and it is He who decides how to answer it. Yet even here there must be a word of warning. Too many – far too many – well-meaning but self-righteous “helpers” will offer to help but if you have done something, do something or believe something which they in their self-righteousness decree is “not true” then they have a horrible tendency to condemn the person they volunteered to “help” rather than first take a look at themselves. Anyone with first-hand experience with a mental disorder can tell you that such judgementalism is never helpful and can cause great distress.
(Note on Reiki and similar practices: I have very little knowledge of these. As that is the case I am not qualified to pass any sort of judgement on whether they are of God or the Adversary. If you want to look into them then please bear in mind the two categories of “faith healing” which I have just mentioned.)
Nature-based healing – Natural healing is a way of experiencing healing or, at the very least, a mitigation of symptoms, from the use of plants or plant-based remedies. A huge variety of plants exist which either can be found growing near to you or are often – though not always! – available easily through natural remedy retail outlets both physical and online.
There is a huge range of these plant-based remedies and they vary widely in their uses, their potencies and their effectiveness. Commonly known herbal preparations are valerian for help with sleep; camomile and tea (both green and black) for anxiety; St. John’s Wort for depression and other, not so freely available plants such as cannabis – which can treat a wide range of mental disorders if taken in low, carefully managed doses (see my post on medicinal cannabis.)
If you want to explore these plant-rememdies then do undertake research: look online and double-check with a trained person (by which I mean someone knowledgeable in plant-lore, not a psychiatric professional as many of those are very strongly taught that plants should not be used without their approval and then only after testing and doctoring by pharmaceutical companies.) Plants can be powerful and can also cause unpleasant side-effects if taken in an unwise manner.
There are other methods of using plant and mineral based remedies such as flower remedies (the most well-known being the Bach flower remedies) and homeopathy. Although I have met people and heard of a lot more who believe in the effectiveness of these I have had no first-hand experience and there is scant empirical evidence in regard to them either positive or negative.
Psychiatric and psychological healing – These are the official methods of healing. They are almost impossible to avoid for anyone, but especially when it comes to mental health matters. The teachings of schools, media and society at large almost force people to seek help from the “medical experts.” When it comes to mental health this forcefulness can even extend to legalised incarceration and forced medication, with violence permitted against the patient if he will not otherwise comply. Yet what does psychiatric and psychological healing comprise of? And is it effective?
Let’s deal with the psychological first. The psychological healing includes the various “talking therapies” such as counselling, psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy and similar methods of exploring one’s psyche. Many of these can indeed be very beneficial and, as a general rule I do not oppose them. The biggest issues come from the fundamental foundations of modern psychology and its profound limitations.
The foundation of almost all of modern psychology, including psychiatry, is that the mental part of a human being is entirely material. It is all a matter of synapses, chemical agents, electrical impulses and neural pathways. And, in addition, psychology sees the brain as the only place of importance in this materialistic mechanistic system. (this is despite the numerous studies which conclude that the heart consists of some eighty percent neural tissue.)
Due to this foundation psychology is severely limited to such a degree that it is dangerously flawed. The spiritual aspect is at best sidelined and at worst denigrated. The rest of the body is only considered in relation to the effect it has on the physical parts of the brain. And the deep connection which every person has with their surroundings and the whole of the natural order is usually ignored beyond the most immediately obvious.
If one is to seek help from a counsellor or other such individual or group it is imperative that what they believe, stand for, and their approaches to healing are examined and judged as to whether they are holistic or a result of tunnel-vision.
Psychiatry is even more limited and dangerous. All that was said about psychology applies here, yet on an industrial scale. Psychiatry is about the measured use of doctored chemicals in order to produce a “desired effect.” Antidepressants, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, antipsychotics etc. may appear to help people recover. This is merely an illusion. There has been no study which has shown that any of these medications produce a curative effect; all they can do is alleviate symptoms. Nothing more. In addition almost all of them, including antidepressants and antipsychotics, can be highly addictive, cause a shortening of lifespan, cause degeneration in other parts of the brain and body, and hinder the necessary functions of the heart, mind and soul in righting themselves from a “malfunction” or, in spiritual terms, a wrong turning in life.An Important Word of Warning!!!It has already been stated that psychiatric medications is highly addictive. I spent near on three whole months of almost constant desire to kill myself in order to break away from the addiction to antidepressants before any recovery became tangible. DO NOT SUDDENLY COME OFF THE MEDS! If you were a long-term alcoholic and you suddenly stopped drinking altogether you would have a seizure and die on the spot. The same extreme caution must be taken as regards psychiatric medications. In addition, the system currently in place does not facilitate a safe and supportive recovery from mental illness unless one takes the psychiatric medication. If there is a real – as opposed to an imagined, by you or by others – danger to continued survival in this world then I would, very reluctantly, suggest that medication may be the only currently available option.
[This was written in the early hours of this morning, before it was light.]
I have had a hard night. A very brief time of sleep before fully awaking around 3 o’clock in the night. I knew sleep would be akin to a sleep of death for me so with my mind and heart thus troubled settling down to rest in slumber was not an option. And so I have been awake; drinking tea, coffee and smoking rollies. And praying.
I have prayed much the past night. Many prayers of desperation, many prayers of joy. And the musicians of Maranatha! Music have been a great blessing to me as I’ve praised the Lord whilst playing one of their albums.
I have just turned to the Bible as dawn is now approaching and, although I couldn’t find the Psalm I thought I wanted to read, I did read three and it was the final one which has really comforted me and inspired me and I wanted to share it with you. It is Psalm 13.
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
A Comfort for Those With Mental Disorders
I wanted to share how this Psalm is an especial comfort to those of us with mental health disorders.
If we are going through a period of intense depression, anxiety or a psychotic episode it can seem like all are our enemies. Though some may try to understand and help we find that they cannot and their deeds and words only bring us more pain. So many people want to get us to listen to them and comply with their plans of action, making ready for us to be so desperate that we go grovelling to them for their offers of help.
Yet this Psalm comforts and strengthens us, as believers in the Lord Jesus with mental health issues, to take our comfort and our strength from him. Sometimes he does offer help through others, yes, but often that help exacts a heavy price in our loyalty to Christ. We must be firm, comforted and encouraged to stand for the Lord, in love, both in private and in public, even when our distresses are seemingly overwhelming.
In the words of Jesus:
In this world you shall have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!
He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.
“Don’t hide away!” “Get out and about more, it’s not good to be alone!”
How many times have you heard this? Should we, as people with mental health disorders, listen?
Well, I may not be saying this in the same way as many of my fellow Christians, but though I agree with them in mind and spirit, I would put it differently to some of them and say that no, we should not always listen.
Being Part of the Community
Yes! When people tell you that it is not good to be alone or that hiding yourself away is not a good idea, then by and large they are correct. For a man or a woman to be constantly secluded in their own little world is dangerous, not only for those with mental issues but for anyone.
One can head off into undesirable thoughts and watch and do undesirable, even sinful, things. A person, in this day and age, may watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time on social media – and bear in mind that watching TV and even talking with people on social media is still being alone in some deep sense even if communication is maintained.
I myself love music. I started listening to music as a child – The Wombles of Wimbledon Song and such like! – and in my teenage years took to music greatly. I would spend hours listening to music alone (and, in the early 90s it was rather de rigueur to smoke cannabis whilst doing this) until I started hearing messages in the music. And then? My first hospital admission came when I was 20 years old. No, hiding away is not good.
Being Part of the Body
Even as I grew to know Christ I would still hide away a lot. I would still spend hours alone in my room, listening to music – though for a time much of this music was Christian or semi-Christian – and I would stay away from church for many a week, sometimes for lengthy periods.
Being alone away from the Body is not good. Even the monastic life – which I do approve of in many respects – was one of community. (Personally I prefer the Celtic Church form where, I believe, monasteries were retreats and mission centres for evangelism and ministry carried out by the monks in the world rather than the monks being taken totally out of the world.) And even the ancient way of the hermits was often done not with a total retreat from society but as a purifying experience after long years of a monastic life and often were still attached to a monastery from which monks would often come to the hermit.
Yet a monastic life and especially a hermitic life is for very few and most of us are called to be part of the church in the context of still being in the world (the community around us). Note the following from Psalm 27:
One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me.
Here we see the words “in the house of the Lord,” “inquire in His temple,” and, “He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me.”
I am reliably counselled that the safest interpretation of this verse in these times of the Church is that these terms I have emphasised in bold refer to the Body of Christ; His Church, and specifically for us, a local church.
To be a member of a local church and to engage in regular fellowship, especially but not limited to the Lord’s Day, is a vital part of being a follower of Jesus Christ. It is, after all, His ordained means of protecting and nurturing believers and a faithful minister of a church will do those things through his preaching and shepherding and through the mature saints who are also members. (Private prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures are also vital means.)
When we distance ourselves from the assembling of ourselves together we become vulnerable to the wiles of the devil, as I myself can painfully testify, and this assembling cannot be replaced by phone calls, emails or social media.
When we need time alone
Sometimes, though, time needs to be spent by oneself. Sometimes this may be unavoidable – I live in a flat by myself and oftentimes I am forced to be alone. In such times we need to remember that the Lord is still with us; He watches us when we are in company and when we are alone, when we are awake and when we are asleep: his care and love for us does not waver if we have given ourselves to Jesus.
Other times it may well be beneficial for us and others for us to retreat to a quiet place. This can be especially true for some of us with a history of mental health problems.
If we are prone to anger we would do well to retreat if we feel our anger will spill out at another person unrighteously. “The wrath of man does not produce righteousness.” A few moments or even longer away from a potentially explosive situation is not wrong and is actually a very good policy.
At other times we may feel a panic attack coming on and a few moments alone in prayer and reflection may help calm us down.
At other times we may find a social situation overwhelming and at such times retreat into a room by oneself or out into the garden may help. This may even be true of a church service, though if one is able it is good to remain in a church throughout a service. Sometimes I have found that staying in church for the whole service becomes so difficult for me that it is best to step outside for a little while before returning into the service.
If you find that this has helped you in the past try to do so without causing disturbance or offence to another if possible; I try to pick a convenient moment to hold off until, rather than missing a sermon or a Scripture reading and I now tend to sit towards the back and toward the end of a pew if I am able as this enables me to go outside briefly before returning. Sometimes that would not be possible and if I am invited to sit with a brother I will tend to do so rather than unnecessarily excuse myself from sitting next to him, yet I am still able to give myself permission to go outside if needed.
Returning to Being with People
Whatever the situation, unless it is one where you are being severely tempted by the surroundings and need to leave permanently it is best not to stay alone for too long before returning; just long enough but no more (especially true of a church service.)
It is better to do this personal, temporary retreating than end up having an extremely distressing time which may cause you to be fearful of attending such events again.
And, as time goes on you may find that such times of excusing yourself get less frequent and of shorter timespans. One important thing whatever necessitates your retreating to be alone is to remember the Apostle Paul’s words to “pray without ceasing.” When retreating to be by yourself do not get lost in your own flights of fancies or worryings but rather pray quietly to the Lord, even silently if that is most convenient such as if you are in a public place such as a front porch or outside the church. That can be difficult sometimes, I know, but try to build that practice of prayer into your everyday life in every place and time.
In most things in life it is good to have balance. To be constantly or predominantly alone can be harmful and to be constantly seeking to be with people can be harmful, especially if we end up seeking out the company of ungodly people in pubs and in clubs, for example.
As people who have suffered much from mental disorders we can find it hard to be wise and discerning in these matters, but most of the time seeking a healthy balance is a good way forward.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed? So distressed, so fearful? You try to reach out but no-one seems to be there. You are alone and you want to depend on God, but then it seems like you are being judged by God rather than comforted? You yearn for even the comforters which Job had rather than be alone with the burden of your failings and your sins.
Family and Friends
I have been feeling like that. Family has become distant. In many cases this has been my fault. I have pushed many of my family members away. Others so want to help but do not know how to and so offer to receive a call I cannot make. My uncle said this very thing and said he didn’t know how to help. My reply? “I don’t know how you can help, either.”
Friends have proved themselves not to be friends in need or I have pushed them away, too. Many of my “friends” took drugs or engaged in filthy talk and I no longer want anything to do with that, so I have pushed them away or they have chosen themselves to become distant. My judgementalism hasn’t helped here, even though I am glad to no longer be seeing those who have led me astray (and vice versa!)
Those friends in church I have become close to so want to help but every Christian has struggles and responsibilities and often it can seem as if they are otherwise engaged in peforming some very vital tasks or ministries – tasks and ministries which I have not wanted to get in the way of.
What, then, to do?
There can be no option in times like this. We must seek God. We may feel the heavy weight of His hand yet we need to cling to the promises which are ours in Christ. Reach out to God through prayer. I am reading about Simple Prayer (note 1) right now: prayer without any pretentiousness or any attempt to be perfect; just my fears, burdens and even my terribleness, and thus drawing near to the Holy God through His Son who died for us.
Scripture can be an immense help and has been for me. Sometimes, though, even the Scriptures can appear to be condemning us. I have recently read 1 Corinthians 13 a number of times and the verses on the nature of love have left me feeling as if I do not know love at all. Psalm 23 is a wonderfully comforting Psalm, yet recently as I’ve read of lying down in green pastures I can think of none which are currently thought of as a blessing in a godly way, and when I’ve read of goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life I have wondered where this goodness and mercy has gone to.
Yet perservere! Now I am finding that both of those passgaes are coming to life again and I am finding that comfort I thought I might have lost forever.
In times like these I have found church to be vital. Though I have battled hard – very hard – to keep up church attendance and have, at times, felt only intermittent comfort from those weekly times, I am now finding such a comfort and encouragement from those attendances and they are such a good reminder that God’s people are still here, they still welcome me and they still love me, and you!
(Note 1: Prayer by Richard Foster, published by Clays Ltd, St. Ives, 1992)
When I first started writing these testimonies I wrote many words of my experiences, feelings, shames and boasts. Yet as the prophecy of Agur states in Proverbs 30: “If you have done foolishly…lay your hand upon your mouth.” Besides, much of those long testimonies were riddled with hypocrisy and judgementalism.
I have, in too many ways to relate, been acting like a fool in my life. Yes, through it all I have clung to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Blessèd Trinity or, rather, He has clung to me. Hope is only found in Jesus Christ and in no other and forgiveness for sins can only be found through His atoning sacrifice upon the cross. Life eternal can only be attained because of His resurrection.
Over the past few months I have been through much. Because I have truly believed that recourse to psychiatric medication is only a short-term solution to a problem of eternal significance and that the transitory comfort such medication has brought me has only led to an imperviousness to the abhorrence of my sinfulness I chose, willingly, to come off my medication over a year ago.A word of caution. The time I am in now is not to be laughed at or taken on lightly. In many ways I’d want to increase my medication – I am now on a low dose due to a verbal agreement with my doctors and nurses – yet I know that the final judgement comes from God and I desire to do what I can to face what I must now rather than when it becomes too late to repent of my many sins. Yet it remains true I believe, that many of us who suffer from mental illness need some comforts in life. We have had a very hard road and some very hard things to deal with, whether that be childhood sexual abuse, violence or have even experienced worse things in this short life we’ve lived. I have chosen my path and you must choose yours. Do not choose to take mine – coming off medication – out of a foolish thought that you could cope when I am only barely surviving day to day and there are only a few times of blessed relief and comfort from the Lord.
Yet I still cling on to the promises of God contained in His word: Scripture reading, good Christian music and as much fellowship with the saints as possible is helping greatly.
Jesus died for us, whoever we may be and whatever we may have thought, said and done. Trust in Him and Him alone, for He is the Rock of Salvation and He loves you.
These verses have both disciplined me for my lack of these qualities and have also comforted me, so I share them here:
“Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not, love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
(Note: Scripture verses use the KJV Bible yet I have modernised slightly if the words wouldn’t be understood by many in this present day.)
I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of twenty. After a rather blessed childhood thanks to the care of my mum and my maternal grandparents – although there were some very hideous situations and events in my very young childhood which I have only very recently come to terms with – I went rather off the rails in my late teenage years. I played around with a number of sexual sinful practices – such as fornication, adultery and transvestism – and primarily I played around with a number of herbal and synthetic means of “getting out of my head” including cannabis, amphetamine, Ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms. I also explored spiritualities linked to those drug uses and was an early adopter of the 90’s New Age philosophy.
I returned to my Christian faith after my breakdown at 20 but it was during the mid 90s after an encounter with the Modern Jesus Army when I recommitted myself to the Lord Jesus and, after a certain time with the JA I spent a number of years moving from one church to another. It is only very, very recently that I have found that Jesus Christ is truly the faithful Lord and Saviour He says He is and that He has never, even in my darkest and most rebellious moments, left me nor forsaken me.
How many years have I been confessing Christ? Through my childhood, since I was taught the faith by my grandparents who took me to church (I was baptised as a babe in the Methodist Church) to when I proudly presented the marrow I had produced (O man! Childish ways! Of course, God gave the marrow and it was primarily my grandfather who had tended and watered it, but I was so pleased to present that produce at the Harvest Festival and thought, so I am told, of how feeble it was to give a tin of something bought from the local store, such was my childish pride.) And then on until I grew into teenagehood when my faith started to decline.
And then my return to the faith in unusual steps, initially attending a Middle Church Anglican fellowship after my breakdown and only learning to confess Christ fully when I was around twenty two years old. Yet even then my life was not particularly fruitful, hindered as I was by nagging, terrible fears that I wasn’t truly saved and numerous addictions to sexuality, drink and wayward spiritualities.
Yet since my return to Christ as an adult at around 22 I have never fully abandoned the faith again and have maintained contact with the church, though intermittently and without any very real sense of truly belonging. And now? Well, read this series of testimonials as to where I am at now. I should forewarn, though, to be aware that my journey has been a long, winding road far less travelled and with many a wandering off the narrow path. I was likened by a man in the JA to a “lost sheep,” though to be honest I am not sure that he was not a wandering sheep himself. Yet I was, indeed, a wandering lamb; double-minded and unstable in all my ways.
Do read, and it is my earnest prayer that those who believe yet are burdened with mental disorders or waywardness of spirituality may be comforted and exhorted and that those who do not believe may see that I am only able to write these posts at all because of the all-surpassing love of God in Jesus Christ the only true Lord and Saviour.
[This is a post which orginally appeared as a two-part post on the blog A New Name run by Emma Scrivener. It is by a dear Christian lady named Sharon Hastings who trained as a doctor before developing schizoaffective disorder. She lives in Northern Ireland. I am presenting it here with the permission of both Emma and Sharon, along with my comment on her second part. I am not presenting it in all its fullness but rather the majority of part one plus the entirety of part two. I am missing out the definitions of the severe mental illnesses as I disagree with these labels, these boxes psychiatrists place us in. The originals can be seen here: Part One – Part Two]
Severe Mental Illness and the Church – Part One – Sarah’s Story
“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
1 Corinthians 12:18
Sarah is sitting alone in a back corner of the sanctuary. The service is over but she hasn’t gone for coffee. She’s wearing her sweater with the hood up over her head and she is covering her ears with her hands. Sarah is hearing voices. A scratchy whisper is repeating over and over again; “We’re going to get you. We’re going to get you…” She is also afraid to go home. She’s convinced that her living room has been bugged by secret police who know that she is going to commit a crime.
What is wrong with Sarah, and how would you help her?
The chances are that you’ve no idea. Maybe you haven’t encountered someone with this kind of problem before – Sarah has schizophrenia – and the idea of getting involved is actually a bit scary. Didn’t a paranoid schizophrenic commit that murder that was in the news last week?
Sadly, severe mental illness is rarely spoken of in our churches. We are quite comfortable talking about depression and anxiety, and – increasingly – about eating disorders and self-harm, and this is great. But I know that I have never heard a sermon which mentioned bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. These are sometimes known as the ‘severe and enduring’ mental illnesses: they have a life-changing and lifelong effect on people who suffer from them, and they are more common than you might think – a congregation of 200 members will, on average, have four to five people in it who have one of these diagnoses…people like Sarah, people like me.
Severe Mental Illness and the Church – Part Two – The Vital Place of Those with Severe Mental Health Issues Within the Church
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he referred to it as the ‘body of Christ’, which had ‘many parts’ (1 Corinthians 12:27,12). He emphasised that every part – or person – in the church body was important:
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour.”
1 Corinthians 12:22-23
This means a lot to me. I have schizoaffective disorder – I am ‘weaker’, and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often stigmatised conditions – ‘less honourable’ in some people’s eyes, but Paul tells me that I am ‘indispensable’ in the church and have ‘special honour’.
Yet church can be hard and at times I feel far from indispensable and honoured.
I can be forgotten: I have spells in hospital when I am too ill to go to church for months. My behaviour at church can be a little strange: I may be over-excitable if I manic, I leave meetings early when I am feeling paranoid, and I withdraw from people if I am overwhelmed by depression. And I do feel stigmatised. It’s hard to tell someone that I have schizoaffective disorder. After all, people have commonly heard news stories about psychotic individuals who have committed crimes. This is understandably frightening, but people with psychosis are actually much more likely to be victims of crime than to be responsible for it.
I believe that I have found an important role in my church, however. I have seen that my openness about my condition and my testimony of God-inspired hope in the midst of severe mental illness has begun to help reduce stigma. It is my prayer that this will make a difference for others who also suffer.
So what about Sarah – how can you help?
Today, Sarah is clearly frightened and acutely unwell. She is suffering from hallucinations and delusions and is in need of professional support. Approach her calmly and gently, ask her if she is okay and what she is experiencing, and find out if she has someone to contact in an emergency. On a Sunday, this is likely to be her GP Out of Hours Service. Offer to help her to get in touch.
This will be easier if you already know Sarah. She is probably usually not so obvious, but – although her hood may be down – she is still likely to be on the margins of church life. Try to be aware of those who have severe mental illness in your congregation (remember that there might be five or six if you have 200 people) and reach out to them when they are not in crisis. Let them tell their stories and help them to stay involved in church activities, for example, by sitting with them or giving a lift to an event.
Pray for Sarah. Be careful if you are praying with her. Using ‘spiritual’ language such as asking God for ‘deliverance’ or to help overcome this ‘stronghold’ in her life may feed into her delusions and make her feel like she is demon-possessed rather than a sick and hurting daughter of the King. Keep it simple and she will appreciate your sensitivity.
Look after her carers. You may know Sarah’s family or other close connections. At a time of crisis like this – when Sarah may well have to be admitted to hospital – they will be feeling the strain. If you can offer a hot meal or to walk their dogs, it will mean a lot. Pray for them too.
Stay in touch during the week. If Sarah is in hospital, her days will be long, and a short visit will break the monotony and remind her that she is loved. If she is at home, she might have visiting nurses, but Christian fellowship is still important, and she will probably be glad to see a familiar face. Perhaps you could share a scripture you have found helpful when you’ve been struggling too (we all have in some way!) – perhaps a lament from Job or David (“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”Psalm 13:2), or encouragement to think of ‘what is noble…right…pure…(and) lovely,’ from Paul (Philippians 8:8).
Learn about mental illness. You are doing this right now! Armed with some understanding, you will be better equipped to help when things get difficult for Sarah or others. For example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK) has excellent online resources to inform you.
When you know more about illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, you can help to dispel the stigma. Share your knowledge with others and suggest that your pastor or minister runs a special service close to World Mental Health Day (10th October).
If one part is honoured, we all rejoice.
Paul tells us that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthian 12:26)
Thank you for reading this blog and showing that you care about people like Sarah. I hope that you feel enabled to go forward in your journey towards helping those who suffer from severe mental illness. By encouraging them as they grow in Christ, you can foster their unique gifts in ministering to others. I know that I am indebted to those who have done this for me, and that my church body now rejoices in my good times.
An “Insane” Man’s Comment
[This is the comment I made on the second part of Sharon’s post as it appeared on A New Name.]
As a fellow “freak,” as a fellow “weirdo,” I want to address this comment to the hero of your post and I hope that you may pass on my thoughts as appropriate.
Thank you! The stigma surrounding severe mental health issues remains huge and is, sadly, prevalent far beyond its proper measure in the church. The only way this stigma can be broken is through people like you – the “highly honoured” and “indispensable” members of the Body.
Thank you for presenting from a Christian perspective the story of Vincent Van Gogh, of Joan of Arc, of Nostramdamus, of King James I of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France, of Rasputin and so so many more.
Although I differ greatly in my views on the role of health professionals I do agree so much with the approach outlined here that the Church should take. Can anyone who has not experienced schizophrenia, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder understand? No. People can try. They can sympathise. They can care, they can support and most of all they can love. But truly understand? No. How can you explain to someone that you are currently battling the host of demonic forces in your bedroom so cannot spare the time for dinner tonight? How can you explain that Jesus has just spoken to you and that you must spend the night on a hilltop to see if He will come back tonight and then go back to your family for breakfast as you try to figure out why He didn’t come when you thought He had told you that he was at the door?
I have just, this past week, been discharged from a brief stay at the local nuthouse. I was taken from the streets shortly after nightfall and bundled into the back of an unmarked police car. I was taken to the hospital and kept in a secluded room with no clear windows, no visitors and no means of contact with anyone except my captors. I was forced face down upon my bed and painfully injected with chemicals at least twice. I think I was in that seclusion for two days, though I am unsure, and then I was transferred to a proper psychiatric ward.
Speaking with nurses during my “calming down” phase I was informed that I was the most unwell patient in that seclusion room that they had ever come across. That was two weeks ago. During my week and a half in hospital the doctors, nurses and myself discussed my treatment and medication on a mutual respect basis. I made it clear that I would not be treated any other way and after 25 years of diagnosed mental disorders and extensive research I have a very good understanding of the treatments, medications and laws applicable to mental health patients.
I am now on 7.5mg daily of Olanzapine. (Prior to my admittance to hospital I had come off completely, and prior to my weaning off the medication I was on 20mg daily of escitalopram and 17.5mg daily of Olanzapine. I have now returned to a semblance of sanity.) I regard that brief stay in the DOP as a necessary “rebalancing” which has enabled me once more to survive in the world, feed myself and care for those around me. But what is sanity?
Was Peter sane when, as he was told by the Way, the Truth and the Life that he would deny the Son of God his response was that though everyone else may deny Him he would never do so! And then some 24 hours later denied Him three times and then went outside to sob uncontrollably and inconsolably!
Those with serious mental illness are gifted. Gifted beyond measure of understanding by others. An Orthodox friend of mine told me that I had been blessed with a curse and said that “the words ‘blessing’ and ‘curse’ are actually insufficient in these situations.” Yes, we feel such pain, sometimes torment. And yes, often, too often, we end up bringing others into our circle of pain. Yet we also have an insight, a gift, which the Church ignores at its peril.
Thank you, Sarah! Thank you! And thank you, Sharon, for bringing Sarah’s story to my eyes and heart.