[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.