The first time I went through a mental health crisis I was not a Christian. I had played with the idea before, sometimes styling myself as a Christian on the internet, but it was not very serious, I’m afraid. I had too many hang-ups, largely concerned with fundamentalist Christianity, for me to take Christ seriously.
That all changed when I became ill. I started to be depressed in late 2002, and went through my darkest period in early 2003, during my final year at university. I don’t really know how to describe depression, the terrible weight and the awful inevitability of thoughts of suicide. All I wanted to do was escape the feelings I was experiencing, and gradually my life shrunk from having a fairly normal life down to introspection and self harm. I found (and find) that the more depressed I am the less I can look outside myself, I become, though never intend to be, selfish. All I can feel is awfulness, a sort of slowness in how I think and how I reason, where the voice of self-hate speaks louder than rationality, and my energy just drains away.
Other people perhaps describe depression differently. At one point it made me very agitated, where (as I have bipolar) I switched from depression to euphoria to agitated depression all the time. I expressed it in my very first online diary like this:
My head’s going to explode. I feel like somethings pushing at it from the inside, and its going to burst with it all. I want to jump up and punch the walls, or go crazy dancing round the flat, or run up the hills and fly in the sky – and then all I want to do is sit and stare at the wall and rock back and forth!!!
And the violence…..I want to bang my head against the wall, I want to pull out my eyes and cut off my arms, stick skewers in my brain, crucify myself and behead myself and I CAN’T GET RID OF THESE THOUGHTS! They disgust me and they delight me all at the same time.
I self-harmed regularly (once or twice a day) and was suicidal to the point that I overdosed on psychiatric medication twice. It was the most horrible time of my life. By a miracle I passed my degree, the medication I was given started working, and I went home to my parents at the end of the academic year and then spent a lot of time recovering.
Where was God in all of this? I have to say that I did not publicly talk about faith with either online or offline friends. I had picked up the idea (which I still have) that to talk about one’s personal faith is to reveal something very private, and shouldn’t be done lightly. God was on my mind. I wrote poems about feeling destined for death, and for sadness, and occasionally mentioned God in those, though I don’t remember going so far as to blame him for my illness.
Or rather, I remember saying “why do I feel so awful?” to him, and trying to understand what I had done wrong. I came up with quite a list of things I had done, for I hated myself very much. I thought, too, about whether God approved of the self-harm. But things were so confused that I could not focus much on anything.
There was a time though, when I sought out God. It wasn’t an overnight conversion experience and I cannot remember any particular day, but I can remember that I sort of found belief by accident. What I mean is that, in the depths, I found a small amount of faith in Christ, which was more real to me than the professed neo-Paganism I had at the time. In the end I found that I wanted to be Christian, that I wanted to feel God’s love even though I hated myself. I find it hard to explain really, I just know that when I was feeling low, I talked to God, and decided to believe.
I didn’t expect miracles and I did not get them. But the depression lifted slowly, and I (tentatively) considered myself a Christian. I did experience comfort from God, and I mostly had a sense of hope. I hoped for better things even as my mind was torturing me, because in the end, Christians hope. It is something we specialise in!
Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
This is something I have tried to be, through the years. I am not a good Christian, I am better than I was but I still fall short of the ideal. But I have come to realise that we all fall short, and that God accepts faith even the size of a mustard seed from all of us.
Since that first illness I have been considerably less scared. I have had several episodes of ill-health (one leading to hospitalisation) but none so bad as that first time, besides which I now know what to expect. I think because I was on my own and didn’t really understand what was happening things were much more out of control back then than they have been since. My faith has grown and deepened over the years and I have been able to reflect more.
So where was God in my crisis? I will no doubt go over this again, but briefly, let me say that I do not think God caused my illness. I think God permits things to happen in this world, but he does not sit on high dispensing disease and disaster to people.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I do think good has come from my illness. I suspect that when I stand before God I will see good things that have been brought out of my illness that I cannot imagine now. But I can certainly say that being bipolar has changed me – I can only hope for the better. One thing I certainly have now which I never had before is a desire to help people with mental health problems, specially I would like to be able to help Christians with mental health problems because too many churches still discriminate and say the most awful things to Christian sufferers. But that is for the future.
I have rambled on a bit in this entry, and I will almost certainly be revisiting things here again, but I wanted to get some ideas on (virtual) paper!