Truthfulness About Myself

As a Christian I serve the one called The Truth, Jesus. As a human I too often fail to tell and see the truth about myself. As a person with a mental health problem I have trouble seeing truth from the lies told by illness about myself.

I speak, now, from a position of wellness I have held for around the past year. I believe I am better able to recognise the side of myself I do not like, as apart from the things depression says to me. When I am ill, I believe that I am the worst person in the world, undeserving of love, or of life, a person who deserves to be punished by myself, others and God. At other times I believe myself to be wonderful, amazing, I have all the self-confidence in the world and frankly, I am not the person I believe myself to be then. When I am neither hypomanic nor depressed I see a more whole picture. I am not the worst, and I am not the best either. Part of the sheer awfulness of mental health (at least as I have experienced it) is that it distorts the reality of who I am, and distorts my understanding of how God sees me too.

Over the years I believe I have gained self-understanding as a result of having this illness. Before I became ill I was shy and had a terrible lack of self-esteem. When I am depressed that lack of self-esteem becomes a huge monster in my life, and is a large part of the reason I feel so bad and why I self-harm. To be quite honest my hypomanic phases seem like rays of sunlight in the depths of depression – I do not dislike them at all! One of the things that pains me is that my doctors are more concerned about those highs than they seem to be about the lows. At least that is how I perceive it sometimes.

Depression tells me I am evil, more sinful than others, singled out in my lack of worth. Depression says that God is not interested in me, that he hates me, that he does not care about someone like me. Depression tells me I am nothing in his eyes. Depression says that although God loves the world (John 3:16) he does not really love me, for he knows me, and knows how nasty and awful I really am. Depression twists Scripture and focusses only on one side of God, his justice, and his hatred of sin. Depression knows sin, and finds sin where no one else would. Depression gnaws on the bad things I have done and magnifies them until they are the only thing I see. And depression does not understand forgiveness, it does not understand redemption, it does not understand love. I judge myself in a harsher way than I would anyone else, I have no mercy, I cannot temper the justice of what I believe should happen to me.

Being a Christian in the midst of depression can be hard. I believe in sin, in the missing the mark, the failure to live up to the best standard in life, in my life. I believe sin to be a lack, the lack of love, for my neighbour and for God. When I have been cruel, unkind, when I have snapped at others and hurt others, that is sin. Where I have failed to do right, to keep away from lying, from envy, from pride, I have sinned. Depression takes that awareness and tells me that I am a worse sinner than others, and says to me that there is no release, that God has judged me and condemned me already. I read, once, in the depths, a poem by William Cowper, himself a sufferer from severe depression, which perfectly expressed how I feel, in terms of God, when I am depressed. I would like to post it here:

Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion,
Scarce can endure delay of execution,
Wait with impatient readiness to seize my
Soul in a moment.

Damned below Judas; more abhorred than he was,
Who for a few pence sold his holy Master.
Twice-betrayed Jesus me, the last delinquent,
Deems the profanest.

Man disavows, and Deity disowns me;
Hell might afford my miseries a shelter;
Therefore Hell keeps her ever-hungry mouths all
Bolted against me.

Hard lot! encompassed with a thousand dangers,
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors,
I’m called, if vanquished, to receive a sentence
Worse than Abiram’s.

Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice
Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong;
I, fed with judgement, in a fleshy tomb, am
Buried above ground.

(William Cowper, Lines Written During A Period of Insanity)

I believe in sin, but I also believe in forgiveness. Was I, am I the worst of sinners? From wellness I can say, no. I have sinned, we have all sinned, but we are not all Hitler. God came for all of us, and when I say to him, I repent, he has said he will regard my sin no more. I try hard to remember that God does indeed love me, that he came to die for me as much as he came to die for any person I can pick out as being perfect. That Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, and that he showed his love most to those who needed him most. I am sinful, but so are others, and Jesus calls me his friend.

Adrian Plass said, (I have mentioned this before), that “God is nice and he likes me” – sometimes the more prosaic words can help. We can imagine a love that is twisted, a love that says “I will punish” but a liking? God likes me! To bring the mysteries of the love that endured death down to saying God likes me, he is nice, he wants to chat with me and be my friend, is like bringing the mysteries of the Kingdom into a story about food.

I am not a wonderful perfect person, and only in illness do I think I am. But I am not the chief of sinners either. To say so is not to exempt me from the charge of sin, or to downplay the importance of repentance, but it is not very Christian to let the words of depression take over my life, and tell me I am worthless. I sin, I have sinned, I am forgiven. I try my hardest not to let my illness twist my understanding, I have sinned, but I am also a new creation, a child of God.

God, my Friend, may I understand that I am loved. May we all understand your love, love not hate. May we learn to see ourselves as you see us. Flawed, but made perfect by your grace. May I always act in love toward others. Amen.

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Comments

  1. Emma,
    I love how you wrote ‘to’ the depression…giving it a name…putting it outside of yourself. That is actually an intervention strategy for therapy that I learned in school and you natrually did it on your own…well, I don’t doubt…with the help of God.

    I too used to read the Word of God and only hear condemnation…especially when I read the Old Testament. Now it is my favorite portion of the Book to meditate on and inwardly digest. Jesus is woven throughout the entire Book of the Bible and I didn’t used to see that. Like you, I saw life through the lens of depression.

    St. Paul said that he was wretched and the biggest of sinners and look how God used him! Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Even Paul experienced despair and wanted to die (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). In 1 Kings 19 Elijiah told God he wanted to die because he felt defeated and so depressed. If King David were alive today he would be diagnosed with bipolar. Martin Luther, the great Reformist, who translated the bible from Latin to German so that laymen could read it suffered from serious episodes of depression. In fact, he became a monk because he was terrified that he was going to die in a thunderstorm, so he called out to God promising he would become a monk if God let him live. Luther thought God hated him too and Lutherans today believe in the Word of God that says that we are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. That verse pierced Luther’s heart and he was transformed. It didn’t mean he never battled depression, but it did reconcile him to God and gave him peace.

    I love reading your entries. You are a very deep, reflective thinker…I am too..that can work for us and against us at times. God has given you a gift to write continue to use it for God’s glory. You have a story to tell sister!
    I was praying for you last night. I will keep you in my prayers. I know the path we walk is not easy, but it can be better. God loves you so very much Emma! He loves you like you are His only child. 🙂

    Blessings,
    Robin

  2. Thank you for the lovely comment, Robin, and thank you very much for your prayers. I often take encouragement from people like Luther who suffered from depression, and I agree that David does seem to show symptoms of bipolar! I love the Psalms, there is something in there for every mood I have. It was reading them that made me realise that God doesn’t get annoyed when we plead “why?” and “have you forgotten me?” that he is ok with us sharing our feelings, even the unsanitised ones!
    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my posts, it really means a lot to me.

    God bless,
    Emma

  3. Emma,
    I too love the Psalms. What you mentioned about being “ok with us sharing our feelings, even the unsatisfied ones” is so absolutely true. David had such an intimate relationship with the Lord and that necessarily means that we will be open and honest with God in a manner of reverence. I always think…well, God sees when I rise and when I lie down, He knit me together and knows my inward parts, so I might as well tell Him what’s going on internally because He already knows. I think that is the mark of a true relationship…transparency.

    God’s richest blessings to you Emma! I continue to pray for you daily.
    In Christ,
    Robin

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