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.