I have this…worm in my head, this thought that will not go away, a little voice that constantly says “you are not good enough.” Not good enough…compared to other people, compared to friends, people on TV, other bloggers, random people in the street. That in comparison to them I am stupid (this one is a recurring theme), that I am an embarrassment to myself and my family, that I am ugly, that my personality is lacking and that the only people who are friends with me are friends because they feel sorry for me.
I’d imagine many of us who suffer from mental health problems have that worm, and many who are not mentally ill but just human, too. For me, it started in adolescence – I was painfully, abnormally shy and became anxious about many things (speaking to people I did not know, speaking in public, being touched) and part of that came from feeling inadequate compared to other people. I think insecurity is a fairly normal part of adolescence, although terrible at the time, but I think mine went a little beyond that. It was when I was a teenager that I first experimented with self-injury, again born out of a feeling of being worthless.
That feeling of being worthless kept me from Christ for a long time. I thought that I could not be “good enough” for Christ, that God must see me as I ‘truly’ was – an awful excuse for a human who should never have lived. I drew, at that time, food for my problem from a poem called “Lines Written During a Period of Insanity” by William Cowper which includes the lines:
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.
I felt I simply could not follow Christ, that he would not want me. I’m sure I am not alone – and that thought tends to come back when I am depressed, that little voice taunting me with the idea that God in fact hates me, and wants nothing to do with me save to punish. The idea that mental illness is a curse from God plays into that, of course, even though it is not something I believe, at least when I am rational.
I sometimes say that mental illness taught me about sin. I absolutely do not believe that the majority of mental illness is caused by our personal sin, and for those that are, it will be plainly obvious what big sin it is the punishment for. Yet mental illness taught me, because it has taught me the immense separation that sin causes between God and man. When I am deeply depressed, and think that God hates me, it is because God is indeed diametrically opposed to sin. God is the definition of holiness and purity and “in him is no darkness at all”. We, who are sinful (and let us admit that we do know we are sinful, we all of us have done wrong things) are far away from God. I think that when we are depressed we understand how far we are from him, how his holiness cannot live in or with sin. It is like two ends of a magnet, they cannot be put together because they are so much in opposition to each other. So it is with God – you cannot have the absolutely holy sharing eternity with those stained by sin.
What I fail to understand when I am depressed is that the heart of the Christian message is that that separation has been bridged. Precisely because holy cannot be with sinful Christ took our sins, swapped them for his holiness. When we accept his sacrifice on the cross on our behalf we take on in God’s eyes his perfection, and our sins are removed, blotted out, they are no more. The punishment has been given, and fulfilled, no matter whether our sins are small or large. That is both absolutely wonderful and hard to understand – other- or self-punishment for sin is more attuned to my human understanding than complete forgiveness. Yet that is what the gospel teaches. When I am depressed I feel the sin part – but fail to understand or believe in the forgiveness part.
The truth is that no one on earth, no human being (save one!) has ever measured up to God’s standards of perfection. No one will ever inherit the kingdom by right, because not a one of us is good enough. Paul wrote, quoting, that “all have sinned” – and we can understand that to be true when we think that any action at all that is not loving God our our neighbour is a sin. We are all guilty. Anyone who teaches that you have to attain a certain level of goodness to be a Christian is lying, to be honest – I have heard that idea expressed as being like telling a person to take a bath in preparation for being washed! We are made good, made holy, we cannot get there ourselves. Yes, you would expect Christians to at least aim for a certain standard of behaviour, but it is not because of this behaviour that God accepts us, nor does he require it of us prior to conversion. It should also be pointed out that the Bible says God will make us able to be good, rather than it being human effort. Also – Christians still stumble, we still sin, but we know to repent, and we know that God will forgive.
I try, when that nasty voice of self-hate arrives, to remind myself that I am a child of God, that he has chosen me, and though I am nothing compared to him, he has made me his daughter, and Jesus calls me his friend. I try to remember, to force belief even if my feelings are in opposition, that I am saved, I may be sinful, but God does not see my sin, because he has forgiven me. I try to think that I should not hate my body because God made it, and says I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Even though I may think I am ugly, a horrible person etc, God does not think so. I try to think of what he thinks, and keep my eyes on him rather than giving in to myself, with those nasty thoughts.
All that, of course, sounds very easy but isn’t. People have very serious self-esteem issues which cause a whole slew of other problems. Me saying “look to God” is trite, frankly, it is a lot harder than that. Yet it is something I try to do, try to repeat to myself the promises of God even if I strive against them sometimes. One day, all that repetition will mean I don’t feel that way anymore! At the moment, my voice of hate is not so strong now, in part because I am well, and in part because I try to focus my attention outside myself. I still struggle, but things are getting better.
I would strongly recommend the (Christian) Lysamena Project on Self-Injury page on What God is Doing in Me and another site I have just found called Lies Young Women Believe which is also a Christian site and the linked page is about feeling not good enough. Some sad stories in the comments and also some good responses from the site people.
In the end I do not want to be like Cowper, and I do not want to believe that God has damned me, considers me too much a sinner to be saved. I know that I believe, and I know that God accepts those who believe. I also know that God loves each and every one of us and does not want us to feel hatred for ourselves. I would like to dress myself up in his love and ward off those awful thoughts.