Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Christian, Mental Illness & God


When suffering with emotional and mental challenges, Christians often ask questions such as is something wrong with me? Who will help me? Should I see a doctor and get a diagnosis? Why is this happening to me? Does God really care? Will I ever be free from this horrible suffering? 

There are many reasons that we struggle mentally. Some of them are hereditary, trauma and tragedy. The environment in which we grew up can cause and/or increase mental struggles. Despite the severity of these challenges, the Christian has a source of help that others do not have. Chantal C., a Christian blogger and artist who has managed her mental challenges for many years, shares,

"When we suffer tragic events and huge changes in our lives that lead to trauma, and on top of that have a mental illness, life can overpower us. We may even be in therapy and taking medication but due to our inner suffering, our support network does not seem to be enough.


What it comes down to, is that when we feel overpowered, trapped and defenseless by situations that are happening in our lives, the one we must go to is God. He is the one that will empower us, free us and give us strength to live the life He wants us to.
We must also ask Him the difficult questions we cannot figure out and understand. Why the torment? What purpose does it serve? With God there is a reason and as painful as our torment is and as hopeless as we may get, we must remember to always trust in Him. He provides for us a way out of our anguish through prayer and Scripture. Let us not give up on His love and salvation, the grace He has given us. Let us always strive for that newness of life in Christ."



I met Chantal through a Google+ Christian group, and was impressed by her insight, progress and honesty in journeying through the painful valley of Christian mental illness. I consider mental illness to be a challenge more so than a death sentence, though sadly it has resulted in death for many. It is, however, no more difficult to manage than other life challenges that also have resulted in death for Christians.

We don't know the answer as to why some Christians are crippled beyond repair by damaged emotions and mental processes, just as there is no understandable answer as to why some people in this world suffer so much more than others. Whatever the level or severity of the mental challenge of any Christian, the answer is always to look to God through Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the Cross. There is always hope in suffering, but some are so damaged as to not be able to grasp this hope, to go about obtaining help, or even to pray. It is important for us who can to always pray for those who suffer mentally and emotionally and who cannot help themselves.

Chantal graciously agreed to answer some deep questions about living with and healing from mental illness and emotional challenges. Here are her heartfelt, insightful and profound answers.

1.  When did you first know that you needed help with your mental processes? 
Though I struggled with mental illness most of my life, it was not until seven years ago, in 2008, that I realized I needed help. My world came crashing down on me and I needed hospitalization. I no longer had the mental and physical health I once did. My body shut down and depression settled within me. I felt like I was failing at life, making one mistake after another—broken relationships and lost of employments. I was once very motivated and had my own photography business but as time went on, it seemed like I was fading away from all that was positive in my life.

I realized I needed extra support when I overdosed twice in 2011. I was living with many life-changing experiences all at once and my mental health could not handle it.

I remember when I came out of the psychiatric hospital how ill I still was. My mind was filled with dark thoughts all the while I felt so alone inside. My emotions where still out of control as they wrestled within me. However, four months later I received the support I needed.


2.  Was there anyone to help you? 

I had many counselors since 2008 but it was in January 2012 that I finally found the right therapist. I started to work on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for personality disorders. This helped me tremendously to understand negative thought patterns, emotions and behavior. I am still in therapy as it takes many years to recover from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Nevertheless, I am healing and doing better than ever.

I also received spiritual guidance. This helped me to seek deliverance as I became closer to God. I also learned many things about myself and God, especially that there was hope for me and that I could find it in Jesus. I was encouraged to read Scripture such as Psalm 51. Eventually, I knew God was giving me a fresh start—a chance at recovery.



3. Did you have formal diagnosis and treatment, and what advice do you give about seeking it?

When in hospital in 2011, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), later confirmed by another psychiatrist. The diagnosis was a relief to me, as I finally knew what mental illness I suffered from. This explained why I had such a chaotic and distressing life. Receiving a diagnosis helped me to realize I was not the only one struggling this way. This gave me hope. I then started my recovery journey consisting of therapy, medication and spirituality.

In my opinion, I think it is important for a person with mental illness to receive a diagnosis. This guides them in the proper direction for their healing process. Accepting what illness they have and seeking the right support are the first steps to recovery.



4.  How long have you known the Lord and how did you become a Christian? 
I have known the Lord since my early childhood years. My mother was there for me and shared her beliefs about God. As I got older, due to my symptoms, I often drifted on and off my Christian path. One thing I have always known throughout the years was that Jesus was my Savior. I always found consolation in knowing this, especially through the difficult times.

Nevertheless, it was not until three and half years ago that I truly became new in Christ and felt like my life was being transformed. I grew stronger in hope and trust towards God, and my recovery. I started to live that intimate relationship with Jesus, even in the midst of illness. 
5.  During your hardest times, have you ever felt that God does not care, or wondered if He even exists?

I know God always exists, but I felt like God did not care so much, when I lived through spiritual emptiness. These were times where I felt a deep emptiness within my core.  Moreover, I could not sense Him, feeling lost in my spiritual life and on my recovery journey. During the past four years, I have experienced spiritual emptiness many times. I either experienced it for hours, days or even months. Nonetheless, this emptiness would not last, my soul would resurface to God’s Light and I would be in awe of Him—knowing that He is always there even in the darkness.


6. How do you justify the suffering of mental illness with God's love? 
God loves all His children. The suffering that Christians with mental illness go through, is due to this fallen world we live in.  God does not want us to feel the agony of mental illness; He wants us to be happy, healthy and holy.

In order for this to happen, we must realize that we have a recovery journey to undertake and that an essential part of it concerns our relationship with God. We must seek Him with all our hearts in order to heal. Just as we have to accept our mental illness, we have to accept that God’s love is there for us, no matter what we have. Moreover, that His love is stronger than all our weaknesses.

7.  When did you start writing about your journey? 

I was inspired to write about my recovery journey during the year of 2012. When I became new in Christ, I felt called to share God’s Word, especially in a way that would help others with mental illness. Through my lived-experience and this newness of life, I decided at the end of the year to publish my blog. I not only wanted to express my healing process but also give others hope that recovery is possible. 



8.  What is your goal when you write about being a Christian with mental illnesses? 
I want people who are Christians and have mental illness such as BPD, to not feel alone with their inner pain. I know from my own experience the confusion and self-condemnation I struggled with concerning symptoms and faith. I believe others may feel the same way, therefore my goal is to be real, ease the suffering, give hope, offer compassion, and share God’s message. Therefore, to bring them closer to God with a better understanding of themselves within their Christian faith.



9.  When did you start painting and what do you do with your work? 
I have been painting on and off during my life, but the work that I treasure most is what I have worked on during these past four years. My paintings have expressed my pain with mental illness but also the hope of recovery.

I presently share my work on my blog and with Google+ communities.

10.  Are you trying to share a message through your paintings? 

While viewing abstract art, a person can see many things and feel different emotions. Therefore, it is something one lives for themselves. However, what I hope for others to experience when they see my paintings is to be moved in a positive way, and that the artwork may speak to them personally.



11. Can the Christian with mental illness be completely free of it? 
I believe that Christians who suffer from mental illness can find freedom from the torment of their symptoms especially if they have chosen a spiritual life along their recovery journey. Besides therapy and medication, finding our spiritual identity in the midst of the healing process is essential to that freedom.

I believe that individuals with BPD can recover, without a doubt, from their mental illness. I say this because I have always believed from the beginning of my recovery journey that I would recover someday, and I am gradually, three years later. Besides therapy, I knew I could only recover with my ultimate Healer—God. 


I think that recovery, for Christians with mental illness, becomes a success when they have stopped suffering from the majority of their symptoms, and they have started to discover and accept their individuality and the truth about themselves—who they really are without the illness. It is when they have finally found their way to that happier, healthier and holier life. They are free from the inner pain, they sense joy and peace in their lives, and the wounds that their soul suffered from, are finally healed.





Chantal C.
Chantal C. has lived with mental illness since her early teens. Her turning point came in 2012, when with therapy and spirituality she gained insight into her illnesses. Though she had drifted in and out of her faith as a Christian, during this time she found new life in Christ. Her desire is to offer hope to other Christian mental illness sufferers. She enjoys painting, photography and writing, and considers these activities to be healing therapies. 

Chantal has discontinued her two blogs,  Mental Illness & The Christian Faith, and Chantal's Art & Photography, and is working on a new blog presence.




 

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