Mental Illness: An Insider’s Journey

October 25, 2015 No Comments »
Mental Illness: An Insider’s Journey

By Ruth Eleos

I had been exhibiting bizarre behavior for a few weeks, but the day I asked my husband to shoot me, he knew he had to find help. He had two men from church drive us to the psych ward. As he put his arm around me, he gently asked, “What do you see?” 

Relieved he wanted to know what I was experiencing, I responded, “I see fire and brimstone raining down from Heaven, but it’s bouncing off our van.”

He lovingly replied, “We must have made it.” I relaxed in his arms. 

The peace didn’t last long though. I became angry when just before he admitted me, he said, “God will use this somehow. He is faithful.”

 A few minutes later as I walked into my room, my roommate yelled, “I don’t like cats. Get that cat out of here!”

“That’s not a cat. It’s Aslan,” I replied, referring to the lion from The Chronicles of Narnia, “and he’s good. It will be OK.” She was pacified, and I was convinced God was with me. 

Quest for Peace

It’s been roughly 18 years since that incident. My husband was very patient and supportive, even though he was criticized by my family for not seeking help sooner. This was just the beginning of a lengthy, turbulent quest for peace and stability. Over the following eight years I had to be admitted to the psych ward three more times. The doctors first called it postpartum psychosis because it was related to giving birth. However, the condition did not go away, so they labeled it bipolar.

Dealing with a mental illness is very frustrating for all involved. 

One time I was standing in my parents’ bedroom one night and heard them dispatch my name over the police scanner. They were coming to get me. I felt terrified! My mom didn’t hear it, not because she wasn’t in the room, but because at the time I was out of touch with reality. She sensed my fear and got in my face, “You have three beautiful children who need a mother. Get better!” The next day, I was committed to the psych ward. 

If the command were simply that easy, I would have declared myself “healthy” and gone on with life. Believe me, I tried.

In actuality, I spent the first eight years seething with resentment, highly medicated, and angry at God and with everyone I encountered. I struggled to be a good wife and mother and wasted a lot of time playing the blame game. In one heated discussion with my husband, he blurted in frustration, “You can’t think your way out of this!” The words stung. I had a lot of pride. Looking back, I see this as a turning point in my journey with darkness.

Help from the Church

I was an exceptional student when I was young and hadn’t done anything to consciously destroy my body with the use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. In addition, I had memorized many Scripture verses in my youth. I may not deserve this, and I certainly don’t understand it, but I have started to embrace my circumstances. 

One doctor said, “Take the medicine—the first one may not work, but we’ll keep trying until something does.” He even admitted it is not known why medications do or don’t work, because we don’t yet have enough knowledge of the brain. Great, I get to be someone’s laboratory rat! The medicine helps, but it only slows down my mind so I can succeed in taking my thoughts captive. However, like most bipolar patients, getting me to consistently take my medicine is challenging. Either life gets too boring, or I become convinced someone is out to poison me. My husband reminds me—there must be a physiological component to this condition because the medicine helps.

I have church friends who are on top of the health trends. They insisted my diet was partly responsible for my mental instability. I have increasingly tried to eat healthier, but noticed little difference in my overall mental health.

I have friends in the Christian community who questioned my salvation, in essence communicating that if I were really saved I wouldn’t be like this. Talk about feeling like Job. Seldom have I heard someone make comments that degrade the dignity of diabetic or cancer patients—why is my condition looked down upon?

My Christian counselor learned of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child and wanted me to attend group therapy. I attended two 13-week sessions after I was first diagnosed and two more a few years ago. I learned much. Open, safe dialogue within the church community is very refreshing. Although it hasn’t alleviated the war raging in my mind, it has been among the most helpful in understanding the effects of sin on and in my life. We live in a fallen world. It stands to reason all diseases are a result of sin entering the world. 

There are multitudes of variables in each person’s life that make dealing with a mental condition a sensitive issue. While we must admit there is much we don’t know, the church has much it can offer: faith, hope, and love. My faith was greatly strengthened once by a man who freely admitted that life is full of unanswered questions, but God thought the Bible was enough to guide our actions. I live in hope—hope that the affliction is temporary and hope that something better waits for eternity. 

How You Can Respond

It seems few people know how to treat the mentally ill. We suffer in silence. Here are my suggestions as to what you can do to love us:

• Know it might feel like trying to pet a porcupine, but keep caring; please keep asking questions and listening. Sometimes when friends began to probe and I tried to verbalize what I was experiencing, I’d discover my own irrational thoughts. It was a helpful process. 

• Remember that bizarre thoughts are not sins; only sinful behaviors are sins.

• Don’t minimize our struggle by telling us that what we are experiencing is typical. If you’ve not needed psychiatric hospitalization, we have a hard time believing you can truly relate. 

• Give grace for questions and doubts. 

• Notice when we disappear, and offer words of encouragement—a simple, “I missed you at church today, but it is OK” is usually safe. 

• We need hope, and there is no better place to find it than among friends in a biblical church.

• Remind us that you love us. 

Employers can create ways to work with people with mental challenges and preserve personal dignity. During the hardest and most volatile eight years of my life, I was able to work for a gracious and flexible employer.

I still struggle with anger and feel anything but “normal.” But I think my husband was right and God will use this if I will let him. 

Ruth Eleos is a pen name.

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