I have the honor of sharing my page today with Jessica Seale. Here’s a little bit about Jessica: Jessica Seale is a writer and online mentor from Southern Middle TN. She writes novels, scripts, and essays, mostly on the topics of mental health. She is graduating with her MFA in creative writing in September 2022, and is staff for Power2Change Digital Strategies. Jessica’s goal in her writing is to help people engage on the topic of mental health in light of the gospel. You can find out more about Jessica here and here.
Now onto the wonderful words Jessica has to share with us today:
I am frozen, panic-stricken, as I stare at the shadows in the dark bedroom and imagine that they are demons out to harvest my thirteen-year-old soul. The terror is relentless, depriving me of sleep. I am a child of God. I know that. I accepted him into my life months before these episodes of terror begin. So why do I feel like I’m staring hell in the face? What do I do about it?
The first thing my parents do is go to my pastor. He does what all pastors should do, he prays. It helps. But the terrors come back. We all get discouraged. I stop going to church for a while because I feel being condemned, even though I know that was the last thing on the pastor’s mind. I feel as though there must be something wrong with me because the prayers don’t seem to work as expected.
My mom takes me to the doctor. I have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. At least now the terror has a name. I am put on medication and have been on it, in various forms, ever since. It is something I hesitate to mention to most people because of the stigma, especially in the church, against such medications. As I have grown, I have come to see that the physical and the mental are often viewed as separate components, with the physical being more valid. I am often quicker to talk about the medication I take for a heart rhythm issue than I am about the Psychotherapeutic meds I take.
And medication is not magical. I still struggle with some symptoms I did at thirteen, although the terrors are gone and the obsessive tendencies are basically like recordings that play in the background of my brain. I can ignore them most of the time.
There are other issues in my life as well: anxiety and depression. I wake up one day, no longer in college, but in the psychiatric ward of a large city hospital. And I am afraid. I am in a place where I had long been afraid I would end up, but I don’t belong there. In my first group, I tell the leader when he asks what my goals are that I just want to get out of there. And I do. But the facility I transition to a month later is a story all its own. Let’s just say that just because a place is called Christian doesn’t mean it’s all it’s cracked up to be. This facility is no longer open but the pain caused to many grieves me. I feel I learned how to cope with my issues in spite of this place, rather than because of it.
There are some good things that come from that time, though. In a reading assignment, I learn with amazement that some Bible characters struggled with mental illness. Elijah was so depressed that he begged God to let him die. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that from the pulpit. They are so needed, sermons on mental illness. Mental illnesses have been with us since the fall. And they affect us all.
I go back to college, a different one this time. I take a counseling class my senior year. Not long into it, I have some concerns. Less than compassionate attitudes toward mental illness are fostered. I start to wonder if this is what all people in ministry are learning about how to care for people with mental illnesses. I certainly wouldn’t want to be told that my mental illness just means I am lazy and I need to snap out of it. In all fairness, though, I know the professor did his best, and he’s one of the humblest men I have ever met. I am in touch with the college this day, and they now have a professional counselor teaching those classes.
It has been a long journey to where I am today and life is never perfect. But I am at the place in my life where I can start ministering and reaching out to others and the sheer blessing in that is breathtaking. I love the ministry I am a part of. They truly embrace the truth that God blesses the poor in spirit and has a purpose for the broken. Part of that purpose, I dare to believe, is slowly but surely, becoming whole.
There is a hymn from the mid-twentieth century that talks about Christ’s coming again. That will be a glorious time, the time when we will finally be completely whole for the first time. But, the chorus implies, until then, I still have something to sing about, because God is still good. When I was in that counseling class, I wrote a letter to my professor, sharing my concerns. In it, I explained that the medications I have learned I must take are not something I use and abuse, but something I will gladly leave behind in exchange for the hand of Jesus when he comes for me.
But until then . . .