“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Imagine for a moment you are standing before an immense wall. It’s highest point is well beyond your reach, and whether you look to the right or to the left, there is no end in sight. When you touch it, its surface is as smooth as glass, with no grip of any kind available to assist you in getting over it. There are no doors, no windows, no crack nor crevice available. All that your eyes behold is this seemingly insurmountable wall.
Then, as if that is not devastating enough, you know what exists on the other side of this barrier. Your future, your hopes, your dreams, your potential–everything true about who you are–beckons you from the other side. Day after day you try with all your might to jump high enough, to find some possible way of entry to the other side, some possible end to the interminable wall outstretched before you. Nevertheless, day after day you are met with defeat and discouragement as the wall wins yet again.
Now imagine one day, as you are again fighting the fruitless battle, someone comes up to you with a ladder, a ladder the perfect height and just what you need to climb over the wall. Then imagine they offer this ladder to you. Would you take it? Would you take the offer for freedom? for victory? Or would you turn them away and insist you could do it yourself if you just keep trying hard and long enough?
I doubt you’d turn the ladder away. I doubt you’d turn down the chance for freedom if it were offered to you.
Yet I have learned in recent months that turning away the ladder is what many have actually been taught to do, including me. And they are encouraged to do so using verses like the one above. Christian after well-meaning Christian encourages their brothers and sisters not to worry, not to be anxious, not to fear, for to suffer anxiety, fear, or depression must mean our faith is not strong enough. For surely if we had faith strong enough, if we read our Bible more, or if we prayed long enough, we could snap out of the anxiety and depression and move forward, right?.
Wrong. Oh so very wrong.
And God put this on my heart yesterday after reading another blog my friend shared with me. I believe there are two types of anxiety in this world. There is needless anxiety–an anxiety which comes when we take our eyes off of Jesus and place it on ourselves and our circumstances. It is this anxiety I believe God wants us to avoid. Yet then there is the second type of anxiety. This type of anxiety remains no matter how long and hard we look at Jesus. This anxiety exists beyond circumstances. This anxiety feels like it is sinking even when it is indeed walking on water. Why? Because this anxiety is physical; it is chemical. It is real.
Time and time again in the Bible we are encouraged to walk by faith, not by sight. We are encouraged to not focus on the seen, but the unseen. Yet when it comes to the health of our bodies, we often only focus on what we can see with our eyes–what we can read with a test. Diabetes? We can see the sugar levels with our eyes, so we readily offer and accept the medicine needed to manage it. Autoimmune diseases? There are tests that reveal it and medicine available to manage it as best as possible. Broken bone? An x-ray will reveal it and the cast will enable the broken bone to heal. Heart disease, pneumonia, allergies, high blood pressure, appendicitis, even the common cold are just a small sampling of physical ailments commonly accepted as “normal” consequences of living in an imperfect world. And because they are “normal,” society finds it acceptable to not only seek out but also to receive the help necessary. In fact, for a person with a “normal” illness, not to seek medical help would appear ludicrous and self-depreciating.
Yet what about anxiety? Depression? Bi-polar disorder? Are they any less real? Any less “normal”? Any less in need of medical attention? No! No they are not! Just because there is no definitive test we can see with our eyes, this does not mean they do not exist. We are physical and mental beings; therefore we can have physical and mental illnesses. Both are evidence that we are broken people living in a broken world. And both deserve recognition, respect, and the chance to heal.
If there is no shame in offering a ladder to the one facing the insurmountable wall of uncontrollable blood sugar, then there should also be no shame in offering a ladder to the one facing the insurmountable wall of chemical imbalance.
Why do I say this? Because for many years of my life, I struggled with the forbidden sickness–I struggled with an imbalance. It’s one that may not be apparent on an x-ray, but it has been real–very real. Each month I would spend two weeks feeling like a normal human being and the second two weeks expending all my energy to maintain the appearance of normalcy. Those latter two weeks of the month, I fought paranoia, fits of uncontrollable anger, super sensitivity, clinginess/codependency, overwhelming dread, anxiety, depression, low noise tolerance, low patience, and a general fog. My mental health was an insurmountable wall before me. Sure, I’d do my best to overcome it. Some months I could fight it enough and isolate myself enough to not to do too much damage to relationships and life in general; other months, not so much. Woe to the pitiful soul who dared cross my path during those latter weeks of the month.
I also used to have, what I would call, an inner freak out at new information. Surprise me with new information, a change in plans, or an unanticipated question, and you’d immediately witness the deer-in-headlights look upon my face. It was immediate, mind-numbing fear that would render me speechless. Even if I knew the answer, if the question was unexpected, I’d freeze. I can still remember the words of my Chemistry teacher when I broke down in tears at the announcement of a pop quiz: “It’s only Chemistry!” Sure, to her it was only Chemistry, but to me, it was a deer-in-headlights, mind-numbing moment of panic. And it was real.
This is what I want people to realize. Chemical imbalance is real. Furthermore, there is no shame in using the tools available to overcome the wall of chemical imbalance.
I did. Several months ago I hit the bottom in my fight against myself. And it really was a fight against myself. It was like someone with diabetes assuming if they kept telling diabetes to go away, it would. Or if someone with high blood pressure kept telling themselves they didn’t have it, then it wouldn’t be true. Yet when I hit bottom, I realized the fruitlessness of trying to overcome the wall before me on my own.
And praise be to God He sent a wise woman of God into my life who let me know it was okay to get help. She showed me the help available and encouraged me that seeking help was not a lack of faith; it was just accepting the ladder I needed to get over the wall.
And over the wall I have come. It has not been an easy climb, but it has been well worth the climb. I did not realize how bad I felt and how unhealthy I was until I experienced what healthy felt like.
Now don’t get my wrong. The medicine I began taking was not an instantaneous cure-all to every problem I had. People who suffer from diabetes may take a pill or insulin but that does not prevent them from having to watch their sugar and exercise. People who have high blood pressure may take a pill, but they still need to watch what they eat and exercise. People who break a bone may be able to wear a cast, but they still have to be careful not to bump the bone that needs healing.
Taking a little pill every day may help bring balance to my hormones, but I still must take action. In my case, I began talking with a counselor, I must watch my caffeine intake, and I must be sure to get adequate exercise. I also daily surrender all of me to all of Him through prayer and Bible study.
Nevertheless, the pill was my ladder; it was the tool to lead me to normal. Again, as I said, it was not the cure-all; my life and my outlook did not immediately transform. I also, contrary to some people’s perceptions, did not suddenly begin walking around numb to anything and everything. The medicine did not take away my emotions. The medicine did not take away my ability to feel. The medicine did not solve all of my problems. But it did give me the strength to overcome them. It did balance me out enough for me to climb the wall. Instead of using all of my energy to fight a fruitless battle, I had the energy for what was truly important: I had energy for life.
And isn’t that why we go to the doctor for help in the first place? We all want to live life to the fullest. We don’t want to be sick; we want to be well. So why should we go around limping when the ability to walk without a limp is available? Why should we continue to fight a losing battle when the key to victory is within our grasp?
I repeat: we shouldn’t.
And I didn’t.
And my life will never be the same.
So I encourage two types of people today. To you who may know someone facing the insurmountable wall of mental illness, encourage them. Let them know they are not alone and that it is okay to get help. Let them know that you may not understand what they are going through, but you recognize its reality.
And to you who may be facing the insurmountable wall of mental illness today, feel no shame. Seek out the ladder you need to climb that wall. It may not be an easy climb, but it ill be well worth it to get to the other side. Furthermore, when you read verses like Philippians 4:6-7, read it as I believe they were intended: Do not be anxious about your anxiety or depression, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. I pray you see the difference. The anxiety you feel is real, it is physical, and it deserves just as much medical attention as a broken bone. So do not be anxious and ashamed about it, but rather allow God to heal you the way He sees fit–even if it means taking a little pill.
You’ll be glad you did.