Friday, 10 October 2014

A bit of a side step for World Mental Health Day

It is World Mental Health Day, well for another three hours or so, and I've been brooding all day and decided to throw in my three pence worth, heavily influenced by my own experiences, rather than any sort of expertise.

As much as faith, and my faith community, are a life sustaining force, church can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to Mental Health. Even a really good church, working hard to live out the Bible in an authentic way. Anxiety in particular can be a sticking point:
  • ·         Ah, we all worry from time to time, that's normal, just keep giving it to the Lord
  • ·         Pray more, worry less
  • ·         Just cast your burdens on Jesus
  • ·         Just put those worries at the foot of the cross
  • ·         If medication doesn't work, just go back to the back of that course book, the prayers in there will help

These comments are all well meant, and also mostly very true, when it comes to worry of your every day common and garden variety. 'What if mortgage payments go up? Will Mother cope in that house on her own? Did we pick the right school? What if I get made redundant?' Your average 3am fretfulness. Yeah, I get that too. But that's not anxiety. That's normal worry, and THAT is the kind you can, and should, cast upon the Lord and He will take care of you. And I try to do it, with the typical variable result of a saint who is still very much a work in progress.

Anxiety is when your child has had a snotty nose for three days and while he tears around the house with his dog, happy as Larry, you sit on the edge of the sofa, paralysed, with just this obsessive compulsive thought going round your head 'He has leukaemia. He is going to die', round and round and round. To the exclusion of everything else.

Should I also cast this anxiety upon the Lord? Most definitely! Am I able to do it when this obsessive-compulsive anxiety really has a grip? No. Can't even fish a teabag out of a mug. It's an illness. It has ugly causes in my past and needs treatment in the here and now.  

Just bear in mind when you suggest 'just casting it upon the Lord', that this is the same as telling people to cast broken legs, cancer or diabetes onto Him. Just because it's in my mind doesn't mean fixing it is any easier! You would not tell people with a physical illness that a bit of prayer will fix it and you would certainly not suggest that they stop treatment and 'just trust in the Lord'. And yet, with mental health that is somehow ok? Depression and anxiety are so often painted as a lack of faith, a lack of trust in the Lord. Let me tell you, when you stand helplessly by the incubator containing your terrifyingly sick newborn baby, you either trust the Lord, or stop believing. So don't say I don't trust the Lord enough. I do. He has never given me reason not to. I simply have a mental illness that I didn't ask for and cannot fix on my own by just praying a bit more. 

God could choose to heal me instantly, through a miracle. He doesn't always. He worked a few in my son's life and that is more than anyone can ask for in their lifetime. Our God is a relational God and we are relational people. That clearly shows in the things that are making me get better, and I believe these are the means God puts in place to heal me at this time:

  • ·         Friends to talk to and pray with, and who pray for me
  • ·         A remarkable GP who in the current climate makes time to listen and care
  • ·         A good ('secular'!!) counsellor who is properly skilled in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • ·         Medication, that gives me some rest and allows me to cope with therapy, and find my balance again. (Yes I need it, no it doesn't change me, no it's not addictive)

I have every hope of beating this again and feel better in and about myself. That's not given to everyone. Mental illness can be lifelong. Medication can be necessary for life. That can be hard to come to terms with. Here's a simple test: Before you decide to suggest something to someone about their mental health, ask yourself 'would I say this about diabetes too?'. No? Then think again. 

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