Psalm 44:21 - Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?
All across America people are sitting in churches, PTA meetings, in cubicles at work and at the dinner table at home. They put smiles on their faces trying to hold onto control and not give even a hint of the secret they hold inside.
So what is this secret? Two words – mental illness.
Whether it be depression, anxiety, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder they all hold a stigma. Many don’t know how to deal with it when it affects a friend or loved one. They want to pretend it doesn’t exist, so they pull away. If you’re the one who has a mental illness you may not know how to handle it either. And it’s almost like people treat you as if it’s somehow your fault and that you can “snap out of it” if you want.
There is another great secret: Mental illness also affects church pastors. Pastors rarely talk about mental illness while those sitting in the pews who have a mental illness would like them to open up more.
But thankfully this isn’t on a one-to-one basis. Many pastors have compassion for those who are mentally ill, just as they comfort those living with physical illness. However, they appear to find it difficult when speaking to a larger audience.
Perhaps it is difficult for pastors to speak about mental illness from the pulpit, because as I said above, many also suffer from some form of mental illness.
So, what’s a person or a church to do? Let’s take a look at the Bible. God knows our secret struggles and has compassion and comfort waiting to touch our hearts, just as he’s been touching hearts throughout biblical times.
There are many people in the Bible who struggled with mental health issues. Moses, Elijah and Paul thought about suicide (Numbers 11:15, 1 Kings 19:4; Philippians 1:20-26). Jacob, Job and David went through seasons of depression (Genesis 37:35; Job 3:11 and Psalm 38:6). Jesus was also among those who felt emotions like we do including anger, distress and sorrow. Paul, one of the great heroes of our faith was not healed from all of his struggles. Whether they were physical or mental we don’t know. But we do know he cried out for help, and it wasn’t God’s will for him to be healed (2 Corinthians12).
I know it’s a risk, but never be afraid to cry out for help from God and from others. Keeping your mental illness hidden in a secret place only keeps you from being the only person who can help someone else who is suffering. Take the risk. I did. And when I did, I found others who had seasons, and sometimes lifetimes, of struggling with mental health. God meant for us to be together in our efforts to remove the stigma of mental health and bring the help others are waiting for. It’s time to take action and dismiss the great secret of mental illness.
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
In the beginning there was a thought. It wasn’t much really. Just thinking about what someone said to me that I thought was hurtful. All day I tried to push that thought away, but it kept knocking at my door.
Pretty soon a friend called, and I told her about that thought. I thought just having someone else empathize with me would make me feel better and I could let the thought go. But it didn’t help.
Then a few days passed and someone else said something to me that I thought was hurtful. This time I skipped past talking to a friend about it. I took that thought and tied it around my neck, as if it were a necklace, with the two hurtful thoughts hanging down the front.
Yet, as I went through the next few days, I found myself avoiding people. I didn’t want anyone else to hurt me. I thought I was protecting myself. Soon it’s what I did every time I was around other people. A week or two later, with those thoughts around my neck, I found myself angry and resentful of other people walking around looking so happy.
Everything inside began to harden like cement. I stood there stuck. My heart became hard. No longer was I known as the person who smiled no matter what happened, who could find the bright side even in the darkness. What had happened to me? Well here’s a possible answer:
Watch your thoughts;
they become your words.
Watch your words;
they become your actions.
Watch your actions;
they become your habits.
Watch your habits;
they become your character.
Watch your character;
it becomes your destiny.
--- Chinese Proverb, author unknown
Take a look at the article on huffpost.com titled, “Be Careful of Your Thoughts: They Control Your Destiny.” In the article, it describes the progression of how our negative thoughts affect our lives. It is true that our thoughts can control our destiny by causing our hearts to harden.
I did some soul searching and prayed that I would be released from who I had become. And though it still grieves my spirit when someone says something hurtful to me, I don’t let the thought take control of even one day. There’s so much in this world that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
We can’t let negative thoughts take over our lives and harden our hearts. When something difficult happens, acknowledge that it happened, but also try to see something else around you that can bring beauty to your life. I have and hope that you can, too.
Psalm 29:11 – The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.
We are drawn each day to make a choice: Will you complicate your day more than it needs to be or will you choose a simple life.
I know people who live in my apartment complex who live a simple life. The highlight of their day is congregating while waiting for the mail to arrive.
However, do they want that simple life or were they thrust into it by the choices they made for years?
And what does a simple life look like anyway?
It’s never too late to begin to move into a more peaceful lifestyle. Start enjoying what you have instead of wanting what’s out of your reach.
How do you take a chaotic situation and bring peace to it?
Find some other ways to life a simple life in purewow.com’s article, “How to Live a Simple Life (and Let Go of All the Crap Bogging You Down.” A couple of their ideas include declutter to lessen distractions. Clutter hinders your ability to focus and the way your brain processes information because it’s constantly competing for your attention. Here’s another way, start saying “No” to requests to do something another person wants you to do. This will help you stop being busy all of the time. And here’s one more on the list, stop multitasking to truly focus. You tend to make more mistakes when multitasking.
Did you find any of the above ways helpful to learning how to have a simple life? If not, read the article above and see if any seem reasonable to attain.
Choosing a more simple life can bring peace. And as the Bible verse above says, God gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace. Strive to change your life to a more peaceful one. Then you may find you have fewer bouts of anxiety and more time focusing on what matters the most to you.
Ecclesiastes 2:21-23 – What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
I didn’t like what a friend told me. He said that I must like stress because you certainly have enough of it.
“I don’t like stress,” I said to myself. But was there truth to what my friend said? I did some soul searching and decided to write down all the stresses in my life.
Some stresses were small things:
Then there were the big stresses:
I thought back to what my friend had said about liking stress and I still didn’t agree, but I decided when confronted with a small or large stress that I would take a deep breath and walk back from it and not let it ruin the good things I was experiencing.
In order to find out if we’re a stress addict we must take a look at what stress has to offer. Stress releases those “fight or flight” activating hormones into our body to get through a tough spot. It releases energy that can cause a temporary high. Once your body gets used to this feeling, the body craves more. So you take on that extra job when there really isn’t any time for you to do it. You take on a task at work and are on the job habitually building up overtime. The upside of this scenario is that the overtime when bring in more money.
But stress takes a toll on our body. The brain will continually demand more of those “feel good” chemicals in order to maintain the same stress level. Soon we become addicted to those chemicals.
Talkspace.com in their article, “Can You be Addicted to Stress?” suggests ideas on how to calm your stress level down like meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, working out, and guided imagery.
Take a look at the Bible verses above. You can see that even in Bible times people got stressed out. And as it says, what do we get for all our grief and pain? It’s meaningless. We may feel like we’re making a true contribution to society, but it isn’t worth the damage it does to our relationships and to our bodies. Even at night our minds don’t rest. It’s time to reexamine your life to see if there are areas in your life where you’ve become addicted to stress. We start to like stress and that’s why so much of it is in our lives. It’s time to stop the stress and relax.
Karen Dalske is a freelance writer, public speaker, is active in her church and writes her blogs out of her own experiences of pain, illness and loss.