Its been a while since I’ve written, but today is World Mental Health Day – a day in which millions of people have been tweeting using the #worldmentalhealthday hashtag, and under many others too – and I felt compelled to put a few thoughts down.
There have been some amazing blogs written today and I am under no illusion that this is going to be one of them. It isn’t.
This morning, on a rare day off I spent a few hours on the sofa, listening to music and catching up on the online world – on Facebook, twitter, emails, blogs etc. I saw a few tweets and then got into a conversation with some friends/people I’ve been connected with for a long time. And we were talking about it being World Mental Health Day.
And I got thinking about my experience. My experiences. Of mental health issues, and specifically of having mental health issues and being in a church on and off over the years.
I tweeted under the hashtag myself. A tweet that celebrated the amazing CPN I had involved in my life for 18 months, who I learnt to trust and like, without whom I’d have been dead (literally – he broke into my flat when I didn’t turn up for an appt and found me unconscious having OD’d).
And a couple of tweets that acknowledged the pain of churches that have gotten it SO wrong over the years whilst acknowledging that there are some that do get it right.
Then I wrote and tweeted this –
‘My name is Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am not a freak and I am not demon possessed. #WorldMentalHealthDay #EndTheStigma’
Because I am not a freak.
And because my experience over the years has been of being told if I just prayed more, had more faith, or trusted God then I would not struggle with depression, or the issues surrounding the PTSD.
I’ve been told many times that I have demons. I’ve been told I am demon possessed. I’ve been told if I honoured God more/was more in love with Him then He would ‘take away’ the blackness.
I’ve been told by a Pastor that if I was truly a Christian my story would be erased from my mind, and I would not suffer because of it, therefor depression should not be a part of my life.
I’ve been told by another one that I was too much for him, their church, and probably God because the ‘Devil’ really had hold of me.
I’ve been told many things.
And we wonder why people fear being open and honest about mental health issues they face.
We wonder why the last place a person would think about going when in mental health distress is a church.
And we wonder why people end up more hurt and damaged by the responses of people, who not only misunderstand but who are often wilfully ignorant of the wider issues.
Not long after I posted the ‘my name is Helen. I have …’ tweet I got a reply.
From a ‘well meaning’ Christian, who firstly started off by joking. It wasn’t massively funny, and I spent a couple of minutes before I replied trying to work out if they were being totally stupid or if behind their words were deeper meaning.
It didn’t take long to find out.
To find out that they believe I need ‘deliverance’.
It didn’t take long for them to tell me I am not experiencing freedom and victory (because they know me oh so well right? As if).
It took a matter of minutes for them to become another one of the very many people I’ve had in my life speaking dangerous untruths. Thankfully I am strong enough to respond/respond/answer back now. A few years ago I was not.
A few years ago, for me personally, someone coming at me with those views were damaging. Damaging to me, to my life, and to my relationship with God, and the church. It contributed to making it non existent.
After our little exchange, and after being told I don’t live in victory I got thinking about what ‘victory’ means. And what it looks like. And how it looks different and unique to every single person.
Victory to me is waking up every morning and being OK that I am alive.
Victory to me is putting one step in front of another and keeping on walking.
Victory to me is not self harming for 4.5 years, and not trying to kill myself.
Victory to me is being 7 years on from the day I was raped.
Victory to me is overcoming each and every battle as and when they come to confront me.
Victory to me is when someone (I know) touches me/gives me a hug and I don’t flinch, freeze, want to cry, or hit them.
Victory to me is in the overcoming of big things, but also in the very small, tiny day to day things too.
Victory to me is looking the world in the eyes, holding my head up high and knowing I have survived.
So how dare someone tell me I am not experiencing victory, because I do. I experience victory every single damn day.
And thankfully too, God is now in that victory too.
Mental Health Issues are so misunderstood and stigmatised in society generally, and that is no different within the church.
Whether its deliberate or just pure ignorance its not good enough.
And we cannot continue to brush the topic under the carpet.
People like me are everywhere. We are next to you on the bus, in the shops, in your work places. In your schools, your hospitals, your libraries, your Dr’s. Everywhere there are people, are people with mental health battles happening. And that includes in the church. My church. And your church.
If you are reading this I urge you to, if you haven’t already, begin to educate yourself. Begin to assess how you respond and support someone with mental health issues, especially within your faith community.
And I beg of you to consider spending time on working out how you effectively support someone.
Because believing we are demon possessed is wrong. And damaging, as I said above.
Learn to love. Learn to accept. Learn to walk along side us.
Learn what we need. And for each and every one of us it will be different. What I do guarantee though is that it won’t be being told we have demons.
My name IS Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am NOT a freak. AND I AM NOT DEMON POSSESSED.