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.
Love this one Helen…
Thank you as always for your honesty. I have suffered depression, no comparison to your experience, but I understand to an extent and can applaud the small and big victories. Those who say you are not living in victory are presumably the “Kingdom now” apostates. Ignore them. Continue to celebrate your renewed life in Christ.
I SO know what you mean. I know such people are well meaning, but what I need in order to recover from PTSD is not to be stressed more. Fortunately not all Christians are like that, but it would really help if churches made some effort to ensure that vicars, priest, pastors, had at least some basic knowledge about mental health issues.
You know I’m not a Christian…. but assuming God is all knowing, he also knows that if try to click your fingers and make mental health be better, you miss hugely important steps. PTSD is partly not having process the trauma fully, you can’t just skip processing it and making all those little baby steps and everything be hunky dory. So no you don’t be suicidal one day, get baptized the next and doing a happy dance for the rest of your life but perhaps what you do realise is that your not alone in your healing journey – God is with you. And that is the difference.
I can’t believe that people in the second octile of the 21st century can be capable of attributing mental illness to demonic possession. This is not the 13th century. Did the age of reason, the industrial revolution, the sciences of psychology and psychiatry never happen?
Thanks Helen for this insightful blog. Long may you walk in Victory! You are truly an inspiration!
Reblogged this on Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD and commented:
I agree with everything written in this Blog and I too, am over hearing abusive and deeply hurtful comments about mental health from church people.
I applaud Helen for writing this.
I have a complex form of PTSD and I cant explain to my daughter why it is that she can’t flick me in the face as a joke, or why I flinch when something comes near my face…
I find it hard to believe that Christians are still saying ‘if you aren’t completely happy 100% of the time or if you have mental health issues you must be demon-possessed.”
I am so sorry, so angry that you got this.
I do believe things are getting better in the church, but every now and again it is good to hear a story like this and be reminded of just how damaging people can be when they don’t have a clear understanding of mental health.
Sending you SO much love.
This is by far the best post (I have read) under the world mental health day hashtag – I am a Christian, I struggle with mental illness, and I agree with every single word written here.
Well done you, for writting it, for sharing it, and for all of those victories of yours!
God bless, Kimmie x
So sorry you had to experience that treatment. Makes me so angry when I see Christians treating mental health with such a lack of understanding, knowledge and compassion. Mental health issues are real, and it’s high time Christians woke up to this fact and stopped making out mentally ill people are somehow possessed or can suddenly be delivered, or ever worse, that it’s their own fault.
There is no excuse for it, there is no reality where their attitude is a Christ-like one of unconditional love and grace. Depression and all mental illnesses are real and they are legitimate. Tired of seeing Christians dish out harsh, ignorant words and treatment in the name of ‘love’, when what they are doing is anything but loving.
ha, i love this entry! I experience trauma symptoms from repeated betrayal from my spouse and the last infidelity was the biggest and most traumatic of all. It was suggested that my difficulties were because I was in bondage to the spirit of freemasonary on my grandfather’s side……seriously! Errr, no i am struggling because my good Christian husband has been revealed to have a double life of perversions……….
I relate to this so much. And whereas in my case I believe that the childhood abuse had allowed demons to come into me I also needed much inner healing and learning to accept love etc. My trauma issues bear the label Borderline Personality Disorder, which is a form of Complex PTSD. Also a crippling form of OCD regarding religion which I believe is related to my upbringing in an abusive christian home as well as wrong teaching. So many people told me I had a Jezebel demon and that I was just being manipulative. Sometimes I was. Often I was. Didn’t realise it at first. My therapist helped me see this behaviour was driven by fear. It wasn’t that I was trying to cause division in church or control people for power`s sake. Just fear and shame and no sense of who I was
One lady had a gift of prophecy and she told me I had Jezebel demon. She told me I had to stop mourning the abuse I suffered and repent before God. She also told me that God told her she could be firm with me because I “ wasn’t going to really harm myself”. Ok so I wouldn’t kill myself I’m past all that now but I was cutting. Maybe God did tell her that but it hurt my feelings. I’m hurt that a loving God could say such stiff to one of His children.