I remember during my first 7 years in Saskatchewan, Canada, going to church every Sunday. I loved Sunday School and vaguely remembered learning about Jesus.
Then we moved out west and for some reason we stopped going to church. I never really did find out why and it wasn’t something a young girl asks…at least not this one. In grade 12 I went back to the prairies to my father’s high school, which was run by the church, but my life was really messed up at this point by bullies, depression and major issues at home. I really wasn’t in a good place to believe in much of anything.
So we will skip ahead to my late twenties where I was spending as much time in psych wards as I was at home. It was here that I met a young woman who would play a huge part in my life at the time, both positively and negatively. I will call her J. J was a beautiful person inside and out. Like me she was emotionally a wreck but that is why we were where we were. Her room was right across from me during my very first stay in the ward. We shared some of the same struggles but hers were much deeper than mine. But the one thing she possessed that I didn’t was a faith in God.
We became very good friends both in and out of the hospital. We would get together, talk on the phone and go visit each other if one was back in the hospital. We were inseparable, partly because we felt safe with the knowledge that we both understood what the other was going through. On January 25, 1992, J finally convinced me to go to church with her. I was blown away by it all and prayed Jesus into my life at the end of the service. So J and I had one more thing in common and we spent even more time together as she taught me all about God and how He had helped her with her struggles.
I had always believed God existed. I just thought He didn’t like me because of all the heartache in my life. What I learned over the next 25 years, and am still learning is that His love is unconditional and is BECAUSE of our struggles and imperfections. Now I know a lot of you may not share the same feelings on this as I do, and I totally respect that. I do not talk about my faith to turn others into believers. I mention it because it is what keeps ME going and is so much a part of me that I can’t not write about it.
I learned early from other patients “don’t let them see you reading the bible or praying”. But I did and nothing bad happened. That is exactly what got me through those hospital stays. And I would seek out other believers in the patients and the staff. My psychiatrist is not a Christian but he accepts my faith (and all his believing patients no matter what the source of their faith is) and says that belief is a great coping tool.
For me it is much deeper than that. I firmly believe that I have had 3 miracles in my life which I may share in future posts. These are three times where I should have died but didn’t. I thank the Lord for this. Even my own family always say I have had my share of suffering; however, I know that the Lord has used that to make me the strong and courageous woman I am today.
I have been very open at my church about my mental illness. I have talked freely about my bipolar, depression, and even did a talk for a workshop on understanding suicide about my most serious attempt and how God helped me through it. We have a group who is all about understanding those of us in our church who are struggling with all of these things. But that doesn’t mean everyone is accepting. I have had my share of doubters over the 18 years I have attended this particular church. However, I have won many people over as they see me cope with my “newer” struggles of chronic pain and physical conditions. I always say, it isn’t me, it is God. But it is me because I am allowing Him to work in me and through me to help others.
Do mental illness and faith go hand in hand? I can not speak for anyone else, but for me I couldn’t handle the former without the latter.