Friday, July 29, 2016

"You Just Need More Faith." Mental Illness and Religion

I am very religious. Christian, in fact. I love God. I love the Bible. I believe in the Holy Word of God and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.

I have chronic major depression and general anxiety disorder. I have tendonitis in my hamstrings and low vitamin D levels.

No one has ever said that the devil is attacking me when I complain about my tendonitis. No one has ever told me to have more faith when my patellas slide out of place. No one tells me to go pray for higher vitamin D levels.

This is a tricky subject for me to explain, because I want to be as clear as possible. Because yes, I believe that people can be spiritually attacked and yes, I believe that prayer is important and that it can even cause miracles. But God has given us many many things that are here for when we fall ill.

Pain relievers. Ice packs. Vitamin D pills. Antidepressants.

A long long long long time ago, a friend of mine was going through a lot of the same problems I have. She had attempted suicide multiple times, and sometimes it was really scary for me. Multiple friends tried to comfort me by saying, "There is a fight for her, but we have to remember that Jesus has already won."

Around the same time, I felt true joy for perhaps the first time that I could remember, and I linked that joy to God. I thought that if I could just cling to God, I would never feel empty or hopeless again, that I could finally be happy. But that belief only led to worse depression as I began blaming my depression and anxiety on myself. I must not be praying enough, I wasn't reading my Bible enough, I wasn't trying hard enough. I wasn't enough. God didn't think me worthy of happiness.

Mental illness is the same as any other illness, it just affects our brain instead of another organ. Our brain is an organ. It's an amazingly complex organ that I can't ever hope to understand, but that I marvel at every time I really think about it. Even my own defective depressed brain is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

No, I'm not telling depressed people to stop praying. But we have to stop believing that depression is based on our own spiritual failing. People have to stop dismissing mental illness as a purely spiritual problem. Do-gooders have to stop telling the mentally ill that all they need is Jesus and that everything will be better once they accept him.

Jesus never said that he would make all the pain and hardship of life go away.

2 Chorinthians 7-9. Paul talks of the thorn in his side. He pleads three times for the Lord to remove it, but the Lord does not. "'My power is made perfect in weakness,'" says the Lord. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses," says Paul.

God doesn't condemn people by not curing their chronic diseases. Our weaknesses remind us that God is not weak.

And mental illness is a weakness, just like pneumonia is a weakness, just like cancer is a weakness, just like a broken leg is a weakness. A physical weakness that can be helped by physical means.

If you have pneumonia, you get medicine and you rest until you are better. You take care of yourself. Your brain deserves that same amount of care.