My Struggle with Mental Illness
Note from assemblyHUB: We received a lot of positive feedback from Eddy’s last article, Straight Talk About Mental Health. We are thankful that Eddy is willing to share his story and look forward to publishing his future articles on this topic that is so needed today.
Several years ago I left an elders’ conference to keep my first appointment with a sexual abuse counselor. Walking into that office was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Outwardly I was an elder with the responsibility of shepherding the believers. Inwardly I was torn by fear, hopelessness and a strong desire to die.
I do not remember a time in my childhood when I did not have a strong sense that something was wrong in my life. As early as first grade I was crying out for help through aggressive bullying behaviour and constant rebellion against authority. In my early grades in school there was a succession of events that were very negative including constant tension and turmoil in the family, physical abuse by an authority in a “Christian” school, expulsion from school, sexual abuse by an older student in the same “Christian” school, and the beginning of constant thoughts of suicide.
At 14 I made a desperate confession of faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation and was baptized and accepted as a member of the church my family attended. It wasn’t long before my inner turmoil convinced me that Christianity didn’t work for me. When I was 15 there was another incident of sexual abuse. Although this incident was outwardly less serious than the first, it had a profound effect on me. It led to a fear and confusion over my sexual orientation among other things. It wasn’t long before I spiraled down into extreme rebellion against the church which led to heavy drinking, stealing money from the offerings and vandalizing the ministers’ properties.
Trying to Escape
At 17 I left home to get away from it all. 2000 km. from home I soon realized I hadn’t gotten away from anything because the turmoil was inside of me. In my desperation one night I debated whether to end it all or give God “another chance”. I finally abandoned myself to the Lord in total desperation. I sensed a very strong call to the ministry soon after and immediately enrolled in a Bible School for a 3 year course in Pastoral Studies.
While there were many good times in study and ministry, there remained a deep inner turmoil that never found resolution. It only brought guilt for not being a better Christian who could overcome fear, doubt and a sense of hopelessness.
On the Mission Field
In 1988 my family went to Italy to serve as missionaries. During our time of ministry I suffered what I now recognize as frequent anxiety attacks. At times I was almost overwhelmed with a sense that my mind was snapping. We experienced much positive ministry, but I continued to struggle with a secret inner darkness, fear and sense of hopelessness.
Return to Canada
In 1997 various factors led to our return to Canada. We immediately got involved in a local church, longing to be used of the Lord in ministry. While I got involved in ministry, I continued to struggle deeply with a longing to die because of the strong inner turmoil. I prayed almost constantly for the Lord to take me home.
Several years ago I had a sudden vivid return of my childhood abuse experiences. This added to my inner turmoil to the point where I determined that I would give up all oversight and ministry responsibilities. I was offered a demanding, time consuming job and I accepted it seeing it as my way of escape. I had come to the conclusion that the best I could hope for is to “hang on” till the Lord took me home.
From Bad to Worse
God didn’t allow me to escape. I soon experienced such stress levels that I again began to fear for my sanity. One day I experienced such a powerful anxiety attack that I was left disoriented in a very familiar place. In desperation I felt obligated to try one more time to deal with my struggle.
Over the years I had been on and off medication for depression and constantly looked for answers to my struggle. I had come to the conclusion that the solution had to deal with physical, emotional and spiritual realities. I asked the Lord for wisdom to be able to discern what part of the problem fit into each category.
Starting to Heal
I started with the physical by seeing my doctor. He prescribed some medication but also referred me to a psychiatrist and the mental health department of the hospital. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with a severe anxiety disorder but offered no hope of change, only stronger pills to cope when things got out of hand. The mental health department called and asked a number of pointed questions including probing for past abuse.
They gave me the number to call for abuse counseling. The Lord used that counseling to help me face my emotional baggage that hounded me for decades. Spiritually the Lord has been building me up by my own reading and study. I was especially helped by Dr. Grant Mullen’s book “Emotionally Free” and Dr. Dan B. Allender’s book “The Wounded Heart“. I will share more details of this process in future articles.
Hope and Purpose
While I am still influenced by my mental illness and have to live within certain limitations because of it, I am no longer defined by it. I live in hope not only for the future but also that the Lord is using me today for His purposes. Reading my story will make some uncomfortable. I have been advised not to share some of these things because of how people might see me.
This is not primarily written for those who do not identify with my experience. I am burdened for the many, who like me, battle in secret with issues that we as believers are uncomfortable with. It is time that these issues are addressed openly so that people can be released from the unnecessary elements of their struggles and focus more of their attention and energy on serving the Lord. This needs to happen in fellowship with other believers. Fellowship requires sharing of burdens, even those that we don’t understand and make us uncomfortable.