by Julie Anne Fidler, BB Weekly Contributor
I am sitting across from one of my best friends in a trendy little café, sipping coffee as we always do. We have been good friends for years; we can tell each other things. We can screw up and make amends. We know each other’s heart. We both love Jesus and came back to our faith after an extended period of wandering away. She is single and wants to be married. I am married and want to have children. There is a lot we can relate to, except for one issue.
My friend is depressed. I have never known her not to be. I’ve never known her to be suicidal, but she suffers from mild depression most of the time. It permeates her life and while she doesn’t see it as a nagging issue, I do. We have never had a conversation in which she does not bring it up. To her credit, she handles it well. In fact, I’d say she handles it better than I do a lot of the time. She is a social bug who constantly thrusts herself into activities, whereas I am more of an isolationist when I’m depressed.
No, the issue is not how she handles her depression. The issue is that she does not want to acknowledge her depression is an illness. She is stuck in the place I was in for so long – believing that if she could be a better person spiritually, she would not be depressed at all. We’ve had “the talk” many times. I’ve told her about my own trials and tribulations and I’ve gone so far as to look up and explain the brain chemistry behind depression. She always insists she can handle it on her own.
It’s a free country and we can’t force anyone to take medication if they don’t want to. I would even go so far as to say that while I think my friend is suffering needlessly, the fact that she is able to “maintain” and lead a productive life shows that medication might not be a dire necessity. I’m hoping that one day she realizes that 25 mgs of something won’t make her any less of a person or any less of a Christian. But it’s not my place to force that pill down her throat.
When does mental illness go from being a nuisance to a life-snatcher?
Throughout my life, I have had my share of strongholds and I would even venture to call some of them addictions. At one point I realized that whenever I was depressed, stressed, or angry I would automatically reach for the wine bottle. 2 Peter 2:19 says, “…people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” That single verse influenced me to change my behavior, and I believe it can be applied to mental illness, as well.
Jesus Christ came to free us of our sins, but also to free us from all the things this world uses to hold us back and keep us down. That is the beauty of Christ – we don’t have to wait until eternity to reap the benefits of being Christians. Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly. That abundant life is, however, a choice.
There are different severities of mental illness. Not everyone needs the same thing. I need insulin for my diabetes, but my husband doesn’t take anything at all. Some choose not to seek help for their problem and that is their prerogative, but when does it cross over into foolishness? When someone asks me how I knew it was time to get help and seek a mental health diagnosis, I tell them I knew it was time when my problems ruled my universe and I lost just about everything and everyone I had. I had become a slave to bipolar disorder, and it had mastered me.
I used to believe that mental illness was in no way a spiritual issue, but I’ve come to realize that it is very much a spiritual issue. God never promised that life would be easy for believers. Come to think of it, the Bible tells us the exact opposite. But if you examine the Word of God, you will see that the Holy Spirit gives us gifts and abilities that enable to us to have inexplicable joy in the midst of painful circumstances. Are you facing your circumstances with a sense of hopelessness and despair? That’s not from the Lord.
Does your entire life feel hopeless? Do you despair when you should be having joy? Take a look at 2 Peter 2:19.
“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are slaves of things that will be destroyed. For people are slaves of anything that controls them.”
Are you a slave to hopelessness and despair? Then maybe it’s time to reexamine your views on seeking help.