In order to take care of yourself spiritually during a mental health crisis, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that most of us experience some sort of mental health crisis at some point in our lives.
A Miracle Sends Me Into Depression?
When my husband miraculously recovered from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with Central Nervous System involvement I knew I should feel grateful and blessed. I did. Mostly. But I also felt as if an angry monster lurked inside, ready to lash out at any moment.
It took me awhile to acknowledge that perhaps I suffered from depression (after all, shouldn’t I feel blessed? Which just made me feel guiltier and more depressed). At the time, I found a good resource that helped me understand my feelings and start traveling out of the darkness.
Intellectually, I knew that I should feel gratitude, but I couldn’t muster up the energy to feel much of anything. People’s comments about how ‘wonderful it must be to live with a miracle,’ made me cringe on the inside, but I smiled on the outside. My miracle still needed to gain 40 lbs. and had the physical strength of a day-old robin.
I worked full time, rushed home on breaks to make sure my miracle had what he needed within reach, had eaten healthy food, and wasn’t too bored. When the school day ended, I rushed home to repeat all of the above and take care of two overjoyed and stressed-out daughters.
Oh, sure, I prayed, had daily devotions, and wrote in my journal. I went to church once a week and we had family worship. But as my miracle gained strength, I seemed to lose it. I did a (mostly) good job at hiding that anything bothered me. But the heavy blanket of sadness hovered.
I should have seen a counselor, but I didn’t. Therapy would have helped, but I didn’t know that. Basically, I didn’t know how to take care of myself after pouring all of my energy into taking care of my miracle for over a year.
First Step to Taking Care of Myself
Pedro’s cancer journey added fifty unwanted pounds to my life, and a year after his recovery I knew I needed to do something. I read somewhere that taking 10,000 steps a day would make you lose 20 lbs. in a year. So I purchased a pedometer.
Our German Shepherd puppy had matured enough that she could go running with me by this point. I started by walking and jogging short distances, I figured Clancy and I could get in shape together.
The clinging blanket of depression lifted the more I exercised, but it still waited in the closet, ready to envelop me any time I hit a snag. And the snags came in many different shapes and sizes: arguments with Pedro, problems with students or their parents, watching the news, normal stress, and sermons that irritated me. Actually, a lot of things irritated me during this time.
The first step to take care of yourself is to exercise. If you can exercise with your pet, even better.
The Spiritual Component of Learning to Take Care of Yourself
You may wonder why I don’t list relying on God or prayer as the first strategy for overcoming a mental health issue. But remember? I felt close to God the entire time—even when I (and everyone else) thought Pedro wouldn’t make it. Prayer and reading the Bible form the backbone of my life. I never gave them up, but neither did they save me from depression.
The world I grew up in looked a lot different than today’s world. No one talked about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD. The commercials on TV touted the latest in feminine hygiene products, not the latest drugs for depression.
The church seemed solid in its belief that you could pray everything bad away. Even worse, the church saw (sees) depression as a sign of spiritual attack or weakness. Well-meaning church people promise to ‘hold you up in prayer’ when they should drive you to see a doctor instead.
I read, Get Out of that Pit! by Beth Moore after I had already passed through the worst of my depression. It helped me understand that sometimes we let ourselves slide into depression because of negative self-talk.
After I finished the book, I even recommended it to a friend—a woman who had health problems but whom I felt suffered from depression. I cringe now when I think of my glib assurance that she’d like the book.
All too often we forget that we can have the same ailment, whether physical or mental, but suffer differently. Benadryl puts my husband to sleep but it makes me hyper. I recovered from depression with exercise and a book about God’s deliverance. But someone else may need counseling, medication, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.
Is it OK to See a Therapist if I’m a Christian?
God created us with the ability to create—whether we create works of art or drugs that will help people overcome depression. He gives us brains so that we can use them. If exercise and Bible reading don’t work, there is no shame in seeking professional help and taking medication. Sometimes we need medication so that we can do the hard work of getting well.
For years after Pedro’s illness, I suffered from random, undetermined, mind-boggling chest and back pain. The attacks seemed to come on without warning, but in retrospect, I suspect that they occurred whenever I experienced any kind of extreme stress. Even though I thought I coped well with stress, I would have this health problem within a week or two of each emotionally stressful event in my life. I’d get a fever, I couldn’t take a deep breath, and every movement hurt.
Prayer did nothing. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint the problem. A friend suggested that perhaps I just needed to learn how to breathe deeply again. Her advice helped the most.
For some reason, it never crossed my mind that maybe I needed a doctor to help me process the trauma I’d gone through as a caregiver—not a cardiologist to perform a stress test on my heart.
Back then, I figured that Christians should only visit Christian counselors or therapists. In retrospect, I see the ridiculousness of that statement. If I run into the emergency room with blood gushing out of my arm, I wouldn’t refuse help until I’d checked the physician’s basic Christian beliefs.
Therapists and counselors receive training to remain impartial and not have a religious agenda. God can use anyone to work his miracles in our lives. We just have to receive the professional help they offer.
Steps to take Care of Yourself Spiritually
1. There’s No Shame in Need
In order to take care of yourself spiritually during a mental health crisis, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that most of us experience some sort of mental health crisis at some point in our lives. A loved one might pass away. We might lose our source of income, get in a car wreck, or feel like we’ve lost our faith.
Any of these events can trigger our stress levels and emotions to form a perfect storm that renders us incapable of handling life as normal. And that’s ok. We don’t look down on people who go to the doctor with flu symptoms. Therefore, we shouldn’t look down on people (including ourselves) who go to a doctor with mental health symptoms.
Even a medical condition could trigger a mental reaction. This happened to Pedro during chemotherapy and to Kandyce King following a spinal injection.
2. Your Therapist Doesn’t Have to be a Christian (gasp!)
Next, you’ll want to seek Christian resources—a counselor (your pastor may or may not be the appropriate person), therapist, a journal, and books. One of the best books I’ve read comes from fellow caregiver, Dr. Michelle Bengston, a neuropsychologist who has experienced some of the same journeys that I have—caregiver for her husband, mystery illness, and depression.
Her book, Hope Prevails, and the study guide, offer excellent resources for Christians who want to grow spiritually during a mental health crisis and rely on the Great Healer. Dr. Bengston believes that depending on the situation, medical intervention (medications) may be the only thing that will get a depressed person to the point that she or he can proceed to the next step of healing.
Our minds act as powerful tools that can help or hinder our healing. Dr. Bengston’s book offers great resources such as Bible verses and playlists to help the reader focus on healing.
3. Call in Your Prayer Warrior Friends
If you have friends who understand that all of us suffer from mental health issues at times, invite them to pray for you. Just remember that prayer is part of the healing process, and don’t ignore step one.
4. Remember that God Doesn’t Heal Everyone the Same Way
Nowhere in the Gospels does it claim that Jesus had a cookie-cutter approach to healing. Some people experienced healing power just by showing up (Luke 7:1-10), others by touching the hem of his garment (Matthew 9:20). Jesus touched some people (Matthew 9:27-29), used his spit on people (Mark 7:23, Mark 8:23), and used his voice to command (Luke 7:14).
And while God does offer healing, it might not look exactly like what we think it should look like. Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) that God chooses to not take away. Paul claims the ‘thorn’ keeps him from conceit.God doesn't offer cookie-cutter healing. But he does promise his grace is sufficient for every illness, whether physical or mental. #SelfCareSunday #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness Click To Tweet
God does promise that his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) to cover our weaknesses—whether they be physical or mental. A mental health crisis is NOT a sign of disfavor from God. But it IS an opportunity to grow closer to him and allow his grace to make us strong.
The Bottom Line for Spiritual Self-care
The bottom line? Don’t be like me. Get help when you need it. I could have avoided seven years of physical pain and agony if I had looked for help sooner. Learn to react to mental-health disclosures in an appropriate way, too. That way, if a friend of yours needs help, you’ll know what to do.
God never promises that we’ll have an easy life. In fact, he tells us we’ll have troubles (John 16:33). Christianity doesn’t give us a pass on having a mental health crisis, and we need to equip ourselves to meet the challenge.Christianity doesn't give us a pass on having a mental health crisis or even a mental illness. We need to equip ourselves to meet the challenge. #SelfCareSunday #mentalillness Click To Tweet