No one really wants to admit his or her weakness. That hit me square in the face well over a year ago. I talked to a friend who freely admitted that he was “on medication” for mental health. This was part of a bigger conversation where I came to him admitting struggles with depression and mood swings. I was surprised he took medication since we went to seminary together and he seemed so composed and put together.
How? Why? That seems so weak!?
He challenged me. He said that if I really believed in the Fall, if I believed things are not the way they are supposed to be, then why would that not extend to my brain?
That conversation was in January 2013. That year was pivotal and full of stress, trauma and change. I completed and passed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate. We adopted our son. City Pres was growing and bought a building! So much change and stress. So many accolades in public and feelings of hell in private.
For years, I struggled with panic attacks. I struggled with mood swings. I thought I could keep them under control, but some of my closest friends even asked me why are you so angry? It was a fair question, but the one I asked was if everything is so good, why is it so bad? I could not explain how I could move from happiness to anger in a second. I could not explain why it took hours to fall asleep only to wake up panicking over minute things. I could not explain my misery, only that I was miserable and making those closest to me miserable.
Finally, it clicked. I was a wreck around Thanksgiving. I could not keep my composure. I had spent too long lying to myself that I could compartmentalize my life and hide. I was making those closest to me miserable…..because I am sick. I needed help. But I can’t do that. I’m a pastor, Ph.D student, adoptive parent and board member of a charity. Look at the outside!!! No one thinks anything is wrong – you’re a success.
But the lie I told myself was that everything was okay when it wasn’t. With help from my wife and close friends, I finally got help. Some of this came from fear. Rick Warren’s son had committed suicide in 2013 after a lifetime of depression. I did not want to be that person. Some dear friends also dealt with a similar issue earlier that year, as well. I had to stop lying to myself. I kept telling myself I could keep everything under control even though I knew better.
Finally, in 2014, I got help. I admitted I didn’t have everything together. I saw a doctor. I got help. I started the path to mental health and healing.
Churches often do a poor job talking about mental health. We might gravitate toward counseling, which I think everyone needs, but are slow, or refuse, to admit that some things are outside the expertise of counseling professionals. We need to do a better job. We need to give space to the strugglers whose broken bodies produce the wrong levels of chemicals for the brain to “work” correctly.
We need honesty, gentleness and care. I’m thankful that I have a wife and close friends who pushed me to get help. If you need help, we want you to be honest about and help you walk the path from fear to freedom. It has been a scary journey for me, but I’ve had a supportive community who cares for me. And for that, I am thankful.