Pastor Daniel Bramlett
I was at one of the darkest points in my life. I’d lost my job, my schedule, my ability to be recognized for the work I’d done (for a man, this is one of the hardest things)… My life was not on the track I’d anticipated. There were days I’d just sit and stare. I didn’t want to do much of anything. If it weren’t for my friends and my attentive wife, I would have been all alone. I cried a lot. I read a lot, especially the Psalms. I listened to worship music often. And eventually, I came up for air. There were days when there was mostly darkness with a little light and then there were days that were most light with a little darkness. The latter grew to be the norm. This was my first bout with real depression and it was very real.
Mental illness gets a bad rap. Nobody doubts us when we cough, have a fever and test positive for the flu. They tell you to stay home, take your meds and get some rest. But when we struggle with mental illness, it seems the most common advice is to just keep moving. When you are really struggling with mental illness, it seems almost impossible to just keep moving. There are points when it’s all you can do to stay alive.
I realize this quadrant has taken some abuse from fakers. Just like people cry Covid whenever they don’t want to go to work or show up in court. But that doesn’t negate the existence of Covid and neither do the impersonators cause mental disease to disappear.
Can medicine be used to bring healing? Certainly, but not in the quantities assumed and abused. If there truly is a chemical imbalance in the brain, sometimes medicine is the only way to stand the brain back up again. But we have to be so careful! Medicine is not a fix-all/cure-all. The pain killers and mood stabilizers create more harm than good, from my non-medical perspective. I’ve talked with so many who started out on these with the best intentions and years later are addicted. On the other hand, there are many in my life who’ve benefited from the temporary use of medication. This is an area that requires the wisdom of a trusted doctor or therapist. As far as I’m concerned, a self-diagnosis is not real. Just because you had a bad day, does not mean you are depressed. Just because you are afraid of the dark does not mean you have anxiety. And just because you feel lost after your family member dies does not mean that you need mood stabilizers.
So much of mental illness can be handled through the Jesus community. When we isolate from each other all types of perceived illnesses begin to pop up. But when we are together and anxiety strikes, the community can surround the individual and walk them through the dark night. When grief comes and the community gathers round, most people will cope just fine.
Our bodies are designed by God to have ups and downs. We think we are not fine if we have a run of bad days or a run of bad thoughts, but that is absolutely normal. It’s perfectly normal for us to not sleep well or feel tired all of the time following grief. It’s normal to have periods of perpetual tears or feel very cold and distant from everyone and everything. Medicine, in these cases, just prolongs the inevitable. Our bodies need to grieve, feel loss and endure pain. If you are in one of those scenarios, bite the bullet, tell the Jesus people you trust what is going on, pray and most likely you will come out on the other side better for the experience. If not, that’s when a counselor or physician needs to come into the picture. Just give it time to see.
The Word has lots to say about mental illness. I love the story of David grieving over his son. For days he doesn’t eat and lies on the floor weeping. When the child dies, his attendants don’t want to tell him for fear he might kill himself. But as soon as he finds out, he dresses, eats and perks up. When asked why, he tells them that while the son was alive, he prayed and fasted hoping he would be healed. When he died, he had immediate comfort knowing he would see his son again one day.
The story of Elijah beside the brook Cherith asking to die is another hopeful one. The famous prophet has a head hunter after him and he’s exhausted. He thinks he’s the only faithful one left and wants to be finished. God feeds him, strengthens him and speaks to him about the future. After the ordeal, Elijah is righted and passes his leadership role off to his successor.
Everyone walks through dark valleys mentally. Do not despair if you are in one today. Know where to find hope. It’s not in a pill bottle (or any other bottle for that matter!). Hope comes from the Word of God (absolute truth), from conversation with God (the One who designed your body and knows better than anyone what it needs) and from the Jesus people in your life (those God put near you to encourage and equip you for the days ahead). Trust these sources. Trust Jesus. Know that tomorrow will come and with it new grace, mercy and peace. You will get through this.