Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
My recovery journey has been shaped by my community–the family, friends, teachers, mentors, and loved ones who have supported me endlessly through every high and low that has come my way.
Every time I’ve shared my story with one of these beloved people, the demons that consume me held less power over my life, and every time I share with my community when I am struggling, I gain back more control.
I haven’t always recognized the power of community in my life.
There was a period when I wouldn’t talk to anyone about my self-harm, depression, anxiety, and eating disorder.
There was also a time when I wouldn’t speak about it out-loud, and could only communicate with a trusted friend in writing. Eventually, I progressed to being able to speak about all of these things with a string of therapists and treatment professionals, and soon after, I was able to talk to my friends.
It’s taken me years to openly talk about my mental health struggles within the Christian community.
Although I have been told many things that jaded my openness about my mental health in the faith community, much more of my struggle came internally, from my own fears and stereotypes. I mean, what would people think of a Christian girl who intentionally cuts herself, who struggles to feed her body, who is perpetually depressed and anxious? Would I be rejected? Would I still be loved and accepted?
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My other fears came from how I viewed God at the time, because after years of suffering with my mental illnesses, I was very doubtful of the goodness and faithfulness of God.
What if I said that? Would they think I was less of a Christian? Would they think I didn’t have real faith?
I think there exists a great stereotype within and about the church that Christians have to be perfect, that we have to have it all together 100% of the time.
There is so much fear in saying, “My story isn’t perfect. I struggle with self-harm. I struggle with an eating disorder. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I don’t think God is here with me.”
So, every Sunday and every youth group meeting, I would put on a mask of having it all together. I was the ‘perfect Christian girl’ I was supposed to be, and I gave all the right answers.
Wearing that mask takes such a toll on your relationships. It takes a toll on your faith. It makes you feel unbelievably isolated in relationships that used to be the most intimate. It makes your church home feel like a stranger’s house, and it gets painfully lonely after just a short while.
The first time I shared my story in a Christian context was one late night at church camp. I was working as a counselor and I had a complete mental breakdown. I don’t remember the words either of us said, but I know I was so terrified to let anyone in that I was actually shaking. It was midnight, but I remember the other counselor telling me I was okay, I was loved, I was accepted.
I remember her telling me I am loved by God no matter what.
This night was the beginning of a long journey to find recovery and freedom from the hell I was living in. And slowly, because of her, I have been able to authentically tell my story to many in my church community and restore my faith in God. I credit much of this to her words and actions that night.
Once I finally came clean and began to share my story with my faith community, my life changed forever because they helped me realize how loved and valued I am.
As Christians, we are called to love as Jesus loved.
In my despair and shame, I so often forget what that means. I forget that Jesus came for the broken. He came for the sick. He came for the weary, the bruised, the severely messed up–and He did what was unpopular, what was unacceptable, what was radical: He loved them.
I forget that my community does the same. I forget that they take the broken, the sick, the severely messed up–like me–and they love. Without judgment, without condemnation, without reservation. They take me, and they love me, even with all that I carry with me. They show me what the love of God looks like in a very tangible way, and they have restored my faith in a loving God.
I am blessed by a community that prays with me and for me in my darkest hours.
I am blessed by a community that gives me a safe place to be broken about the heaviness of mental illness, and to be authentic about where I’m at. I am blessed by a community that encourages me with scripture and truth when I don’t know how I’m going to go on another day.
But most importantly, I am blessed by a community that helps me live a life of true hope, love, and freedom in Christ. They help me to live a life in recovery from my demons.
Taking that terrifying step into community saved my life.
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