I've started and deleted this post probably 100 times in the last few months. I haven't actually been sure what to say or how to say it when it comes to talking about what this post is about. But, the prompting that I need to write this won't go away.
Until the last couple of years, I don't think I've ever talked about this about at all - except with a few people that were very carefully chosen. Up to that point, I'd mostly been able to hide what was going on from others, but at that point I couldn't hide it any longer. I had to let other people know, and in the process discovered how freeing it was to share and allow others into that part of my journey.
But, inviting others in didn't come without risks. It required being vulnerable. It required letting others know without knowing how to they would handle that information. It required removing a wall that I've always lived behind with people. It meant I was going to have to decide that the potential stigma of it wasn't going to stop me.
But, it also came with benefits. When it was no longer a secret, some of the power of it was lost. I discovered that being vulnerable about it with the right people actually led to deeper connections with people, and a willingness from them to share their own struggles. Sharing it with others brought a freedom I didn't know it was possible to have.
Sharing it here invites a whole new aspect of it. I don't necessarily get to pick the people who read this and who would now know. I think that's part of what has caused me to start and delete this post so many times. It's more risk to share, but I'm learning the importance of choosing to talk about these things.
I think so much of the stigma that exists around this - especially in the church - exists because we don't talk about it. We have to learn to talk about it. It affects so many more people than we realize. And, the only way we get to truly be able to find what healing looks like for us is to talk about it. We have to bring it out of the dark, so that the light can shine on it.
Mental illness and the conversations we need to have around it are happening more and more in our society, and they're beginning to happen in the church with greater frequency. That's a good thing. We need these conversations to happen, because we need to learn how to handle this better.
I've discovered that when we look around any given church gathering we find ourselves at there are more people around us struggling with it than we realize. Most of the time, we won't even realize they're struggling when we look at them or talk to them. They seem to live pretty normal lives and do all the things we would expect. But, what we don't know, unless they choose to share, is the struggles happening under the surface - the challenges they face to be in that place, to live what we would consider to be a normal life.
That's been me for most of my life. Living with an anxiety disorder. Most of the time I'm still able to manage reasonably well. I've been lucky in that regard - some people have a much more difficult time than me with the same thing. But, that doesn't mean it's always easy for me to be where I am or do what I'm doing. Often is a large group setting I'm hanging on, but not by much. This is one of those places where I've realized the importance of having people in my world who know my struggle. They may not always know exactly what my experience feels like, but I know they care about me and want to be there for me. Most of the time I manage fine and no one looking at me who doesn't know would even guess.
So, what do we do with the whole topic of mental illness and the church?
We need to talk about it.
We need to share.
We need to love.
We need to support.
We need to encourage.
And most of all, we need to be the family for each other that we're called to be in Scripture. That includes all of these things, and so much more.