One of the hardest things about mental health issues is the sense of guilt and shame that can accompany them. Unlike say a sprain or headache, these are struggles that can be both hidden – and written all over our bodies. Think for example of self-harm: the scars can be covered up – but they’re permanently etched across your skin. Or binge-eating: perhaps no-one sees you eat; but you wear the evidence, just like you might wear layers to try and hide it.
Everyone has issues: but though they come from the same source, we group them very differently. One man’s ‘mid-life crisis’ (funny and understandable) is another’s nervous breakdown (weird and unacceptable). ‘Gossiping’, ‘comfort shopping’, or ‘overworking’, are ‘only human’. ‘ADDICTION’ ‘BULIMIA’ or ‘IDENTITY DISORDERS’ are ‘scary’ and ‘strange’.
So maybe you can help me draw a line between what’s ‘ok’ and what’s not:
Which of these feelings is ‘normal’ – and which is ‘weird’?
“I was well-developed for my age and felt like I was a child in an older body and that body was giving oﬀ subliminal message to men. I still feel ashamed of this and have reacted in a lot of wrong ways”.
“If you learn how to hide your feelings and never talk to anyone about them this becomes normal. Until you crash…”
‘‘I often worry about my life, feeling like I don’t know where I’m going in terms of my career, and feeling like I haven’t achieved enough or reached the standard I should have reached. ‘
‘I have a difficult time with sex due to my past experiences, but I feel bad about that because I feel like I should be enjoying it like “normal” people’.
‘‘Sometimes I wish just to know I am loved for who I am, not anything I have done or achieved. I know this to be true of God, but sometimes that can feel a bit academic rather than a warm, emotional, completely embracing love.’
‘‘Sometimes I try to cope with feelings of failure by working really hard, and by trying to achieve as much as I can in a given day. But I often get very tired, and also neglect my social life’.
Or even these?
‘On a good day I just get up and get on, but on a bad day I stay in bed, keep the curtains closed and pretend the world does not exist’.
‘Sleep is often my escape and was a huge survival mechanism when things were very bad. I have attended counselling – 3 batches and the last of those lasted for 3 years and really helped, in fact got my depression to a level that is manageable. I have also found antidepressants helpful at times.’
‘‘I kind of just close up and don’t tell anyone I’m worried, stare at walls and ceilings a lot and if it gets too bad I have the occasional panic attack where I start hyperventilating and shaking and crying.
‘‘I have a dissociative disorder, which can cause a lot of emotional distress / depression / self-harm etc. Dissociation occurs when as a child you have to deal with a lot of stress or trauma and you (subconsciously) create other personalities (‘alters’) to carry the pain for you. This is a good survival mechanism but it means that as an adult you have lots of other personalities living in your head with you, and this can create a lot of inner conflict, pain etc. .. Sometimes when one of the alters is very upset or distressed I feel very depressed or end up self-harming’
‘‘I cry. I worry. I bottle. I shout at my husband about things that don’t matter. I shout at my parents about things that don’t matter. I take things to heart too much. I whine. I cling to my husband”.
These are all comments from people I know who have ‘mental health issues’. Problem is, I’m finding it hard to separate them from the ordinary struggles of life. So, if you can tell me the difference between the ones Jesus came to help and the ones beyond the pale, maybe you could let me know. I’d hate to make friends with the wrong sort of person.