Tuesday 10 May 2022

The Elephant on My Chest

Most people don't understand mental health. And I have to admit, I'm certainly no expert either. After all, it's not like you can diagnose schizophrenia with an x-ray, or depression with a blood test. Broken bones and heart attacks we can more readily identify and sympathize with. But, even with modern efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues, there are still people who think the sufferers should just "snap out of it", or "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" or, in the Christian environment, "you just need to pray more" or "you need more faith". I know. Because I sometimes give myself those pep talks. You see I'm currently at home on "stress leave". And I actually find it easier to say that I'm on stress leave than to explain that I'm suffering from severe depression and anxiety. Semantics. It's more socially acceptable to be "stressed" than to have depression/anxiety. 

And for people who have never experienced depression and anxiety to the extent that I am experiencing it, it's really difficult to comprehend just how debilitating it is. And when they see that I can still smile and laugh or even work on my hobbies, they must wonder if I really am that depressed. And I do it to myself as well, feeling guilty because I'm not at work when it seems I can function fine. But then I have to fight back the tears as I'm climbing the steps to the post office or some other mundane, every day event. Why do I feel like crying? And I realize that I really am not functioning fine. 

And the physical symptoms. Do you know how many physical symptoms that can manifest themselves as a result of mental illness? I have a headache almost every day. I have had abdominal discomfort and nausea since late last year. Initially, the doctor thought it was diverticulitis and prescribed 2 different antibiotics. But even after the antibiotics, the nausea and abdominal discomfort continued - sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always there. And it's variable in type as well as intensity - sometimes feeling like bowel, sometimes like bladder and sometimes even like menstrual cramping. I finally had a CT scan of my abdomen and nothing was wrong. I was actually disappointed. I was hoping that there was something physically wrong with me, that would explain the symptoms, that could be treated, rather than having to say, "It's just anxiety." But it isn't just anxiety. It's a horrendous, debilitating illness. I feel short of breath and my chest feels tight. It's difficult to draw a deep breath. That's where I got the title for this post - like an elephant on my chest. I don't sleep well, and feel exhausted most of the time. And I spend a lot of time just sitting around doing nothing because I have so little motivation, so little energy.  

And I've struggled with feelings of failing God. I have prayed and prayed for healing, but the healing has not come. I've emotionally beat myself up for not having enough faith, not trusting God enough to gain the victory over this. I persisted at work much longer than I likely should have because I didn't want to be a failure, I felt that I should overcome this somehow, if I could just turn the corner... But it hasn't happened. And I finally had to admit that I just couldn't continue trying to force myself to function.

And then I thought of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, he reports how he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to keep him from becoming proud of all he had accomplished for the Lord, and all the favours God had bestowed on him.  

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.Verse 7

He never explains what this "thorn" was, but obviously it was distressing to him because he asked the Lord to deliver him from it three times. 

 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. Verse 8

But the Lord said, "No." And Paul accepted that answer, knowing that God loved Him enough that He would always act in Paul's best interests.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. Verses 9,10

So I realized that sometimes God does deliver from physical infirmity. Sometimes immediately and sometimes more gradually. But sometimes, He says, "No", as He did to the apostle Paul. And He always has a reason, though we may not understand why until we get to heaven. 

And so, perhaps, there are some of us that have "thorns" in the mind, and not necessarily in the body. And perhaps God, for reasons which we do not always understand, chooses not to heal us of those "thorns" - not immediately, maybe not even gradually, maybe not until we get to heaven. But suffering from those "thorns in the mind" is not necessarily any indication that we have failed God or that we lack faith, any more than the apostle Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. 

I honestly do not believe that it is God's will for me to continue in the state that I am currently in. And I believe, given time, that I will eventually improve. But it may be that it will always be a weakness that I need to be aware of and take precautions against.  And I know that God's grace is sufficient. 

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