I don’t want to over spiritualize what has happened to me since moving to New York. I don’t think that would do any of us any favors. So I’ll lay it all out there as I’ve experienced it, and you’re welcome to draw your own conclusions.
A fair warning that what I have to share is personal. I used to share a lot more of that. In the last few years, sharing about my mental health became exhausting. I stopped wanting to connect and relate over it. I didn’t want attention drawn to it. I grew tired.
A lot of people who have kept up with me for a few years know I live with pretty intense anxiety, and I was medicated for depression and a mood disorder. About five years ago, there was a point in my life where I was wrecked by my mental state, living totally disorganized, drenched in fear every moment, and my friends later explained that they were scared to leave me at home alone. I had what I would probably most accurately refer to as a breakdown, and I had to move home from college. I say this just to give context.
My psych of 10 years retired this past October, in the midst of my recovery from surgery, and before I knew about our cross-country move. Naturally, I was really nervous and wary to find someone else. As someone who has been told essentially not to trust my own footing because it isn’t the most realistic or reliable, the move that crept up on me was so intimidating. It’s taken a long time for me to get in with a good doctor here, so I’ve been having my medications provided via an online doctor with my insurance. I thought things would be a lot worse. Luckily, church and friends and family and my team have supported me so much, that I’ve felt really good.
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that Scott and I’s first conversation on our first date was about moving to New York City. That first date was New Years Day of 2016. We were moved into our apartment and spent our first full day in New York City exactly three years later. The Friend I stayed with when I visited the city three years prior was the same Friend who helped us move in this year. Take all of that as you will!
We used to live on the top floor of a historic site in Atlanta. When it would rain, you could hear all the droplets hit the roof, and I’d remember the time an old man at church told me “God’s grace is like drinking with a coffee stirrer from a swimming pool, and then sometimes, it rains.” I’d sit under that rain and remember that God was present. When Scott first heard about the job in New York, our roof started leaking. It poured down all in our bedroom. They sent roofers out three times, but they couldn’t find the source of the leaks to fix it. This is how we were able to get out of our lease to even move at all.
Before we moved, while the leaks were happening, I read a bible plan about rebuilding. “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace…” (Haggai 2:9) I felt God had a promise in store for me in our new city. It wasn’t an overwhelming reassurance, but the thought came as a quiet hope.
In our moving van, I even vocalized, “I feel like I’m Jonah in the belly of the whale,” and God is moving me where he wants me, even if I’m scared or upset about it.
Once we were here, I was jealous of the way that Scott had a plan, a workplace, and new friends and faces already in his life. Instead of seeing a life that could be made into to anything, I saw a life that was nothing for me in Brooklyn.
To combat the depression that usually sweeps in heavy when I move, I started going on daily walks. I got to know my neighborhood. I started making these small, simple, independent memories.
We immediately started going to the church I visited in NYC three years prior to our move, back before I met Scott.
When I was in NYC three years ago, I had been diagnosed with a mood disorder days prior. I spent the first few days by myself, reflecting, and exploring . I spent the weekend with friends and at church. And leaving, I felt bold enough to share publicly about my diagnosis for the first time, which was messy and weird, but worthwhile, too.
Coming back to this same church and staying, I realized they speak pretty boldly about healing, something I am skeptical of. I grew up in a church that had me confused about how to receive grace, but also believed in miracles, but also was critical of charismatic faith—so, pretty all over the place. In my faith now, I take everything with a grain of salt.
I caught myself believing, “that woman’s cancer leaving her body was a coincidence.” Even when it started to be undeniable, “maybe her blindness went away because God wants to use that, but he won’t heal me.” I began reliving all the nights I’d have a panick attack and pray “make me better, I know you can!” I prayed these prayers out of pain and desperation. But when I’d see healing in my church, I didn’t believe God actually would go to any lengths to do that for someone. I realized that, for all the things I claim to believe about God, I didn’t believe God could help me overcome mental illness. It was too “charismatic” for me. Meaning, at the heart of things, it was just too good to be true. I was terrified of being let down by God.
One of the online doctors I saw here told me, “you should try more talk therapy; you might be surprised at the way you could reduce these medications,” and I got upset that he said that because he didn’t even know me. Another doctor urged me to see someone in person because my diagnosis was somewhat confusing and weighty (like thank you, I know). When I first had my evaluation prior to actually seeing a psych, the counselor mentioned, “you just don’t seem to fit the bill for this,” and I still wasn’t listening because he had sat with me for thirty minutes, when I had a doctor at home treat me for ten years. My first response to all of these suggestions was bitterness.
Several stories at our church have been shared before service on Sundays, via a video series we do, about people no longer struggling in their depression. Whether they were “cured” or not, they were not struggling anymore. A woman spoke about deliverance. I loved and understood that word. It resonated with me. To be brought through and relieved. For really the first time I thought, “maybe God wouldn’t heal me all the times I prayed, but that word implies that something isn’t easy, that the time is necessary, but that there is an end. Maybe being “cured” isn’t for me, but deliverance might be.”
Our pastor, while preaching on an entirely different topic, read us scripture where God tells his people “you are robbing me of the opportunity to bless you.“ (Malachi 3:8-10) I immediately felt convicted for my disbelief. If God was trying to do anything in my life, I’ve had the reigns so tight that I certainly was not making that possible. I started evaluating—I’m in a good place, things are going well, if there were ever a time to re-evaluate my mental health, maybe I can ease up on my medications now and give God the opportunity to prove me wrong and me the opportunity to recognize that healing. It doesn’t have to happen over night. What would it look like to give God an inch at a time?
I told Scott a week or so later about what I had been feeling, and he was surprised to hear that I believe that God sent His son to die for me, but couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of God balancing my brain chemistry. “Of course God can heal you. He might not. And I know you know that, and I know you’re scared to get your hopes up. But you have to believe that He can.”
I talked to my mom about how well things were going and she affirmed, “maybe you can be more self-managed now!”
So I went to my first psychiatrist appointment with a new doctor in ten years. Without me explaining my recent feelings, my spiritual background, or what I want for my future, she sat down and asked me questions, then determined within the hour that I was on the wrong medication. She explained “this isn’t going to help your anxiety. This isn’t even really going to help your depression. It’s making you groggy, and it’s hard on your body. I think we can do better, and I think we can do less. I also don’t think you have a mood disorder. It was a bad reaction to a medication you were on, and you were experiencing trauma. Let’s focus on your anxiety; it seems like in other areas you’re doing well!” And we made the switch.
To be relieved of the fear that if I’m doing well I must be manic is the hugest weight off my chest. I cannot tell you how much freedom has been brought into my life by that alone. In the city where once I had just received a startling diagnosis, I was three years later delivered from it.
It took one second opinion for me to receive answers I didn’t even know I needed, a clear explanation, to overcome in a lot of ways something that had been attacking my well-being for years. Now I’m on less medication that treats a very specific issue, with little side effects. And for the most part, I’m self-managing, and I’m experiencing life in a much healthier way. Scott keeps telling me “you’re doing great!” And last night I asked him “when was the last time I had a panic attack??” It was weeks ago. That’s new for me. That’s progress. And I don’t feel scared to be confident.
I felt God wanting to make a change right before it came, and I saw Him prepare me for that through prayer and community. In the last month, I’ve been less irritable, more joyful, calmer, able to sleep, and most importantly, more myself.
The truth is that it comes down to way more than the medication. Someone at a church I went to years ago preached once “medication can reduce your symptoms, but it can’t make you feel loved.” I need Jesus, and without putting my footing in Jesus and without trusting that he is reliable and dependable, I wouldn’t have been able to move forward. I would have been skeptical, scared of the change, and I wouldn’t have the courage to believe “God is making a new way, He’s rebuilding, and this is going to be better than the way things were.” I was given hope that conquered the fear I had grasped to based on my past because I was given the idea of needed change before I could even wrap my head around it.
So, it’s mental health awareness month, and I want to say a few things:
There is nothing wrong with taking medication, there’s nothing wrong with taking medication for the rest of your life, medication is one form of healing and you don’t have to come off of it to be considered healed—that’s definitely not what I’m trying to say
Trusting God won’t necessarily cure you, but it also isn’t OFF the table. I’ve seen it work both ways and look different for each person. My little miracle here isn’t that I’m “cured”—it’s that God let me in on the changes that needed to be made, he continued to push for them when I was stubborn, and he convicted me and worked on my heart through prayer and solid preaching, and now he has delivered me from something that was held over my head (largely by my self) and even became a part of my identity. I think it’s so much more important to focus on freedom rather than a cure, and that’s what I had missed before in my most desperate prayers.
Sometimes what God wants to do in your life relies on you being open and taking action too! We have a spirit of boldness and not of fear, so we shouldn’t only expect God to sweep in and do all the work. It’s a relationship and a partnership. He wants to empower you, not power over you. No guts, no glory.
Get a second opinion. I trusted my doctor ten years, and still I needed a second opinion. Mental health has so many layers and levels and sometimes I think it takes several people to treat one person. It’s better to sit down with someone in person, and it’s better to find people who will take the time to explain everything to you.
Medication doesn’t love you. People do. Community can. Family hopefully does. These people are not to be your counselors, your crutch, and they can’t medically assist you. But getting out and being lifted up, having people hear you and grow you, even being challenged in the ways that you feel pretty set—that’s a beautiful thing. Find a community you can trust to hold you accountable and who you can be open with, and dive in.
Lastly, the advice I always give everyone when struggling with mental illness is this: Be your own friend. If you were to take care of a friend, you’d feed them. You’d encourage them to get out of bed. You’d want to see them brush their hair, put a little effort in, and celebrate the small things. You wouldn’t talk down to them. You wouldn’t let them suffer quietly. So take a good look at yourself and work hard to take active steps every day towards being softer and gentler and more encouraging towards yourself. You will be ok again. Things take time. Hang in there. You’re never alone, even when the lights go out.
“And surely I am with you always, until the end of time.” Matthew 28:20
PS. Please don’t eat Burger King.