When I was a sophomore in high school, I had this friend. We met in photography class, and then again in guitar class. Our souls were kindred spirits. Among other commonalities, we shared a love of painting. Over the course of the school year, we would show each other our paintings, and critique them accordingly. She was so much better than I was. She went on to get a scholarship, for her talent, to the local university, and still to this day, continues to have a career in painting. After I moved, we kept in touch a little bit. During one of our conversations, we were reminiscing about our crazy high school days, and I mentioned how jealous I had always been of her painting skills. She scoffed and said, “You shouldn’t have been, I was crazy. I was just painting what I saw in my head.” After an awkward laugh, I asked what she meant, and she went on to say that she had been diagnosed with a few different mental illnesses over the last few years, and was on medication. I was shocked, but didn’t show it. I told her I was proud she had the courage to get help, and humorously asked if her painting had diminished since she had begun medication. After that conversation, I began to wonder: if my brain worked like hers, would I be a stellar artist? Would I really wish that upon myself?
Mental health awareness has made some strong advances in the last few years. The professional community is getting better at recognizing the characteristics, and the culture is getting better at accepting it, diagnosing it, and treating it. Individuals are getting better at finding the courage, pushing through the stigma and seeking help.
However, what about those who don’t have diagnosable illnesses, but still go through periods of darkness and loneliness? How do they walk through life, not being diagnosed and treated, while every day is so fragile? They struggle with self-loathing, but not enough to self-harm, because they know their worth too. They have bouts of sadness, but it’s temporary, and fickle. They fear the future but not enough to hide from it, because they logically know they can’t, so they move forward with responsibility. They lose their cool but not enough for intervention, because they know everyone does sometimes. They need an escape but not enough to be an addict because they have too many people relying on them.
In these moments of fear, where can we find our hope? We can all be our own worst enemy. When the “voices” take over, sometimes it can be impossible to shake them. Despair and shame can be a vicious cycle, often leading to months or even years of depression. Some days the voices flash images of recent victories, images of praise from friends, spouses, colleagues, children. Other days, the visuals of failures play like a movie that can’t stop the pain of hurt still fresh in the heart. So how do we cope? Self-medicate with alcohol or drugs? Self-harm? Excessive diet and exercise? Dive into friendships? Unhealthy sex?
So what happens when these fail? Or they start to become an addiction, and no longer serve their purpose (pleasure and relaxation)? Things start to be planned around “Band-aids.” They may quiet the voices, but with too much of a good thing, they lead to louder, meaner voices and damaging behavior.
Where can we find the balance? Where can a solution be found?
The answer, of course, is Jesus. But let’s look at specifics:
The first question in the Heidelberg catechism sums up our life span, our whole existence.
I think that’s why it’s my favorite:
“ 1 Q: What is your only hope in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own but belong to God.”
The short answer is good, but the long answer is better:
“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
For those times of hopelessness, here is the hope: hope that doesn’t fail, and never disappoints; a way out; a truth to find comfort in. And His name is Jesus. And His comfort is found in scripture.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
This is where we can find the strength to fight. In the words of scripture there is One who is fighting the good fight through us and for us.
Romans 8:28 gives us proof!
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
You don’t have to fight alone. Jesus gives us scripture, and prayer, and solid friends, through which He helps us power through. So keep fighting. Some days will be harder than others. You will make mistakes; those voices will take the lead sometimes. But remember Who fights for you, Who paid your debt, Who gave His life so you don’t have to succumb to the darkness: Jesus.
“So what is your only comfort in life and in death?
That you are not your own but belong to God.”
Disclaimer: thoughts of suicide, self-harm or of harming other people are more than just “periods of darkness” and anyone experiencing these thoughts should seek medical attention immediately.