How Faith Fits In With Mental Health

My mom is diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia. In my teenage years, I occasionally struggled with controlling my emotions, but I wouldn’t have considered it mental illness, and no one else qualified it as mental illness either. I felt relieved since my mom and many others said it would be difficult for me to break the cycle.

After enduring a lot of abuse, several traumatic events of abandonment, and spending five years in the foster care system, I accepted Christ into my life. The Church told me God made me an overcomer through His death for me, and if I called upon His name He could break any unhealthy cycle. I experienced that truth and the power of God, so I’d tell people not having a mental illness caused by genetics or environmental factors was a miracle of God. God deserves the glory for the broken cycle.

I birthed my son almost a year ago. Postpartum emotions then engulfed me. Postpartum depression isn’t the right word. I wasn’t depressed. I was manic and sad and happy and overwhelmed and anxious and excited and any other emotion you could possibly imagine. I couldn’t catch a breath of air until about three months after my son was born. This wasn't a lack of sleep like many people mindlessly suggested, without asking. Our baby slept through the night almost immediately. He was docile, calm, and very easy. It was the hormone and chemical imbalances in my body. I could not control them. I no longer lived out the miracle.

I stayed in my community, jumped back into exercising, and ate healthy. I drank water and read my Bible. I searched my heart and prayed for God to reveal and take away the hurt. I proclaimed His name and believed in His power. I did the things people tell you to do when you’re struggling. I continued to drown in panic attacks and sink deeper into the illness knitted throughout the wrinkles of my brain.

I wasn’t an overcomer. I was defeated.

God is my Father. The passion and love I have for Him is vast and I’m overwhelmed to know that it doesn’t even compare to the love He has for me and you. My faith is the most important part of my identity. I felt like I survived the scariest parts of life, but God allowed me to thrive. Postpartum, though, I found myself back in survival mode. 

I expressed feelings of inadequacy and loss to people in the church. Some advised I needed to “have more faith,” “trust in God,” and “be grateful for what He had blessed me with.” I couldn’t logically explain that I did obtain faith through God and I did actively put my trust in Him, but when I was triggered, I couldn’t control my body and mind. The panic attacks literally attacked my being. The quick-fix phrases were added to the list of triggers I reacted to and few people realized the bullet wounds weren’t just impacting my mind, they injured and shamed my spirituality. 

For the first time, since I came to faith when I was seventeen years old, I questioned my salvation. "Lord, do I really have faith? Have you really redeemed me?"

I started online counseling. My therapist suggested I might have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). Before the counselor’s suggestion, loved ones expressed they also thought I showed signs of CPTSD. When I felt threatened or ashamed, I often remembered what people said, but didn’t want to consider it until the counselor asked me how much I wanted to change. 

Psychiatrists are quick to make diagnosis, especially to foster youth. Foster youth are over diagnosed and over medicated, which has made me doubtful of most diagnosis. Thought I felt skeptical, I desperately wanted to love my family and serve my people better, so we dug deeper. My counselor and I identified the causes and symptoms, and slowly began to work through them, week by week.

I continued to do the things the church and scripture advises you to do -- being in community, praying, and being in God’s word. And I continued to do the things my psychologist told me to do -- deep breathing, slowing down, identifying when and why I am triggered, etc. The miracle was no longer that I didn’t have a mental illness. The miracle was that with the resources God has placed in my life, like counseling, and with God’s truth, I overcame and am still overcoming mental illness.

Our faith increases when we acknowledge what God graciously gives us and sometimes that is counseling or medication. We do not have to live in shame or secrecy. Sometimes these are tools that aid in our emotional health and spiritual health. 

But it is not, counseling and medication alone that heals.

Counseling decreased my triggered meltdowns, but I realized I hit a wall. I still felt crushed in my spirit. The behaviors were hidden but my heart remained broken. 

My sweet husband encouraged me to attend a two-day Christian conference called The Global Leadership Summit, so I did. God used the speakers to remind me of my identity in Him. There were many fruitful reminders that I knew but needed to hear again — that God loves me, that being weak at times was okay, that I can boast in my weaknesses, and that God doesn’t favor people who have been in the church longer than or who don’t have mental illness, among many other truths.

I reflected about who I was and who I thought God was calling me to be before the confidence in my salvation was shaken.

I reclaimed my identity in Christ as one who loves and is lovable, one who is adopted and favored, and as one who is not defined by mental illness, past traumatic experiences, or anyone or anything else besides Christ.

When I remembered my identity, because of what God says, and what He did, I stopped blowing up and I started asking a lot more questions. I stopped trembling and I started making moves. I stopped melting down and I started stepping up.

Because that’s what God’s truth compels each of us to do, despite illness or inadequacies.

Physiological reactions are real. God’s power is strong. And if we acknowledge both psychological and spiritual, we are acknowledging the way God made us and honoring the power of God.

God remains at the center of my healing journey. I believe the most healing moments are the times when He offers me a chance to reflect Him. Those are the times my identity isn’t just declared through words, but through God gifted opportunity. Healing might include counseling or medication. May you rejoice in the gift. Healing will require connection and intimacy with Him and His body. May you rejoice in the Gift.

Guest Blog Post By: Tori Pertersen

About Tori: Tori Petersen hopes to make her Abba known and loved by His children. She is a wife to Jacob and mom to an eleven month old boy, Leyonder. She is a writer, currently working on a memoir. She hopes to be an advocate for family, however it comes to together. Her greatest passion is expressing the gospel and love God has for each of His children through her stories.

You can find Tori on social media at: @torihopepertersen

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