for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.2Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
The bus is pulling up to the next stop and I find what seems like a multitude of people waiting to board. The bus was already starting to fill up and my comfort level was dropping rapidly. Even though I made sure to sit as close to the back door as possible there are just too many people. Too much emotion to process. To many side conversations that I can hear all at the same time in my head. Sensory overload begins to set in, adrenaline is dumped into my system, and soon fight or flight will be the reality I will face and since there is no fight, I will give in and get off the bus before it can pull out. Where am I? I do not even know nor care but once my feet hit the pavement I can breathe again. The adrenaline recedes, I take a cigarette out and wish I could find a drink even though it is eight in the morning. Now I must wait for the next bus and pray to a God I believe in but do not yet know, that it will be empty.
Such is the life of someone suffering from a panic disorder triggered by crowd size. Such was my life. Every single day for seven years; such was my life. The ferry that connects my home to Manhattan was tolerable as long as I sat outside. It did not matter if it was January and snowing. That's why they made scarves. Besides, better to be sick with a cold that someone understands then try to explain that I never feel right. That I hear my own words echo in mind. That sometimes I would just rather crawl into a ball and watch television than face the unforgiving anxiety found outside my door. Thankfully this is the 1980's before they invented all of the horrible psychotropic drugs that may have taken my life. I pushed on, working outside pumping gas while working my way through graduate school. Self-medicating with alcohol to get through what passed for my social life. Then one day life caught up to me and I was offered my first real job at the age of 25. In Manhattan; the village specifically. New York University. That meant subways. That meant I was going to have to do something about my seven years of torture. I was still ten years away from salvation so I took my lessons from my undergrad psychology degree and applied systematic desensitization to my anxiety and over the course of a few more years lessened and lessened the torture. After Jesus saved me at the age of 35 I laughed when two different people, one of which I did not even know, prophesied that I would preach. Oh, if they only knew about the anxiety. You see it can be defeated and it never really goes away. We just get much better at avoiding the obvious triggers in our lives so speaking in public? Yeah that was not going to happen.
So there I was preaching five years later. God had moved me to the point of being more afraid of not doing what He wanted. I realized that God wanted this road for me because I was never closer to Him than that night and any time I have to preach because I cannot do it without Him. There is literally none of me involved. I cannot do it. I am still sitting on the front of the ferry in January freezing and wondering if life will ever feel normal again. God is speaking through me, the word He prepared through me, for the people He wanted the message delivered to. That is just fine for me because greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world lying to me about how I feel. Fast forward another ten years and I am dating a pastor's secretary who loves Jesus and is still struggling with anxiety herself for over 20 years. I read scriptures to her at 3 AM just so she can sleep. The relationship ends after a year and a half and six short months later she cannot take this world any longer and chooses to leave it. Over five hundred people show up for the wake of a women who felt so alone. That is what the lies of the devil will do to you. That is what the lies of psychotropic medication can do to you. You see, I do not say any of this for pity's sake. My story is not special. I wish it were. I wish there were not a million other stories like mine every single day in this world and yes beloved, in the church. You see the question is what we do with it and every time I try to write about this subject people come out of the woodwork to attack because they do not like what I have to say. To them I say, not sorry. God has not taken me from the front of that ferry boat to this point in my life by turning my eyes from His truth but rather the opposite. Everyone who suffers does so personally and has their own experience. I am not speaking about our personal experience but rather what God says about it. I only provided this backdrop so you understand that I do understand what you are going through. I have been on that bus stop. I have exited that train at the wrong stop. I offer you no advice about your personal situation. Your journey is yours alone. I'm just a guy saying what the bible says.
Jarrid Wilson was 31 years old. He was an Associate Pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship Church under Greg Laurie. He was an outspoken advocate for people suffering from mental illness and this week he took his own life. As is the norm in the church, many are now taking to the public square to demand the church behave even more like the world. As if that has ever solved anything. I did not know Jarrid and would not speak ill of him or his course and unless you have walked a mile in these anxiety laced shoes, you should have nothing to say but condolences. It is time however have a serious conversation about depression, anxiety suicide and the church.
Let me start by saying that we accept all of the pre-textual arguments so we can move on to something helpful. I always see people claiming that people in the church look down upon believers who suffer from mental illness because they must be lacking faith on some level or something equally stupid. If there are people who genuinely feel this way, they should remain silent because such statements are not helpful in the least. In addition, while we cannot allow attacking the victim, we must stop following the world's lead. In nearly every other subject we stick to scripture an eschew what the world has to offer yet when it comes to mental illness, we seem to drop the bible like a bad habit. Let's cut through two of the typically bad arguments offered up:
1. Mental illness is like any other disease. You would not tell a diabetic they are lacking in faith because they take insulin. -- this is an argument that seems to know nothing about diabetes, mental health, or Christianity and that is a dangerous trifecta of ignorance. Insulin levels are measurable. We have scientifically proven the relationship between insulin and diabetes. The taking of the insulin corrects the problem. None of that is true with psychotropic medication. I read a different article today that suggested serotonin levels that are increased cause anxiety yet no one knows that. There is no test or measurement for that. The "chemical imbalance theory" is just that -- a theory. All mental health conditions are created based on symptomology, not observable science. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was created so that the psychiatric industry could bill. I have been writing about the evils of psychotropic medication since before I was saved. I debated a Christian psychiatrist once and got him to admit that pharmacological psychiatry is essentially playing Russian Roulette with people's lives hoping they experience a placebo reaction at which point they will credit the drug but if they kill themselves, they will say they were depressed. By the way, the Greek word for sorcery is "Pharmakeia"; where we get pharmacy from. Some will swear by their drugs, giving no credit to God. Which brings us to the second bad argument.
2. The six degrees of separation argument -- we have all heard this one. It says that since God made man, He technically made everything they discover; therefore, God made the psychotropic drugs. Except God does not operate like this beloved. He does not create a solution that has 10 percent of users commit suicide or 12 percent self-mutilate. Have you seriously listened to the side effects of these drugs? The drug Abilify, which is used for treatment of bipolar and even irritability from autistic conditions states side effects as, "dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, drooling, choking, blurred vision, headache, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia, constipation, suicidal thoughts, tardive dyskinesia (involuntary repetitive motions), tremors, fainting, mental/mood changes, restlessness, mask-like expression of the face, and seizures. Hey, you know what? I'll take the irritability. In all seriousness, is this how God would ever solve a problem? Keep in mind these are not really side effects -- these are the actual effects of the drug! It is only because the manufacturers do not want them that they label them side effects. All psychotropic drugs have increased suicidal and homicidal ideation as potential effects. All the high school shooters we have seen were already on these drugs when they committed their atrocities. Since Pastor Wilson was a mental health advocate it would not surprise me to find out he was taking such medication as well. God does not solve problems by creating secondary problems, secondary dependencies, and covering up symptoms without solving the problem. He says come to Him all that are heavy burden and He will give you rest. As the key verse today states the spirit within us is not a spirit of fear. There is no fear in the Holy Spirit. It is only love, power and a sound mind. There were times I would remind my friend about these and the myriad of other scriptures and she would just say, "I Know." To this I reply to all listening, I understand you know. I am just saying that you stopped believing.