What I wish someone told me about mental illness

What I wish someone told me about mental illness

Written on 01/11/2020
Abbey Williams

Written by Abbey Grace Williams

When I was first diagnosed years ago, nearly everyone I talked to told me that it was totally normal—lots of people have depression. While this is entirely accurate (approximately one in four Canadians experience some form of depression in their lifetime, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health), it was not what I needed to hear right then. In my head “It’s normal” translated to “Accept it, this is your life now. Just live this way.”

Instead what I needed to hear was, “It is going to get better.” 

Some of you reading this may be thinking, “Okay, but what if it doesn’t get better?” You raise a good point—there is little value in telling ourselves or our loved ones something if it isn’t true. And the fear that it isn’t going to get better becomes a negative thought pattern the majority of people with depression find themselves trapped in.

I am no exception. It’s hard not to, after fighting the same thing for six years. Most progress is the slow kind, like growing taller. The kind you don’t notice until you’ve compared the pencil marks on the inside of the kitchen pantry. This slow progress coupled with the slew of additional diagnoses and new traumas that popped up during those six years can make it easy to feel like I am actually getting worse, not better.

When I accepted this feeling of not getting any better as a fact, existence became endurance. Joy became reserved for the other side of Heaven’s gates. I didn’t think I would ever get better, and I prayed for the strength to be okay with that and to keep going anyways.

Jesus didn’t give me the strength I asked for. What He gave me was hope. Hope that my endurance has a purpose, that joy is real and tangible and within reach, and that I was going to get better.  

Hope used to feel like a useless word to me. Not because of the depression, but because I didn’t know what it meant.

“We can’t give up hope,” the pastor of a tiny red-doored church nestled in the English countryside told me during a semester abroad. “Hope is the knowledge that we will be restored to do God’s will.”

I pressed my palms against the scalding sides of a tea mug, nodding. That was it: God promised to restore me to do His will. He promised. That wasn’t something He was about to give up on, and neither was I. 

That single picturesque conversation wasn’t some magical turning point. God didn’t snap His fingers and take my depression or other mental illnesses away (although I had prayed He would). But there had been a shift in my mind. I had gone from begging God to heal me, to asking Him for help accepting that I would never be healed, to trusting that I would be restored.

With this realization came a new season: after six years, dawn was beginning to break. And in this newfound light, I could see things I couldn’t before.

In the upstairs room of an old school building at Oxford, one of my tutors explained the concept of the deus ex machina, a device used in ancient Greek theatre that involved lowering a god character onto the stage to resolve a seemingly unresolvable plot. I’ve always hated this device—I think it’s lazy on the writer’s behalf.

But as my tutor explained it that day, my jaw just about hit the floor. The reason God didn’t miraculously heal me was that if He did, He would be my deus ex machina. The very concept I hated would become part of my story, and He refuses to let that happen. God has different plans for me. 

In knowing this, I am empowered to play an active part in my own existence. I resolved to no longer be passive – no longer simply endure life, but experience it. I gave myself permission to start healing.

I still get moments sometimes of overwhelming brokenness, a franticness to fix myself. Is my obsessive perfectionism telling of OCD tendencies or childhood trauma? Am I closed off? An impulsive shopper? What kind of depression do I have? High-functioning? MDD? All of them?

But even on those days, I can look back at where I used to be and I see that I am moving, slow as it may be. In spite of my depression, my ADD, my anxiety, and my PTSD, I am learning to take care of myself, to live at my own pace.

I must allow myself the space to become restored in order to do God’s will to the best of my abilities. His call to you is the same. I honestly wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and told me that with fierce confidence six years ago.

So, this is me telling you now—not from a place of perfect happiness or peace or even healing, but from a place of imperfect hope—whatever you’re facing, your life has a purpose. As you trust in God’s process, it is going to get easier, you are going to get stronger, and it will get better in ways you may not even imagine.