Sunday, September 9, 2012

church/pastor support for mental illness?

This morning, the OCD monster got up pretty close to when I did. I guess you could generally put it under scrupulosity. It has to do with relationships and being appropriate and fear of not being appropriate. How's that for a general specific definition? Because that's about as specific as I want to get right now. So I was like, "Bring it on. But I don't mean that I want OCD to bring it on, I mean that I'm ready to fight it." Since, obviously, I'd better define my statement, lest something bad happens. Oh, sneaky, was that you, OCD? I was fighting you in another area, and you aren't supposed to switch battle fields. Ha! I know you don't follow that rule.

Anyway, I told myself I was probably one of those bad people planning on doing what my obsession thought I was at risk of doing. I tossed around the idea of trying exposure scripts later (I was getting ready for Church, so my time was limited). At the moment, I was actually planning to do the exposure scripts. But things got better. Maybe my cognitive behavioral response tricks worked. Maybe the meds helped. For sure, I got distracted by other things. And so the battle was won, or at least put on hold.

Then was church. The subject was touchy for me - the passage was a wide open door for a how-to sermon, which my former pastor probably would have given. Remarkably enough, this pastor did pretty well at staying on solid ground and avoiding the slippery how-to slope. But I was pretty agitated. I played with my toy Koala (he's brilliant light green, and he's one of those squishy, textureful toys like the balls with a thousand soft rubber spikes that light up when you throw them on the ground and that squish like an amoeba. There was a time when I tried to keep him hidden in my hands, not letting the world or the church know that I was playing with a toy in church, a stress-release type toy. But by the end of the sermon, I wasn't really caring too much. So what? So what if they see I'm playing with a toy during the sermon. It isn't a complete secret that some people do better with a stress ball or doodling (though I don't usually hear of doodling as a stress reliever, though it is for me).

Anyway, we got through the sermon with no terrible problem. Then I looked at the small groups available. I'll be trying one out tonight. Then I picked up the little packet of papers to help us with self-evaluation of where we are in our Christian life and growth. And then I walked to my car and looked it over. And then (do I sound like a little kid telling a story yet? "And then... and then... and then... ) I looked through the papers. It didn't take long to realize that my depression and anxiety were going to through a monkey wrench into the evaluation. There's a question about whether hope, joy and peace or anxiety and worry manifested themselves in my life. Um, my Anxiety disorder(s?) and Depression are going to get in the way.

So I really thought, today is the day to ask the pastor about his view on mental illness, though my counselor thinks I might get better results if I say "depression and anxiety" instead of "mental illness." However I word it, I'm really wanting to know now. Like, I feel the desire for tears coming up, so this is a really important matter for me. So I returned to church, but the pastor was busy talking. So I chose option B. He should be at the small group tonight.

So here's a question for me; how important is it for me that he or whoever ends up being my small group leader understands mental illness? Is this an issue I could get around? Because I'm liking this church. Anyway, I'm not sure. Maybe I could get around it. Maybe it depends on exactly what their opinion is (there are ways to disagree that are more hurtful and that are less hurtful).

The youth pastor at my other church - the one who moved on to another church - he didn't have too good a grasp on OCD. The time I got into particulars about ERP in the hope for pastoral approval, well, he didn't have the most helpful understanding. But what he did have was this; respect, willingness to listen, and care. He cared about me, he prayed for me, he respected me, he listened to me, he didn't assume he had all the answers, he didn't rush in to judge me. So here was a pastor who didn't have the most helpful understanding of anxiety disorders, yet he was able to support me anyway. That's what I mean by thinking maybe the people at my new church don't have to understand. Maybe they can't understand yet, or don't know enough to understand yet. That's okay. It's maybe more about how they treat me and how they assume or don't assume that they know the answers. Because really? I don't need people to have the answers. I just want them to respect me, trust me, still care about me.

What would you look for if you were looking for a church that would help or at least not hinder you in dealing with your mental illness?

11 comments:

  1. Abigail, It would be very important for me to have people that respect me and don't judge me and who are willing to listen and learn about mental illness. They wouldn't have to be experts, but that respect that you write about--that would have to be there for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Tina. I'll add "willing to listen" to my list of ideals - good one.

      Delete
  2. Respect is very important to me too. But I am far to scared to go looking for a church with understanding as I have always been told "Your happiness depends on your relationship to God." --Really? Cause it scares the crap outta me. You are far braver than I Abigail, that you can count on!!♥ -And I hope you find what you are looking for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks.
      I've heard the "your happiness depends on your relationship to God" stuff, too, and I think that practically it becomes a trap for people like us. I figure that OCD and anxiety and depression really screw with our emotions, so those of us "blessed" with these illnesses can't judge our relationship with God based on our feelings. Maybe others can (somehow I still question their accuracy), but I can't. That's been a hard lesson to learn for me. I wish it was generally known in churches. :(

      Delete
  3. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Abigail. Of course I would always prefer it if people understood my illness. But, I figure that comes with time. I have tried, little by little, to educate those around me. The most important thing though is that they show compassion and respect, regardless of whether they understand. And a willingness to learn. I have appreciated that people at my church have not treated me any differently, nor have they looked at me like I am less competent because of my illness. Basically, I am not left feeling uncomfortable with them. I feel like it is ok to just be me. I sure hope that is how you feel after you talk with your church members too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. Ah, it sounds so nice to be able to just be me. But scarey to try it. Did you have to test the waters before you felt comfortable, or did you open up because you felt comfortable?

      Delete
  4. I'm also looking for a church (again). Scrupulosity makes everything so much harder! I focus too much on little things instead of seeing the big picture and noticing how I feel.

    Anyway, keep us posted on your journey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, scrupulosity really complicates things. I hope that you fine a church that is a good fit for you.

      Delete
  5. Oh I feel your pain. We are looking for a church right now and finding it really difficult. I'd like a place where I can be open about my pain and faith struggles. I think that's a tall order. I am so hoping that this church, its pastor and people, will become a safe place for you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. First of all, this is my first time posting on anyones blog, so forgive me if I do something weird in posting... and I have very limited knowledge on OCD, however I have had chronic depression for the last 10 years and have experienced an anxiety disorder. What is important to me when revealing to another about my mental illness: Definitely acceptance and understanding when I a experience relapse. I'm lucky I guess, that the churches I've attended have had pastors who understand, (or have experienced first hand) mental illness. And I have come across Christians who don't - and you'll get that wherever you go. The little annoying thing I've experienced is that some particular Pentecostal churches have a view that mental illness is caused predominantly by a spiritual issue - and rarely have a reactive and/or endogenous cause. These churches believe heavily in healing through prayer. I have seen and heard of many healings, however, I have seen and heard of many people not dealing well with their mental illness because for some reason they have not received healing - therefore the question posed to them is: whether or not they are praying or believing enough. So, How do I deal with these people: every time I meet them I graciously accept their prayers and laying on of hands of healing, as I too still have hope in one day being healed. I fully accept that my healing is in God's hands and in HIS timing, whether I receive complete healing on earth or in heaven. My trust is in the LORD. And coincidently, not all suffering is bad. Romans 5:3-5 "3We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous - thank you for posting your comment! I'm glad you have had good experiences with pastors.

      I don't think it is just certain Pentecostal churches who might tend to view mental illness as a symptom of a spiritual problem in the sufferer, though they might do more of the praying and laying on of hands. I'm sorry if they've added to your feelings of guilt. Personally, I suspect that those of us with mental illnesses in general already have a sufficient supply of guilty feelings. :)

      I don't know how to deal with it, either. I guess I've tried to avoid being around people whose comments trigger unnecessary and unhelpful feelings of guilt in me. Or I've tried to interpret their messages in ways that don't trigger my feelings of guilt as much. I'm not sure that avoidance is always the best method, though it has helped me sometimes (and hurt me sometimes).

      I'm looking forward to healing in heaven, too. I know God COULD heal me here on earth, and maybe He will. But I know He will in heaven. And I've even already seen a little bit of good that God has brought through my hard experiences with depression and OCD.

      Delete