Mental health, God and me
Today is World Mental Health Day. It is a day when we pause and reflect on those who suffer, and consider the state of our own mental health.
One in four people suffer, have suffered, or will suffer from a mental or neurological related illness or disorder in their lifetime — that is 25 per cent of the population, and churchgoers are not exempt from it.
When I reflect on my personal mental health challenges, I know that faith has played a major role in my journey to wellness.
Having been raised in a Christian home and attended a Christian school, much of my life was centred around the belief that there was a God that loved and cared for me. But that God seemed so far away.
As a young adult in university, I began to suffer with anxiety and depression although I did not ascribe those names to it. I hid all the symptoms, like so many of us do. I worked hard to excel in school and maintain an extraordinary extracurricular and social life, despite deep feelings of unworthiness.
I was too ashamed to tell my loved ones of my struggles and adopted unhealthy coping mechanisms instead. Alcohol and drug abuse combined with a string of toxic relationships led me to a rock bottom that I could not climb up from.
All the Bible verses and all the hymns, while permanently etched in my mind, did not bring me comfort. My Christian foundation was not able to save me from depression. It did not give me immunity from this mood disorder that impacts nearly 265 million people.
Exasperated by addiction, my rock bottom was riddled with suicidal thoughts. I honestly believed that it would be easier to die than face the deep and dark challenges of depression. At age 23, in a drug-induced stupor, I attempted to end my life.
Instead of death, I was gifted a second chance. By grace, I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital three days later. As I lay in the bed trying to make sense of it all, I felt the presence of God envelope me.
I was not sure what name to call God any more. But on that morning I believed, perhaps for the first time, that there truly was a power greater than me that saved me. On that morning, a faith I had abandoned came rushing back to me.
Alone in that room, I had a simple conversation with God and agreed that if it would help me, I would fight to rebuild my life.
To honour this pact, I made a conscious decision to address my mental health. While I was grateful for the prayers of my parents, I knew I could not pray my crisis away.
Despite the stigma, I went to the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute for assessments and was subsequently diagnosed with clinical depression. I started therapy and joined a 12-step programme. I committed to a journey of healing that led me to this incredible life of recovery.
It has been ten years since my suicide attempt and not a single day goes by that I do not rely on my faith to make it through.
My relationship with the God of my understanding has evolved over the last decade. It is no longer attached to theories or doctrines of religion, but instead to the absolute certainty that God created me with and for a purpose and a commitment to fulfil it.
Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. On days when I feel particularly low, overwhelmed, sad or anxious, I remind myself of this. And while I may not always see how to navigate through life's challenges, I have absolute faith that I will.
Having survived what I did, I have now made it my life's work to support and encourage others on their journey to wellness.
For me, it does not matter what name you call God — Allah, Jesus, Creator, Spirit; you are free to identify with whatever representation resonates most with you. But I hope you find comfort and peace in knowing that there is a power greater than you whose strength you have direct access to.
You can access this strength to heal, to rebuild, to create and maintain a life of joy. I access this strength daily. I ask for it and I receive it and it carries me.
Today, as people around the world reflect on mental health and the impact it has on all of us, I encourage you to honour the God of your understanding by caring for your mental health.
Mental healthcare will look different for all of us. Some may need professional intervention, as I did, while others may benefit from holistic practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and journaling.
Either way, the time has come where the faith community must take mental health seriously and encourage its members to acknowledge their challenges and seek help and healing beyond the four walls of the church.
In the end, it was faith coupled with a commitment to recover that saved me and continues to save me over and over again.
• Juanae Crockwell is a certified meditation coach and holistic counsellor. You can follow her on Instagram @alittlegirlgrowsup. For more information visit alittlegirlgrowsup.com