Mental Illness.

Mental Illness.


Mental illness is the pariah of our society. If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen, right?


Mental illness is serious. It’s real. It’s raw. It can hurt. And no one wants to talk about it. But I’m done hiding from the past. And I’m tired of no one talking about it. We can be real for a little while, can’t we? {After all, honesty heals} What you’re about to read is the raw truth. A truth that needs to be shared. A truth that someone out there desperately needs to read. A truth that led to my dad being saved and understanding God’s grace for the first time (can I get an amen?).

I want it to be clear that a person is not defined by their mental illness, just as someone is not defined by their physical illness. And much like most physical illness, mental illness can be successfully treated. This is written exactly as I felt at the time. Since the events of this post, I have grown. I have learned. I have let go of a lot and healed a lot, all with God’s help. This is me waving the white flag of my soul, saying “God, I surrender to what you have for me. Whatever that means.”

So here goes nothing.

We pulled out of the driveway and headed down the road.

It was almost dark, and my oversized pink duffel bag sat on my lap as I held it close, its weight excruciatingly noticeable. My fingers traced the thread that outlined my name on the front. I can’t remember what I packed, I thought. I’m not even sure “packed” is the correct term. It was more of a scramble. We were headed to my aunt and uncle’s house, but my dad didn’t know. In fact, I didn’t even know where he was. I still wasn’t too sure of what was happening.

But what I did know is that it hurt and my face felt tight from all the dried tears and something was really wrong. I was confused. I saw mom cry. I saw her crying when she told us we needed to leave. And we did leave, taking as many of our belongings with us as we could. “I don’t know if or when you will be coming back,” she said. Those words hit me like an arrhythmia. If we come back.

When I finally crawled into the oversized guest bed that my sister and I were sleeping on that evening, the events of the previous few hours unfolded slowly in my head. I played back each and every detail, every sound, every word, desperately trying to find anything that would help me make sense of the shards of glass I felt like I was laying on. Dad came home from work talking about how “people were after him” and “they were listening in”. Mom and him got into a fight, he stormed out and went to mow the grass, threatened to run her over with the lawnmower, and then he peeled out in his truck. He drove off. I didn’t hear much of the fight or what was said, but I did hear the threats. Mom and I sat on my bed sobbing as we rocked back and forth together. “It’ll be okay” she said. I wasn’t too sure I believed her. If it is going to be okay, why are you crying so much?

Maybe this is all a mistake. None of it makes any sense. This morning I made toast and I gathered up my softball gear to prepare for high school preseason. It was all okay...until it wasn’t anymore. When we left the house, mom wasn’t too sure dad was ever coming back. What happens if we never see him again? Surely they won’t get a divorce because of one fight. That would be silly, right? My mind wouldn’t stop spinning. Spinning and spinning and spinning. I was sad and confused and angry.

I woke up the next morning to new information.

Dad was in the hospital; he was sick. It was a psych ward, actually. I was learning for the first time that he had been sick for a long time but he didn’t realize that he needed treatment. Last night’s fight was a result of mom trying to convince him that he needed help. And now he was laying in a hospital bed, heavily drugged and unaware of the wake of chaos this mental illness had left behind. All of this was kept a secret until the secret couldn’t be kept anymore. It was a secret I didn’t ask for; a secret I never wanted but now felt an obligation to keep. I felt as if our family had been living a lie. My life was a lie. How could no one tell me that something was wrong? Did I even really know the people I thought I knew best? I also learned that none of our other (extended) family members knew either. No one knew that anything was wrong, and no one knew that my family was broken. No one knew that we were different.

Mental illness had been suffocating the life out of someone I lived with and I had no idea. I felt blindsided. I was angry. I wanted nothing to do with my entire family. I was traumatized. Torn apart. Numb.

And I felt isolated. I couldn’t tell anyone about this. It was a secret, right? I didn’t want to tell anyone about this. What would people think if they knew my dad was sick? People get so weird about mental illness. I didn’t want to be treated differently. I didn’t want a scarlet letter pinned to my chest that meant “damaged” or “weak” or “shattered” or “mentally ill parent”. I knew how people would react, because people always react weird around those with a mental illness. It’s treated as if it’s a flaw in the character of its victim. My dad was a victim. And if someone you know is mentally ill, you’re treated the same. I don’t want that.

So I didn’t tell anyone. And no one asked. And I suffered. Pretended. Ached.

I spent the first couple weeks of my freshman year of high school living on the floor of my best friend’s bedroom. And when I felt the memories of that night threatening to escape the dungeon of my mind, I ignored them. Pushed them back down. Locked the door and threw away the key.

It doesn’t matter. You don’t matter, I thought.

For a long, long time, I lived two lives.

One at home, where I desperately wished things were normal again, and one at school where I was just another student with nothing wrong. If only people knew how much was actually wrong in my life. If only people knew my secret. I was intensely afraid of people thinking that I was damaged, and if I was damaged no one would love me. So I hid everything. And along with blocking out my family, I blocked out God. It was easier that way, or at least that’s how it felt at the time. So many times he would call out to me, beckoning me to lay down my pains at the cross. Pleading that I give up my burdens that were so dramatically holding me down. And I let them hold me down because it was easier that way. It was easier to just not feel anything. And if I were to give up my burdens I would be forced to feel. I would be forced to deal with our current situation and how hurt I was. I would have to admit that I wasn’t okay. Looking back on that time now, I desperately wish someone would’ve looked me in the eyes and told me how dangerous it was to numb everything out. I wish someone would’ve told me that it wasn’t my secret to keep, that I didn’t have to “be okay”. I wish someone would have told me that even after numbing myself, my problems would still be right there, waiting. Growing. And when you numb out the bad, you numb out the good; you can’t choose. The longer you wait, the more painful it’ll be when you begin to feel again. When you let yourself feel again. The harder it’ll be to explain what happened and to process everything.

And when I finally let God inside the dungeon I had locked the past in, healing began.

With healing comes growth. And friendships. And strength. Maybe one day you will be able to tell your story and it might reach someone else who desperately needs to hear the words you have to say. You might be able to share the hope you have found, that God has given you {because he is right there with you}. And man, that is worth it. Mental illness changed my life, but it helped mold me into who I am today. It helped shape my character, my compassion. My resolve.

I’m not here to tell you that whatever you have gone through or are currently going through is going to be okay. Because I remember how it felt in the moment, and it really didn’t feel like it was going to be okay. In fact, it felt like the complete opposite. But when you get to the end of the tunnel, the clouds roll out and the sun shines a little brighter. And maybe, just maybe you will find the strength to be vulnerable so you can speak life into someone else’s crumbling world. To show them the unshakable Grace that God has for them. Even when it hurts. Take a breathe. Let others in. Be vulnerable {because vulnerability is where freedom lives}. Lean into God’s sheltering love, his overwhelming faithfulness {despite our unfaithfulness}. Allow yourself to grieve for what happened {or didn’t happen}, as it is only then that the fog will roll out and you can clearly see what can be and what is yet to come. Healing will come, but only if you let it.