Beauty FOR ashes (ISAIAH 61:3)
Harrison Brown // UGA Sophomore
As someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD and OCD, it probably seems like I wouldn’t be the best follower of Christ. Well I’m not. As Justin Timberlake would say on living with the two, “It’s complicated.” and I would add, “especially if you are trying to get to know God.”
I cannot concentrate on a TV show let alone try to read through a book that was first written over a thousand years ago, and I definitely don’t desire to give up the control I obsess about to an invisible God. Early on in my life, once I learned more about my conditions and how they affected my thoughts, I began to let them characterize me. Falling in line with the negative stigma that surrounds psychiatric disorders, I feared that if anyone figured out I would be viewed as “crazy”. Later on in high school this changed as I started to use them as an excuse or a scapegoat for anything I did that went wrong. Why not get some pity from it right? After all it does suck. The problem is, in either case of how I saw my disorders, I began to let them define me and give me an identity in my lack of confidence. And of course, this resulted in a me growing further away from discovering my true identity as a child of God who is found blameless and victorious thanks to Jesus Christ.
I was someone who couldn’t be used by God because I didn’t want to be, not because I was too messed up. I didn’t know about all of the pathetic or evil people God used and transformed for His glory: from Abraham (a geezer) to Moses (couldn’t speak well) to Rahab (a prostitute) to Saul (essentially a terrorist) to thousands of years later even me (a distracted, doubting, anxious fool). What we all have in common is that we are called according to His purpose and every single situation in our lives is being used for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). His promises and divine track record prove that not only is our God close to us in times of trouble and willing to comfort us, but he has hand selected each trial, not omitting mental illnesses, to give us a divine strength in our times of weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I’m definitely not here to tell you that mental illnesses are made up or all in your head, but I’m also not here to tell you that they are simply a neurologically defined abnormality that can only be addressed with medicine. For example, in recent discoveries researchers have observed a correlation between depression and the improper balance between serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. I would argue, however, that correlation does not imply causation. While there might be a pattern that characterizes depression, it is clear to see how something much more evil is at the root of it- Satan. Let me tell you what I mean- there is a specific type of depression called Postpartum Depression, mostly seen in new mothers, and it is marked by intrusive thoughts that can include infanticide. For example, while holding her beloved child, a mother with PPD could have an invasive, uncontrolled thought of slamming her baby against a wall. These thoughts are ego-dystonic, meaning they are totally contrary to what the patient actually desires to think.
More commonly there is OCD, where everyday ego-dystonic obsessions can include thoughts of abhorrent sexual acts such as pedophilia, thoughts about killing others and aggressive imagery, persistent doubt about sexual orientation, fear of contamination, and anti-religious thoughts. Even from a scientific standpoint, the whole idea of killing offspring or anti-religiousness is completely contrary or irrelevant to evolutionary cognition. Those of us who have suffered from these fearful, seemingly demonic, and anxiety-causing thoughts did not choose them yet they are deep within us. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts …these are what make a man unclean”. Because of the fall of man in Genesis we were born into an evil world. So whether a disorder is genetic, from an early traumatizing event, or had an acute onset halfway through your life, it is in your life not because you are particularly depraved as an individual, but because the whole world you live in is depraved. Our mind’s development is flawed and broken, thus making us broken people. Because of the uniqueness of these constant terrible thoughts and the debilitating nature of anxiety, it is easy to let it become an internal identity and your own personal inferiority complex. But, it doesn’t mean that you are uniquely crazy or alone in your state of mind. These thoughts are part of an attack from the fight with Satan, not with yourself. For me, being diagnosed by a professional allowed me to realize this and separate the evil thoughts out. Next, I tried keeping my mind on things above and choosing something else during each day’s spiritual battle- God.
Choosing God and resisting the personal identity of a disorder is a daily practice of being honest in prayer about the pain and fear you have to a God who already knows and is patiently waiting for you to “Cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:6). It is saying no to the lie from Satan that you are worthless, dirty or any other deceitful identity that causes self hatred. God longs to take even the worst of situations and rob Satan of His victory.
Last summer, I had one of my worst seasons of anxiety from my OCD and my doctor recommended that I get on antidepressants. One day while I was home alone, the anti-depressant reacted abnormally with my new ADD medicine and actually provoked the worst anxiety attack I have ever experienced. I laid on the floor of my room for 5 hours and the only time I had the energy to move was when I reached for a knife to cut myself. I am not telling this story to guilt anyone who is taking psychiatric medications because I believe that God allowed us to discover these medicines for a reason; however, they are not meant to be depended on as a savior. I was experiencing that reliance first hand and the anxiety attack was a wake up call to turn to the one true Healer. After I got off antidepressants, I was back to square one, yet, with each attack I realized the power of prayer and I finally started comprehending how good my Father is and has always been. The devil would try to trap me in my fear but God would seek me out as a lost sheep, and then we would rejoice together in each little daily victory.
Choosing God isn’t easy and He isn’t our personal genie in a bottle who gives us instant healing, however, God does heal. I learned that it is on His perfect timing, not ours, and all the while He is growing, maturing, and sharpening us through the fire (James 1:1-5), promising that no pain is wasted in the meantime. So even on the worst days, I want to encourage you to be thankful. I am thankful that God used my disorders to prevent me from being overtaken by the pride and selfishness in my life. I’m thankful that I can look forward to each day’s spiritual battle, knowing that God is keeping me in a state of weakness where I have no choice but to seek Him wholly or become lost in my thoughts. And recently, I am thankful for the fact that I am almost completely healed from the same anxiety and fear that almost cost me everything. When we hear that we were fearfully and wonderfully made, the fearfully part is meant to inspire awe and devotion, not dread and debilitation.
So I urge you, brother or sister, recognize that the sadness, hopelessness, or perversion from whatever affliction you face is from the devil and instead of letting him convince you that you are alone and no one cares, take on a new identity as a chosen child of God. When daily suffering is perceived as personal growth closer to a loving God, it allows you live with an unconditional joy despite it. I am proud to call myself a Christian because it is a religion of persecution, temptation, and trial, not of immediate personal reward, prosperity or complacency and ease of life. We aren’t on this earth to become as mentally flawless and independent as we can be. We are on this earth to be jars of clay who show not that we are powerful but that our God is. Since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, God doesn’t want a burnt offering but instead, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17). Sacrifice all that you have left, even if it is just a desperate submission in the midst of tears and anxious thoughts. God is with you, and He always will be.