This post was sent in by an anonymous writer. She was diagnosed with PTSD and hid it from her Christian community for two years for fear of being judged. This is her story.
Living in community is hard, especially when you have invisible illnesses that aren't so widely recognised or even understood. It's also hard when it takes you a few months to even realise that you are sick and need help.
Recovering from heartbreaking situations is also difficult, let alone when a person feels crazy for still experiencing the pain daily. I thought I'd write about my experiences to stand with everyone who is going through similar things but unable to share about it, and to raise awareness of traumatic events and the effect it has on daily life, which is present in every social group, including Christian communities.
What it's like to have PTSD and depression while living full-time in a Christian community
There were countless times of being in a community meeting when a trigger would come out of nowhere and I was left uncontrollably sobbing, bordering on a panic attack, trying to stay discreet in order not to draw attention to myself.
I tried to hide crying myself to sleep and then staying awake for hours so I wouldn't wake up my roommates.
I saw all the fun people were having outside and via social media, but knew I physically couldn't bring myself to go socialize.
I'd walk around and suddenly have a panic attack only to have me stumbling into the nearest room, in shock, and hoping no one will come in and see me like this.
I trusted people less and less in an environment that is supposed to be built on trust and relationships.
I was so ashamed to admit the pain was still as real as when the trauma first happened, and so I felt isolated even though I knew deep down people would be open to helping me.
I'd get strange looks every time I randomly cried or withdrew which would then increase my need to withdraw.
At the same time I knew 99% of people have hearts of gold and would help me if only they knew.
I was rarely alone in community so when I was, all the emotions would come flooding out.
I missed meetings and was absent for a day because of therapy.
I was sometimes cared to even answer phone calls.
I didn't leave the campus alone for months because of anxiety.
I'd have sudden dissociation that happens midway through laughing with friends, because of a flashback.
I had guilty cynicism that would plague my mind daily.
I had zero self worth while trying to build up other's confidence.
I had constant quiet times, prayer times, worship times but would experience breakthrough only sometimes.
I was ashamed when told I should go onto medication, but also felt like I had no other choice.
I was told I was just an introvert and shy when really my mind was battling life/death.
And then when I finally
somewhat accepted that my life was changed, that how I live would need to be different for a while, it was like losing a limb and learning to walk again. Truthfully it sucks because trauma is unfair and the repercussions are unfair and so the anger is real. It's hard to be surrounded by the most joyful people and try to strive for that same happiness though it's totally not there. I guess joy is more than happiness though, it's a deep knowing of God's love. Through this I've learned when I'll probably be triggered. I know what friends to include in my darkest days. I pray knowing that the grace of Christ covers my illnesses and all I'm called to do is trust and love.
What keeps me going
Is the deep peace, and knowing I have it in my heart.
The pain does in fact suck and feels continuous. But God is with me in the pit.
Though not everyone around me knows what’s going on, God knows and He gently is healing me, slowly but surely.
And as I am diagnosed, knowing that I have mental disorders I will battle, I have peace because in the midst of the darkness is the light of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that I can or cannot do to separate me from his love. Nothing from heaven above or hell below, no illness or disease, nothing can separate from the love of God. Slowly but surely God's grace allows me to tell people my story, and time after time I'm received with love. Each telling of my story gets easier. I learn to love in the midst of feeling utterly shit and worthless. Days are so unpredictable; slowly I am getting better but I've learned to not become too discouraged by bad days, as they are expected.
Love the people around you.
Those who seem distant and withdrawn may be like that because there is a war going on in their minds. Don't judge them and withdraw from them. Ask them in a safe place how they are. Don't think that just because people are in a Christian organisation they don't still carry sorrow. Do pray with them, help them, cry with them and process with them. Ask them what their triggers are so they can be sensitive around you. Don't force them to open up details.
Don't tell them to fast more, pray more, or to have more faith. Sometimes illnesses will never be healed, but that doesn't mean a person doesn't have enough faith. Traumas may never completely leave the mind. That is no reflection of a person's relationship with Christ. Come against depression, anxiety, illnesses with a heart to serve and love. A person doesn't want to be going through the hell they are, and they already will feel like a burden to everyone else. Don't contribute to the war zone in their mind. Be Jesus to them, be the love.
If you think you have a mental illness, or are not doing ok, don't be ashamed. You're not crazy. I implore you to please go to the doctor and get help. Talk to a trusted friend or leader. Go see a therapist. Don't make light of your mental health. Buying clothes and other things are all relative when compared to mental health. That is something that will be with you for the rest of your life. Take care of your mind first. Sometimes in order to love others you have to spend some time loving yourself first, in order to come to others from a healthy place. I can say that after 2.5 years of therapy and medication, I can see the light.
All of my love, I am standing with you.