Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Do you have any health problems?"

Such a seemingly simple question asked by my kids' doctor today during an appointment.  After asking about my husband's health, the doctor inevitably turned the question to me.  And I wasn't really ready for it.  Immediately the uncertainty set in.  Do I disclose my mental health struggles to this guy?  What if he thinks I'm unfit to be a mom to these three beautiful kids?  What if he doesn't believe me and thinks I'm just another overwhelmed mom in an over-diagnosed society who thinks she has mental issues and needs to be medicated?

There is a lot of shame with admitting to mental illness.  That plus my perfectionist tendencies and desire to appear to have it all together equals even more shame.

How do I admit to those who think I'm emotionally healthy that I have intrusive thoughts that sometimes invade my entire life, especially the parts of my life that I feel most strongly about?  That the vicious cycle can persist in my mind - intrusive thought, anxiety over the thought, compulsion to resolve the anxiety, shame over giving in again, depressive thoughts about never getting over this so what's the point...?  That sometimes I have to survive by going through the motions of life pretending that everything is fine, when my brain is working serious overtime trying to resist the illness, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much?  That no matter how hard I try, it just won't go away?

Thankfully I have not experienced extra shame from my Christian friends in this area, but I'm sure that there are others who have not been so fortunate.  Is it harder for those of us in the church to admit to mental health problems?  What if people respond in an unhelpful way?

  • But you're a Christian.  You shouldn't be depressed.
  • You just need to have joy.
  • Look at all that God has blessed you with - you have nothing to be depressed about.
  • Read your Bible and pray more and you'll feel better.

Back to the doctor.  After being asked about my health, I paused momentarily before saying quietly (hoping to avoid five-year-old curiosity), "Well, mental health -anxiety and depression."  His response was rather anti-climactic.  He just nodded his head, said something like, "uh huh," and kept typing notes on his laptop.

Maybe, just maybe, other people don't think this is as ugly as I'm afraid they will.