New creation in Christ, indeed!
If you struggle (or know someone who does) with mental illness, you’re not alone. Some of the statistics are staggering. For example 1 in 4 adults (approximately 61.5 million Americans) experiences mental illness in a given year. And, approximately 20% of our youth (between ages 13 to 18) experience severe mental disorders in a given year. And, approximately 1.1% of American adults (about 2.4 million people) live with schizophrenia. Below is a young man’s story of his battle with schizophrenia. Praise God for his life today and for God’s work within.
Growing up, I had a relatively normal childhood. I grew up in the church and I remember committing my life to Jesus when I was just five years old. My school years were fun, and in high school I enjoyed being on the wrestling team.
In the fall of 1991, I started attending a local Christian university. But by the spring of 1992, things rapidly deteriorated in my life. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, struggled with hallucinations (both visual and auditory), and I was troubled with delusions. These are classic symptoms of the disease.
I still remember my first psychotic break. Over a full week, my mind became increasingly filled with irrational beliefs - both paranoid and grandiose. I began to see and hear things that weren't real, but they sure felt real to me. My illness came to a pinnacle where I felt that if I killed myself, God would somehow be glorified. My plan was simple: I'd use my dad's gun underneath his mattress to end my life.
“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:22
By God's grace, my wrestling buddies intercepted me as I was headed to carry out my plan. A struggle ensued, but they overpowered me. Later that night, I found myself in a locked psychiatric unit in a hospital. That night, as I laid strapped down to a small hospital bed in a big white room, I felt my mind - and my future - were gone. The door was locked, but it had a small window in it. I remember seeing my parents peek through that window at me. It was one of the darkest times in my life.
I come from a Filipino family, and many aspects of Asian cultures are "shame based," so we don't typically talk about problems we feel ashamed about. My mental illness brought great devastation to my family, friends, and community, but we didn't talk about it. Looking back, I now know that the stigma, the shame, and the many misconceptions about mental illness we all held were enormous barriers to me getting help. So instead, I sought support from friends at college.
During seven years of recovery, I went through six relapses. That sad season of my life was marked by isolation, tumultuous feelings, and great suffering. When I ran across that famous painting called "The Scream," I framed it and hung it on my wall. Strangely, it was comforting to me, because I felt that someone actually seemed to understand the suffering I felt.
People often ask, "How did God help you through recovery?" While I still take medication and have used medical therapies, I am absolutely convinced that God gave me the "resilience" or "bounce-back power" to get through my recovery. My church was helpful in so many ways - even though I felt misunderstood at times. And the Bible brought me great comfort.
When I was sick, I regularly recalled Hebrews 13:5, a verse my mom gave me on a 3×5 card. It was a simple promise from God where he says, "I will never leave you and I will never forsake you." When I felt I had no one to turn to, that promise reminded me that God was with me, and that gave me great comfort, love, and strength to keep going. He never abandoned me - even in my deepest pain.
Because I entrusted my life and my disease to Jesus, so many of the predictions people said to me never happened. I was told I'd never finish college ... but God gave me the grace to complete graduate school. I was told I'd never hold down a job ... but God gave me a vision and purposeful ministry. I was told I should never get married or have kids ... but God gave me three big blessings: a loving wife and two incredible kids.
In closing, I'd like to say that if you are struggling with any kind of mental illness - regardless of what it is - you came to the right place. There is hope in Jesus Christ, and there is help in the church. Yes, take your meds and see your therapist. But realize that God has resources to help you that no one else can offer.
Do not give up! With God, no situation is hopeless.
Over the years, I've been branded and given many demeaning labels: psycho, crazy, and many other slurs. But I've found that my true identity is in Christ, not in my illness. God says I am a child of God and that I am loved. I have significance. And God has a purpose for my life that is greater than my illness.
My brain doesn't always work right, but God always works right. And he can work everything for good.
When I think of what God has done in my life, I cannot help but thank him and praise him!
If you are impacted by mental illness, I want you to hear me loud and clear. Do not give up! With God, no situation is hopeless. And if you are in so much pain (as I once was) that you are not even sure if God exists, I say this to you in love. Let him love you! Let God love you! He will never leave you or forsake you. He will embrace you just as you are. And then he will help you on the road to a new life.
Today, God is using David as a social worker in a locked psychiatric unit to serve patients suffering from mental illness. David is also living out his vision and call to implement "Saving Face Saving Grace," a ministry dedicated to sharing the hope of Jesus Christ through ministries that heal, equip, and strengthen individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Praise God for his transformation and his new life!