I wrote this back in 2012 for an online magazine – The Life Times.
No one ever said that mental illness and sound-mindedness were complementary.
On the contrary, James 1:8 tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Is it therefore a surprise to learn that at the age of 16 my first attempted suicide came as I tried to strangle myself?
Was I the only one who didn’t realise that self-strangulation is impossible? Did I not realise that as soon as there is unconsciousness through lack of oxygen to the brain that the grip I had around my neck would be released?
Two years into the struggle with depression I was diagnosed with some ambiguous mood swing disorder. I wasn’t medicated but I did sit through several hours worth of counselling which actually made me feel worse about myself and the world in which I lived. I don’t know if this was passed on to me genetically, but there is a history of mental illness in my family to the point that my uncle committed suicide in his 40’s.
I grew up without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).
I knew nothing about being created in the image of God and having inherent value and worth.
I thought worth came through what you did, and because I didn’t do anything spectacular with my youth (wasn’t smart, wasn’t athletic, wasn’t creative), I felt that I had no such worth. What’s more, the only mantra I learned was “Do what makes you happy”.
The problem with that is that I had no idea what happiness was or how to achieve it on a consistent basis.
My family was broken—my father an adulterer, a drug addict with bipolar; my mother was caught up in a victim mentality and some warped new age view of the world. This meant I had no sense of purpose or direction. I didn’t have anyone telling me how to live, how to be a man, how to love others, or what kind of career I should pursue.
This all came to a head as I was studying business, having left school at the end of 6th form (year 12). I was interested in what I was studying but had no idea how it related to a real world career. I was involved with drugs and pornography and was incredibly lonely.
Depression wasn’t just something I felt now and then, it was a constant companion. No sense of worth or purpose, drugs and pornography, persistent depression —these factors seldom drive anyone to be studious and so when it came to exam time, I had little hope of success and at that time, every reason to bail out on life.
It was at this point where I did something that was totally foreign to my background and the course mental illness had taken me on. As I was walking to an exam, I cried out to God (at this stage I identified myself as atheist) and prayed the “God if you’re real” prayer.
I gave God an ultimatum that unless I did well on that exam, I would bail out on life (I’d do it properly this time).
Do you know what it’s like to get a B when you’ve only ever had D’s and C’s? Apart from the grace of God, I have no idea how I was awarded this mark as it wasn’t that I had just scrapped in.
Over the next few months I began exploring what it meant that there was a God. I found a bible, I started to pray, I even attended church. I began to realise that I was made in the image of God and that by virtue of the fact.
I had inherent worth—independent of my performance. In addition to that, I had a definite purpose—as defined by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10).
The Ongoing Struggle
As a Christian, I have continued to struggle with mental illness. There have been dark nights of the soul where I have considered and even attempted to take my own life.
One occasion that stands out happened as I was living in an 11-storey apartment building in downtown Wellington. I was unemployed, hungry, cold, and lonely. I hadn’t quite kicked the drug habit and so I was vulnerable to the attacks of the thief who never lays siege to our strengths, but only ever our weaknesses. I heard him say “You’re a loser, you’re a loser” over and over again. So if I had lost everything, what else was there to lose?
I climbed over the balcony rails and was holding on, hanging off the 7th storey balcony. I was ready to let go when I felt what I can only describe as a surge of supernatural energy and before I realising what was happening, I was back in my room, standing on the floor.
Nearly 10 years has passed since that night in Wellington.
Since then I have had some very low points in my life but the same power that put me back in my room has kept me from falling prey to the lies, schemes and fiery arrows of the thief.
As I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death (sometimes more dark and deep than others), I have experienced the sufficiency of God’s grace as He’s used the circumstances of an ambiguous mood swing disorder to humble me and grow my dependency on Him for the things I lack in myself.
His joy is my strength; I rejoice in Him; He is my hope and my salvation.