When I was diagnosed with OCD and major depression and needed help from a psychiatrist and medication, I was terribly ashamed and embarassed that I had a mental illness. It took me over two months to tell my family what was happening to me. When my nieces were little I would tell them their aunt had a sickness that made her scared and sad; when I describe my illness, I much prefer the term anxiety disorder, somehow it seems less "crazy" than OCD. But as I have lived with this illness and followed my plan of care, I have come to realize that I simply have a brain disorder just like others may have a bone disorder like osteoporosis or a heart condition that is managed with lifestyle changes and medication. Just like diabetics have a disorder of the endocrine system and may need medicines like glipizide or insulin to keep their systems functioning effectively, selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and other medicines help break the cycle of swirling thoughts and take the edge off of the anxiety so that I can function effectively. I hope there will be a day when I will be able to manage a full life with very little or no medication. It has been very encouraging that my doses have been able to be lowered significantly over the years. But even if I will always need my medication, I am no different than someone who takes cholesterol or blood pressure medicine. It is just that their disorder manifests itself in the circulatory system and mine in the brain.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. It was extremely difficult for me when after I shared about my illness and asked for prayer in my Sunday School class in 1994, I suddenly was no longer invited to get-togethers and was avoided. It was even more difficult because many of these folks were in healthcare also and had some education about mental illness, even if they were not familiar with OCD. However, I am happy to report that in 2008, upon sharing with my church family a similar request, I was hugged, welcomed, and many said they would keep me in their prayers. A visiting pastor even said my testimony had been a blessing to him.
I have had people say to me that I still struggle with this illness because I do not have enough faith, and I have spent many years wondering if I have done something wrong or angered God to deserve this illness. I don't believe God has allowed this suffering in my life because of a lack of faith or any wrongdoing. Consider Luke 9:1-3. Jesus was asked "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
I truly believe that suffering is allowed in our lives to bring us closer to God, to keep us humble (like Paul's thorn), and to bring God glory. In her workbook Breaking Free, Beth Moore describes glorifying God as our reflecting His true character so others can see God more clearly, as though we were a mirror reflecting God. She states on page 55 of this workbook that "Sometimes God heals physical sickness and sometimes He chooses greater glory through illness." God is all powerful and always good. He has done a great deal of healing in my life. However, He allowed the combination of genetics, environment and experiences growing up, and a trauma in my life at age 22 to bring the OCD to the forefront of my life. But I truly believe that I can say to the devil who is responsible for evil and sickness, like Joseph said to his brothers (Genesis 50:20) that "you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes' book When God Weeps has an excellent and helpful discussion of suffering in Chapter 6 "Heaven's Dirty Laundry?"
If I had not gone through this experience of suffering, how could I share with you and hopefully be an encouragement to you? I have often thought that if I could help even one person because of my experience, that it would be worth it to have suffered with this illness. I know I would not love Jesus as much as I do if not for seeing Him so clearly at work in my suffering. I love the words of Psalm 43:5 (NIV), "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Savior and my God." God has been so faithful and has revealed His love to me much more clearly in times of struggles and trials. He loves us and is with us always.
So, am I defective because I have OCD/depression? Should I never have been born - is my life of no value? Absolutely NOT! I am a child of God. God has a special plan for my life and for yours. Jeremiah 29:11 says "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected (Phillipians 1:6). Going through this experience has given me much more compassion, helped me to be more kind and less self-righteous. It has given me a greater testimony. I have many dear friends who don't even "see" my illness who remind me of my worth, of my gifts, that I am a precious person deeply loved of God, who yes, just happens to have this illness, but OCD is NOT who I am.
I am an eternal optimist, bright, inquisitive, creative, resourceful, and love to give and receive hugs. I have a beautiful smile, and some say I sing like an angel. I have an admirable doggedness when faced with a challenge, a lot of patience, and a lot of love to give. Remember who you are, your gifts, the special characteristics that make you the wonderful person you are, and especially if you have been adopted into the family of God, whose you are!
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