I’ve been told my whole life that there are two things you should never talk about openly: religion and politics.
And while I have a very liberal-minded attitude and I live more of a spiritual life rather than be devoted to a specific belief system, there is one thing that annoys the hell outta me as someone who lives with a mental health issue. There is one thing that makes me cringe a little on the inside, and that is when I’m told this:
“Thoughts and prayers are going to make [your PTSD] better.”
NOW HOLD UP!
Before anyone starts chasing me with pitchforks or calling me the spawn of Satan, just let me say this: I’m not stating this to shame anyone who has religious beliefs. I’m not saying this to upset anyone who believes in a higher power, nor am I trying to evoke my own “beliefs” onto anyone else. Under no circumstances am I trying to bash anyone here.
So take a deep breath and lower the holy water.
Personally, I’ve always had a tricky relationship with God and I’ve raised one too many questions about religion long before I was diagnosed with my PTSD. I’ve had my own doubts and disbeliefs since I was a young girl. There were many times I was sat in church and thought, “I don’t agree with this.” And that’s just me. It’s just an opinion. I’m my own person and I have my own thoughts. That’s just life.
I will admit, years of abuse placed doubt in my faith and the treatment of the church toward my family and I after we escaped the hands of our abuser only further exacerbated my problem with religion. At a time in my life where my only solace – the only place where I found quiet and peace – was church, it was heart-shattering to have church officials and congregation members call me a “liar”. It blew my world to shambles to have people who I thought would take care of me choose to believe my abuser’s side over mine – to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator.
It didn’t make me hateful, but I definitely became bitter. How could people who preach and believe in an all-loving God treat me with such disdain and contempt that they would literally run me out of my own church?
I didn’t blame God for that, but the ignorant hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached.
And then came my official diagnosis with PTSD and GAD.
The reason many of us say a mental illness diagnosis is “life-shattering” is because it can destroy everything you believe in. Nothing makes sense anymore. The person you thought you were are actually symptoms of an invisible illness and suddenly you don’t know who you are. You question everyone and everything, your whole world turning upside down until you’re naked and exposed.
And with my diagnosis came the severing of the thin rope that helped me believe in a positive higher power. The God I was taught to believe in since the day I was literally born seemed like a facade. This all-loving being suddenly seemed like a hypocrite, just like those church folks who (in a way) chased me out of my own hometown.
Because by that extent, the God that would protect me is the same God that made me sick in the first place. The God that wouldn’t give me more than I could handle is also the same God that birthed me into the hands of an abuser, that put me through 13+ years of trauma and torture. The same God that was supposed to love me left me feeling isolated and alone for years.
How could I trust in someone who would put me through all that agony? Why did I have to believe in a god that would rip my life to shreds? Because I was always taught that God punished the wicked, did that make me evil? Did I do something wrong to evoke that sort of wrath? Was I being punished because I had attempted suicide at fourteen years old? Was I being punished for finding both men and women sexually attractive?
How could I put my own life in the hands of a God that would purposely try to hurt me, over and over again? What sort of lesson was trying to be taught by taking an innocent young girl and taking everything from her. I had lost my childhood to abuse, my teenage years to self-harm, and my early 20s to the battle with my PTSD. What the hell did I do wrong to deserve this fate?
Because not only did I have to struggle with learning to cope with my mental health diagnosis, I had to also tackle my completely shattered faith.
But that’s a special story for another day.
While I admire those who can believe in a God with such passion and unyielding devotion, I sometimes struggle to do the same. I don’t mean this to shame anyone’s beliefs or to point the blame for all my struggles at religion. I have many people in my life who find strength in their beliefs. I have many friends who find healing through their devotion. And even though my own beliefs today are a little unorthodox and different from the norm, I too find some comfort in the idea that “everything happens for a reason”, but at the end of the day, is it God’s will? Maybe, but maybe not. The truth is, I’m not meant to know that answer.
But for me, faith alone isn’t going to save me from the demons of my mental illness. If I left my healing strictly to thoughts and prayers, I believe that my suicidal thoughts would have won out in the end. I don’t think I would have lived past sixteen, let alone twenty-six. Somewhere along the way, I’m willing to bet the darkness of my past would have claimed victory. I think my severe desperation would have reached a tipping point. When you hate and despise yourself with such loathsome and vile thoughts like I did, there’s only so much you can take.
Thankfully, I pulled myself back from the brink, but it wasn’t just thoughts and prayers that made me better.
Faith alone did not (and does not) heal me.
Regardless of how many of you may get offended or upset with this next statement, but my truth is this: Thoughts are prayers aren’t going to make my mental illness just “go away”. No matter how much I believe or how often I shoot a message to the man upstairs, my mental illness isn’t just going to magically disappear. There’s no such thing as wishing it away. I’m not going to wake up one day and go, “Ah ha! I’m cured!” and suddenly live my life to the fullest.
It doesn’t work that way.
Because my PTSD is going to be a part of me for the rest of my life.
I’m making progress because I put in all the hard work. I’m starting to have more good days than bad days because I have coping mechanisms and strategies that I’ve learned to help me live with my mental illness.
My medication helps balance out the chemicals in my brain so I don’t end up spending weeks on end in bed or in the hospital hooked up to IVs and heart monitors because my anxiety is so out of control. The hours I put into therapy helps me talk about the ugly side of my illness that many people can’t handle. Counselling helps me build confidence in myself and helps me use my strategies (breathing exercises, visualization, etc.) so that I can go into public without having a meltdown over seeing the sight of a black Ford Ranger. The energy I put into writing and blogging helps me balance out the dark thoughts that rattle around in my head all day.
I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears (and thousands of dollars) into getting better. Adding up the total, I’ve spent months in and out of hospitals because I was fighting to get better. I’ve broken off friendships and lost loved ones in order to build a support system that is positive to my healing. I’ve made sacrifices and put dreams on hold to focus on my mental health. I’ve had to prioritize my own healing at the expense of others. I’ve had to make tough decisions and admit to my own faults in order to push forward. And while thoughts and the prayers from loved ones did help add some positivity to my life, it’s not the only reason I’ve gotten this far.
I’m the reason I’m getting better. My hard work is the reason I’ve been able to drag myself out of the darkest moments in my life. I made the effort to get better. And yes, maybe I had times in my life where I had planned and attempted suicide, but my determination to keep fighting my PTSD is the reason I’m still here.
And let’s be honest, it has taken me over six years to get here. This isn’t something that just suddenly happened over night. It’s taken time, trial-and-error, patience, and a little bit of “F**k it!” to get to this point in my life.
Sometimes in life, you have to take action to make change. Sitting around and hoping for things to get better isn’t going to make all the bad things in life go away. Twiddling my thumbs and waiting isn’t going to make me better. It’s the same as wishing to win the lottery. You’re not going to actually win unless you buy a ticket.
Sometimes, as morbid as it sounds, the only person going to save you is yourself. Sometimes you gotta slap yourself across the face and get up, brush off the dust and put your mind to it. Rather than waiting around for Superman, be your own damn superhero. Save yourself and become unstoppable! *snap snap*
Just don’t tell me that thoughts and prayers are going to make me better.
And it’s not because I feel people are pushing their own beliefs on me or are trying to invoke their own agenda. I’m a Millennial after all. I’m pretty inclusive of all of people’s different beliefs and views. As long as your beliefs and opinions doesn’t diminish someone else’s existence, I don’t get offended. That’s not what bothers me.
Personally, I find it insensitive when the struggles of my mental illness is merely diminished to the fact that it can be cured by “thoughts and prayers”. I get a little bit angry that all the struggles I’ve went through and the hours of hard work I’ve put into taking care of myself is simply brushed under the rug by someone reiterating that neatly patented phrase. Sometimes it feels like the impact my mental illness has had on my life is being illegitimized, and a small part of me feels insecure by this because it makes me believe that others think I’m not capable enough to save myself, that I’m not strong enough to be my own hero.
And the really furious part of me gets ignited by this because it makes me sound like I have something to be “cured” from in the first place, that I’m broken and need to be fixed – like I have some demon I need to be exorcised of.
Because let me be frank, I do not feel that way about myself. Yes, my mental illness impacts my life in many different ways and has changed the way in which I live my life, but I am not less of a person for having a mental health issue. I’m not less me because I live with PTSD. As Michael Landsberg would say, I’m sick not weak.
I’m in need of healing not fixing.
I’ve gotten this far because I got me here. I served the time and put in the work. Yes, I had help along the way. I’ve had people sit by my hospital bed for hours on end and pass along their “Get well!” messages. I had low points where it has taken friends grabbing me by the shoulders and yelling, “Snap out it!” and my fiancé pinning me down to stop myself from tearing open my skin and ripping out my hair. And yes, I’ve had help and support along the way, but at the end of the day, it was me that kept me here. It was my own will to fight and keep going that has gotten me this far.
Whatever clout I have with a higher power is between me and my own beliefs. What I choose to believe and not believe in is entirely up to me. That’s my choice. My faith is of my own. It’s the same courtesy I extend to others who have faith and their own beliefs. You live the life you want to live, and that’s your right.
But when it comes to my mental illness and how I cope, I get to choose how I deal with my circumstances and struggles. And while I do appreciate when people in my life say, “I’m keeping you in my thoughts.” or “I keep you in my prayers.“, just please don’t use your beliefs as a means of trying to “cure” my mental illness. Please do not let your own religious values undermine the hard work I have put into getting better.
At the end of the day, it’s just about being respectful and mindful of your words. And as I said before, it’s not about shaming anyone who has faith or believes in God. It’s about what makes you feel better and what gives you joy in your life. I just ask that people stop using their religious beliefs to justify how I do (and do not) treat my illness, and to please stop telling me my PTSD will “go away” if I pray hard enough.
You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to skip out on chemo treatments and just pray. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to stop taking their insulin and just hope positive thinking will jumpstart their pancreas into working again.
So why justify it with my mental illness? It’s a very unfair double standard.
Because while thoughts and prayers can help, they’re not going to solely make me better.
When it comes to me and my PTSD, only I can truly know how to heal.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.