“So what is your view of God?” asked the doctor.
This was not what I was expecting to hear. I had come to the walk in clinic terrified–at the complete end of myself. After years of fighting inside my mind, I was giving up. I couldn’t do it anymore. I guess I just expected the clean cut doctor before me to prescribe me a miracle pill and I would walk out with a cure, so his question caught me completely off guard.
From the time I was eleven or twelve I fought debilitating, irrational doubts and fears. They went in spurts and changed with time. For awhile I was obsessed with the thought of suicide. “What if… I would just go to the bathroom at night and take all of Dad’s blood pressure medication?” I knew I didn’t want to do it, but what if something would just take over my body and I would just have to? I would lie awake in bed, sweating. “If I don’t hear anyone walking upstairs by the time I count to 20, I’ll just have to do it.” Of course I never would. I would creep upstairs, cross the kitchen, dining, living rooms, to Dad and Mom’s bedroom door. I would stand there for awhile, listening to them breathing in their sleep. Then I would say, “Mom?” And after talking to her, I could finally sleep in peace.
As I grew older and became a Christian, it took on a whole new meaning. I was completely caught in my thoughts. Anything that was considered morally wrong or impure, I would be terrified of committing inadvertently. Sitting in church was agony. Horrible unwanted thoughts and images would flash through my brain about the preacher or song leader and my mind could not let go of the horror of them. “Because you thought that, you sinned,” a voice inside me would say, and I would shake in fear. How would I tell this unmentionable thought to my parents? And what if I had to be taken into church work about it? The absolute terror and humiliation of confessing these thoughts to the preachers would descend on me when I was alone and I would writhe in the agony of it.
On and on it progressed. Through my youth, it only worsened. Later I would realize that change aggravated it, whatever it was, so of course my youth years were not free from it.
It would affect one area of my life after another. I would question my moral compass. Completely bizarre thoughts like, “What if I am a serial killer deep down inside?” Then I would scrutinize myself. Did I want to kill people? Something was vaguely fascinating about the image of myself with a knife on a bed hovering over a sleeping human. What if I was living a double life and that person was who I really was?
Then it would be exaggerating and untruths. Did I really tell the whole truth? Should I go back and apologize? It crippled my writing for awhile, because I could not write without littering it with “probably” and “close to” and “maybe,” staying far far away from any absolutes. My interactions with people became painful. Did I hurt them? Should I apologize? Did I lie? Should I confess it to them?
In the mission, under the structured life of the couple I lived with, I began to find healing. They had struggled with different mental illnesses through the years and could talk me through the doubts and fears I faced. I opened up about things I had never told anyone.
When I had opened up previously, I had heard things like, “You just need to have more faith. God can heal you from this. Have you prayed about it?” Had I prayed about it? I wanted to yell in frustration. I had prayed thousands of prayers about it. If praying could heal me of what I was facing, I would have been healed long ago. Did I have enough faith? Obviously not. So that meant I was obviously not a good Christian. I lived in the opposite of faith–doubt and fear.
One day out of the blue, a girl not much older than me messaged me. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. But she had read an article I had written in the Messenger (about dealing with my thoughts–which I obviously had written to try to convince myself, because I was not living it or believing it). Somehow she had felt my hidden struggle in that article. “Did you know there is a name for what you’re dealing with?” she said. “It’s called spiritual OCD and I’ve dealt with a lot of the same things you have. If you ever need to talk or ask questions, I’m here.”
I immediately began Googling and was amazed by what I found. I was not the only one out there like this. Maybe there was help for me. My mind struggled to grasp the fact that maybe…maybe someday I could be free.
Knowing that it was real, accepting that I had a problem, was the first huge step. But that knowledge was not the end. Leaving my mission family, who was as dear as my own blood; leaving the country I had learned to love; and coming back to the unstructured rat race that is American life put my mental health into a downward spiral. And that was putting it lightly. I felt like I was drowning in a black, black sea. I had just visited the congregation where I had committed to teach when I reached the very bottom. That night, lying in the dark, tears streaming down my face, I felt the waves crashing over my head and there was nothing to hold on to. I was so weary, so very very weary of fighting my mind. In that moment, I felt myself going under the waves and I was too tired of fighting to care.
Then in the darkness I heard a voice. It was quiet and strong and It said, “I will never let you go.”
I sat in the chair in that doctor’s office, crying. I didn’t know what he meant.
“How do you view God?” he asked again. “As a loving Father, or as Someone you always have to measure up to?”
I said what I thought he wanted me to say, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. He looked at me gently and said, “God loves you. And his love is far, far greater than your imperfections.”
He said more things, and I remember some of them, but not all. He said he would put me on a low dose of medication to help me learn to handle this. He said I needed to learn to say no to some things. “I’m not a Mennonite,” he said, “But I know Mennonites and they are some of the busiest people. You need to learn to just say no sometimes. Take time for God. Take time to go on walks by yourself. Give yourself space.”
And before he left the room, he said, “May I pray with you?”
That was where healing began. Between those words, “His love is far, far greater than your imperfections,” and “May I pray with you?” Something in me began to heal.
Maybe it didn’t matter if I had no faith and struggled with doubts and fears all the time. Maybe, just maybe, God loved me beyond that.
Yes, I am still on medication now. No, I am not always faithful with taking time for God, taking time to go on walks, and using self denial. But deep down inside me, there is hope for the future. I have hope that someday I will be able to be off of my medication, but for right now I am thankful for the help it’s given me.
The doubts and fears that held me for so long, hold me no longer. They pester me at times, but I am growing to recognize them for what they are. I am free.
I don’t know why I decided it was time to tell my story. But here it is. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this vulnerable sharing something, but if you feel like you’re alone, I want you to know that you’re not. If you ever find yourself drowning in the dark crashing waves, if you feel like you’re going under and you don’t think you even care, I want you to remember this:
He will never let you go.
That’s a promise.