Chelsea Kowal is a Christian and a graduate student in biomedical engineering. She has launched a blog for the purpose of increasing awareness about mental illness along with cataloging her personal journey of hope and healing through faith. She’s serving as our guest blogger for this weekend.
Mental illness is not who I am. It is not what I am either. Mental illness is something very difficult that God has brought into my life. I currently am dealing with schizoaffective disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some days are harder than others for those living with mental illness. Some days I can barely function, but I was and am still fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Whether or not you have mental illness, God still calls us each by our name. He knows every hair on our heads. He created each of us and He brings challenges into each of our lives. One of my challenges happens to be my mental illness.
I wish more people understood that mental illness is a physical illness. It is caused when the wiring in my brain gets overloaded. Words become jumbled into a story that may not make sense. Thoughts are all over the place. Suddenly, people are after me. But God is always there. I have felt Him even in my worst paranoid states. God always helps me through those moments. He truly never lets me go, no matter how scary my psychosis feels. As He calmed the waters in the storm on the boat with the disciples, He also calms my fears, doubts, psychosis, and paranoia.
God can use anything in His power to heal people with mental illness, including medications and therapy. People with mental illness should always be encouraged to get the help that they need in order to function. I was fortunate enough to have pastors who helped me seek the correct help. After ten hospitalizations and trying 14 different medications, I can say that I am finally functioning well and moving forward in a very positive direction. I can say that God is healing me every day. What I am dealing with is chronic mental illness and I will deal with it for the rest of my life. I have had to come to terms with the fact that I may always have to be on medications. That’s okay, because God is helping me heal through them. God can use anything to speak to us or heal us.
Sometimes having a mental illness can be a gift and a blessing. Having mental illness is not necessarily a curse. I often am amazed at the ways that I am able to express myself through art, music, writing and photography. Going outside and enjoying the sunrises and the sunsets or spending a day at the lake not only help me to alleviate the symptoms of my disorders but also allow me to grow in my relationship with God. God speaks to me through every part of His creation.
In some ways, my mental illness has allowed me to see the world from a new perspective, especially in nature. I recently had a God moment when I was reading a book by the lake. I had just gotten off of the phone and my anxiety was running very high. I looked up and I saw a white bird flying across the lake. Immediately, my anxiety was washed away. To me, the white bird signified the Holy Spirit.
It is okay to be angry at God. It is okay to wonder why someone has a mental illness or why you have to deal with a mental illness. God hears your frustration. He understands your frustration and anger. God understands everything that each of us deals with. Knowing that God understands and that He listens to me helps me get through the rough day.
People with mental illness need love, support, patience and understanding. I wish more people asked me questions about my mental illness. I have been ostracized in some situations because others did not understand what I was going through. People with mental illness deserve to be embraced, as does anyone. It makes a world of difference when someone reaches out to me and supports me, even through the difficult times. That is exactly what Jesus would do. Jesus reached out to the ostracized, the lonely, the misunderstood. Having a mental illness or helping someone with a mental illness means that there will be challenging days, months or even years. For me, I spent the last four months in and out of the hospital. It has been an incredibly difficult journey but God was by my side every step of the way. I had two very serious psychotic episodes, but God has helped me through and to come out on the other side. There will be days when the world seems upside down. Through God’s strength and the encouragement and support of others, anything is possible.
Most importantly, I want people to know that truly nothing is impossible with God. I have overcome years of abuse, neglect and homelessness. I am the only person in my family not to have dealt with a drug or alcohol addiction. I lost my oldest brother to suicide. God helped me through all of those things. He helped me to rise above the obstacles. He helped me to survive. Not only survive but thrive. In May 2012, I graduated at the top of my class in college with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering.
My faith in God is what has carried me through my difficulties. It truly has been an integral part of my life and I could not imagine where I would be without God.
Chelsea Kowal maintains a blog called Hope Rising (www.hoperisesafterthestorm.com), about her journey of living with schizoaffective disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering and is currently going for her Master’s degree. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, taking photography, listening to music and being outside in nature.
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