Editor’s note: Mitzi Van Cleve is a mother and an author with a very powerful witness of how God has provided her with grace and strength through her personal experience with OCD and Social Anxiety Disorder. She’s recently launched a new blog, The OCD Christian to offer hope and encouragement to others experiencing similar struggles. Her book, Strivings Within-The OCD Christian is available at Amazon.
I saw this post from Mitzi last night and she graciously agreed to allow me to share. Here’s Mitzi…
The “IT” in the title of this blog is in reference to the mental illness that afflicts approximately 25% of people from all walks of life. There are numerous reasons for our silence but I would say that the biggest is the fear of how people will view us and even treat us once they know we have a mental illness. We know there is stigma attached to it. We know that most people won’t have the basic knowledge in regard to the cause and the effects of our particular illness that would allow them to view it as a valid affliction. We know that there are uneducated ideas born out of assumption and presuppositions that people have accepted for most of their lives in regard to mental illnesses. So when we are struggling and suffering many of us just stay silent. I know we do because I did that for most of my life. It can be especially hard to open up in Christian circles because there still exists this false assumption that mental illness is either the result of a person sinning or having a lack of faith.
I remember sitting in my adult Sunday school class during a particularly bad flare of my Pure O -OCD. It took all the grit I could muster up just to go to church. My mind was in a continual state of terror, my body tense every waking minute. I had been unable to sleep for weeks on end, unable to eat due to the nausea that always accompanies a bad flare of my OCD. The distress had reached a debilitating level and I wanted and needed for God’s people to pray for me. I finally made the decision to lift my hand and ask for prayer. I remember how furiously my heart was pounding in my chest, how hard it was to even breathe at that moment. The hives on my skin were just raging and I could not control the trembling in my hands or the nausea that was churning in my gut, but I was desperate for my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for me and yet this is all I could manage: “I’m going through a rough time, please pray for me.”
I just couldn’t bring myself to say what I really needed to say: “I am really struggling with a horrific flare of OCD right now and the mental anguish of it all has become nearly unbearable. I would SO appreciate your prayers for me as I walk through this valley. Pray for me to persevere. Pray for me to lay hold of God’s grace and strength in and though this. And please pray that I’ll feel better soon. Thank you!”
If I had said that, would people even understand that I was asking for prayer for a valid affliction? Would they know what it meant for a person to suffer with OCD in the same way they might know what it meant for a person to suffer from things like Crohn’s disease, chronic migraines, cancer, heart disease, lupus, diabetes, etc.? I had to assume that they wouldn’t know because I had never heard a person with a mental illness lift their hand in church asking for people to pray for them in regard to their: depression, Panic disorder, OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, etc., and I wasn’t about to be the first one who did.
I was terrified of what people might think of me after that. I was afraid that my illness might be viewed as an obstacle to my being able to take on any kind of role in ministry. I was afraid because I have sat in Bible studies and kept my mouth shut after hearing this statement: “They say that all mental illness is rooted in anger at God.” I have no idea who the “they” were as represented in this statement. I wondered if “they” even had a medical degree.
What I didn’t need to wonder about was how this statement made me feel, especially when every other person in the room began to nod in agreement. No one challenged it. Then on another occasion I sat completely mute and stunned when mental illness was included in a list of “sins” for which restoration through repentance were possible which went as follow: “Adultery, gambling, abusive behavior, addictions, sexual sins, pornography and mental illness.” That was a hard one to swallow and in fact, for a few moments I couldn’t swallow after hearing it because that is that is a common symptom of anxiety for me. I recall feeling so ashamed and really wanting to just crawl under the table. I wanted to challenge it. I wanted to say something like; “why on earth is mental illness included on a list of sins and how can I repent of something I haven’t chosen?” Instead I just sat there feeling those stupid hives pop out on on my face, neck and torso which stood as a very real reminder that I had an anxiety disorder, a mental illness. I had made the list. I was the person in the room who needed to figure out how to repent of it so God could forgive me.
So yeah… it’s pretty hard to talk about “IT”. But…… as I began to open up and share about my particular “IT” I was amazed at how many doors were opened for me to reach out to others who share my disorder. It’s been such a blessing to be able to encourage others just by telling my own story. Doing so has provided an opportunity for me to be be of comfort to others as they finally are able to talk to someone who knows what they’ve been going through. Suddenly they know that they are not the freakish anomaly they’d always thought themselves to be. It’s been such a blessing to be able to reach out in sincere empathy and to have an opportunity to point others in the right direction so they can finally obtain very real help for a very real and often very excruciating disorder. Finally, the privilege of sharing the lessons that my OCD has brought about in regard to the incomparable gift of embracing God’s grace, strength, provision and purpose IN and through my affliction is something that years ago I could have never imagined.
I found out that when I dared to share that God would also bless my heart by bringing the most amazing and dear people into my life who He had prepared to come alongside and encourage me because they too knew what it was like to live with OCD. I want to be that person for others. Does it still feel risky to talk so openly about my OCD? Yeah it does, but the privilege and joy of being able to encourage just one other person has made this risk seem insignificant to me. My prayer is that, in time, people will be able to share about their mental illness without any fear of stigma. I believe the tide is turning and I want to be a part of that.
My name is Mitzi VanCleve and I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. I have OCD and Panic Disorder and I thank the Lord for the lessons He is teaching me in regard who He is that I may have never known apart from these afflictions. I agree with Mr. John Bunyan when he proclaimed: “God doth order it for my good!!”
Key Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!
Thank you for sharing this awesome story!
Mitzi – I am so touched and blessed! Thank you! If we were all honest we would share our own private pain! If it were safe to share – as it should/MUST be in the family of God, particularly the local one you or I are attached to – then it would be SOP(standard operating procedure)! I know it’s not! We are all broken in more ways than we even can wrap our arms around! I hate to share this kind of deep pain because it’s so risky! Good for you for being brave enough to risk! You are so right that it is a huge hidden pain!
Thanks for sharing!
Bless you and may the God of all peace give you His boundless love.
Thank you. I am coming out of a lot of church abuse concerning anxiety.
So sorry to hear about this. Not every church is like that. I hope and trust the Holy Spirit will lead you to a church where you’re valued.