Disclaimer: Contrary to the title of this article, there will be no bashing of God or prayer. Rather, this piece hopes to remind you that faith without actions is dead and that the definition of action is different for different people, which must be honored.
Technically, I don't have time to be sad.
I work a full-time job where I commute over 100 miles per day. I am a single mother of two, including an athlete. There are games, practices, appointments, parent teacher conferences. I'm likely going back to school at some point to finish my second Masters degree. I write in the spaces of time that I am able to make available to do so – mainly to empty my mind of the clutter and debris that the stress of everyday life leaves in its wake. I do yoga, meditate, and pray daily.
And even with all of that, sad can make time for me.
On the surface, people see someone unafraid to push through anything – pain, anguish, anger. But the sadness often creeps through. Inside, some days, I feel a palpable emptiness that eats away at me. I feel that I'm trapped in that emptiness, and that I'm falling inside myself. Nothing can go right. Nobody understands and even if they did, I don't want to put them on the emotional rollercoaster that I'm sitting in the front of. These are the things I tell myself because although I am attempting to backstroke through my misery, I'm drowning in it. Most of the time, nothing has even happened – I just wake up like this.
My struggle with mental illness is known to my family and friends, who I'm blessed to say show me a compassion and empathy that encourages my healing, including through counseling and medication. On the medication point, my friends have been divided. Some encourage me to do whatever I need to do so that I can get to definitively say I'm happy. Others are quick to doubt the medication, and either blame them for my troubles (present and potentially future), or tell me that I don't need it. That I just need to pray about my issues and give it to God. Which is not bad advice; however, I am at the point where I believe discounting all other methods of treatment is unrealistic and dangerous.
Does prayer work? Absolutely. But without work? No.
There's a story that talks about a man who climbs atop his roof during a storm with bad flooding. He is praying to God to save him. A rescue boat comes to him and he says, "No, I'm okay, God is going to save me." Next, a helicopter comes, and again he says, "No, I'm okay, God is going to save me." Inevitably the flood rises and he succumbs and drowns. When he gets to heaven, he finds Jesus and asked why He didn't save him. Jesus replied, "I sent you a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?"
In the flood that depression, anxiety, and other mental illness diagnoses can make rise around a person, the lifeboats that come sometimes are tucked inside pill bottles and sit in chairs across from us with notebooks listening to us talk about our childhoods.
We have to stop allowing our pride to get in the way of healing. Superwoman does not exist.
Let me say that again – Superwoman does NOT exist. No matter what Alicia Keys says. Put the cape down and step away slowly.
In communities of color, the stigma around mental illness is an epidemic within itself. Everyday, depression and anxiety attacks are met with rolled eyes and a "Nothing is really wrong with him/her." Medication administration is met with disdain. "You don't need all those medications – you need to pray/go to church/etc." Nothing is wrong with spiritual advice or intervention. In fact, we can all use some Jesus in our lives. But the thing is…Sometimes, you just can't pray it away.
What is "it"? It can be a feeling of sadness so large that it becomes a boulder on your chest, preventing you from breathing only because you woke up this morning. It can be an inability to cope with rejection because your mind immediately links it with failure and you link that with your own sense of living. It can be voices in your head telling you to harm yourself or others. It can be a lot of things. What it isn't, is something that should be swept under the rug, shoved in a closet, or dismissed flippantly.
Remember the story from earlier? Sometimes God sends lifeboats in the forms of licensed medical professionals and helicopters in the forms of medication and therapy. We have to start recognizing that diagnosis and treatment are not signs of weakness, but of strength and self-care, which is essential to surviving everyday life. And make no doubt about it, there's more of us wanting to thrive, than actually thriving. The line between the two being thin, of course. But that line has to be drawn in the sand, and a stand, of course, has to be made for those of us who don't know how.
Sometimes, you just can't pray it away – and that is okay.
Faith, without work is dead. Prayer without action are just words spoken into the world.
Some may say that going to church is an action. Yes, the act of walking into church and experiencing fellowship are actions. But so is walking into a counselor's office and talking about how you feel and why you feel it. So is walking into a psychiatrist's office and obtaining medication to make you think and feel like a "regular" person. These actions are just as appropriate and those who take those actions should not be ostracized or made to feel as if they are engaging in an activity that is wrong or that their belief and faith in God should be called into question. They should not be met with criticism or negativity because that only feeds the pain they are already feeling.
What part can you play? Loving that person. Supporting that person – without giving them unsolicited advice or consternation. Just because you don't understand doesn't mean that you should mold the situation into something that you can understand. Your way of coping with or engaging in life may not be someone else's. Respect those boundaries.
Sometimes, you can pray it away. But if you can't, there's nothing wrong with you. Do not let anyone else make you feel "less than" because you have chosen your own path of healing, which is the end goal. Some things never go away but you can learn to live in spite of them. There is nothing wrong with you – don't let anyone make you think that it is.
You are ill, but you are not your illness.
And if others around you refuse to understand that…perhaps part of your healing is to remove them as well. Take care of yourself, by any means necessary.
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