According to medical professionals, I’m blind. My optic nerve has been removed, my hazel eyes have been hand painted and my faithful sidekick is a cuddly, golden lab guide dog. I would say I qualify as a blind girl.
I also struggle with depression and anxiety. Now, I have not been given any medical diagnoses for these. At times, this has been frustrating because there are those people who require a diagnosis before they believe it’s real. At times, it is liberating because it gives me hope that I don’t have to live within the label that so many ascribe to those who have official diagnoses.
And there is one more thing I should mention before we go any further. I am a devoted believer in Jesus Christ, and my faith has made all the difference.
But when you take my faith, blindness, depression and anxiety into one and try to reconcile them with each other, that’s where many people run into roadblocks. Especially those people in the church.
The church has been my home for my entire life and I have found much love, encouragement and compassion there. However, I know there are sadly, those within it that do not embody the deep love, encouragement and compassion that I was shown. And they, among others, are who I hope will read this.
No one would deny that I’m blind. We’ve covered this. My prostheses are enough evidence of that. But because I cannot offer physical evidence of my depression and anxiety, some would see this as evidence itself of its invalidity. And to those who doubt, I will say only one thing:
I’m still blind when the lights are on.
Within the church, I’ve encountered varying views on mental health struggles, and unfortunately, many are negative. Here are some:
- “You must not pray hard enough.”
- “God is a god of joy. Depression is the opposite of joy. Are you truly following God?”
- “He can take away your anxiety. Just ask Him.”
- “The Bible says not to worry. Having anxiety is a sin.”
To those who hold these views, I offer you this scenario:
I walk into a room and am searching for a chair I’ve been told is there. I know to look on the left side of the room, but I don’t know where along the length of the wall it will be. A stranger comes into the room behind me and seeing me slowly searching the space, exclaims: “Oh dear! You’re blind! Here, I’ll turn on the light. There, that’s better. Now you can see where the chair is.”
How silly! Turning on the light wouldn’t change a thing. My optic nerve still doesn’t connect my brain to my eye. Turning on the light doesn’t change my blindness.
But people seem to think it should change my mental health.
If one could just turn on God’s light, then their depression would disappear. If they would just pray, they wouldn’t have panic attacks.
But that is not the case. Of course there is power in prayer and it’s not wrong to pray for healing or help to cope. But prayer isn’t a machine that vomits the right answer if you pray the right prayer. It’s a way to draw closer to God and listen to what He wants to tell you.
So, maybe He won’t take away my anxiety or depression. Maybe He won’t miraculously transform my acrylic eyes into real ones. But somehow, this doesn’t come across very clear to some people in the church. Because these illnesses are of the mind, their legitimacy is often questioned. And because they can be questioned, it’s easy to point fingers and accuse those dealing with them of weak faith.
“If you could just pray more, you wouldn’t be depressed.”
“If you would just trust more, you wouldn’t have anxiety.”
But if you turn on the lights, a blind girl is still blind.
If you have faith, you can still struggle with mental health.
Even if we believe in God’s power to transform our hearts and perform miracles in our lives, it doesn’t equate to a life without hardship. I believe in Him and I’m still blind. I believe in Him and I still struggle with anxiety. Our faith in Jesus shouldn’t change because of our circumstances. But what I pray does change is the view that our circumstances should.
Though to be quite honest, I don’t care if people’s circumstances change or not. As long as their hearts do.
Invisible disabilities are not really invisible. My TBI (traumatic brain injury) is not really invisible. My body gives off observable signals when I am into sensory overload or am dealing with cognitive overload or emotional lability.
When these signals are outside of people’s general knowledge, they ignore them. When I point out socially inappropriate behaviour that accecerbates my symptoms I get the response that I’m playing the victim.
My experience has given me the understanding that some people are simply not willing to learn. They are unwilling to change and deal with their defensiveness by pushing the problem away from themselves, adding to the challenges I’m already dealing with.
I have heard from people with a TBI to simply pray because it worked for them. A Christian with no sense that God has a unique plan for each of us.