I struggle with anxiety. It has been something that I’ve struggled with for years, and it is only recently that I have sought professional help to understand the deeper issues behind it. What drove me to seek professional help is that I got to a point of recognizing that I couldn’t process through the anxiety on my own. I needed professional help to get at the root of what was going on.
It has taken me a very long time to realize that my mental health is something that I can’t maintain on my own. I started going to therapy about three years ago to help with increased fear/anxiety related to flying. As I have gone through the process of therapy, I have realized that my fear is not about flying, but what flying represents.
One of the things that I have come to find out about myself is that I am severely critical of myself. When it comes to my fear of flying, the inner critique goes something like “you shouldn’t be nervous, it’s fine, why are you overreacting?” My inner voice is not kind to me, and it has had a much deeper impact upon my daily thought processes than I ever thought. I am constantly tearing myself down for the things that I could and should have done better.
The reason that I am bringing this up is because therapy is often stigmatized, especially within Christian culture. The platitude that is often heard when a believer admits that they are seeking therapy is “oh you just need to pray more,” or “you should just have a little more faith.” These are not only toxic theologies, but can drive an individual deeper into their pain by shaming them for their “lack of faith.” When someone is shamed because they are seeking mental health, then it reinforces the toxic notion that mental health is not important.
I think one of the main reasons that mental health is stigmatized in the church is that people are simply uneducated when it comes to issues surrounding it. What I have learned throughout therapy is that my anxiety is rooted in something much deeper than flying. Issues that I never considered having any impact upon my anxiety turned out to be intricately linked to it. That being said, it took me three years to realize that my issues with anxiety are far deeper and far more complex than I originally thought. When we dismiss issues of mental health as symbols of weak faith and poor prayer habits, we are failing to care for people who truly are suffering from deep-seeded experiences that have negatively affected their mental health.
When Christians and churches stigmatize mental health, it pushes the ones suffering into deeper despair because it forces them to suppress any cry for help. Unfortunately, within the church, there exists an unspoken rule that no one wants to be brought down with negative news or bad vibes. I have suppressed my struggles a number of times because I haven’t wanted to make others uncomfortable by bringing up my mental health issues.
As a pastor, I want to make sure that people know I struggle with anxiety. Even though I have faith in God, I still struggle with things that are out of my control. Control (in my mind) equals safety. I have sought therapy for three years because I got to a point where I recognized that I could not get better on my own. I still pray, I still have faith. Even though I seek professional help for my mental health, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God or God’s healing ability. It is a recognition that I don’t know my own mind, that I need help figuring out how I process things and help altering the way I speak to myself.
I have come to realize that therapy has been a saving grace for me. I am still working at it, but I am in a much healthier mental space now than I was one, two or even three years ago. If you need to seek therapy to help with whatever issues you have, do not be ashamed. I am right there with you. I need help. I am broken.
We are all human, meaning that we all have issues, we all have failures and we all have doubts. Seeking mental health is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of emotional and intellectual maturity. I can tell you from experience that therapy has been EXTREMELY helpful. It has given me a better understanding of myself, my mind and the way my mind operates. When it comes to mental health, there is nothing to be ashamed about. Whether or not people admit it, we all have issues that we need to work through.
My name is Jeff. I am a Pastor and I need therapy for my mental health.