I am very excited to share this article. Cash shares about his life, which includes PTSD and Depression in a very honest and open way. I hope you are encouraged and will remember Cash in your prayers. Allan May, 2008
Update: I have fallen out of contact with Cash but believe his story is worth re-publishing. Please remember him in your prayers. Allan
I am a Christian who suffers with a mental illness. It has affected me in many ways, including my walk with God. Even as I write this, I must be honest and tell you that I am in he midst of a mild relapse of my symptoms. I am very depressed, but I am not despairing. I have hope, because Jesus is alive and He loves me.
I’ve been abused a lot in my life. I just turned 40 years old. When I was a child, my father was a violent alcoholic. He physically beat up my mother in front of me and my siblings so many times. Once I watched as he hit my mother in the face with a phone receiver and broke the bones in her face. He left huge welts on my legs once after he beat me with a piece of plastic race track. Once he put the entire family out on the freeway because he was angry at my mother. He verbally berated all of us.
So mom finally divorced him when I was eight. She did the best she could, but she had a lot of substance abuse problems. She felt bad that I had to grow up without a dad, so she got me involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. The man that was my Big Brother was so nice to me. He bought me snow skis and taught me to ski, and would take me all the time. He took me on a lot of road trips. I really loved him.
I didn’t understand at the time that he was grooming me. He sexually molested me. I told my mom and he was gone from my life. Another loss..the damage done.
I did a lot of drugs and drank a lot of alcohol even as a kid, trying to deaden the pain. Mom married a couple more times..every time I started to like one of them, she’d divorce them. She tried to kill herself a few different times. That tends to mess with a kid’s mind.
The substance abuse got so bad that when I was 15, my mom enrolled me in a substance abuse program. The counselor there required me to attend a youth group at his church as part of my treatment.
I went there stoned. The youth pastor looked right at me and said, “You might be high even right now, but Jesus can still save you, He still loves you, you can come to Him just as you are.”
I believed in Jesus Christ that night, and it literally changed everything. I quit taking drugs, quit drinking, and got serious about school.
I met a girl at school and I told her about Jesus and she believed in Him too. Unfortunately, we sinned and she got pregnant when I was 17, and we got married. I went into the Army. Just the place for someone with abuse issues to go.
While in the Army, we continued to follow Jesus, but it was hard because we were away from our home church.
In 1991, I was deployed to Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. I was an artilleryman, and was involved in combat operations. By God’s mercy, I came home alive and in one piece.
But something was wrong. When I got home, I was very different. I couldn’t sleep well. I had flashbacks of my experiences in the desert, and I became extremely anxious and depressed. The Army doctors diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. After all, I’m a Christian. I thought I should be able to fix everything through prayer and reading the Bible. There was only one problem–the PTSD, which is classified as an anxiety disorder, made me so “revved-up” that I literally could not pray. I could not slow my mind down enough to be able to sit and talk with Jesus. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate on reading.
I thought that I was just in sin, that I couldn’t pray because there was sin in my life. Because I didn’t understand, I walked away from Him. I went back to my old ways and started drinking heavily again. This caused much anguish and stress for my wife.
I continued to sink down to the point where I became suicidal. One night, after a night of heavy drinking, I went into my garage and shut the door, got in my van, started it up and cranked the tunes. I was going to end it all right then.
My wife found me in the garage and stopped my suicide attempt. To this day, she does not know why or how she woke up at that particular moment. We believe an angel woke her up.
At one point, I was hospitalized at a VA hospital–for four months. I still was not looking to the Lord. I still had trouble praying and reading, and besides, I reasoned, I’m sure God’s pretty mad at me right now.
I screwed everything up. My two kids at the time (we had two more a little later), were in their formative years. Thank God I didn’t abuse them physically or anything, but I was just emotionally absent. I really tried hard to be a good dad, but I could only do so much. I was very limited by my emotional disabilities. Mainly hard-core depression, caused by the post-traumatic stress disorder.
After many different medications that did not help, the VA doctor finally found some medication that actually started to make the depression lift. It did not take away the depression, just made it a little more bearable, much like pain medication helps when someone is in physical pain.
I didn’t work for ten years. One night I was laying on my couch and I turned on the radio. I don’t even know why I turned it to a Christian station, but I heard Pastor Jon Courson teaching on Revelation. At that moment, literally, I turned my heart back to Jesus. I believe it was nothing but a work of God’s grace in my life. I didn’t deserve it, I didn’t even really want it, but somehow, God turned my heart toward home.
I began to attend church again, and entered a ministry training program. Because of all my experiences, I was able to understand hurting people and the issues they face. The church asked me to come on staff as a lay pastoral counselor.
Today, I am still struggling with PTSD and my relationship with God. But as I said initially, I still have that hope.
I would like to share a few lessons learned the hard way, especially for Christians with a mental illness and in particular younger people who might be suffering right now.
1. The “Why” question is irrelevant.
I have found that asking why this has all happened to me and why this and why that is simply a waste of time and energy. For some reason, the sovereign God does not seem inclined to share all the answers with me right now. Maybe He will someday, but it can drive you to despair thinking about the whys and wherefores of it all.
2. We must come to an acceptance of our illness.
Only by accepting that we are ill, just as though we had diabetes or some other physical illness, can we begin to come to terms with what has happened to us. When we choose to accept it, we can seek help without fear.
3. Thankfulness is everything.
This is a very interesting one. Most depressed people, me included, tend to focus on the dark side of life. Researchers have found that cognitive therapy really works. Cognitive therapy is changing your thinking patterns. Instead of always focusing on the darkness, try to find God’s blessing in every event. This may sound Pollyannish, but remember, God told us about “cognitive therapy” in his Word.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Ephesians 5:20-”Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;”
1 Thessalonians 5:18-“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
I have heard pastors teach that this doesn’t mean we should be thankful FOR everything, but IN everything. But I disagree; the Ephesians passage clearly says to be thankful for everything. Be thankful that my foot got run over by a bulldozer?? Yeah, because it could have been your head! Be thankful that I suffer depression? Yes, even that. Does your depression make you cry to God for mercy? Does it help you understand hurting people better, and perhaps give you a deeper compassion for them that you might otherwise have?
These are only some of the lessons I have learned. Please understand that I am still struggling with my illness and probably will for the rest of my life. I’m still on a journey, and I certainly don’t want to be like those guys that say I WAS messed up, but now I’m all better and i’m going to tell you how to get where I am.
Nope. I’m here with you. I’m not thankful all the time. But I know I need to be. We need Jesus. Sometimes I chafe at my illness instead of accepting it. I fight with God about it. And I still ask why way too much.
All I know is that we are deeply loved by Jesus and the Father and the Spirit and He is sovereign, in control of everything that happens to us and in us.