Mental Health

Truer Words for the troubled mind

Jonathan Cho // October 9, 2019, 11:19 am

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We live in a terribly noisy world.

Most days, we wake up only to face a bombardment of notifications – emails, social media posts, text messages… the works. It seems as if there is always somebody who needs our attention on something, and there is hardly any real opportunity to be still or silent.

The reality is that this “noise” continues in our minds even in the absence of physical activity, and even more so as we approach the small hours of the morning. Whether we realise it or not, there is an inner life of the mind that lies beneath all our exteriors, which often comes dangerously close to being overcrowded.

Where battles are being fought in the mind because of harsh words spoken to us or about us, the mental strain feels even heavier because they continue to confront us – whether we like it or not. The truth is that we simply can’t “run away” from our thoughts in a manner which we would to physically avoid a conversation.

The lyrics of this song, “Truer Words”, were birthed out of a season where I was forced to reckon with some harsh words spoken to me. As is the case in our modern world, the words came in the form of an email, taking me by surprise not just because of its timing, but because it came from someone I invested time in, someone I tried to help and journey with.

The words spoken to me were targeted, unkind and even irresponsible. In retrospect, it is clear that the words were chosen specifically to inflict a certain kind of wound in order to achieve a certain objective.

Do your words stab or sharpen others?

On some level, I knew therefore that the criticisms were unwarranted, unjustified and totally untrue. But that hardly brought any comfort; I still found my mind straying to specific phrases used in that email – a “noise” that continued to echo in my mind during quiet pockets of time throughout the day.

Each time the words repeated themselves in my head, it felt like a re-enactment of that first moment of wounding. Over time, I found my soul growing raw from the repeated wounding, and I gradually weakened to the point of conceding, and even agreeing that perhaps what was spoken to me was true.

Despite sharing about this incident with a close-knit community and being vulnerable with them and my honest thoughts, I still found myself largely feeling alone, heavy-hearted and battle weary. My mind was in overdrive, and it seemed as if no one around me could really offer the kind of support, comfort or resolution that I needed.

The incident simply “got into my head” and left me wondering: “Is there something wrong with me?”

THE INNER LIFE OF THE MIND

As I see it now, it was really God’s divine timing and providence that this particular episode intersected with my involvement on a book project on mental health and wellness, Bruised Reeds Volume 2: Mental Health & The Gospel Community (what we refer to as “BR2”).

As a compilation of stories and accounts from different people who have tussled with the issue of mental health and well-being (patients, caregivers, pastors, friends, family), one of the aims of the book is to empower us to approach, confront and converse about the inner life of the mind, as a people and community of God.

I recall being stirred into compassion over one particular story that seemed to echo of a similar heartfelt question that I had posed to myself: “Is there something wrong with me?”

What mental illness is not: The raw, disturbing stories from the ones who’ve suffered

This same question may manifest itself in many different forms, but I believe that those who ask it do so in desperate hope that there is someone capable of assuring them that there can and will one day be effective and complete resolution whatever is troubling them.

Perhaps, the clearest expression of the heart of this question might be: “Can I ever be made whole again?”

The inner life of our minds is like a sacred space – a garden – which no one really has access to but us.

As many of the stories in BR2 reflect, we often turn to one another (in family, church, or other forms of community) to have these questions answered, but somehow, the answers we receive are not enough.

In fact, some answers even deepen the wound rather than act as a healing balm. Several of the BR2 stories tell of common responses being in the nature of: “you need to pray more”, “you need to have more faith”, “you need to fight those thoughts” or even “just get over it!”

 Of course, the spectrum of mental health issues goes beyond that of wrestling with negative voices in the mind. It would also be unfair to suggest that everyone’s experience is similar. The point really is that the inner life of our minds is like a sacred space – a garden – which no one really has access to but us.

And where we find ourselves confused, lost and even threatened in that space, it feels as if no one has the ability or authority to enter in and rescue us. No one else but the Saviour Himself, that is.

While the mental pressures which I experienced from my incident come nowhere close to what we hear from those who struggle with mental health issues, I fully identify with the experience of looking for peace but finding only (more) pain, especially with those who care about you most.

When I found myself perpetually trapped in a corner of my mind, few really knew or understood the emotional and mental turmoil it was causing me.

At the end of myself

Among those who did know, even fewer offered helpful thoughts (though all were undoubtedly well-meaning): “it’s not even true, don’t let it bother you”; “they’ve won if you let them get in your head”; “just pray and surrender it to God”.

Alas, the sad truth is that many of us act like Job’s friends to those who are hurting and in pain, unwittingly finding ourselves more concerned about speaking “our truth”, so as to lead the wounded soul into a quick solution for the “problem”.

But as the stories in BR2 would tell us, for most, the solution may never come in this life on earth.

THERE ARE TRUER WORDS

For those who have ever found themselves in a position of having to journey with and listen to someone as they try to navigate the darkest parts of their minds, we need to remember that it is a place that we hardly have any access to.

We cannot profess to fully appreciate what the landscape looks like or how treacherous the journey ahead may seem. The question of “Can I ever be made whole again?” (in all its various forms) is also one that most of us are not in a position to give a definitive answer to – and we need to accept that.

How can the Church journey alongside people struggling with mental illness?

But this is not the end of the story. The words spoken to us by the people around us don’t have the final word or final say. There is one Person who knows us better than anyone else could – the only other Person (besides us) with full access to the garden of our minds.

From what I know about Him, He loves walking in gardens and is in fact, a gardener at heart. We can rest assured in the knowledge of that and know that whatever we battle in this life is not the ending chapter to the story of who we are.

There are truer words indeed – words spoken in love, kindness and goodness of heart – words spoken by the Voice who brought the world into being and gives life by His very breath. It is this same Voice that will continue to sustain us, even resurrect us with new life as we grapple with learning to die daily to the million and one other voices surrounding us.

Are there really truer words?
Some day, I’ll hear truer words.

THINK + TALK

  1. What were certain things spoken or done to you that affected you greatly?
  2. How can we healthily handle the “noise” of this world to safeguard our mental health?
  3. How can we grow in mental resilience and help others around us to do so too?
  4. How can we walk well with those who struggle with mental health?