Search This Blog

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Beautiful Mind: My Personal Story of dealing with Depression and OCD

"...even the most legalistic Christian would be inclined to get medical attention should they break their leg – Mental Illness properly understood is no different."

This could be tough to write. Its half personal testimony and half creating  awareness to society in general and the Church in specific. This is actually very long but read it through if you or someone you know is struggling with …..

Mental Illness. Although leaps and strides have been made in the understanding and awareness of mental health issues there is still so much to learn and understand for those who do not suffer with them or know someone who suffers with them.

When I was a teenager I struggled with depression but as a very devout Christian  - I took it all as spiritual -  never thinking it might be a mental illness. I would struggle in prayer with God for hours thinking I had done something wrong. When I was 18 I had my first breakdown – but again I chalked it up to a spiritual thing and the people closest to me didn’t know what do although they cared deeply for me. I was ( and am) also very good at hiding the struggle. At this point I have to say, though,  that my parents have been such a support for me through out this struggle that I could not have done it without them – God used them mightily.

My next breakdown came when I was in my early 20’s . At this point I was still treating it as a completely spiritual problem although this time I learned my first lesson about mental illness. It was actually the wife of my elderly pastor who said “I don’t think this is oppression ( as I and others did) but depression”. Wiser words may have never been spoken. You see as Christians we often want to put everything into a box and just pray it away. Am I saying I don’t think we should pray about mental health? Of course not! Prayer is the only thing that gets me through some days. But even the most legalistic Christian would be inclined to get medical attention should they break their leg – Mental Illness properly understood is no different. I realize that psychiatry is far from perfect –and believe me , I am no Freudian but what I am talking about is using common sense.

Now having said this I have to tell you a little story. I was young but had firm opinions about so-called mental illness and the medications that went with it. This was brought to the forefront one day when I was preaching at my little church in Prince George. I was speaking about the joy of the Lord , I believe, when in my youthful fervor I exclaimed
“ We don’t need  Prozac to be happy – that is just a crutch. The Lord will make us happy”. Well apparently that night one of the dear “mom-like” ladies had brought her brother to church –the first time in a long time for him as he was not particularly religious. It turns out this man was on Prozac and I had greatly offended him. Although I still didn’t believe in mental illness or the drugs for it , I realized I had to apologize for what I had said and the way I had said it. So I made the difficult phone call and he graciously accepted my apology.

Now this is not where the irony ends my friends, for it was not long after this that I experienced that second breakdown, that my pastor’s wife had suggested depression and for the first time in my life was I was open to hear about it. With an entirely new perspective on life ( I had quite an experience with God – learning about pride and grace – but that is another story you can read about here: When I Understood Grace...Or At Least Began Too...), I went to my doctor and he had me fill out a questionnaire on depression. I was finally ready to be honest with my answers and I scored off-the-chart for severe clinical depression. I tried a series of different drugs until at last one seemed to help – its called fluoxetine , other wise known as Prozac. God indeed has a great sense of humour.

Taking medication for mental health is a very personal issue between you, your doctor and God. I do not believe it is the complete answer but it is a tool of medicine that God has given us just like any we would take for any other more socially acceptable disease. One thing I’d like to mention here folks is this  - the difference between “diagnosing” and “labeling”. Diagnosing is not labeling – please know the difference. Correct diagnosis can free someone – like the truth. The root problem is treated and the symptoms lessen or disappear altogether. Labeling ignores the root problem and only brings the person down further – they often even tend to become more like the label.

Okay this is getting long but bear with me. Once I accepted the fact that I may have depression I realized this was a much more common thing amongst Christians and others than I realized. Charles Spurgeon fought with serious depression and preached on it. Winston Churchill described it as the “Black Dog” that beset him. Another has said it was “the beast that lay on my chest at night and rode my back during the day”.  Martin Luther and John Bunyan have both experienced mental illness as well.

Back to a bit of my testimony. About 5 years ago I had my last breakdown brought on by stress ( as I see now - the others were brought on my stress as well). This time my diagnosis was a bit more specific – as well as depression I discovered that I had a severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder( John Bunyan had this as well – I read his biography) . Many people associate this with constant hand washing but there are many forms. I won’t go into all the details but the things I tend to obsess over are spiritual things as are the “compulsions” that follow. I was diagnosed with this while dating my now-wife. She experienced it first hand and stood by me all the way. She even chose to marry me having seen what this was like. However the worst was yet to come… after a few months of wedded bliss, it hit me again. The next 2 months were at times indescribably horrible, some of the worst times of my life and now I was dragging someone through it with me. Although not hospitalized, I spent about a month in a mental health transition house. My wife and I made the difficult and ( to me) humiliating decision for me to enter this house… we met with the psychiatrist at this house ( who I later found out was a Christian = God is good) and as my wife left to go back to our rental suite and I entered into my little room where I would spend the next month – I broke down in tears and they did not stop for at least a month. I can only imagine what my wife went through as I was rendered useless as a husband. I thank God for her so much – her unshakeable faithfulness to me is something I will never forget.

I have been taking certain medications that my wife, doctor and I feel are appropriate for this disease and equally important I have learned many methods of dealing with it ( my wife actually found a book written by a Christian psychologist before I was even diagnosed – called the “Obssessive Compulsive Trap” – it has helped me in unbelievable ways). The ultimate lesson I learned through that time though was this – God taught me – I would dare say He told me “Separate Me from your mental illness. We are not one and the same thing – I am not the voice in your head that is angry with you – believe the Truth, not your feelings or thoughts”

My favourite movie is “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe ( it is the true story of John Nash – Nobel prize winner who suffered with schizophrenia ) because I identify with the story so much and love how well done it is. At one point in the movie John Nash tries to explain to a friend what its like.. “ I still see things that are not here, I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind I choose not to indulge certain appetites.” 

I know many Christians who love the Lord and those who are not Christian who struggle with mental illness – depression, ocd, schizophrenia, bipolar etc.. We as the Church need
to recognize the reality of this, become educated and learn how to compassionately help this people. Please pray for us….

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 1 Timothy 1:7

Here is a video of the same story . I recorded at the request of a Psychiatrist friend for a church seminar on depression:   

More stories here:    Mental Illness Hub


Biblical distinctions of Jesus' healing

Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Matthew 24:4

For those of you who struggle with the idea that mental illness exists in the Bible (as I did) , this verse really sums it up for me.

It is very clear from this verse that all of Jesus healings of sick people were put into 3 categories:

1) Spiritual -  - Demon possession  - this is obviously spiritual and while I do not believe a Christian can be demon pssessed since they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit - we still have spiritual problems that only Jesus can heal ( like "pride" for example... thats whatt I struggled with)

2) Mental or Brain-related - Epiliptics - although epilipsy is not usually classified as a 'mental illness" , it is in fact a disorder of the brain - and the brain is synonymous with the mind...." a common chronic neurological disorder characterized by seizures.[1][2] These seizures are transient signs and/or symptoms of abnormal, excessive or hypersynchronous neuronal activity in the brain.."  Wikipedia

 When we speak of "mental illness" , we are not just talking  about feeling down in thee dumps - we are talking about a clinical brain disorder.  There is literally malfunctions happening in the brain to cause this - this is proven beyond doubt by science. In the case of OCD a part of the brain called the "Caudate Nucleus" is seen to be abnormally overstimulated when observed and is the primary cause of why some of us have obsessive thoughts and compulsions - its like there is no built "shut off" button like a healthy brain would have.

Please see my post

We are also very aware of Alzheimers and other diseases that affect elderly people. We rightly understand and readily accept that this is a deterioration of the brain as the body ages- not demon possession.

3) Physical - Paralytics - while the brain is definitely physical it also a lot more complicated than we can fully understand and malfunctions there affect our cognitive orr mental abilities.   This speaks of something morre directly physical, quite separate from what we think of as the "mind".  If some is paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury - wee again rightly and readily understand this as a physical problem to be prayed about but also to be taken to a medical doctor.

The causes of any of the above types of illnesses could be sin-related or "for the glory of God" as Jesus said about the blind man in John 4. They are mostly just simply a result of a fallen world.


I'm not surprised Jord - its a very similar process only the person with OCD has a real brain disorder. It comes down to Truth vs Lies, Reality vs delusion. Some people think all phsycology is bad - but this is no Freudism or anything - its just common sense . Phsycology is simply the study of the mind - people can do good or bad with that.


  1. Joe this is amazing. I enjoyed reading it and hearing someone elses opinions and words about things I see others go through all the time. I also am really happy to see how you have been dealing with things and I love how open and honest you are about what you've gone through and are going through. May God bless you in many ways as you continue to live through all of this with Him, your beautiful wife, and now your amazing child. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I found your blog while searching Christians with OCD. I have never been clinically diagnosed, but have spent the last couple years in Christian counseling for the above things you menitoned, and I definitely feel I have this. I however apart from spritual OCD also have reasurrance issues, and checking issues. I have been told by family "oh if you only trust God more", "where is your faith?", "you have little faith", "you don't trust God enough or you doubt God too much", "you have unconfessed sin that you needs to be confessed and it will lessen the worry and anxiety". I know OCD is an anxeity disorder...and people and especially christians need to be familiar with the anxiety disorders, scrupolisity and spiritual ocd. I have accepted Christ as my personal savior years ago, and I went a tragic time with my parents divorce, it was nasty and I was thrown right in the m iddle of it as an adult! Since then I have had severe anxiety, reassurance issues, checking issues and the OCD now attacks my faith in God. I like you...struggled and prayed endless hours and poured my heart out to the Lord thinking it was all me, that I was the problem and wrong, that I have somehow sinned, and that's why I was questioning my faith etc. So I would constantly ened reasurrance from God that I was doing the right thing...that He loved me and that I was still His child...etc. Like you is a chemical imbalance. For me, It almost is just too exhausting to even tell people about, especially family. My husband understands somewhat of what I feel and have been trhough with counseling, but I think he is jus as exhausted as I am with the constant begging for reasurrance, checking etc...that I think he gets annoyed when I try to be real with him and how I feel when I dont have a ocd trigger. Should I just continue to pray and ask the Lord to heal me? Do you suggest I read that tbook? I am exhausted mentally beyond belief with having this. Please help me or give me some guidance as where to start. Thank you.

  4. Corey - I'm s glad you found this blog post and that it was a blessing to you. Unfortunately, many Christians ( or anyone who hasn't experienced this) have a very difficult time understanding mental illness. As you see from this post, I to was hardened against the reality of mental illness.

    As you see at the end of this post , I did a look at Scripture to show that brain disorders were actually a part of the recognized diseases in Jesus' mind ( "epileptic" refers to a brain disorder). This might help you and your family separate what is an illness from what is real, what is actually from God.

    The most important lesson I learned was i had to separate what was not healthy and Bibical from what was real. I had to distinguish between the two - ignore the ocd thoughts and cling to the truth of Scripture, common sense and the support of counsellers and people who understand a bit of mental health. I;m very lucky to have a wife who understands and helps me a lot - although she too gets tired of it all - thats only normal.

    Obviously God is bigger than our disease and we must always cling to him - but we will not always "feel" close and we might have an unwanted (ocd) thought that is very upsetting - but we must choose to believe the truth.

    I take medication and it really helps... you should talk to a doctor about that for sure! God doesnt always heal us of our diseases - physical, emotional or mental. They can be used by Him fr His glory and to teach us things we would otherwise never earn - also we can then understand and help others! Medication for the brain can cause some concern to people but with sound advice from a octor and some prayer - you can find the right one. God uses medicine to heal His people all the time! ( fluoxetine and (prozac) and zoloft are particalrly good for treating ocd...)

    Secondly -I use cognitve behaviour therapy which is a very simple, common sense approach to our thought life and mind. Nothing crazy or unbiblical about it at all - its about keeping a "sound mind" as Paul says in Timothy. Please read this article about 4 simple steps to helping us ignore and therefore defeat OCD thoghts :

    Also if you are able to get this book I talk about in this blog please do so! here:

    if you have anymore questions - please feel free to comment more... I will be praying for you , your husband and your family!


  5. Hello Joe, I have been struggling incredibly for the past month or so and finding this was incredible.. it felt like you went through exactly what I'm going through! I believe I was meant to come across your post. I feel a little uncomfortable with sharing my problems on a public blogpost but I would really love to talk to you and get some advice, seeing as it seems you've overcame what I'm currently going through. Would it be possible to talk to you via email? My email is .Please send me an email when you see this post so that I can share my troubles, I would greatly appreciate it since I'm struggling to find anyone else to talk to! Thanks in advance. God bless you!

  6. Hi Dimana - did you get my email yet?

  7. Hi Joe. I think i am the same as Dimana. I feel like l've been going through alot more than i actually thought i could handle. I'm so tired. I feel numb and like a wreck now. I REALLY need someone to talk to. Please E-mail me:
    I would highly appreciated if you could talk to me, i've struggled with this like 6months non-stop and it's getting worse. Please help

    1. I can't believe I missed this ... how are you these days?

  8. Thanks for your blog, it has been a starting point to me seeking professional help.

    Blessings from France.