Living Well with Mental Illness
Jane Fisher is a registered mental health nurse, as well as working for her local church as Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Debt Centre Manager. She experienced severe perinatal mental health problems in 2015. This resulted in long standing mental illness and Jane has been receiving mental health care and treatment since. She speaks publicly about her story, has published articles in health journals, delivers mental health awareness sessions, training for health professionals and the church. Jane works tirelessly to remove stigma attached to being a mental health professional with a mental illness, and a christian with a mental illness. You can follow and get in touch with Jane via www.thesunwillshineagain.co.uk.
I'm Jane - I am many things. Amongst them I am someone who lives with mental illness. I purposefully choose the term lives with mental illness, for various reasons. Firstly no illness completely defines me. I am many things before a sufferer of mental health problems. The most important being a daughter of almighty God!
Secondly, my aim is to live well with mental illness. Mental health problems are not straightforward. They frustratingly do not have fixed start and end points! I have long periods where symptoms are under control and even absent. However I also have periods of illness, where symptoms are more problematic and impact my day to day life.
I actually do not mind having a diagnosed mental illness. It gives some clarity and structure to my illness. A diagnosis can help people make sense of their struggles. My life is not on hold until this diagnosis is removed.
The journey of recovery is not necessarily the removal of diagnosis.
The good news is, we do not have to be fully recovered to be used by God! Whatever point of illness or recovery we are at, we can be used by God. In fact serving the local church as a volunteer, in whatever capacity, helps our mental health recovery. It gives us a sense of purpose and value.
Think about 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. The writer, Paul, talks about us all being different parts of the same body, or community of believers. We all have our part to play.
Current research in mental health recovery also advocates this! The benefits of volunteer work and being part of a team of people is extremely beneficial for mental wellbeing. It is actively encouraged by mental health professionals!
If we waited to be in perfect physical and mental health before we pursued dreams God has given us, we would be waiting a long time! With wisdom, we can serve God whilst living with a mental illness.
After a period of being unable to work due to my mental health challenges, I was able to return to the workplace working for my local church. I took up a role as Christians Against Poverty (CAP) debt centre manager. My life was not over just because I had a mental illness. In my brokenness and my struggles I am used by God to give hope to others.
I personally choose not to battle the existence of mental illness. We all have physical health and mental health. I believe my brain is an organ, in my body, that can get sick like any other part of me. I do however choose other battles, which I believe are far more important.
I fight to hear God above the storm of mental illness. The still small whisper that tells me I am not alone. I fight to worship my creator when my soul is desolate. I search for hope when my mind feels lost. I rest in my Fathers love when I feel unworthy and ashamed. I face the daily challenge of seeing myself the way God sees me.
This is worth fighting for
As a Christian, my journey of recovery cannot be fully separated from finding my identity in God. What does that mean? It means believing what God says about me. Not what my mind tells me. Or what mental illness tells me.
Mental illness tells me I have no future. God tells me I have a future filled with hope and purpose. Mental illness tells me I’m damaged, faulty, incomplete. God tells me I can find wholeness in Him. Mental illness tells me I am weak. God says I am strong. Mental illness threatens to take my life. God says I have a choice between life and death.
Mental illness can devastate families and the individual. It can erode self confidence. It can prevent people from doing the things they love.
At its worst mental illness stole my time as a new mum. For a time it took my career and financial security. Even now I can loose long periods of time to mental distress.
But there is one thing mental illness will never take from me, and that is my identity in God. At times I’m on the mountain top, speaking to thousands of health professionals at national conferences. Other times I’m in the valley, waiting for an urgent mental health assessment.
Yet who I am in God remains the same.
On the mountain tops and valleys alike, I am loved and cherished by God. With or without a mental illness, I have value and worth.
I am many things. The most important being a daughter of almighty God.
Jane has written a more academic article about her experiences - these can be accessed with the information below but you may need an academic access login - your local library may be able to help.
‘A nurse’s journey though perinatal mental illness’ Jane Fisher.
Journal of Health Visiting › May 2017 › Volume 5 Issue 5