This post was submitted by Keturah Ford. Read more about her below!
A sudden shot of pain went through my chest, not one time but several times as I drove to work deep in thought. It felt like someone was taking a knife and stabbing me in the heart as I maneuvered through the flow of traffic and cranked up my gospel music station to try to tune out my thoughts and what was happening to my chest.
I was in my early 20's, holding my first "salaried" job, and faced with the reality that my mother may not live to see her next birthday. I had three younger siblings still at home and a father who worked long hours. I tried to tend to them as best I could (cooking, cleaning, taking them to church, etc.) while commuting to the hospital where my mother was waiting for a heart transplant. I was stressed with a capital "S" and my body was turning on me with the existence of chest pain and occasional shortness of breath.
Yes, I belonged to a church. Yes, I prayed. Yes, I loved God. But why wouldn't the pain in my chest just go away? I kept calling my primary doctor to describe my symptoms. He finally advised me to "see someone" as what I was experiencing appeared to be anxiety attacks. Pump your brakes, doctor. See someone like who? Was he serious? See a psychiatrist? No sir, that’s not happening. I would never call my doctor about this matter again.
But was I right about my response to getting help?
Yes, eventually my mom received a heart transplant. I was able to relinquish the responsibility of caring for my younger siblings. Things were looking up, but would my views about mental health and support counseling need to change?
When my mother passed away in 2011, I felt like a part of me died with her. Although I was in a different phase of life at this point - married and fully involved in my career and church ministry - I was once again experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety. I was losing control, but no one would know it. I "appeared" just fine as I smiled and carried out work and church duties with careful attention. Prayer would certainly see me through this grief as my religious peers assured me. Again, God was and is an important part of my life, but I was drowning in grief, uncertainty, and a lack of hope for living life without my mother.
Then something happened in 2014.
A dear friend of mine would invite me to a Christian women's conference that I really didn't have time to attend. I went anyway as I believe that God cleared my schedule that day in order to save my life. The conference would prove to be worth every minute and hour as female ministers and psychologists poured into the attendees about being healed in a holistic manner - spiritually, mentally, etc. I was blown away with the conference facilitators' approach, honesty, and willingness to reach the audience with practical and spiritual insight to breaking down the barriers of things that can stunt a woman's growth. I not only received prayer from the panel but direct counsel regarding the psychological connotations of my behavior and reactions to my reality.
So much was at stake.
I had a baby girl at this point and I needed to be spiritually and mentally healthy for her. God answered my prayers that day at the women’s conference and I could now fully address the guilt, disappointment, and weariness that stemmed from my mother's untimely death. I felt like a weight had been lifted as I could view grief and recovery through a different lens. Faith and psychology had been intertwined and I could not deny the positive impact of this in my life.
Perhaps you are reading this and feel you are "stepping out" on your faith in God if you seek mental health counseling or support. Consider these tips:
- Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). We weren’t meant to journey through life without support or guidance. Seeking out help will be for your betterment and not your downfall.
- Admitting that there is a problem is not a form of weakness but a gesture of strength. The very fact that you are taking steps to get help speaks volumes as you desire to progress and not constantly regress.
- Ignore the opinions of others who refute the impact of mental health counseling/support/awareness. What works for you may not work for others and this is okay. Furthermore, never feel you have to share your mental health journey with people who are not invested in being a positive support to you.
- Do your research about the types of mental health counseling/support services that are available. Whether the support be traditional, faith-based, formal, or less formal; get clarity about what you need and what you are looking for before you choose a service provider.
- Remain hopeful. God’s children aren’t “perfect.” The journey of mental health wellness can be a process. However, with a willingness to implement interventions based on the best practices for your needs, you are well on your way to being healthy and a positive testament to others who may need your encouragement to seek help as well.