I think I’m Having a Nervous Breakdown: Part 2
In Part 1 of “I Think I’m Having a Nervous Breakdown,” I laid out the basic understanding of what that sentence means, some of the symptoms and signs of thinking you’re having a nervous breakdown, and some basic therapeutic and self-care strategies that may be helpful in recovering from such an experience, regardless of context or cause.At the end of that article, I stated that I wanted to write a second part that explored the matter from the Christian biblical point of view, in the hope of offering help to Christians who may read this article and find themselves longing for ways to connect their beliefs to their real-time struggles.
Although no one literally says “I think I am having a nervous breakdown” in Scripture, still, the idea of being at the end of oneself shows up in several places and so is worth considering. But before we jump into any particular passages, I want to lay out a framework of usage. What I mean is that I can throw some helpful verses out there, and the Bible has many, but that does not necessarily mean we know what to do with them.
Struggling to Remember What is True
One of the hardest things about being in the place of “I think I am having a nervous breakdown” is remembering the promises of God we sing about and hear about on Sundays. When things are fine, these truths ring loud and clear. But “I think I am having a nervous breakdown” is another way of saying “that may be true, but it is not touching me where I am right now.”
Recently, I was with a friend who is in a very hard and dark place. One of my friends shared with him the story of the bleeding woman in Mark 5:25-34 who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed:
In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.
The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. She had said to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.” As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.
At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples said to him, “Look at all these people crowding around you! How can you ask who touched you?” But Jesus turned to see who had touched him.
The woman knew what had happened to her. She came shaking with fear and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story. Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain.”
It is a beautiful story. My friend, however, responded in a way that stopped me in my tracks. He said, “I feel like there is no garment for me to reach out and touch.” This is the language of both lament and breakdown. In the latter, though, the body is often in high fight/flight, and the rational mind is offline. It is so difficult in such a state to remember what is true, to remember where our hope comes from, and to cling to it. What can one do in such a state?
A Framework for Spiritual Warfare
There is a therapeutic approach called Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, which involves the exploration of how thoughts and beliefs drive emotional responses. I am not going to unpack it completely here, due to space limitations, but for more information please follow this link.
For our purposes, we are talking about using this or a similar framework to help what we know to be true about God, ourselves and the world drive our emotional responses, as opposed to what happens when “I think I am having a nervous breakdown,” where the emotions are running wild, the body is taking over the mind, and “the peace of God which surpasses human understanding” is hard to come by.For the record, grace abounds. Grace is something God gives to us, not something we manufacture through our own efforts. I feel it is important to stress this because it is easy to assume from what I am about to share here that I am advocating a thought-replacement technique at the expense of work that only God by his Spirit can accomplish.
In other words, this technique must not replace the fact that we need God for healing and change, just as much as the bleeding woman. She had tried everything, and none of it worked. Jesus was her last hope. I believe Jesus is also our first hope. I also know that for some strange reason we will probably never understand completely, Jesus told the disciples “it is better that I go,” because he would send a better Comforter.
That being said: we are told in numerous places to do things: to “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12), to “run the race,” to “boldly approach the throne of grace,” etc. We are also mysteriously told that there were towns that Jesus couldn’t do miracles “do to their lack of faith.” In other words, God is sovereign, but he also asks people to do things. REBT is something we can do, and I believe it fits nicely into a Biblical framework.
Renewing the Mind
As mentioned in Part 1, we start by noticing what is there. What is my mind telling me? Is it true? There may be truth to what we find there, but then it can be helpful to ask “is that always true?”
Another angle to consider: “Is that never false?” As mentioned in Part 1, the automatic negative thoughts that wreak havoc on our emotional states and our ability to recall what is true about God and humanity past-present-and future because of Jesus often come with a built-in-quality of being unquestionable. In other words, they are always true, never false, unchallengeable. This is where “the hope in things unseen” comes into play:
- We notice ourselves thinking things that seem true, but aren’t Biblical
- We question those thoughts by remembering that seeming true does not equate to being true
- We replace those thoughts with the truths of Scripture about God, humans, and existence as a whole.
Here is an example: “I am completely ruined!” I notice this thought, and I attempt to recall (either alone or with the help of a friend, pastor or counselor) what is really true about those in Christ. I identify a passage that is potentially an effective antidote to the identified thought, e.g. “I am a new creation. The old has gone, and the new has come.” I do battle with the sword of the Spirit.
This is hard work! It is important to ask for help both from God and from a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor. Sometimes the thought we have to work with is “nobody cares,” or “everyone is too busy.” Maybe it is helpful to ask another question of such thoughts: “Is this thought trying to tell me I am all alone?” That thought is always a lie.
We who are Christians are saved to a community of believers. That is always true, regardless of how isolated we may feel. Ephesians 2:19-20 states:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
There are other passages we could point to. It might be helpful to point out that the Greek word translated “you” in all the letters of Paul is not singular, but plural. We who are in Christ are saved to a collective “you.” The conclusion is that I am never alone, regardless of how I feel or because of what my mind is telling me.
If you are experiencing any of the struggles or symptoms mentioned in Parts 1 or 2 of this article, please reach out. I or one of the other counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling are here to walk with you, in unity.
“Caged”, Courtesy of Christopher Windus, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Light at the End”, Courtesy of Joshua Sortino, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Go Forth and Adventure” Courtesy of Bryan Minear, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Truth”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License