” Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 4:6-7 CSB)
Heart pounding, palms sweating, blacking out. All experiences that I have had in dealing with PTSD. My first panic attack that I can remember happened back in 2013. I had just got out of the military and there was a lot of external stress going on in our life. I was married, we had one child, and I had no job. I was a Christian at the time, and so my thoughts were that “God” was calling me to preaching ministry full time. I had already been preaching for the past 11 years prior to that decision of getting out of the military. The military provided me ample amount of opportunities to preach. I was able to preach to Iraqis, Nigerians, Kenyans, British, Irish, Europeans, and of course a lot of Americans. That message that I was preaching was the Christian bible message. I was passionate about it, and I believed every word of it. There had been cracks in my faith over the years, but instead of searching those doubts out I could not bear to lose everything that I had around me if the answers I found led me away from something I held so dear. I remember one of the Iraqis that I had shared Jesus with testing my willingness to defend our base when I put a barrel to his chest when he chose to break the rules of our base, and after multiple warnings, continued to press forward in his own will. The day prior, we had lost three men, who gave the ultimate sacrifice while relaxing after a long day of protecting the homeland, when these cowards lobbed multiple mortar rounds into our compound. That day that I put the barrel of my M4 into that mans chest I remember the look of terror in his face; immediately I questioned whether I would be able to continue sharing Jesus with him after that exchange. The day that we had been attacked I had direct interaction with the man who was partly responsible for at least the coordination of those attacks. I was giving that man the benefit of the doubt, and he got away from me, even though my gut was telling me he was there to do harm. After that experience, I swore I would never let one of them get the best of me again. Over time that experience broke me down.
Four years later I sat outside the military, no longer in uniform, and after multiple opportunities for ministry being turned down because I had been divorced at one time, I was lost. I was beyond stressed about my entire situation. I could no longer understand what I was supposed to be doing, and I felt like my life was crumbling. I became withdrawn, I became isolated from the world. I did not want to leave the house, I did not want to even open the fucking blinds. My home church, which we had been attending since we had returned from the military, picked up on these changes. However, instead of reaching out, they chose to judge, and distance themselves from me. Instead of helping, they hurt. All I could think was that I was being punished for letting those motherfuckers get away with killing my brothers in arms. I could have prevented those attacks, and I screwed up. No one else thought that, but I did, and I could not get that thought out of my head. Do you know what I was doing during this time? Praying, reading my bible, screaming out to god to get these demons out of my head. I wanted so badly to stop the nightmares, the panic attacks, the anxiety, but it was not stopping. I was living in hell. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened, and I wanted nothing more than to be able to continue on with life as normal. There was nothing more that I wanted then to be able to understand, to get through, to live again. Instead I continued to feel crushed, defeated, lost. The only thing that I knew how to do was preach, and that was even being taken away from me because I was divorced. It was at this time that I started to break away from fundamentalist viewpoints, and realized that the denomination that I had been brought up in was maybe not lined up with my views (we seem to often do this when our life does not line up with our circles beliefs, we change our beliefs).
Over the course of the next three years I went through some of my lowest points of my entire life, and god was nowhere. I continued to read, to pray, to try and understand. We went to church, we sang songs, I even played Christian songs on my guitar, and cried my heart out in song to god. Nine times out of ten the message that I got from Christians and the bible was that I was not trusting in god. That these were demons in my head, and I needed to pray harder, read the bible more, and plead to god. God was seemingly the answer to every pain I had experienced, yet he was not answering my pleas. I went through counseling, both biblical counseling, and secular counseling. During this time my faith was being rocked even more. Then in January of 2017 I would say I was more on the side of unbelief then belief in god. I would not have considered myself an atheist, but I was not a strong Christian. As I started to really take in all of the secular counseling, and reading on the subject of anxiety, depression, and PTSD I started to break free from the chains. The more I let go of god, the more freedom I felt. The further away from god I got the better my anxieties were. Then when I declared, and finally said the phrase, “I do not believe in god”, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulder. Three years of pain, and suffering, and letting go of god truly began a process for me of letting go of my anxieties.
The National Institute of Mental health states that “one in five Americans experience chronic stress”. This results in a litany of other problems such as anxiety, hypertension, gastrointestinal problems, and of course depression, along with a lot of other issues. This is not a problem that is specific to Christians, and so I am not trying to suggest that believing in god is why I had anxiety. I am simply explaining that in the circle that I was in, the answer was always god to every problem and fear you felt. I genuinely believe that through my experience I was able to determine that god was not the answer for my anxieties. The reason that people who are strong Christians are able to claim that god helped them through their anxieties, I believe rest in the persons mind, and potential medical intervention. A lot of Christians who claim god as the reason for their freedom from their anxieties are on medication. I realize that the way that most Christians connect those dots is suggesting that it is god that gave the tools to the pharmaceutical companies to create the medications that lead to helping us through these things. I just hope that Christians realize that this is not based on scripture. God, and god alone should be the source of our peace, and scripture was of course written long before a time of medications for mental illnesses. As a matter of fact there are even Christians who suggest that it is medication that is from the “devil” and that prayer is the only answer to our anxieties (demons). This is not only wrong, but it is dangerous. You see, god was never going to be able to rescue me from my demons, only I was. Our demons, just like our gods, are created in our minds. Mind over matter is certainly something that rings true in the realm of mental illness. Then their are instances where there are actual biological issues that can, and will only be treated with medication. Especially in instances like bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Not everyone will be able to just get over it. Some people will need medication no matter what we think. It is critical that we realize as a society that their are legitimate secular approaches to these issues, and let go of the idea that god is going to rescue us out of these illnesses. Another thought to consider is that in several studies, meditation (not religious based) was extremely helpful to individuals with severe anxieties. Prayer is a form of meditation, and so there is certainly benefits to putting yourself into a meditative state. That is what is helpful, meditation, not specifically the prayer aspect of it.
You can break free from anxieties, and depression. I strongly encourage secular therapy, and medication, if needed. This is what will help you get through these “demons”. Those two things, and other people. One of the most helpful things for me was getting outside of my house, no matter how bad I did not want to, and go talk to real people. Facebook friends are not going to get you through this. Go meet some people, go have real face to face conversations with actual people. You can make it through this, do not give up, do not give in. If I can do it without god, so can you. Reach out for help, but reach out for help in things that are real.
The godless Pastor,
Billy J. Crocker
National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml