“Why the **** can’t I stop shaking?” my friend sniffled, tears running down her cheeks and into a mass of unbrushed raven hair. “They’re messing with me, I’m tellin’ you.” She laughed and swept a strand of hair from her eyes, then resumed crying. “The voices are messin’ with me.”
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I knew exactly how she felt. My friend and I both have schizoaffective disorder – a mental illness where we see and hear things that others don’t – and we both can tremble convulsively during acute episodes, sometimes for up to 45 minutes. Medication and therapy are long term solutions, but there’s no cure for the disorder, and short episodes can be frightening.
“None of my coping skills are **** working!” She muttered as her body shook more violently. Then I realized that I had one resource my friend did not.
I tried to swallow my own panic at what I was about to do.
“I’m so sorry this is happening and – you can totally say no – but can I pray for you right now?” I held my breath. We weren’t supposed to upset an already agitated patient.
“Sure.” She didn’t take her eyes off the table in front of us. “I need all the help I can get.”
Please Lord, have mercy on us, I prayed silently. Then I laid my hand on my friend’s shoulder and prayed for God to show his power and love by healing her shaking, and to use the episode to show my friend he was with us and cared about her personally. She stopped shaking before I finished praying.
“Wow. It really worked,” she said after my “Amen.”
This weekend marks five years since I was discharged from the rehabilitation hospital after my original accident, and one month since my last inpatient hospitalization for schizoaffective disorder. I’ve been hospitalized three times in the past three months, in order to obtain the correct diagnosis and medication plan, for a total of twenty-seven days. Needless to say, this is not where I’d planned to be five years after my accident.
In some ways, being diagnosed with a mental illness feels like more of a failure than my seizure setbacks, although that’s not true. Schizoaffective disorder is often genetic; while I don’t have a notable family history of mental illness, doctors think mine is caused by my traumatic brain injury. But personal feelings aside, God has used this second round of hospitalizations to open my eyes to a group of unreached people who need the love of Jesus.
Praying for my friend wasn’t an isolated opportunity. I estimate that I’ve shared my faith with at least thirty people, this fall and winter. During my second hospital stay in November I heard a patient asking for a Bible, only to be told the facility didn’t have any. Thanks to my parents, we were able to donate Bibles to each of the units and even delivered them on Thanksgiving Day! Returning to the hospital a few days before Christmas took a heavy toll on me emotionally and spiritually, but it made me happy to see that the Bible on my unit already had plenty of wear and tear and was being read almost daily.
My personal Bible, followed by the ward’s Bible, was actually my easiest access point to sharing my faith with friends and new acquaintances. I happen to have a Bible with a pretty cover: People mistook it for a journal, and some would stay to read a passage after they learned their mistake. “I’d buy a Bible if it looked like yours!” one friend joked in November. In December I did give another friend my personal Bible during my last hospital stay.
The unit’s new Bible was also a wonderful access point. It was in high demand, both as an object of curiosity and as serious reading material; once word got out I was a Christian, people began asking me to recommend passages to read. The unit Bible was so popular, in fact, that I had to scramble for a chance to read it on my own in December.
My dad recently asked me why I thought the Bibles were so popular – and why people were so ready to listen to the good news about Jesus. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps God put me in the right place at the right time on three separate occasions. But if I had to guess, I’d say people in a mental health facility might hunger for the light and love of Jesus in a way that’s deeper and more vulnerable than someone who isn’t locked in a facility with no visitors – or even windows. I don’t have a perfect answer for Dad’s “why?” question but I know what I saw and experienced. I believe God has some future work for me to do with these dear, nearly-inaccessible people, and I pray that God gives me wisdom to learn how to serve their community as I look forward to the future:
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” ~ Romans 10:14