Mental illness doesn’t carry the same stigma it once did. Today I see people posting all the time on social media about their anxiety or PTSD. Some TikTok content makers recently received backlash for pretending to have a mental illness just for the “likes.” Suffering is a normal part of living in this broken world in these broken vessels. Those who truly have a mental illness though would love nothing better than to be rid of it. They often find themselves overwhelmed by their broken minds that lie to them about reality and distort their thinking. I know this because I’ve been there. Author Alan Noble has as well.
In his latest book, Alan writes about living well despite daily suffering in “On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living.” He wrote for Christians suffering mental illness as someone who intimately understands anxiety and depression.
People living with mental illnesses don’t readily rise from their beds in the morning. They don’t want to face another day living with dread of having panic attacks with their side-kicks guilt and shame, he said, likening depression to “falling into the same hole day after day. I’d agree with him.
Alan witnessed people in his life who lived in poverty and/or lived with addiction. Some had been abandoned or neglected. Others imprisoned. Others raped or molested. And many passed their afflictions onto the next generation, as if it were part of their DNA.
For the most part, Alan thought maybe these people chose paths that led to their suffering. He believed most people live happy, comfortable, safe, and productive lives. He thought he could just “put in the work” and honor God with his life and he’d escape that level of suffering.
Now, he said he believes people with acute suffering are the norm, not the exception. He thought his earlier assessment made him more like Job’s friends in scripture who blamed Job for all the tragedies he suffered.
But he wouldn’t be the only one who thinks that people bring mental illness on themselves. He showed how our society tries to keep this “unspoken conspiracy” in place. We’re expected to ignore the tragedies and traumas in life. If we just make the right choices, we will have a successful, happy, and comfortable life.
Alan said Americans tend to think every problem has a solution after all. Think of all the programs, medications, and therapies. We have seen enough on social media about various apps and words of wisdom from self-appointed life coaches. With all the available research and technology, how could I not find a cure? I must not have good self-discipline, or I am not doing a proper self-care routine. Sound familiar?
These well-meaning people offer technique-based advice and just add to the burden, heaping shame onto people who are already suffering enough in their minds. More than likely, those with mental illnesses have tried many methods and techniques. They haven’t found a cure because it is not a physical illness or infection. Treating depression and anxiety is not like treating diabetes or high blood pressure. Mental illness involves the heart and the soul, he said, and no test exists that will provide doctors with data about things like anxiety levels in our blood.
Psychology and psychiatry can only do so much for the same reason. This is a complicated medical problem. When it comes to medications like antidepressants, he said, doctors don’t even know how and why they work, just that they are useful, work for some people, and the alternative is worse. (Alan does touch on suicide, not from a place of judgment, but I did want to warn you if that might be a trigger.) The people in our lives can become frustrated as the days, sometimes months and years go by and we’re still in the hole. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders rarely have clear answers…but we want them, of course.
Alan asked: Why put up with suffering? Why prolong the pain of this life when death is inevitable? When life is no longer pleasurable, and suffering is inevitable, what keeps us living?
Ok, yes. I see it. The book is a downer for my first review of 2023, but I really did like Alan’s forthrightness about these hard topics, and I’ll explain.
Alan talked often about “doing the next thing” in faith throughout this book. And faith is the key. He doesn’t have an introduction yet, but I am hoping he touches on that. How else do people manage life with depression and anxiety if they don’t have Jesus by their side? This same Jesus is the One who walked among us and suffered in human form. When you repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior, you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who never leaves you. He hears your groans and prays for you when you have no words. God the Father protects and shelters you when you are in desert places. You will find this throughout scripture.
When we rise from our beds, our actions speak volumes about “the goodness of God, His love for us, and the goodness of His creation.” We do the work God has for us each day and live for Him. We alone make the choice. Living your life for God is your spiritual act of worship. Rising from your bed every morning…or afternoon…defies your flesh that wants to hold you to the mattress. “Each choice to do the next thing is an act of worship,” Alan said. And it can be as simple as making your bed, cooking meals, and taking care of your pets. They are acts of faith.
Let me share a few other takeaways for me reading this book: 1. Our lives are a gift from a good and loving God who created us because He loves us. He created us for His glory and our good. 2. We are not here on Earth for ourselves. Others depend on us. We have a responsibility to them to keep getting out of bed. Choosing to act through the power of the Holy Spirit goes against our flesh, Alan said. We die to self and honor God when we make the choice to rise from our beds amid pain and suffering. And here’s the best part: Jesus’ work on the cross and His resurrection are why I have hope for the future and know this is not all there is to life.
I think that last part resonated with me the most. If I’m not going to rise from my bed for me, I can at least rise from my bed for other people who may directly or indirectly depend on me that day. People are watching to see how I hold up in the face of extreme hardship and pain, Alan said. I knew my life is not my own because I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Alan said my suffering also is not mine. God wastes nothing. He uses everything to grow me up to look more like His Son Jesus. In moments of despair, I can still acknowledge it is good I exist. God’s opinion is all that counts. When my mind is tormented, I can turn to the Holy Spirit for help, as well as comfort. Some day I will be made whole again, even if it is not this side of eternity.
Most importantly, I need to share these burdens with medical professional, friends and family, and people I trust within the body of Christ. I need to do this before life becomes too overwhelming and I’m not in a good place mentally. They will reap the blessings, Alan said, so I should not be afraid to turn to them for help and support.
I recommend this book to those who are suffering from anxiety and depression and for those who know someone with mental illness. He writes from a place of knowledge about the tragedy of having a broken heart and mind. He reminded me of God’s promises. He showed me life is worth living because God has work for me to do for my good and His glory. I will remember that my life is a witness and my life “counts for something.” I am better equipped to help those who likewise suffer from mental afflictions having walked through those dark days.
Thank you to Netgalley and InterVarsity Press for the opportunity to read this advance copy and review this book that releases on April 18, 2023. You can preorder Alan’s book here and here. Other works by him are “You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World,” and “Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.”