Last month was Men’s Health Month. Statistically, it is estimated that 1 in 10 men struggle with mental illness. However, men’s diagnoses often go undiagnosed, as men are more likely to ignore or downplay their emotional wellbeing, rather than seek counsel and acceptance. The stigma against expressing their deepest feelings is so strong that men choose to suffer silently, instead of being encouraged to find the strength to live fully. This post is written by a dear friend, Andrew Lonon, who agreed to share his story.
About five years ago, life broke me. I had been through hardship before, but this was different — with this situation, there was no strength left to fight. The central problem? My mind was sick.
Literally days before I broke, a friend gave me a book, The Anatomy of the Soul, by Dr. Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist. Little did I know that this book would become my survival guide for the hardest time of my life.
The focus of the book was simple: in order to live a mentally healthy life, my mind cannot live alone — it must be deeply and intimately integrated with my heart. As soon as I began reading it I knew this message was something I needed badly.
I had struggled since I was in middle school with social anxiety, obsessions, and controlling tendencies. While no counselor or psychiatrist ever diagnosed me with a labeled mental illness, I was far from healthy. I lived in my own head, and it kept me from seeing myself clearly, it ruined my relationships, and it paralyzed me with fear.
The thing is, for many years, my mind was strong enough to go it alone. I have always been good with my mind, both academically and at life, and so I could often reason my problems away. When people caused problems for me, I had high moral standards I could judge them by. When I failed, I was good at making excuses for my failures.
When life broke me, it showed me how inadequate my mind was by itself. I desperately, desperately, needed to get in touch with my heart.
So, with the guidance of Dr. Thompson’s book, I set out on the long, grueling process of getting to know my heart. I filled multiple journals with observations about my feelings and experiences. I stripped my life of unnecessary work and filled my life with beauty wherever I could find it. I refused to judge anything or anyone. I practiced “seeing” God with his arms around me, or hearing him speak loving words to me. I went on long drives and walks just to let my mind vent and rid itself of all its waste. I ate lots of food and gained weight — as much as I hated it, I knew it was a necessary sacrifice.
It took years to see significant progress. But little by little, when my mind would try to return to its old habits, I would start to feel a check in my heart.
“Don’t be too hard on that person, they are hurting too.” “You’re obsessing, why don’t you find someone to talk with about this.” “You are beautiful and worthy of love, Andrew.” “Don’t worry about this, just trust God.”
For the first time in my life, my mind and my heart were starting to talk to each other and listen to each other. Instead of the false pride-strength I had before, I was beginning to develop true love-strength, both for myself and for other people. And most of all, my mind was slowly healing.
The journey goes on. Many of the things I started doing five years ago I still have to do to fight back the depression or anxiety, but the fight slowly gets easier. And many of the practices I adopted are things I never want to stop doing — like bringing beauty into my life and refusing to let work become consuming.
To anyone reading this, especially the men, no matter how long the fight looks like it will be, keep fighting, and look to even the tiniest victories for encouragement. It is all worth it.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.