What A Week In A Psych Hospital Taught Me About God

Nina Brillhart

8 mins

If your mental health sometimes wreaks havoc on your life, you’re not alone.

Three months ago, I found myself overwhelmed by my poor mental health and decided to check into a psychiatric hospital, hoping this last resort would save me. Let me tell you; there have never been a longer eight days of my life.

The first patient I caught sight of was involuntarily speaking aloud her every thought, and the next was screaming profanity at the nurses. Moving away from the commotion and into the bedroom, I struck up a conversation with my roommate about Mother’s Day only to find out she had a child out of unsolicited incest with her brother twenty years ago.

Sadly, the stories didn’t end there. Another shared she had died ten times from heroin overdoses. Two others were returning to jail when discharged. A teenage boy had visible cigarette burns on his chest from his foster parents and thick red scars on his wrists.

Whoa. Shame kicked in as I felt pathetic for admitting myself here. In comparison, I had things really good, even if I was bipolar. I’ve had my fair share of affairs with the disorder, don’t get me wrong, but I thought by now I’d have things figured out.

Sunday rolled around, and for once, I had something to look forward to—there was a live streaming of a church service we could attend. When it was time to line up, no one moved except me. Instead, they all laughed that I wanted to go. They mocked, “What kind of God would bring you to this hellhole?”

There was no denying God felt invisible. I didn’t need them to remind me.

I was claiming to follow a God I was pretty sure had forgotten about me, or else He would’ve intervened with a solution before I found myself in a place like this. A place the world tells us only broken people go.

If these patients’ stories and situations were far more grave than mine but my faith couldn’t even do the trick for me, then who was I to ever tell anyone my God would save them?

I mean, really, how could a good God let it get this bad? For a moment, I wondered why I was a Christian at all.

Truthfully, their question was just an indirect way of telling me that God had disappeared on them too. Some of them had grown up with faith, but gradually lost it each time they were admitted into a place like this. All of us had experienced the death of hope and allowed the sum of our feelings to become our identity.

We were fearful of being overtaken by the shame, embarrassed at our inability to manage and mask our illnesses. To get away from that shame, it seemed like we only had two options—rebellion or Jesus. We either stop caring all together, or we find something powerful enough to set us free.

This might sound strange, but at that moment, an image of Jesus sitting in the shadow of the olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane came to mind. I remembered the story of the night Jesus was arrested before he was going to die, and that even He cried out for God to save him. In my head, I heard His words, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

I did some research and learned that the word, Gethsemane, means “oil press.” It’s where Jesus suffered mentally—where even He was pressed. Pressing of olives is what creates olive oil, which is often used in the Bible as a symbol of the presence and power of the Spirit of God.

Despite how cliche it can sound—could it be true that moments of suffering can be catalysts to bring us closer to God? That something about His presence in those times is exactly how and where he makes broken things new?

“It shall come to pass on that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.” Isaiah 10:27

Maybe if I traded in my belief that all difficulty should be avoided, I could gain true confidence that’s independent of my circumstances.

At what point did I buy into the Christian fairy tale that my life should be pain-free anyway? Even Jesus came to suffer and die.

When I’m honest, I know there’s a chance I’ll be fighting this illness for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I have to let it sideline me. As Paul explains in Romans 8:21, the world has been in “bondage to decay” ever since Adam and Eve chose to sin. Unfortunately, the world stopped being a perfect reflection of God’s goodness, which is why what we believe must dictate what we see. Otherwise, what we see will violate what we believe.

What I saw of myself and those patients were seemingly damaged goods, and it violated my belief that a good God would let people suffer like this.

What I believed was that Jesus was subjected to the grave before proving superiority over it. Defeat wasn’t the final destiny for Jesus, and as believers, it’s not ours either.

“But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.” Psalm 49:15

I needed to realize the potency of the power behind what Jesus accomplished for us and how it matters to me today. In that culture, the cross was a symbol of shame, but Jesus remade it a sign of hope.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.”

The Hebrew word for steadfast is samak, which means “to brace, uphold, support.” When our minds are fully braced, upheld, and supported by Jesus’ truth, we can shift our perspective. We get perfect peace from trusting Jesus is the expert in overcoming seemingly impossible circumstances.

Walking into the facility, I anticipated getting new medication, finding another therapist, and continuing to hide my diagnosis from the people in my life. Nobody was going to hear about this visit, and no one else would find out that I was bipolar. But what I experienced didn’t match my expectations at all.

It was now clear that my healing was not going to be found in denial or depreciation of myself. By living in insecurity, I was implying that God didn’t quite get the job done right when He made me. Instead, healing was going to come from shifting focus—from what I am to who Jesus is and what he says about me.

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m not going to say the healing process is easy. It takes time, prayer, support from family and friends, and adamancy in both study and application of what God says in the Bible. While there is no perfect way to get through the dark times, we can at least know that grace is never far, and we are not alone.

Turns out, that visit was never really my last resort. I had just convinced myself it was. In my shame and pride, I had turned my back on the one who waits for me with widespread arms, offering hope, and undying commitment, because I convinced myself that I was a lost cause.

But in that hospital, I found a name that was greater than everything. It’s greater than my bipolar, my fear, my shame. I realized that if I clung to it then I’d always find strength and security in the middle of my storms.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10

Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

  1. What strikes you most about this article? Why?

  2. What do you believe about God in your suffering—is he with you? Against you? Nowhere to be found? Why? Take a few minutes to share with God (out loud, on paper, wherever) how you feel. Ask Him to show up.

  3. Which of the verses in this article resonate with you most? Why that one?

  4. Write that verse somewhere you’ll see it every day. Memorize it even. Try to believe it so much that it defines your perspective more than your circumstances. Forward this article to a friend and let them know which one you chose so they can be in prayer with you and encourage you.

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Nina Brillhart
Meet the author

Nina Brillhart

Proud Cincinnatian. Young corporate professional. IPA enthusiast. Yoga junkie. Zealous abolitionist. Deep conversationalist.

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