Even as a kid in the 70’s, I can remember having problems staying focused on a task, as my mind would race from thought to thought. My grades were poor. I recall walking to school and counting how many lamp posts, sidewalk slabs, cars, anything. I would count how many cars passed by (let’s say 8) as I walked between 2 lamp posts, and then I would have to count the same number of cars before I reached the next lamp post.
This would involve waiting for a car sometimes to achieve my target number or sprint to the next lamp post if too many cars were coming. As a kid I had no idea why I would do these things, but in school all I recall hearing was, “you have to be more focused”. I had no idea back then that this was Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD).
I can remember all through my school years, whenever I would hear my name called….Jimmy, whether it was to read aloud or to go to the chalkboard, in an instant I found my heart racing, nauseous, shaking, and was kicked out of class many times for not being able to participate. Punished for what I now know as a Panic attack.
In 1979 my older brother led me to the Lord Jesus and I was saved. I attended a denominational church in Alberta which had 150 or so attending. It might as well have been a million, as I felt confined and couldn’t wait to escape to the outside after the service. This is part of my Social Anxiety Disorder.
I stayed there for a couple of years, but no one (that I recall ) expressed the importance of being rooted in God’s Word and the youth group paralleled that of a social club. My attendance declined and then I stopped going altogether.
Learning to hide behind the mask
30 years slipped by, and I had fallen out of fellowship with the Lord. I was married, raised 2 boys, but was very empty inside. We did a good job of raising the boys by worldly standards…..BUT not God’s. During those 30 years I had learned to hide behind a “Mask“.
I had learned to camouflage these disorders by being very selective when I would go out, or have an excuse planned for an early exit before even arriving at any given event. I missed a lot of my kids’ soccer games because I feared being confronted by someone wanting to strike up a conversation. So the games that I did attend, I watched from my vehicle.
Surrendering to the Lord
I had reached a point in December 2012, the kids no longer at home, that I couldn’t take the empty feeling inside, a void that only the Lord Jesus could fill. So sitting on my couch in the basement I asked the Lord to take control of my life again, and there was an immediate weight lifted. My wife saw me crying and asked what was wrong….I said, “Nothing now”.
Two weeks later my wife surrendered her heart to the Lord. We now needed somewhere to attend and the Lord answered our prayer. I called my Uncle who is in fellowship at Scottlea Gospel Chapel and he lovingly suggested a little chapel in Tavistock close to my home.
A new experience
This was my first time experiencing “the breaking of bread”, so seeing different brothers get up and share a passage of Scripture or a hymn, or pray, was all very new to me. I also realized that even though the joy of my salvation had been restored (praise the Lord !!), my anxiety and panic disorders had not gone away.
I attended Tavistock Bible Chapel for 6 months, occasionally going to Tillsonburg Bible Chapel, which is where I’m in fellowship now. As it turned out, an elder from the Tillsonburg chapel lives just a few blocks from me, and he and his wife discipled my wife and I for the first year. Nothing happens by chance when you’re in the Shepherd’s care !
Sitting in silence
But my mental illness did not go away, and I felt tremendous pressure building as time went on. I felt like I wasn’t progressing because in my mind I wasn’t participating enough, and so from week to week at the remembrance service I would have a hymn picked or a few relevant verses to share, but due to my racing thoughts and heart, time would often pass and I would sit silently.
Eventually I would read an occasional hymn, but I would find myself very drained and physically not well. For 2 years I had thoughts such as, “What is wrong with me? Why is this so hard? I shouldn’t feel like this. I’m studying His word, in prayer often, in fellowship.” Guilt and shame were sneaking in, and I was feeling as though I was letting the Lord down as well as my fellow believers.
Staying behind the mask
But I felt the need to keep these things hidden, as I had fear and anxiety of being thought less of, or hearing the words, “You need to pray more”, “Search the Word”, and so on. But those thoughts were very presumptuous (due to my OCD, which at times gives me little control over my racing thoughts). The very thought of taking off my Mask which hid my mental health issues and making myself vulnerable was an instant panic attack !
I miss some Sunday meetings and midweek prayer meetings. This is not for a lack of desire to be there or because of a little “nervousness”. This is social anxiety disorder ! I had learned over many years to hide behind the mask. I thought I was very good at this and that nobody knew about the deep pain, emotional baggage and scars that had accumulated since childhood.
I felt like I was alone! Christians shouldn’t feel this way! Is it wrong to ask for help? The Lord was about to answer that question in a rapid sequence of events about to unfold. Tomorrow I will share how the Lord has worked in my life and started healing me from the inside out.