Mental Illness Has a Face

What I learned while visiting a mental health facility.
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Pretty soon, she and I were talking regularly. She helped me start a small group that met weekly to explore who Jesus is and what that means for us today. She and I started meeting one on one regularly too. Pretty soon she was texting me things she was noticing in the Bible, or questions she didn't want to forget before our next meeting.

In short, Paige was the committed, hungry college student that every campus minister hopes to find when they first step on campus. By the end of that fall semester, by the grace of God, she was different. She recognized that if Jesus is truly who the Bible says he is, then there's no choice for us to become anything other than a "sold-out, crazy person" for Christ. (This was the first but certainly not the last time I heard Paige talk about being a "crazy person.")

And it was beautiful to see how God was transforming Paige into that sold-out, crazy person. She was witnessing to friends. She bought a Bible to give to a friend back home. And she also decided she wanted to be baptized in the spring as a public expression of her faith.

When the spring semester started, Paige hardly resembled that girl who, just months before, hadn't understood why Jesus was relevant. And I was fortunate enough to be her mentor, advisor, confidante, and even her friend. As the weeks passed, I learned more and more about her past—about her distant and somewhat dysfunctional relationship with her parents, her destructive experiences with guys, her history with drugs and partying, the years she spent cutting, and her tendency to be ridiculously hard on herself.

Weeks after the start of the spring semester, Paige was still reeling from the devastating news that a relative had sexually abused her sister—in addition to all the other issues from her past that she was still trying to process. And she confided in me that her urge to cut herself was strong—that she had been resisting it, but it kept resurfacing. She said it felt like an ocean that kept assaulting her with wave after wave. We talked about it, prayed about it, talked more, prayed more, and I thought she had found some freedom from that temptation—that she was committed to letting God stand in front of her to hold the waves back.

But at midnight that night, after a stream of confusing and scary texts and a phone call from her best friend, Paige and this friend showed up at our house. As soon as she walked in our door—hidden in a hooded sweatshirt and hunched over—it was clear that all of Paige's fight and resolve were gone. She had cut herself (not severely enough to require medical attention) and yet the urge hadn't gone away. It had actually gotten stronger. And she was shaken, sobbing, and desperate.

I had no answers to offer. Her friend and I sat with her. We prayed. We talked. We watched a funny movie. They made grilled cheese sandwiches. Then we talked more. And then we prayed again. Sometime after 5 a.m., we all went to bed.

The next day, they both skipped classes. I canceled meetings. She talked to her counselor on the phone, but she didn't want to leave the safety of our house quite yet. In the course of just a few days, these two girls became little sisters to my wife and me. They ate meals with us, they crashed on our sectional sofa, and we stayed up late praying together every night. Paige's urges to hurt herself weren't going away, but she was resisting them. And we were all committed to keeping an eye on her and bathing her in persistent prayer. And through all of this, I kept assuring her that it would get easier. It had to, right? (But what did I know?)

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