Guest post by John Carosiello
A few weeks ago, on my morning drive, I noticed that the co-host on the Christian radio station was conspicuously absent. After another song, the co-host who had been missing spoke. She said, “I’m sorry I was late. If I’m candid, it is because my anxiety disorder has been especially troublesome today, and I almost couldn’t leave my house. But I made it!”
I knew that I had to talk with her. Why? I also suffer from a mental illness. And, as a Pastor, I understand the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in the church.
So, at the next commercial break, I called the co-host. I told her that I am a pastor who suffers from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I wanted her to know that she is not alone. I shared the struggle I have each Sunday because open-spaces are an anxiety trigger for me. I shared the titles of a couple of books that have helped me through my struggles.
The co-host choked up as she thanked me for calling. She said that she felt foolish for having shared her condition with everyone and was concerned that there might be ramifications for her career. I thanked her honesty and vulnerability, and I told her that it is essential that Christians started talking about mental illness.
I was eleven years old when I suffered my first full-blown panic attack. I was at theater, and I fell out of my chair trembling in panic, dread, and confusion. That was just the first of many such attacks.
Growing up in the church, I assumed that my condition had to be spiritual. I sought prayer from pastors, church elders and family members. Yet, my conditioned remained. I wondered what was wrong with me? I had never heard of the terms “anxiety disorder” or “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”
Then, one night, after falling asleep while watching television, I awoke to an infomercial about anxiety disorders. As I listened, I wept! Here were these successful people on TV talking about their personal experiences with anxiety. It was like they were reading my journal. For the first time, since my first panic attack, I felt I was not alone.
There are clergy all over the world who suffer from mental illness. In silence and shame they wrestle with anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
Just a month ago, a pastor-friend called and asked me to pray for him. He is highly successful, leads a large church, and often appears to be larger than life. Yet, He was suffering from depression. This seemingly invincible leader was struggling with a depth of inner pain that seemed out of control.
I suggested he talk to his physician, but at first, he rejected the idea. But he finally conceded to talking to his doctor and being put on a medication. As of last week, he is doing much better!
Years from now, I believe that the idea that mental illness is a curse or a spiritual weakness will be scoffed at like someone suggesting heart disease, autism or paralysis or an infection is a spiritual weakness today.
Too many clergy suffer alone and in silence because they do not feel like they can talk about their mental health challenges. They fear being judged or even putting their job in jeopardy.
Well, I have news: my entire staff, elder board, and many of my church-members know about my anxiety and OCD. The only consequence has been that more hurting church members and their friends come to me seeking guidance on how to deal with their mental health challenges. Praise God! The thing that I thought might destroy my ministry has led to even greater ministry to those who are suffering.
If you are a clergy suffering from any form of mental illness, please do not suffer alone. Reach out to your physician or a mental health professional.
And I would love to be in touch with you to listen to you and pray for you! Feel free to email me: JohnC@citg.org
You are not alone! There are many out there just like you.