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The War in Our Minds

Fighting for victory over mental illness.

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom. 8:6

The greatest battle on earth is the one that takes place between our ears. The battle of the mind. It started when I began to squint my eyes for the camera. I wanted to create laughter lines in a laughter-less face.Then I began sucking in my cheeks. I liked how it made me look thinner, model-like.

I was nine years old.  

The next four years were a blur. Anorexia starved both my body and my mind, but I’ll always remember the darkness. Days blurred by counting calories and streaming tears. Days filled with frowns, fierce yells and fists pounding against my father’s chest.

I craved what I didn’t have: Attention. Affirmation. Choice. My mum had never been told, “I love you” growing up and so didn’t know how to encourage us. My dad also found it hard to pay compliments and was often distracted or absent. While both loved me, I grew up not feeling loved; not knowing what it meant to be beautiful, cherished, seen or heard. As a result, I wanted nothing else. 

It’s a scary place to be in, this place where you have no one, so you have to become bigger than life itself in order to carry yourself through the pain. A nine-year-old isn’t very big. And all I wanted was to be small. Because the world told me that thin was beautiful.

I didn’t know about anorexia nervosa. 

I just knew that this control over food was a gateway to my inner self, the independent spirit I’d been forced to silence. And I began to enjoy those three tiny parts of my day–breakfast, lunch and supper–in which I could prove I was an individual.

At night, however, I dreamt of food. Mum would find me hunting for imaginary chocolates in my bed. I wanted her to hug me and make the fear go away, but was worried that if she did, my guard would be let down and I’d eat real chocolates. So I stopped hugging her for two years.

My legs were getting thin, and that was what mattered, but I dreamt about Mum’s arms and woke up hugging myself.

Eventually I slipped from a state of not being hungry to a state of choosing to be hungry. I liked how my pants sagged, my shirt became loose, my face slim, and my eyes, big. And at some point, my mind was altered. I became a different person, intent on being skinny no matter the cost.

WHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS?
All of us, at some point, fight a battle in the space of our minds. Some of us need to fight harder and more frequently than others. Mental illness is when the negative, hurtful and evil thoughts consistently overpower the good ones.

The tailspin can be caused by a traumatic incident in childhood; similar to the snake slithering into the Garden of Eden, someone enters the garden of our childhood and steals our innocence in some way – someone who was supposed to be trustworthy, safe and loving. Other times serious changes in our mental health can be triggered by grief or pain later in life. 

Suddenly everything we understood to be true about the world is shaken and we begin to doubt everything we’ve based our life upon.

Specifically, we come to question:

1. Who we are

2. What we are fighting against

3. Why the world is as it is, and,

4. How to have soundness of mind

HOW DO WE FIGHT MENTAL ILLNESS?
In order for us to combat mental illness, we need to re-learn these very things:

1. Who we are – We are beloved children of God who are part of the Family of God (the Church). As intricately designed people with specific fingerprints, we were designed before the world even began. Our Father knows the very hairs on our heads and every thought before we think it. He has a specific plan for us to accomplish and has already provided everything we will need in order to accomplish that purpose and to bring God glory. 

2. What we are fighting against – God’s enemy, Satan, who desires to steal, kill and destroy God’s beloved children, an angel who was cast out of heaven together with angels that followed him. He now has a limited amount of time with which to try to destroy God’s Family, and he accomplishes this through turning us on ourselves and on each other. If we are wrapped up in our own heads, paralyzed by pain and fear, we can’t affect change in the world.

3. Why the world is as it is – Satan is the prince of this world and his desire is to make every one of us believe that he/she is not loved nor has any greater purpose than living and dying. He hopes to render God’s church ineffective and thus to remove all hope from the world.

4. How to have soundness of mind – We need to always train our minds to focus on things above, rather than on earthly things and to think of others, not ourselves. This does not come naturally, so as Christians, I have some practical tips that have helped me to win the daily battle:

     1. Limit screen time, and be choosy with which accounts you follow on social media. 

     2. Pray without ceasing to focus your mind on God and to ask for God’s strength and wisdom.

     3. Worship, particularly with your church community. 

     4. Read your Bible and memorize scripture that can help in times of distress.

     5. Practise gratitude.

     6. Keep positive, supportive friends.

    7. Spend time in nature.

     8. Seek help – tell your doctor, a close friend or family member, or your pastor that you’re struggling. 

     9. Remember that medication can be part of your healing journey. 

Friends, mental illness is not the victor. As Christians, we have the victory – we have the very mind of Christ himself (1 Cor. 2:16). Romans 12 reminds us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we fix our eyes upon God, His thoughts will become our own and the war on our thoughts will ultimately be won.

After nearly dying from anorexia at the age of 13, the love of my Heavenly Father reached into my heart and gave me the power to both recognize and reject the enemy’s thoughts. 

Each day I depend on my Father’s love to transform my mind. And each day he gives me victory. 

  • Emily Wierenga is a wife and mother who is passionate about the church and lives in northern Alberta. She is the author of the memoirs Atlas Girl and Making it Home (Baker Books), and the founder of the non profit The Lulu Tree. To learn more, please visit www.thelulutree.com.

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