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Anxiety Depression Mental Health

Learning to See Your Diagnosis as a Gift

After much hard work, I am learning to embrace my diagnosis as a gift; but that wasn’t always the case.

“God, grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change…

Courage to change the things I can,

And Wisdom to know the difference.”

—Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

I used to live in a have-it-together, keep-it-together illusion. Pre-suicide attempt, I was a performance-based Christian, masking my trauma, anxiety, and deep sadness with forced laughs and fake smiles. From childhood, I learned the song and dance of religion: when to stand, sit, or kneel, and what cherry-picked Scriptures will get stupid people to leave you the hell alone.

When the doctor entered my hospital room during my first few days on the psych ward, giving me an official diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety, PTSD, and Depression, I had a choice: get angry and keep trying to avoid the truth, or accept that my brain is not wired quite like everyone else’s, and embrace my new reality in healthy and honest ways.

I think Jonah must have felt the same way, as he prayed from the belly of the whale. And what did he pray? The most simple, and maybe the most profound prayer ever recorded: “From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’” (Jonah 2:2).

What would have happened if Jonah refused to accept his circumstances? What if he just tried to “manifest” himself right out of that whale’s belly? What if he tried to pretend that instead of the digestive juices swirling around him, he was ringing for room service at the Waldorf? Think it would have worked? 

Jonah had to first accept and admit where he actually was, then ask for support. Once Jonah was willing to admit his limits—where he ended—he found where the mystery of God began. Slow miracles begin with acceptance.

After much hard work, I am learning to embrace my diagnosis as a gift; but that wasn’t always the case. And you have permission to take as long as you need with your own. It’s perfectly fine to feel whatever emotions come up for you in the midst of new and sometimes uncomfortable information about yourself. God isn’t demanding that you always be happy.

You don’t have to celebrate an unwelcome diagnosis; you just have to accept it. And while you have to accept it, you don’t have to always agree with it. Maybe you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis, or one of high blood pressure, but you don’t agree with it, so you take chemo or cut down on your salt. 

Accepting it means coming to terms with what you’re experiencing in the moment, but it doesn’t mean your diagnosis has to become your identity. 

Sure, I wanted to manifest myself out of the psych ward. I kept looking out my window for Super Jesus to show up, cape flapping in the wind. But for me, slow miracles came instead. They came as therapy; they came as medications; they came in the touch and presence of people who cared deeply about me. A diagnosis is a helpful tool to understand what helps you, and what doesn’t. 

I have been to hell and back. It smells like rotting fish. It’s unstable, dark, and cold. And I am convinced that accepting where you are, while simultaneously reaching out for help—to God, trusted friends, professionals (or some combination of the three)—is the only way through it.

Reflection questions:

  1. How can learning more about yourself help you grow?
  2. What diagnosis are you facing? What limitation or reality are you struggling to accept?

Video: Suicide and Church

By Steve Austin

Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.