What I Want You to Know About Mental Illness, Social Media and Community

{The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}

Sitting on the old sturdy oak swing, in my pajamas and slippers, coffee in hand, I open up Spurgeon's Morning & Evening, because I cannot find An Altar in the World, and I turn to January 12th, and pick up where I left off, though it is March 8th. I am behind and it doesn't bother me at all, because I am gentle with myself, because God is gentle with me. But this is something that has taken almost thirty-five battle-worn years to learn.

I don't do structured readings, dates, and routines, because it does nothing for my soul, and because it does nothing for the creative instinct and the God-given need to bear forth art. I am created in His image. And it's a good thing I know this, and let the Spirit lead me in a very individual way, because I read January 12th's evening devotion, in that non-conformist way of mine, the morning after the worst anxiety attack I've ever had. And that attack was brought on by social media.

Lying on the couch, chest heavy, I felt as though I couldn't breathe. So much pain, locked in tight around heart and lungs. The pain began to travel down my arms and back up again, all over. I felt the oddest sensation of nausea and that I may pass out all at once. I didn't know what was happening. I was afraid.

Cascading tears began to fall down my face as I gasped for air, and looked at him, a foreign stare in my huge eyes, like a panicky deer staring death in the face. I can't breathe-- I said it over and over and then the anxiety took my voice too and I could do was let gut-wrenching sobs escape as he held me, telling me everything would be alright. He whispered, Shhh.... and I sobbed into his neck, stroking the back of his head, clutching onto him for safety.

On that next March morning, the morning after the attack, this is what I read:

We should not court publicity for our virtue or fame for our zeal; but, at the same time, it is a sin to be always seeking to hide that which God has bestowed on us for the good of others. A Christian is not to be a village in a valley, but a "city that is set on a hill" (Matt. 5:14). He or she is not to be a candle "under a bushel" (v. 15), but a candle in a candlestick, giving light to all. Retirement may be lovely in its season, and to hide oneself is no doubt modest, but the hiding of Christ in us can never be justified, and the keeping back of truth that is precious to ourselves is a sin against others and an offense against God. If you are of a nervous temperament and a retiring disposition, take care that you do not indulge this trembling propensity too much, lest you should be useless to the church. Seek, in the name of Him who was not ashamed of you, to do what you can to tell others what Christ has told you. If you cannot speak with trumpet tongue, use the still small voice. If the pulpit cannot be your tribune, if the press may not carry on its wings your words, yet say with Peter and John, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee" (Acts 3:6).

Talk to the Samaritan woman by Sychar's well, if you cannot preach a sermon on the mountain. Utter the praises of Jesus in a small group, if not among the whole congregation; in the field, if not at a busy intersection; in the midst of your own household, if you cannot speak of Him in the midst of the great family of humankind. From the hidden springs within, let sweet rivulets of testimony flow forth, giving drink to every passerby. Do not hide your talent. Trade with it, and you will bring in good interest to your Lord and Master. To speak for God will be refreshing to ourselves, cheering to saints, useful to sinners, and honoring to the Savior. Lord, unloose all your children's tongues. --Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening

Many times, I want to just go jump under the covers on my bed and hide for days, maybe for forever. As this excerpt mentions, I do sometimes want or need the approval of others, but to be honest? I do not want that approval in the spotlight-- because physically, I cannot handle it. I'll fall apart, my chest will seize, I won't be able to string two single thoughts together, or wash one load of laundry--I'll be no good to anyone. This is why when I read this, it was like a breath of fresh air.

I can't explain to you exactly why it is this way for me. I am introverted, which leads me to be drained extremely easily, and the diagnosis I received from the doctor, which professionals categorize as mental illness--it does make some things hard--things that are probably easy on a daily basis for others. But I confess, at times, I get rather confused about my limitations and I run into walls over and over, and ask why. It causes me to wonder what Paul's thorn was.

And, at times, when I'm confused, and ask why, especially when I feel ashamed of the way God made me, it comforts me to know there are others speaking out, others not afraid to say they dealt with mental illness in some capacity, and that God is saving them every single day. They're not afraid to say it out loud, because they want others to know they don't have to hide anymore. They don't want others to be in silent pain like they were.

I had been deeply steeped in helping edit an e-book, the first ever to contain my story. I was thrilled and dug in, knowing at the same time I needed to pace myself. In the same week, I also {finally, after months of haggling over it} bravely stepped out, clicked that tiny message button, and asked others to be apart of some passions God's placed inside of me--things I can't stop thinking about and He won't let me leave alone.

And, I extended arms to a couple of friends, women who are brave, and brilliant, innovative, and spur us all on toward humility and creativity in Him--women who have amazing visions to see other women healed of fear--women whom I want to champion. And these friends just happen to be authoring and birthing books. I felt it's only right, to reach out, hold their hand, cheer them on, join their team, pom-poms in hand. So I have.

I also reached out to other friends, shaking in my cowgirl boots, and asked for some help on a project at a site I am a contributing writer for. I thought about hitting delete so many times before pressing enter. What if they felt bombarded or pressured? What if they felt used? What if I destroy our newly-birthed friendship by asking too much? {And I have experienced this in the blogging world--I've seen words floating around here and there, in which "bigger bloggers" said they worried people would come alongside them just because of their platform--this disturbed me profoundly. Because I know it's wrong for us to say these things about one another, and because it brews paranoia and envy and pride. They are not the beneficial words for building others up that Paul spoke of}. I gathered courage and pressed enter anyway, not even sure I was doing the right thing.

And though I bravely try to continue to reach out, sometimes afraid, half wanting to hide, half knowing I just need community and it's a God-given desire-- these endeavors in community look different for me than they might for others. My pom-poms remain on the shelf, and I just stare at them, gathering dust. I wonder what's wrong with me--why can't I join in, and let excitement and joy be evident, that I may encourage others as I desire to do?

I just can't bring myself to join the big crowd, to be exposed. My name pops up in a social media forum, and suddenly I'm on a stage, nine years old, lights glaring in my face, and the audience is laughing and whispering about me.

This lends to shame, and I am tempted to just lay down and be a victim, to run for cover, maybe to a cave like Elijah did. I am sorely afraid, and embarrassed of the cause of these unrealistic reactions--Social Anxiety Disorder.

That He doesn't require I do community in a way I can't physically handle? That he doesn't require me to be in a box, and to slap myself with a Christian label "Minister"? --is a relief of the purest long exhale. No, He did not set me free so that I could become a slave again to a heavy yoke. He set me free so that I could take on His burden, which is light and full of grace and beauty and freedom. What a beautiful mystery.

I am so grateful that He made me just to be who I am, individually worshiping Him and being a light in a way that is healthy and brings satisfaction to my soul. And I know this in my marrow--it's the transfusion I need to survive sickness and sin and melancholy-- that when I am happy and soul-fed and satisfied, He is smiling and His glory is evident in the earth, radiating. For He is a God of wild love and peace and joy and gifts of the Divine, not of hellish chains.

He knows what those chains look like for me, and for you. They are as individual as the unique DNA that lies within the core of each of our beings. And God? He is all about shirking off those chains.

He is a Wild Man of Freedom. And it's a good thing I know this-- because Satan slithers back and recoils at this knowledge.

For those of us who aren't able to be in the center of the crowd, wave pom-poms, post lots of pictures, or even encouragements, because the over-stimulation of everyone seeing our words becomes too much until it wraps tight around our neck--

for those of us, I believe God wants us to know-- it is so very okay to be a light in your own quiet way--in a field, talking with the children about why fire does what it does because an intelligent Creator designed it; at an intersection where you give a smile and perhaps a bottle of water or a couple rolled up bills to the man with the sign; in phone calls, hand-written letters, or cards; and perhaps even on your blog where you faithfully write those words every week, because some silent anonymous person dropped you a note and told you how much your words meant, and if for no other reason than that, you are motivated in your faithfulness to quietly bear the fruit of your art unto the world.

In our quiet encouraging of one another, and boosting one another in love, in the gentle sway and swell of community, here we find a somber, enduring light, one that keeps flickering and won't be snuffed out. It is in the largeness of this remote flickering, as we all gather together, through the gentleness of love, that the world will see a glorious light breaking forth through darkness.

linking with friends, MichelleHolley, Emily, Jennifer and Outside the City Gate
{**Have you seen Kelli Woodford's series: Brave Words? 
                 It'sback again! This is going to be delicious. Please stop over there 
                                      today and give her trembling, brave heart some loveClick here.}

**This here is a series on writing--Let's all gather around the table in the comments and discuss! And I hope you'll be back next week, for more delving into this. At the end of the series, Kelli Woodford and I are hosting a link-up here for you to share your own stories of your writing and blogging journey. Kelli and I will choose one *amazing* story from the link-up to feature on both of our blogs sometime around the end of March. (nailed-down dates to come). So, what are the issues we face and deal with as writers? Please keep this theme in mind, and think of how you'd like to share your own story or journey of blogging/writing with us!

**{Requirements for link-up: Please no maligning/no mention in a negative manner of other blogs/authors/writers/brothers & sisters in Christ. Hurt does happen in community, and if we write about that, one option is to change the name/situation/dates, so that the people involved remain anonymous and are protected. "Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." Proverbs 17:9}

--Other posts in this series below 

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table --Nacole Simmons

A Hand In Your Own -- a guest post from Kelli Woodford

A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth --a guest post from Michelle DeRusha   

Rooted In A Tangible Grace -- Kelli Woodford   

On Prostitution: Cheap Grace and One Word: Enough --Nacole Simmons

In The End, Three Things Remain --a guest post from Holly Grantham


  1. Nacole...thanks for sharing that quote...I love...love it. And more than this...I love hearing you here...I love the healing I see...the blooming of a delicate flower...opening wider and wider to the Son. bloom on sweet sister!!!

  2. "...for those of us, I believe God wants us to know-- it is so very okay to be a light in your own quiet way." Nacole, I honestly really needed to read this today. I'm co-leading a FB page with another and struggling with how I believe her words, her prayers, are so much more powerful than mine and think I must be letting everyone else down. But...yes...I needed this reminder that "it's okay to be a light in my own quiet way." He isn't wanting me to be her. Be me. Who He created me to be. I just love you, friend. Sending hugs your way. I hope one day we will meet in person. Much love.

  3. Nicole - you just spoke my language and shared God's freedom with me in a very personal way. I appreciate you so much. As you know, I too have much difficulty with overstimulation, my follow-through is awful, do not say multi-task, I have to make tons of room for rest between activity, pacing is my new of living since brain surgery eleven years ago and the resulting brain injury that changed me forever. It has been a long road back to discovering where and how I can share my life with others, and I so long to charge out there and just shout about all the good things God has done for me! Being reminded again here that even if it is in the kitchen with my granddaughter or the garden with my husband, God made me this way and it is good. I am so glad you share about the hard things, because God is most evident in your life when I learn more about the hard times he has been there for you and brought you through. I can shake my head up and down and say, "there's hope for me too."

  4. You wrote a hard thing beautifully Nacole. I'm so proud of you. And your words are life giving to so many, thank you.

  5. Ashley Tolins LarkinMarch 19, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    Nacole, this is heart-wrenching and beautiful. I love what you say about all the ways to be light and of the freedom that Christ desires for each one, knowing us individually intimately and in all our intricacies. We can far too easily believe there is one way to do this walking with Jesus and writing and living thing. You are so brave and eloquent, friend, and I love you.

  6. Thank you for your words, Nacole. Love how you talk about light breaking forth in the darkness. Yes.

  7. I know this anxiety so well and it's why every other day, I'm certain I'm going to quit writing/engaging in social media (and sometimes leaving the house too). Even this morning, I woke up panicked and thinking I can't do this anymore - other people's thoughts (or what I imagine their thoughts to be) are just too overwhelming. Thank you for writing this beautiful, encouraging piece. It was just what I needed to read this morning.

  8. Oh My... I feel like you just explained me :) came here from outside the city gates link on FB, happy to have found a kindred spirit.
    I have started countless blogs and endeavors, only to fall apart when they start to take off. And yet I have a problem thinking I'm not doing enough if I stay on the small scale... It's a contestant struggle of staying true to who we are, and being ok with that. Thanks for pouring out your heart!

  9. Nacole, thank you for writing these words. They speak of rest and freedom to just be who God made YOU to be - unashamed! You shine, friend. I can really relate to you in so many ways of the fear and anxiety. Wanting to hide because everything just feels harder than for a 'normal' person because of a 'label.' We are more than a label, friend. God knows us inside and out and He is patient with us, not asking us to do more than we're able. He gets to define us. We are loved! I'm so with you, friend! You're not alone.

  10. I think Social Media often does more harm than good. It allows us to be someone we aren't which leads to hiding and coverup. And then we are honest, it brings shame. I just think we should all take a breather from it and watch what we are doing.

  11. I totally understand this, Nacole, I do. Perhaps not to the same extent as you, but I have felt that anxiety, that crushing paralysis, that breathlessness. And you are right, social media exacerbates social anxiety and overwhelmedness in me, too. I feel your pain and have been there. Thank you for expressing your heart and struggles so authentically.

  12. Perhaps God has created us in an array of qualities even more varied than we care to accept as a society. Perhaps you are not "mentally ill" but incredibly gifted in a sensitivity that most of us don't have. And perhaps that sensitivity is given so that you hear things in people's hearts and from God's heart that most of us miss in our pom pom dancing around. We need your sensitivity. By developing a way to care for yourself and your incredibly sensitive heart, perhaps, my friend, you are ministering to those around you as you discover healthy ways to make available what the Lord is pouring through you. I have always loved the heart that comes through in your words. I consistently hear your heart and the Lord's as I read what you courageously post. Thank you!



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