Loved Back to Life

By Sheila Walsh Published on February 25, 2015

SHEILA WALSH —  Twenty years is a long time, and yet as I think back to the night when I was admitted to the locked ward of a psychiat­ric hospital, it’s as vivid to me now as if it were yesterday.

In the weeks and month that followed, I kept a journal. Some pages detailed my drowning days, others when there seemed to be a glimmer of daylight on the horizon. I never intended to share that scribbled journey, as it was deeply personal. I believed, too, that I was the only passenger. I didn’t know of any other Christian leader who battled dark, abysmal days weighted down by severe clinical depression. But a wonderful counselor, Dr. Frank Gripka, continued to tell me I was not the only one. He said someone had to stand up and tell the truth out loud, so I thought, Why not me? I had nothing left to lose.

Many of those whom I thought were friends had walked away. Mental illness had the curb appeal of the AIDS epidemic in the days before we understood that you couldn’t catch it just by hugging someone who was infected. For a Christian who wrestled a disease of the mind, it was assumed that something in your behavior or a pervasive lack of faith had brought it on. We tend to walk away from what we don’t understand.

So I wrote the book Honestly, praying that it would help even one other person who felt terminally hopeless. In 1997, I tenta­tively began to speak about this taboo subject from the stage, and every time I spoke the truth out loud, I would find my tribe hiding in the crowd, longing to tell their stories to one other per­son who understood. A lot of things have changed in the years that followed. There have been many others who have begun to speak out and demystify this illness, but the stigma remains, especially in the church. I still receive letters and texts from those who have made Honestly a textbook of hope, but there are always questions.

“Do you still take medication?”

“How does this affect your family?”

“Are you healed now?”

So, here we are, continuing on the journey of how God took me from a place of wanting to die to the way He continues day by day to love me back to life.

I found it hard rereading the original book. It sent me into a bit of a tailspin to remember the worst days. It made me angry, too, meeting the “me” in those pages. I was angry because I apologized for being sick. I was angry because I believed some of the garbage I was told about those who struggle with men­tal illness. But as I sat down to write this book, an update and continuation of my journey, the anger faded. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I did the best I could in the darkest days of my life; that was true for many of those around me as well.

It was dark and it was deep, but the truth that I thought would kill me actu­ally saved my life. That’s my prayer for you.

This article is excerpted from Sheila’s new book: “Loved Back to Life.” 


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