Are My Emotions Making Me Sick?
Malia is 19. She has suffered from severe headaches for four years. She's been to many doctors, but none of them can find anything wrong.
Courtney always feels anxious. She wants to feel normal, but can't figure out how.
Jessica is tired all the time. No matter how much she sleeps, she always feels like she's in a fog. Her mom mentioned it to the doctor who said teenagers simply need a lot of sleep, but Jessica worries it's something more serious.
These are real girls with real problems. They have one thing in common—they feel crummy, and they can't figure out why. I'm not a doctor, but I can't help but wonder if there is more happening beneath the surface than what is evident in their stories and symptoms.
While researching this subject, I read an interesting transcript of a broadcast that aired on Revive Our Hearts. Lies Young Women Believe co-author Nancy Leigh DeMoss interviewed a woman named Kathy who used antidepressants to help her cope with severe depression and anxiety. The focus of the broadcast was Kathy's decision to ditch the medication and ask for God's help in controlling the emotions of fear, anxiety, and sadness.
Kathy said that the pain she felt over a tumultuous childhood eventually led to chronic headaches. In other words, her emotions were making her sick.
Listen in on this eye-opening conversation between Kathy, her friend Holly, and author Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Kathy: I was dealing a lot with sexual abuse in my past for several years, and it was at that point, after dealing with a lot of those issues, that I started getting headaches and just not wanting to get out of bed. I stayed in bed several days...
I was going to doctor after doctor after doctor, and one put me on an anti-depressant, because none of the other medications that they tried were helping with my headaches. So it was at that point that they put me on an anti-depressant.
Elyse Fitzpatrick: That's a very typical story, Kathy. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that story—that people are given anti-depressants even when they're not depressed, for headaches. Because a lot of times doctors will say, "You know, we can't find anything wrong. There's nothing really physiological wrong. But this person seems to be in distress, so we want to help the person." So then they will prescribe anti-depressants for that....
Holly: I think too, Elyse, what you're saying is, if we're not careful, we only treat what we see at the top of the tree and never get to the root of the issue. I think that's what was happening in Kathy's life. She had spent years trying to fix the outward symptoms of a very deep hurt that had never been dealt with. So as she tried more and more to fix the outward symptoms, it got worse and worse because the deep root of her hurt had never been addressed.
Elyse: I think it's really important at this juncture to point out a couple of things. First of all, I don't think that what we're saying is that anybody who has pain has pain because they have anger or bitterness issues. That's not at all what we would say. There are real diseases that people have that cause pain that basically don't have to do with anger or bitterness.
However, a lot of what we feel physically is influenced by what's happening to us emotionally. And Kathy, just the same way as that doctor gave you drugs that basically blunted your emotions without actually dealing with the circumstance, that's how many women are going through life now with their emotions blunted, but never having changed the circumstance or even having the energy to go back and say, "It seems to me I have anger and bitterness in my heart over what someone has done to me." Instead of handling that in a godly way, we use these drugs to basically blunt our emotions so we don't feel those things anymore.
Have you ever considered that your chronic pain or headaches or exhaustion is just the leaves and that there is a root that needs to be yanked up? Or is it possible that the root is a lie that you've believed that is contrary to God's truth, and the fruit that lie is bearing in your life looks like feeling crummy?
Nancy and Dannah put it this way in LYWB: "If you've turned over every rock looking for physical causes to your situation, it may be that you've believed one or more lies that have become deeply imbedded in your thinking and have placed you in bondage" (Lies Young Women Believe, 29).
Elyse made the point that not all physical pain can be traced to an emotional or spiritual root. But there is a connection between what we believe and how we feel. If you're feeling crummy all the time these days, I want you to consider that your body may be telling you that something is wrong below the surface.
Here is a prayer that I would like to encourage you to pray:
"Lord, give me wisdom to understand what's happening in my body. If my emotions are making me sick, give me the strength to deal with the root cause in a godly way. Help me to depend on You instead of blunting my emotions. If I have believed a lie that has put me in bondage, expose it so that I can be free to pursue Your truth."
If the root is holy, so are the branches. Romans 11:16