Mangled by Mental Illness, Mended by Jesus

Billie Jo YoumansBy Billie Jo Youmans8 Minutes

Editor’s Note: It’s one thing to acknowledge the sadness of the mental health crisis confronting our world. It is another to see the devastation in an individual life. Few are courageous enough to openly share their story, invite us into the reality of living with mental illness, and show us real solutions we can be a part of. Rick is one of the courageous few. May his story open our hearts and move us to compassionate action.

College and a solid career set Rick on the typical American dream lifestyle. As a business analyst, he enjoyed traveling to train others. His kind and compassionate heart had him involved in volunteer work. It seemed the emotional challenges of childhood were just part of the past, and everything was great – until it wasn’t.

In his late 20s, mental illness plunged Rick into a reality no one wants and few understand. Now, decades into the challenge of mental illness, Rick spends his time giving others hope by sharing how God delivered him. “All I can say is that God had a plan for me. For the past eight years, I’ve not been hospitalized nor struggled with suicidal ideation. God kept me from death, and I want to tell others about the hope He offers.”

Rick’s journey to a life of meaning and purpose took him through the means streets of Newark. Horror and heartache accompanied him on every step, and rock bottom was far deeper than he ever imagined. His landscape of mental illness included attempted suicide, a near-death experience, self-medicating drug abuse, and homelessness. Rick’s family – unable to change the trajectory of his life – cut off all ties with him.

Finally tired of the mess, lonely, and unable to find any purpose to the pain, Rick took a massive overdose of narcotics to end it all. At the last moment of awareness, though, a desire to live sprang up within him. Rick staggered to a hospital parking lot before collapsing. When he returned to consciousness, he found himself in 4-point restraints and a nurse was telling him to thank whatever higher power he believed in because he barely escaped death.

It would be another 15 years before he could fully appreciate the gift of life he received that night. In the meantime, he would live on the streets, try rehab and even religion. Finally, one Thanksgiving – kicked out of a rehab, he wandered to the Salvation Army shelter.

“Most people who go there really aren’t looking for God – not many of them even want to get well. North Jersey is a tough place, and the shelter was full of violent criminals and addicts. I was mad at God for having to be there and asked Him, “Why are you doing this to me? I’ve done my best to help others. Why do I have to go through this?!

“Every day, I went to the chapel to get away from the shelter and talk to God. Slowly, I began to feel His presence, but it wasn’t enough to get me through the horror. I was covered in bed bug bites, I had ringworm, and the other residents harassed me. I decided it was all too much, but I needed some drugs to find the courage to hang myself.

“So, I headed to a neighborhood where I knew dealers hung out. And weirdly, no one was on the streets. It was totally empty. I wandered about totally confused and praying to God to help me kill myself. I began to hear Merengue music and headed that way thinking it might be a party I could crash and get some drugs at…When I got there, a beautiful Hispanic woman was at the door, so I asked her in Spanish if it was a party. She said, “No, it’s church. Come on in.” So I did.

“When the pastor finished preaching and did an altar call, I went forward and fell to my knees. Everyone gathered around me and began praying, and I felt something I’d never felt before. God got my attention that night! The pastor told me later they didn’t usually do church on this night, but he felt impressed by God to have a service. I knew then that God heard me and wanted me to live.”

Rick’s new understanding didn’t suddenly make his life perfect. The struggles remained, and there was still much restoration needed. His relationship with God continues to grow and evolve, but Rick now feels life has meaning … and God has shown him purpose in the mental illness.

The world is in a mental health crisis. People are hurting. No one asks to have mental illness, but for whatever reason, millions suffer with it. The stigma needs to end, and the church can help. Traditional psychiatrists are busy. They listen five minutes and write you three prescription and send you on your way. The church has the power to reach people … help them get involved with God’s work and find meaning and purpose in life.

I know I was saved by grace when I cried out to God for forgiveness. It was an incredible experience where I felt His presence – felt at one with Him. I felt Him say to me, “You are forgiven of your sins. I am the Lord, and I am with you.” I’ve tried to serve Him faithfully since then. I believe my miracle healing has come through the work God has allowed me to do.

Today, Rick offers hope to the hurting as a peer counselor in a Newark Psychiatric Emergency Room, praying with people and telling them about Jesus. God has restored him to his wife and children. Rick chose to share his story with Inspiration Ministries with the hope that even one life would be improved by his story.