Free in Christ yet still not healed

Aleisha King lives with complex mental health issues, and yet she declares that she has a life that’s free in Jesus.

“I’ve had many diagnoses in my life ranging from borderline personality disorder to bipolar as well as depression and psychosis. I currently live with a diagnosis of ADHD, which I was actually diagnosed with at 22 and have been medicated ever since,” she told an online Mental Health Summit last week.

“And that, for me, was the start of things starting to get better in my life. I also have complex posttraumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety.”

Now aged 34, Aleisha says she has struggled with poor mental health for 28 of those years. She was born to a home with a teenage single mother, who had recently become a Christian.

“She had her own really bad mental health, and that really affected her ability to be the best parent that she could be,” Aleisha says.

“As I grew up, I was abused emotionally, physically, and sexually. And at the age of six, started to self-harm to cope. Little did I know I was struggling with undiagnosed ADHD. That caused me so many issues at school, not just in my learning, but my ability to bond with my peers and make friends. This left me a target of being bullied and abused by my peers all through my school years, with both home and school being unsafe and horrible. This led me to, at the age of 11, having my first suicide attempt.”

Aleisha King

Aleisha decided at that young age that her purpose in life was to die and took every opportunity to try to end her life, which landed her in acute adult mental health units.

“Our mental health system 23 years ago didn’t have the help and support that I needed back then,” she says.

“I spent pretty much my teenage years between those adult units, which were horrific, and a youth facility that was set up to provide only short-term care for mentally unwell youth.

“And so I pretty much spent the next five-and-a-half years between those two places. I also spent pretty much all that time medicated. I was too emotionally distressed for anyone to cope with me alone, myself.

“I also started to get involved in drugs and alcohol and having inappropriate relationships with men to try and numb the pain that I was suffering.

“Then I became too old for this youth facility and so they essentially kicked me out. After five-and-a-half years of being institutionalised, I was left to fend for myself. My relationship with my family was beyond repair at this point, which I can actually say, praise Jesus – it’s been restored.”

After leaving the youth facility, Aleisha endured an 11-year pattern of acute mental health admissions, addiction and attempts to end her life.

“This cycle continued for me until in 2013, I ended up in a residential program, which focused on dialectical behaviour therapy,” she said.

“They call it cognitive behaviour therapy on steroids, and here I met my now best friend, who actually brought me to Jesus and to Wellington [New Zealand] and into a loving Anglican community.”

“For me, there was unresolved pain and trauma, but it wasn’t a sin.” – Aleisha King

Aleisha said she had tried to find a church family during those 11 years, but would be asked to leave church when members found her poor mental health and behaviour too challenging.

“I don’t blame anyone because I was really unwell. I do wonder, if churches had responded differently to me, what would’ve come of that? Boundaries are a hard thing to navigate and the churches in my life prior to my recovery were doing the best they could with what they knew. They did try, but it almost felt like because their prayers weren’t being answered, it must have been an unresolved sin in my life. For me, there was unresolved pain and trauma, but it wasn’t a sin. And I think it’s important to not respond to people who are struggling with this lens –it’s not loving and it’s not full of grace. All it does is create a sense of shame, which will feed poor mental health.”

Finally in 2016, when Aleisha found herself in a youth missional unit that developed into a branch of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington, she was welcomed and loved.

“They welcomed the broken and the rejected, and by this point, that was me. And they did this with that lens of loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and they love their neighbours as themselves.”

Aleisha points out that as we aim to love our neighbours as ourselves, our attempts are often stymied by the poor way we love ourselves.

“What flows onto the people we support is a mirror of how we love our own self. So I think it’s really important to address how are we actually loving ourselves. Are we loving ourselves the best way we can? Because the way we will love ourselves will flow out of that sometimes. Our own mental health needs addressing before we try to support anyone else’s.”

“Those plans were a loving God-centred community, medication, counselling, and eventually rehab.” – Aleisha King

In 2019 Aleisha went to a Christian-run and led rehabilitation centre in a community north of Wellington, which focuses on addictions and anything causing dysfunction that causes poor mental health.

“It’s been running for 25 years and they focused on my unprocessed pain. They loved me unconditionally and led me to see how much pain I was living in and how I needed more help than to just trust God and pray because it wasn’t enough.”

“They are the very things that now give me my testimony and inspire hope for others.” – Aleisha King

Aleisha still lives in that community and works as chair of Lived Experience Advisory, Capital and Coast District Health Board.

“Healing isn’t always how we hope or want it to be. God has other plans and for me those plans were a loving God-centred community, medication, counselling, and eventually rehab,” she says.

“I get to be a part of God’s amazing goodness every day. And it’s such a blessing. Even though I still live with my ADHD and other things, I don’t see them as the enemy. In fact, they are the very things that now give me my testimony and inspire hope for others that not only is Jesus real; he loves us so much that he wants to set us free. It just means that freedom needs to be sometimes more than just giving it to God. Sometimes it means medication, psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors, and sometimes it means going to therapy or rehab.

“I had spent my life seeing my emotions as the spiritual enemy, which they are not. Our emotions are not our spiritual enemy. They are God-given and God-blessed. I would love to encourage churches to do some work around understanding mental health and mental illness. We know that a lot of our ability to respond well is just a lack of understanding. The more we understand, the more we can love people unconditionally.”