To the Mama with a Mental Health Disorder

Peyton Garland

Peyton Garland

iBelieve Editor
Updated May 02, 2024
To the Mama with a Mental Health Disorder

To the mother with a mental health disorder, you are right where you need to be, equipped with all the necessary grace to do God’s holy work in your child's life. 

They believe it’s hereditary. 

It’s more often passed down through women. 

There isn’t a cure. 

You have roughly a 2/3rd chance at giving this to your child. 

… There isn’t a cure. 

In 2019, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and a few months later, I was labeled by its friends: Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression. 

OCD is a mislabeled monster with a pendulum that doesn’t swing between wanting a neat house and color-coordinating clothes. Rather, it lives as an unempathetic wrecking ball that crashes between fear-based, irrational anxiety and deep, dark feelings of hopelessness. It’s a nervous disorder that brings no clarity, light, or sunshine when I organize my pantry with all the soup can labels facing the correct way. 

In short, the neurotransmitters in my brain don’t allow serotonin to flow properly through my body, blocking its path. Serotonin is the chemical we need to have healthy mood, digestion, and sleep function (among other things). A person’s overall health, inside and out, is built on the foundation of this biological chemical being properly distributed throughout the body. 

When people don’t receive enough serotonin, they don’t get groggy or sluggish, as one might think. It’s the opposite. The brain becomes hyperaware of its surroundings, living in a fight-or-flight mode. Adrenal glands don’t know when to activate and deactivate. Thus, those with OCD can see nearly everything in life as a threat.

This is why people with Contamination OCD have a hard time going out in public, touching doorknobs, and being near people who begin to sneeze or cough. 

This is why people with Religious OCD get sweaty palms and shaky legs if they attend a particular church or hear a message presented in a specific way. 

This is why people with Harm OCD fear that if they drive anywhere, they will run someone off the road and kill them, so they adopt the hermit’s lifestyle. 

This is why people with Symmetrical OCD walk away during an important conversation to fix a crooked picture frame… what if it is crooked because it’s loose on the nail? And what if my child walks underneath that picture frame right when it falls, hits them on the head, and hurts them? 

As I said, OCD is irrational and monstrous—two traits that don’t make for a calm, cool, collected mother. Two traits a mother never wants to pass down to her children. 

The Fear

I was afraid to have children for this very reason. Living with an incurable condition like OCD isn’t something I want for anyone, and how cruel would it be for me to birth a child into such mental madness?

With enough coaxing and encouragement from my husband, family, and therapists (yes, multiple therapists), I took a gamble and surrendered to my quiet desire to have a family. In a few weeks, I will welcome my first little one, a beautiful, active boy, into the world. 

Of course, I breathed a small sigh of relief when I found out it was a boy, knowing I was less likely to force OCD on his genes, yet I still wonder what will happen if a day comes when I notice my obsessions in him. What if he changes his clothes five times a day because he can’t handle a stain on his shirt? What will I say when he accidentally hurts himself and is terrified to ride his bike again? 

I don’t know. I’ve never done this. I still struggle with OCD myself, fighting compulsions no one knows about. Will I have the time? Energy? Awareness to be there for his struggles too? Will I say the right thing, offer the best advice, or only make matters worse? 

I don’t know. I’ve never done this.

But I do know that I want to encourage mamas with mental health disorders with the same spiritual wisdom I’m gleaning as I prepare for this rewarding but intimidating new season of life. 

If your disorder comes with a stigma, requires medication, debilitates your physical performance, makes you feel inadequate, promises no cure, and stacks all the odds against you reaching your full motherhood potential, this is for you: 

1. God Equips Worn Bodies

The hardest part of a mental diagnosis for outsiders to grasp is that it’s inherently a biological problem. Just as a diabetic has problems with the insulin processed in the pancreas, someone with OCD has problems with neurotransmitters inside the brain. Unfortunately, brain defects often cause side effects the whole world can see because the brain is the motherboard for all aspects of a person’s physical and emotional being. 

Yet, this doesn’t intimidate God. He isn’t a bandwagon skeptic. He has been acquainted with mankind’s ineptness since it was darkly birthed in the Garden, and despite the flaws of our bodies, ones we can control and ones we can’t, He still receives the greatest pleasure in blessing us and using our weaknesses to fulfill divine, heavenly appointments only He could create. 

Perhaps Paul’s thorn in the side was a mental disorder. Many people believe it could easily have been a battle with anxiety or depression—just look at what he endured throughout his missionary work. 

What about Jesus? The Son of God whose most profound work, which turned sin on its weary, warped head, was fulfilled through a beaten, broken, misshapen, deformed body that hung on a tree? 

God equips worn bodies to do beautiful, miraculous things—like birth tiny creatures into a broken world and still raise them to call God glorious and kind.

2. God Ignores Resumes

God has a thing for underdogs, the ones whose resumes are more of a deterrence than a deal-sealer:

Sarah with the doubting, Moses with the speech impediment, Jeremiah with all the crying, Noah with the defiance, Mary Magdelene with the rough past, Peter with the temper… you get the point. 

I imagine that somewhere in this mix of faith heroes, a few dealt with mental health problems. It would only make sense. And if their resumes included trauma, baggage, and bad decisions in addition to the mental wars, they were nowhere near the candidates I would’ve chosen to help revolutionize the world. 

But Jesus handpicked them. In the Old and New Testaments, God calls these people by name. And He not only forgave them of their sins or aided in their physical healing, but He used the scars, the bad memories, and even the healing that didn't come to catalyze change—the change that would bring death to life for all of mankind. 

If Jesus used these people to change the world, He, sweet mama, can use you to show your little one what true beauty from ashes is all about. God requires no resumes, gold stars, or top-notch medical charts to enter motherhood. He simply requires obedience and a willingness to show your child that He uses what’s broken to make all things new. 

Still Unsure? 

If you still feel ill-equipped for the task of motherhood, afraid, like me, you’ll pass down a monstrous diagnosis, habit, or trait to an innocent child, I have some hard but true news for you: 

Whether you are physically fit as a fiddle or mentally as strong as they come, you will pass down your sinful nature. Such is the fate of humans born into a flawed world. And, frankly, there’s nothing worse you can pass down, nothing worse you can birth your child into. 

However, your diagnosis, compulsions, tics, triggers, and panic attacks are the very avenues to God’s way out of this worldwide plague. They are what bring you to your knees. They are what humble you and call you to admit that only God can fix us. And when you bend to such low places in desperation for something, Someone, who far outweighs your capabilities as a mama, you, my friend, have become the imperfectly perfect disciple to the kiddo peeking around the corner watching you pray, the teenager quietly fighting the same anxiety they hear you bravely talk about, the adult child who sees you seek godly counsel to become as effective as possible for the gospel. 

To the mother with a mental health disorder, you are right where you need to be, equipped with all the necessary grace to do God’s holy work in your child's life. 

Keep going. 

You’re doing great. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/x-reflexnaja

Peyton Garland headshotPeyton Garland is an author and Tennessee farm mama sharing her heart on OCD, church trauma, and failed mom moments. Follow her on Instagram @peytonmgarland and check out her latest book, Tired, Hungry, & Kinda Faithful, to discover Jesus' hope in life's simplest moments.