by Kelly Klages
I’m not an expert in the field of mental health problems. Most people who experience a sudden attack of the things I’ve listed probably aren’t, either. All I know is that one day, I was a sane, lucid, intelligent person—and then, all of a sudden, reality turned upside down on me. My senses went topsy-turvy. My world was filled with confusion, distrust, and Fear with a capital “F.”
We talk all the time about that nagging, accusing voice of Satan, or our consciences being hammered and terrified with the Law. But what if you actually heard those voices—spelling out all your faults—out loud?
In my case, it was brought on by childbirth complications. After an emergency C-section, I hemorrhaged... and didn’t stop. No one understood what was happening. They gave me oxygen and lots of transfusions. I gasped for air and felt myself dying. My doctor didn’t think I would make it. But then, after an airlift to the city hospital and a LOT of work from about a zillion doctors, the miraculous happened. I was a physical wreck, but I was stabilized. Two days after they brought me in, I woke up in the ICU.
That’s when I started hearing the nurses’ conversations.
It started when a nurse, hidden behind one of the ICU partitions, found something I’d written. I didn’t know how she’d found it; in fact, I didn’t recognize anything she was reading. But it made her upset. And angry. She hated me.
She showed the other hospital staff. They agreed that I was, in fact, a terrible, ignorant, hateful person. They spread what I’d written to the whole hospital staff. They told everyone that I was uncooperative, lazy and evil. But I only seemed to hear these conversations coming from behind partitions, walls, and doors.
After a few days, I was moved from the ICU into the cardio ward—I had a form of congestive heart failure and needed monitoring. The conversations I heard followed me. It got worse. The staff was constantly talking about me behind my back. They were cussing me out and saying vile, filthy things. They threatened to purposefully mess with my medication. They said my kids would be taken out of my custody. They fantasized about killing me. They said a rash I’d gotten was probably the result of a terminal disease brought on by the transfusions. They hid in my room at night and hissed at me. They said my children would die tragically at a young age.
You’d think that all of that would be so over-the-top, it would be obvious that I was hearing things that couldn’t be real. But it wasn’t obvious. It sounded very, very real. And I was terrified. I phoned my husband at 4:00 in the morning one day, begging him to pick me up immediately (we live an hour and a half away). The hospital staff sounded so united in their consensus about me, I started to believe what they were saying. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to be a good patient. Maybe I wasn’t helpful enough, or appreciative enough. So I started going out of my way to be polite. I wrote thank-you notes to staff members. But it wasn’t enough. Behind closed doors, I could hear the ripping of paper and the shrieks of disapproval. I wasn’t doing enough to make amends.
Eventually, they realized that something was up and got the psych staff involved. To me, these voices were the very voice of Satan, uttering evil unimaginable things, threatening me, and above all, accusing me. I had a million crimes and I could not atone for a single one. My very motives for trying to make things right were rejected as insincere and hypocritical. I felt like the biggest spiritual failure in the world.
In the midst of this chaos, I had some visits from some wonderful and caring pastors (and our vicar). They probably didn’t really get what was happening with me, but they gave me something precious. Not vague platitudes about a far-off God in heaven. Not a list of Bible tips to help me improve my situation. They didn’t even focus on a big, powerful God who’s in control of everything. Instead, they gave me Jesus—a weak, broken Jesus who suffered and died for me.
I remember lying in the hospital bed, with the image of Jesus on the cross before my eyes. The voices were still there. As those two things were juxtaposed there in my mind’s eye, something happened. I didn’t “feel a peace” or “feel blessed” or anything like that. I felt like garbage, in fact. But I did realize somehow that in the midst of everything, I was right where I was supposed to be: under the cross. Ultimately, it didn’t matter who accused me. It didn’t matter that I had lost my own senses. I had a word, from a God who does not lie, that those accusations and threats were taken into Jesus’ own body and done away with.
Admittedly, it’s the sort of thing that I had to cling onto by my fingernails. It’s like looking at something black and believing it’s white. But I realized from all this just how much I tend to trust and rely on the strength of my own feelings and senses, despite the fact that we confess in the explanation of the 3rd article of the Creed that those things cannot bring us to Jesus. And one day (who knows how soon?) those feelings and senses will desert us for good. In that hour, you and I will need the Jesus who knows our weaknesses, whose triumph is the cross, and whose grace is sufficient—the Jesus who will pull us out of the grave again.
In my case, the voices stopped after a few weeks. But the voice of Satan doesn’t. He always accuses, tempting us with lies and despair. That is why we always need Jesus. His voice is always stronger, always true, and it always saves.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” -Psalm 73:26
Kelly Klages lives in Morden, Manitoba with her husband Alex and their three children. She is the author of Water with the Word: A Baptism Q&A and Hosanna, Loud Hosanna: Illustrated Hymns for Children.