Wrestling with my thoughts -Book Review

Sharon was a high flying, top grade medical student when things began to unravel as she headed towards her final exams. An eagle-eyed, loving aunt first spots the signs that things are not right when Sharon visits her in Los Angeles. What initially looks like a dose of depression to be brushed off spirals into a severe eating disorder and psychosis.

At first, you might see this as a book about someone who loses everything, her job, her mind, her physical health and for long periods of time her independence. However, I want to suggest that it is rather, a book about someone who finds everything.  The title is based on Psalm 13:1-2 which in the NIV reads

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Of course the Psalm goes on to talk about God’s unfailing love and Sharon movingly describes her rediscovery of her faith and a journey from seeking her identity as a doctor to having the identity of psychiatric patient thrust upon her to her identify as a child of God.

Each chapter describes an aspect of her wrestling. At times our hope is built up before it is brought crushing down again by another obstacle. She is a brilliant writer who invites us into her story with her conversational style.  There are practical helps along the way as she includes boxed sections explaining aspects of psychiatric health including definitions and symptoms of different conditions and explanations about different treatments and medications. An appendix at the end provides answers to frequently asked questions including about how churches can support those wrestling with mental health issues.

Sharon’s case includes some of the more extreme and dramatic aspects of mental health. Not everyone will suffer from hallucinations and not everyone will end up hospitialised. And if I would share one challenge it is that there is a need for literature engaging with the less spectacular aspects of mental heath including the daily grind of depression. But that is not an issue with this book for this is Sharon’s story, it is more a note for publishers to consider.

At the same time, I would encourage you to read this not just for the insight into a serious mental health case but for the insight it gives into the challenge of wrestling with our thoughts that each of us face, whether or not we have struggled with mental illness.  More than anything, this is the story of someone searching for identity and hope, looking in all sorts of places that fail her and disappoint her before finding that it is the Lord who meets her deepest needs and fulfils her deepest dreams and desires.

Be ready for a challenging read.  Be ready to be moved. Be ready for an author who is deeply and painfully honest. Be ready to be surprised by hope and joy in the darkest of situations.

Sharon Hastings Wrestling with my thoughts: A doctor with severe mental illness discovers strength (IVP, 2020).

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