On Tuesday afternoons, I took a graduate course called Psychopathology. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders acted as our textbook to teach us the nuances of diagnosing patients with a mental health disorder. Our light-hearted professor forewarned my classmates and I not to diagnosis ourselves or others, but to only enjoy the class and learn the material. I did not worry about his cautious statement due to all of my prior diagnoses—clinical depression, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. A copy of “Surviving Schizophrenia” graced my bookshelf as a reminder of who or what I was or was not. I held onto some bitterness to the psychology world. In my over-simplistic mindset, it seemed like the authors of the DSM over-interpreted people's pain without having dealt with inner-torture themselves. But once again, I had to acquiesce my opinion to the professionals.
A copy of “Surviving Schizophrenia” graced my bookshelf as a reminder of who or what I was or was not.
Throughout the semester, I avoided participating in the classroom discussions by drawing alongside the printed presentation slides. Despite my efforts, I often found myself listening to my classmates’ inquiries of how to handle a client’s breakdown. I wished they could understand what hallucinations felt like and maybe their questions wouldn’t be so elementary. With my simple, silent wish, my professor had us watch A Beautiful Mind-- film I tried to avoid since its opening weekend back in 2001.
The professor turned off the lights as the movie began. We skipped the first twenty minutes due to our class time restraints. My heartbeat quickened as we jumped right into the leading actor’s storyline. Nash’s connections between the government and university appeared seamless. He kept everyone at a distance from his secret projects just as the people ordered. Until one day, a psychologist, Dr. Rosen, broke his alternative reality by telling him those very people did not really exist.
Dr. Rosen empathetically explained to Nash’s wife, “Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?”^
With white knuckles, I gripped my legs in hope of finding stability. I rocked myself as my eyes darted from the windows to the door wondering if and when a demon would appear.
“It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie,” I repeated to myself as the professor stopped the film and asked for feedback.
Different classmates inquired how a professional should work with a psychotic client who actively hallucinates. Distant memories popped up as I recalled sitting in Dr. Patel’s office waiting to get my monthly dose of schizophrenia medication: my lack of emotions, the weight gain and distancing friendships with nothing to hold onto.
I glared at the professor as he graciously answered each questioned. I took deep breaths to ease myself from a meltdown until a classmate sarcastically ask, “Should we just entertain what they believe in? I mean, come on! They are crazy!” A slight chuckle followed her heartless remarks. That insensitive bitch! In anger, I slammed my fist on the table, stormed out of the classroom and slammed the door behind me. Fucking idiots! What did she mean entertain their beliefs? Are we your entertainment? Did she believe these visuals were just fun and games?
Tears began to roll down my face as I tried to call multiple people hoping to ground my fleeting thoughts. With voicemail after voicemail, I threw my phone into the dirt. I fell to my knees and sobbed upon a grassy field several blocks from the university.
“Oh God.... please save me.”
“Oh God.... please save me.” I covered my head seeking to regain a sense of where I was. I reassured myself Wade existed, Kentucky was my home and the spiritual world was not make believe. I patted my arms to gain some composure of my placement on this earth. The movie triggered me. It would all be okay. I walked back into the classroom to finish the last ten minutes. The professor reiterated our need to use sensitive terminology when discussing mental health issues and let us go. I gathered my belongings and left the classroom.
I knew what was happening.
I started to lose myself again.
A week later, Andrew, a church friend and I enjoyed a light dinner before making our way to attend a University of Kentucky basketball game, a Bluegrass rite of passage. Basketball was Kentucky’s religion. Hundreds camped out each year to get the best tickets to watch the recent high school graduates play in the collegiate sport. In our city, only two colors existed: blue and white. I never understood people with a sports obsession. Basketball may be one of the few activities that unified the city.
Andrew and I ate over-priced, gourmet tacos as we watched basketball fans walk by in their blue and white. He questioned how I had been doing lately.
“I don’t know. The depression has come back. I feel like terrible--almost like last summer wants to repeat itself.”
My unfiltered answer prompted Andrew to pray for me after our meal ended. His hand rested on my shoulder as he prayed. Internally, I told myself to reject any physical attraction towards him and to receive his prayers. With my eyes closed, I took a deep breath in hopes to bring life. In doing so, I brought myself into a vision.
The louder I kicked and screamed the faster the darkness pulled me in until I disappeared.
With knees on the floor, I worshipped in the light like I had many times before. I heard Andrew’s words in the distance as I received the love he blessed me with. Lustful thoughts about Andrew mixed with the holy worship as self-hatred and confusion settled in. I did not want any of this. But still, Andrew’s words echoed then faded in a distance as a dense black crept in from behind me. A masked man crept its way out of the darkness heading towards me. Distracted by my own confesion and unaware of his footsteps, the masked man got closer and closer. His hand slowly settled on my shoulder until I looked behind me. The fog quickened to engulf both the visitor and myself. The hand pulled me onto my back as the fog yanked me into the darkness. I screamed as loud as I could with my legs kicking in hopes of stopping their plans. The louder I kicked and screamed the faster the darkness pulled me in until I disappeared.
“How do you feel now?” I snapped back to present reality as Andrew looked at me waiting for a reply.
“We should head to the game.” I avoided his question and got up from my seat. Andrew followed behind me making our way through the white and blue apparel gracing Lexington’s streets. The energy could not be matched by any event or holiday I had experienced. People lived and died for this team. Old and young cheered as the players jogged in. People held onto each other, waiting, as each fastbreak occurred with a beautiful basket giving us two more points. The crowd erupted with praise. And still, the enthusiastic atmosphere in the coliseum could not override the darkness settling upon me.
Andrew nudged me periodically hoping to get me excited about the game. With each nudge, I nodded my head and clapped my hands trying to be a part of the team. I only wondered what the next few months would look like. I could not handle another summer like the previous one. I also knew Wade could not either, especially with getting engaged. In desperation, I texted an older friend asking if I could stay at his house for a few nights to clear my mind. Gratefully, I received a confirmation text moments later.
The basketball game ended. Andrew and I parted ways. I walked home to pack a few belongings, work clothes and graduate work. Wade and I briefly spoke of the new hellish images racing through my mind and needing another space to rest. Wade did not take offense as we hugged and I left.
Every time I inched my way into freedom, a demon would grab me and yank me fifty steps back.
My friend’s footsteps echoed from the first floor into the basement bedroom. I stared at the ceiling questioning everything once again. It felt like a stronghold gripped my life. Every time I inched my way into freedom, a demon would grab me and yank me fifty steps back. Should I try to see another psychiatrist? I recalled a psychiatrist telling me I did not “look” like someone who was schizoaffective, but could it be something else? I did not want to be in a zombie-like state again, but visualizing bed sheets becoming a noose around my neck shouldn’t be a way to end the mental and physical pain. I desperately needed help.
I texted Travis I would not be showing up for Saturday evening prayer meeting. I would be checking myself into the emergency room instead. I needed medication to help save me from myself. I woke to vibrations on my bare chest. In a daze, I hazardously grabbed my cell phone and saw a text from Travis.
“Nate, man, I’m so sorry. This is not right. Bro, you need to be here. The ER is not going to address what must be addressed. This is more important than work. You might have to ask off for sickness. This sickness needs to be addressed and I have troops with me too, so in the Name of Jesus. You need to come tonight.”
I had seen dark-haired creatures with three rows of teeth eat my body over a dozen trips. Suicidal ideations did not stop in over a decade. Sadness hovered over me like a dark cloud with so-called friends telling me I had an Eeyore spirit. I questioned Travis’ spiritual emergency plans.
In the midst of my questions, Travis sent an additional text stating, “If prayer does not help then I will personally take you to the emergency room.”
If prayer does not help then I will personally take you to the emergency room.
Convinced by the second text, I messaged Travis I would be on my way. I took a long shower seeking to wash away any deathly spirits. Shower water turned into blood and trickled down the drain. I smacked myself in the face a few times to bring myself back to reality. The blood water slowly turned clear again and I turned off the water. I toweled off, dressed and made my way to the small town of Wilmore.
The uneventful drive down the country highway turned into a warzone as I approached a fork in the road. If I took a left turn, I could detour to a small bridge, step on the gas pedal and hurl my car over a cliff and into the Kentucky River. I could end everything tonight. If I took a right turn, I could go to the prayer meeting. But first, I must drive through the demon’s open mouth. A decorative entrance into a seemingly hell. Its brown stained teeth, a long tongue and piercing yellow eyes waited for my response.
With a quick decision, I veered left into the spiritual war zone. My body temperature increased as anger entered my spirit. I hated this. I pulled into the quiet neighborhood and parked my car. I turned off the ignition to hear a rumbling coming from the house. Rumbling worship music echoed throughout the street.
“Is there a lot of people there?” I questioned Andrew via text message
I received a simple reply, “Yes.”
Ugh. I did not want to be a spectacle for anyone to see. I trudged up the concrete steps and stopped at the wooden front door, the only barrier between myself and the holy ground. The cold door knob sent shivers up my arm matching my anxiety going into this meeting. I only needed to last for the meeting, so Travis could sit with me at the emergency department later tonight. I did not want to be alone. I opened up the door to the rhythmic worship music. The house shook with the dancing, singing and laughter of those in the living room. A few familiar faces greeted me. I did not recognize the rest of them. Travis motioned for me to come to him from across the room. I stepped over several people on the floor and moved around people with their hands raised before standing next to him. Travis engulfed me in his arms and whispered, “I’m glad you are here.”
Travis pulled up a metal chair for me to sit. I checked my phone for the time: 11:30 pm. How long did I need to stay before going to the emergency department? I kicked my bag underneath the chair. A change of clothes and a couple of books to make it through the hospital stay. For now, I stand stone cold through this spiritual meeting and then Travis would take me to get some real help.
The worship music stopped as the group transitioned to share what the Holy Spirit placed on their hearts. How cute for them to share their stories. Did they not see the beetle-like creatures, the vicarious monsters or dragons? Each member of the darkside only waited for their time to rip us apart. Young female college students opened their journals to share their emotional response to the music. Others shared a vision or a word Jesus gave them. They started to sound crazier than me. Maybe, we should all head to the emergency room together.
The name “Jesus” produced rage within my soul as I glared into their smiling faces.
The Scripture reading bounced off my soul like rainfall falling onto a metal roof. Nothing could penetrate into my heart. The name “Jesus” produced rage within my soul as I glared into their smiling faces. I hated the God-man's name. A sheer mention of his name twisted my current viewpoint into a homicidal battlefield. That God-man wanted to save my soul in Spain, in Costa Rica, in Canada and now here. That God-man caused this angst I had against everyone here. Their sweet, innocent, tender words made me want to tear apart their journals and spit in their faces. I imagined snapping their necks with my bare hands. I released a barbaric scream as I used their Bibles as a weapons to smash their heads in. In my mind’s eye, the metal folding chairs became weapons as I beat Travis to death. Not even the power of thirty men could hold me back. I could kill every last one of them.
I used to enjoy this particular prayer circle, but now I hated their joy. Why did they have to keep saying that name?! That name—Jesus—drove me mad. That name felt like poison to my bitter soul. I took a large gulp of water from a water bottle to ease my inner rage. I hated all of these bastards. I didn’t need an emergency visit. I grew ready for a homicidal rampage. I needed this meeting to end.
I snuck by a dozen people to get to the bathroom. I cupped water into the palms of my hands then splashed it into my face to regain a sense of where I was. A blank stare in the mirror attempted to change my emotions from the homicidal to neutral thinking. I kept my composure and held in both the tears and rage. I have made it through a time like this before. I have never hurt a man, but tonight I grew ready to.
From across the packed living room, Andrew gave me a half smile as I went back to the metal folding chair. The seat’s cold temperature comforted my matching cold spirit. I loathed the warm joy the others tried to share. With each new testimony, I looked down resisting the urge to perform the murderous visions I had in mind.
My fingertips tapped on the cell phone screen. “I don’t want to be here.”
Andrew’s hand reached into his coat pocket in response to his cell phone buzzing. We made eye contact as my lips pinched together waiting for his response.
“I’m glad you are,” reassured Andrew.
Finally, at roughly half past midnight, we transitioned to our last segment. The living room occupants broke up into groups of five or six to pray for one another. Travis sat across from me with excitement. His passionate smile enraged my soul. Every part of what Travis represented disgusted me. I hated Travis’ spirit, this community and especially their Jesus. Fire should have exhaled through my nostrils as my breaths deepened with fury. Another student joined our group in search of prayer. My group pulled in their chairs to make a circle. I consciously slid back mine to make it clear that I would not be participating. This God-man they spoke of is dead.
This God-man they spoke of is dead.
Andrew and my other friends left the service shortly after the praying began. Now, the only person I knew was Travis. At their departure, Travis announced the transition from praying for the other student to praying for me. I glared at Travis and secretly wished I drove into the Kentucky River instead. Our relationship began to our similar “gifting,” but now, I started to believe Travis had a mental health diagnosis, too. I could not be on this unsteady emotional and spiritual rollercoaster much longer. Reluctantly, I agreed to let them pray for me. I guess this was the reason I came. Travis asked if I could pull my chair in. With annoyance, I pulled my chair forward an inch and stopped. He only smiled and asked, “Do you want to tell the others what is going on?”
“No, because I will cry,” I answered with honesty. I traced the edges of the kitchen's white tiles with my eyes waiting for a response. I finally looked up to see Travis staring at me with a smile and stated, “Okay.”
I looked across the living space to see no one looking at us, but our group of five. Shame overtook me as I did not understand the combination of rage, depression and confusion inside my soul. Travis begun to pray as others rested their hands on me. My body tensed with internal anguish as their physical touch sparked self-hatred into my soul. There was not a single reason to love or care for me. Attention from strangers made me highly uncomfortable. Didn’t they know God would fail again? I withheld temptation to wrestle each of them to the ground and punch their faces in. Instead, I pushed my chair back trying to resist their prayers. I did not want to be touched. They did not know what I could do. I did not want to be touched. “Oh, God, please let someone hold me.... I'm scared, but I want to kill them.” My mind wrestled with conflicting feelings of wanting help and wanting to kill. I tried to restrict my increasing homicidal ideations as their prayers flowed over me.
It felt like time lapsed into a space in which none of us operated. Without warning, I somehow ended up on the floor crying in the fetal position. I tried to make sense of all of the visions I saw as the entire room simultaneously prayed over me with greater power.
I stood to attention in my newly polished armor. The breastplate, belt, shoes and other pieces sparkled with light piercing the darkness ahead, but my helmet looked quite strange. I swiped my finger across the helmet only to get a minimal amount of dust off. The fool’s gold twinkled in the light announcing its misconception for the others to see. I had found my salvation in my own self-preservation. Not what the helmet the King had assigned for me.
“Take it off,” echoed the voice.
The gentle command sounded familiar like when Jesus placed my helmet back on my head. I must have traded out the real one for this one somewhere along the way. It was Him. I slid the dagger in my right hand into my belt loop. I placed my shield at my feet. With both courage and uncertainty, I pulled the helmet off and tucked it underneath my arm. I grabbed my shield and walked into the open desert as the gentle voice directed me. I stopped at the King’s command. Within a moment, the earth shook causing the terrain in front of me to split open.
“Throw it in. It won’t ever come back.”
In victory, I held the black helmet over my head and with all of my strength hurled it into the abyss. The helmet bounced off the cliff and echoed until the ground shook once more. At the voice’s command, the land to pulled back together. The ground smoothed over as if the earthquake never occurred. Instantly, grass begun to grow over the desert floor and the most beautiful flowers—shades of lavender, rose and teal—grew along the previous fault line. I took a step back to leave, but almost tripped on something beneath my feet. A shiny new helmet waited for me.
“This is yours. Put it on,” stated the God-man.
This helmet of salvation marked my new identity.
In awe of the helmet’s golden glow, I held it at a distance to admire its beauty. I could not believe this was for me. As commanded, I put the helmet on. This helmet of salvation marked my new identity. And with the guided instructions, I marched through the field and into a forest of new adventures.
My spirit fluttered with new joy as I listened to the prayers covering me. Prophetic words broke all of my emotional, spiritual and psychological barriers. Generational curses broke from centuries ago. Unknown languages rushed over me as another person interpreted for me with ease.
I opened my eyes since laying on the floor. I looked over to see twenty to thirty people worshipping by spinning and singing on top of their lungs. They changed a United Pursuit song’s lyrics to “Set a fire in Nate’s soul that he can’t contain. That he can’t control.”
The lyrics subsided as a chant broke out in the living room.
“Clean Slate! Clean Nate! Clean Slate! Clean Nate!”
The chanting continued as I positioned myself next to Travis’ feet confessing a lack of faith I held onto. One by one each person walked up to me speaking encouragement into my life. “Wild at heart,” “wind flowing through you,” “a release of a black ring on your heart and replaced with a ring of life,” “future family,” “warrior” and other prophetic statements I could not remember.
The atmosphere settled into a small joyful hum as I gained the strength to pull myself up back onto the chair I fell from. Travis sat next to me rocking himself back and forth to the songs being sung. People smiled with wonder and gratefulness for the healing taking place.
A young woman, whom I have never met, knelt next to my chair to tell me a simple story.
“I had this vision last night. A green hand--one similar to the Grinch--held onto a human heart. The green hand’s grip got tighter and tighter as the heart began to lose its beat...slowly losing any life the heart sought to keep.
Tonight I saw the same heart again with the same green hand suffocating the life out of it. The thin fingers were unwilling to let go of the almost lifeless heart..." I watched as her smile grew with anticipation and she continued.
“...Then I saw God’s hand come and release one finger at a time. Once the fingers were completely released, God took the heart and held it in His hands. Christ’s blood flowed through it. The revived heart began to faintly beat until it grew strength. The vulnerable heart felt exposed, but was placed in good hands. The heart continued to grow stronger.
His blood is rushing through your heart.
“I know the visions were meant for you. I wanted to encourage you that His blood is rushing through your heart.”
I nodded as tears flowed knowing how vulnerable this experience was. I finally felt safe. Travis and I talked about what happened.
“In the six years we have done this, this is the longest and most intense we have ever prayed for someone. It is ridiculous how long you have been beaten down and dragged through darkness by the demonic. Some of it may be your fault, but a lot of it was not. It was obvious something had a hold of you. You needed to be prayed over. It had to be broken through.”
A bucket of water was drawn from the kitchen sink as Travis knelt down to wash my feet. He whispered prophetic words in his spiritual language. I watched the dirt and sweat being cleansed from my feet. Tears trickled down as I watched a man I respect clean me.
I heard whispers of “Clean Slate. Clean Nate” in the background from the others.
Travis took a towel and dried my feet. We hugged each other as I looked over to read the kitchen oven’s clock: 3:00. Time disappeared within the numerous visions I had, songs that were sung and tears freely shed. Travis warned me to be prepared for the days, weeks, months and years ahead. I had all of the tools I needed. He reminded me again to keep my mind captive, press into the Word and use Scripture to fight the darkness. I needed to be careful with my eyes both in the physical and spiritual world.
“You’re a warrior,” proclaimed Travis. I nodded my head.
I grabbed my belongings and left the living room at 3:30 in the morning. The others unconsciously lined up in a half circle to say their goodbyes. Unable to come up with any words, I looked around and uttered a small thank you and exited the worship circle.
^A Beautiful Mind (2001) Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2017, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0268978/quotes