For some years Rosemary Burke battled OCD, but used her struggles and her strong Christian faith to write a book, The Lava Tube, to help other OCD sufferers, as Julie Houghton writes.
What you think precipitated your OCD?
The major episode of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that prompted me to write my book came after a prolonged period of intensity in my life’s circumstances. I remember that a lot of uncertainty about my nursing competency crept into my thinking and I began second-guessing my decisions not only at work but at home as well. This was compounded by the consequences of being the only first aid responder to a night-time fatal car accident near my home.
What was your faith journey—were you always a Christian or did you find faith as an adult?
I’m very grateful that I was brought up as a Christian surrounded by marvellous Christian role models, both in my family and at my local church. I decided to give my life to Jesus when I was 11.
While faith is a great strength, did it cause conflict for you in people’s reactions to your illness?
That’s true. I believe that our faith doesn’t shield us from physical or mental illness. As I journeyed to reconcile my faith with having a mental illness, I came across a few Christians who felt that it must have been caused by my lack of faith or somehow not trusting God enough.
Do you think some people see Christian faith as a sort of magic spell that will solve problems?
A minority do see it this way and sadly I think that mental illness could be better understood and supported in the Church. This shortfall can put extra pressure on Christians who are already vulnerable because of mental illness, to have their level of faith challenged by other Christians. My prayer is that my book will bring a little more insight into this area.
Did you feel God deserted you at times or did your faith remain secure?
Although my faith remained strong during my breakdown, it was severely attacked by my depression, my fear of failure and my incorrect judgment that I had let God down. Thankfully I didn’t feel that he had deserted me, but my illness distorted my view of my own worth to him to a severe degree.
What were the important signposts of recovery for you on your journey?
These were that I wanted to live again because my depression had been treated, I found the right OCD medication in consultation with the specialists, my signs and symptoms dissipated, and I now had some skills to deal with them. I wanted to discover who I would be and what life would be like post-breakdown and post-nursing career.
What did you find most helpful on the road to recovery?
Amongst many helpful things were education about the nature of OCD, anxiety management with the help of psychology, coming to terms with the unhelpfulness of my perfectionist tendencies and finding new fulfilment with God in everyday life.
Obviously this book will resonate with Christians struggling with mental illness, but do you feel it will help non-Christians as well?
I hope so! Primarily, I would not have disclosed these personal struggles if I had not hoped that it would help even just one person! I’ve told many non-Christians about my book and each time it opens up some positive and inquisitive conversations.
What response have you had to The Lava Tube from people around you, including the medical professionals?
Praise God that medical professionals are finding it powerful and say that they will recommend it to others. This is such an answer to prayer! Other responses include ‘inspirational’, ‘remarkable’, and ‘providing greater understanding and hope’. The word ‘gutsy’ is also used!
The Lava Tube is published by Resource Publications wipfandstock.com