As someone whose experience of life and faith is sewn deep with experience of mental health struggles, I often read books in and around these sorts of questions. Sometimes, these books are very ‘Christian’, not in a bad way, but not in a good way, either. Other times the books read almost as if the author is trying to convince themselves and their readers of the reality of pain – baring all, beyond the possibility of hope. Both can be harrowing, in their different ways. Sharon Hasting’s Wrestling With My Thoughts falls into neither trap. This is a book that I’ve been working on the marketing of since returning to IVP, so that might shade my review, but I hope you will believe me when I say that Wrestling With My Thoughts is one of the most powerful stories I’ve read recently, and is something I would love to give to a wide range of friends and family to read.
Sharon’s story is extreme – both in its highs and lows – but in amongst it is a recognisable, relatable account of wrestling with different thoughts, feelings, urges and emotions. Some of the language she used resonated deeply with my own experience – this is a book that I could read with a friend or loved one and say this, here, this is how I feel, or have felt. Yet this extremity is not exploited, but rather held up to the light. We know as we read it that even in the darkest moments Sharon has not given in fully to the darkness – even as you, dear reader, reading this review, are struggling against the dying light.
Sharon’s writing is beautiful. At various times I laughed out loud, a couple of times I actually had to use the bent corner of my copy to wipe a tear away. This is story-telling, but it is also poetic and deeply thoughtful. For an inside view of living with severe Mental Health issues, this book is hard to beat. There is both insight and a way with words that makes hard things understandable, and opens up the confusing tangle that the human mind can so easily be.
Sharon’s book is helpfully practical. The text is peppered with little grey boxes – in a good, deliberate way – where we are lifted out of her story and given the benefit of her medical training. This book is one that Christians would do well to read as we navigate loving friends and family who are struggling with their mental health. This book is also one that those who would not call themselves Christians would do well to read, as it is not overly-religious, explains complex terms, and is heartbreakingly honest about the reality of life.
Whoever you are, if you can read, you will probably find reading this book to be profitable for you. It will be hard for those who are themselves wrestling with their thoughts, or caring for those of us that are, but it is worth it. Without providing spoilers, here are three lessons that Sharon recognises as having been woven through her story. In her own words;
“Three things now stand out for me in the middle of all my suffering and wrestling, towering above my doubts and fears:
- I am held.
- God is good.
- He gives me strength.
Simple truths, yet I have come to believe them and draw strength from them”
Other books on faith and mental health that I have found helpful include…
- Mark Meynell’s When Darkness Seems my Closest Friend – particularly for those in leadership and ministry.
- Rachel Newham’s Learning to Breathe – particularly for those of us wrestling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Chris Cipollone, Down, Not Out – particularly for those of us in depression and needing a short read.