Real talk with Gema Tim: Break the Stigma of Mental Illness
Today I have the honor of sharing another Real Talk Interview. A series we created to bring honest conversations about mental health and break the stigma of mental illness. Click here to see a previous Real talk interview.
Today’s featured guest is Gema Tim. She is the founder and creator of Fairytales on a Budget, a wedding consultant and wedding coordinator business in the Bay Area, Southern California, Texas and Hawaii. You can see more about her business on instagram.com/fairytalesonabudget
She is also a proud and vocal mental health advocate, and I’m thankful for her willingness to share her mental health journey with us. So let’s dive right in.
Reaiah: When or how long have you been aware of your mental illness?
I was about 16, rough year, I left home, found out my mom did drugs, we lost everything. I moved in with a boyfriend, dropped out of high school, so a lot of pain and suffering that year. Huge understatement for sure. But, I remember going to the doctor and somebody talking to me about depression and how I was having symptoms of depression and how I should look into a counselor or medicine.
And at the time, because I had thought in the church I had been going to, that was a bad thing, I didn’t take the medicine advice. I didn’t even look into counseling because I was like, I’m sure I can’t afford that. Then I remember I visited my dad in Alabama when I was 17 and talked to him about it. He was the very first person who was like, “medication is just medication. It doesn’t mean anything about who you are. if you were allergic to something, you would take allergy medicine.”
My dad would tell me “you should take this medicine, it’s really important. I think it would really help you out”. And I just remember crying and feeling super judged like, “Oh, you think I need that?” And he would just keep trying to tell me “I think you don’t realize how much more balanced you might be. You have really high highs and really low lows.” And I was like, well, you just don’t understand my personality. I’m just really dramatic.” So I really just didn’t have an education on [mental health]. And really wasn’t open to it, even though I had a safe place, in my dad.
The time I actually started pursuing my mental health is when I became a mother and a wife.
Very quickly, I learned the results of my sin and what would have taken place in my entire life prior to becoming a mother and wife, how much that was affecting me in about a month of us being engaged.
There was something here that was not good because of the way that I was expressing myself. I would get feelings of hopelessness in a very happy time in my life. That was really confusing. And so I was talking to someone at church at the time, a friend, she was saying, “oh, there’s free counseling at our church. You should look into it.” I didn’t know that. It was more lay counseling. So I started talking to somebody at our church and then we did premarital counseling. With those two things,
I started realizing it was okay to talk to somebody.
I remember I’d been a year into being engaged and also going to [counseling] with a woman at my church. She was a pastor’s wife. And she said to me, “Gema, we’ve talked about it before, but I really want to let you know that I think you should stop seeing me. And actually you would benefit from a therapist.” I remember just thinking like, “what’s the difference? Why?” And she opened up about her story. She told me that something happened years ago when she went on antidepressants. And I remember just being super shocked and being like, “wait, you’re a pastor’s wife.” That was the first thing I said. And she asked ”what does that mean? Does that mean that I can’t experience depression?” I just remember my two belief systems crashing and just thinking,
“Oh my gosh, you can be a woman of faith and you can also get help.”
And so that, to me, really began to change my perspective on mental health.
So I decided to pursue therapy and our actual church helped pay for part of it. Because it was pretty expensive and I was going every two weeks. I think I was 22 at the time. And so that was the first time I had been to see a therapist. I just remember breaking down, crying in my first session, like, wow, this is so good. So good, and now I can’t stop telling people, like every person I meet, strangers in the airport, a friend, I’m like, “are you in therapy? You should be in therapy. Therapy is good. It’s so good”. And so ever since then I’ve been in therapy. That’s been about nine years.
I have learned a lot since I was 22. The reason I went mainly to see a therapist is because I thought I had anger problems because I would have really huge reactions of anger and frustration towards little things. [My therapist] really helped me understand and told me “you don’t have an anger problem, you have an anxiety issue”. And I was like, “wait, what, how do you conclude that?” So she helped me understand that I very much had depression and very much had anxiety.
Through time I learned I had high functioning anxiety and depression
and how they’re very similar, but also separate. I got on medication for the first time. And when I got on medication, it changed my life. I was like, I cannot believe I have been living 22 years on this earth without this medication. I’m very thankful that my experience was really good. I’ve heard other people say that they have to try different things. But yeah, that just really helped me feel a lot more level headed and I could process a lot more in a healthy way.
Reaiah: In addition to therapy where else were you able to find support?
Well, my husband generally was supportive in terms of, he knew that I needed this for myself, however, I never talked about it with him. I would share occasionally that I went to therapy. So my biggest support was just therapy for a very long time until recently, maybe four years ago. And even so much more just in the last two years, have I been very vocal about it. The minute that I started sharing to people and friends that I was going to therapy and I had depression, anxiety, the support poured in from everyone through ministry and through just relationships, through people from the church.
I will tell you I was at Generations Youth Camp. And I’ve been teaching as a camp counselor there for nine years at GYC. But in the second year I was teaching, I had given a brief testimony about something. And [one of the Pastor’s wife] said to me, “You know, I don’t know what it is, but I feel like you’re not telling your whole story.” And I was like, “what do you mean? I have this story down. I’ve told it a million times.” She said “I just feel like the Lord has revealed so much more to you. I don’t mean this in a way to hurt you, but I am discerning that there’s something else.” And I remember just thinking that, one it annoyed me, but I was thinking “what could she be talking about?”
And then I started thinking, I remember it was months later when I realized I never share about my depression or anxiety. I went back the next summer and shared it like crazy.
It is a part of my story I’ve never shared, and this is a huge part because it makes me who I am and I don’t believe I’m giving the right glory to God sharing only part of my story.
I just remember everyone’s faces and everyone’s reactions. So many of the kids that I’ve counseled that were then counselors now, we’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” And I just remember saying to them “no, don’t feel sorry for me.” I know that’s everyone’s natural reaction to say sorry. But to me it’s so good because it was used for God’s glory and for my good. I couldn’t recognize it until that point, but I did not realize I had been hiding in shame or fear, until I started speaking up about it. And now, I mean, literally I walk into a grocery store and I will say it to anybody.
Reaiah: What role does your faith have with your mental health?
Yeah. Mental health, I believe everyone needs to check on. But I think mental illness wise, I think it is a symptom of being in a fallen world for sure. I do believe there’s spiritual warfare there all the time. I find it personally draining and exhausting. It’s a constant battle every day. I can see the biggest difference between now and then. Before, when I was kind of a baby in my faith, I would think, okay, well I need to be reading the word of God because it’s good for me.
Now I’m at a point where I’m just aware of my mental illness and my faith that if I don’t read the word of God, it’s not that it’s just not good for me. It’s detrimental to me. Like it will be damaging to my day or my hour if I don’t get into his truth because I see the lies that I believe, because I have depression and anxiety. And so I have to be in the word of God, I have to read the word of God out loud, because it affects my faith greatly because then I’ll start to believe in so many other things and be consumed very easily.
Yes that is so true. Depression can make us believe so many lies about ourselves. So we must fight it with truth from God’s word.
Reaiah: For people who may not know what it’s like living with depression or mental illness, how would you help them understand?
I think my biggest thing is that I want to break the stigma that it’s not okay to talk about. To help people understand is to talk about it and make it not taboo. It’s important to talk about mental illness and understand what it is not, and that it looks different for everybody.
We need to get this conversation going, because we need to recognize that a lot of us are struggling and the way we meet those needs in the community is coming alongside people and their transparency and recognizing and creating a safe space for them to share how they are really doing.
When we create a space like that and we get the conversation going, we leave room to be able to teach people how to reciprocate properly. People, I think don’t realize in society that it’s literally okay for you to sit there and just validate and acknowledge somebody. You don’t have to have the answers. You don’t have to have the Bible verses. When I’m going through my biggest darkest deepest hole, I just need someone to listen. I don’t need to have someone to have answers, and how that can actually be really discouraging and destructive towards people with mental illnesses.
Yes definitely, listening to someone share what they are going through, and share their story, really goes a long way.
With that I want to say thank you for sharing your story with us. It goes a long way in helping to break the stigma of mental illness. I know it will help many understand that it’s okay to talk about our struggles and reach out for help. That people in the faith community can also struggle with mental illness. But more so from your living example – there is hope in God, and how God can use the difficult things that’s happened to us – for good, not just for us, but for many others.