Faith, Mental Illness and Community
For those of us who are dealing with mental illness, coming into faith or maintaining faith can seem, without an instant miracle, like a mountain too high to climb or a journey to long to endure. Many people do not know or understand the price being paid for sanity and the struggle in life and faith that may be associated with mental ill health. Careful understanding of those who suffer with these illnesses is needed so that ignorance does not continue to prevail if only to bridge the gap of isolation and prejudice that exists in society.
In my opinion, there seems to be a lack of concern by governments to address fully all the issues inherent in the treatment, care and provision of the mentally ill. They seem to tend to show slow financial response to investing in people who are not fully seen as ‘productive’ enough to warrant investment. I say this only through what I have experienced and seen. Yet investment is needed; one that suitably reflects the realities of these illnesses so we can be seen as who we are: some of us being truly ‘productive’ to society in extraordinary ways and all of us valid in contribution; not just a strain on resources. In my experience, this scepticism of value bares true in the workings out of Government policy and in society too but is this true also of the Church? Should we be asking this at all, if it can in anyway undermine the believing of the best in everyone?
As followers of Christ we are all asked to renew our minds in spirit, to the mind of Christ. I am being asked to renew my mind to the mind of Christ and to speak out the word of God back to my creator in prayerful supplication. The issue I face at this point in life both in the progression of the disease and in the growing of faith, is that I am being asked to put on the helmet of salvation when my brain and my mind are completely exhausted from fighting in, what may seem my own strength, to renew my mind to a semblance of ‘normality’. Could I have got it wrong for so long? The bible says that God is my strength and when I am weak He is strong. Have I been putting on the wrong armour? Or have I been fighting my disease with the strength of God within my spirit but with the wrong thoughts or words?
How can I speak with the authority of Christ when my diagnosis renders me’ spiritually unqualified’ to enter many churches or be fully integrated into fellowship? Am I being ‘pre - judged’ by my diagnosis? I may well be being perceived once in the church environment as not going beyond the desire of my own healing being received and may be held in a pressurised box that requires’ a result’ for the sake of others to believe in their own hearts. The example being, that of being set a part as an example of someone who could be used by God if a result were to be received? Yet the bible says that He, Jesus, became sin for us.
Is it that it simply feels like too much pressure at times to reveal or not reveal my health status because of the expectation of others whether that is good or bad? In guarding ourselves and even our positions we may all be missing the availability of so much more then we perceive to be available not just from God but from each other. I would rather have Jesus bind my broken heart then receive a’ healing result’ without an overflow of love to give. I do however, understand that that may not be possible without a full recovery as in a renewing of the mind and soul or could we be missing the love that is the common wealth before our eyes if our own scales were removed.
God, love personified, is inclusive of all differences and makes a way where there is none. He made a way for me to live and be loved and to love in spite of my formal diagnosis of good prognosis schizophrenia with an underlying depressive illness. I speak only with the authority of my own experience; this may be different to others experiences and all are valid. The stigma that exists is very real and it stems from fear and as one who understands fear I understand why the stigma exists.
I have to ask however, would you believe in me if I was presented only as a diagnosis or a manifestation of that diagnosis? Would you be willing to welcome me fully as a stranger into the church? Would you accept fully a word of knowledge from me? Would you invite me to intercede? Perhaps not, perhaps rightly so but for me I learn every day to be a little bolder in whom I truly am.
I accept the invitation to put the correct armour on, that of faith and hope. I swallow my pride and begin to speak out the word of my eternal Father with His word in regard to healing in the hope of it being received. I begin to learn to listen to the voice within that is my father and receive the liberation of His love in action.
There are no easy solutions to living with a compromised brain function. Equally it can be difficult to understand the behaviour of those with clinical depression, bi polar, schizophrenia, or a mixture of both. It is difficult but not impossible with God’s love: for all things are possible in Christ. It is a challenge, but it has been worth the value of life to sustain relationships based in love while coping with many different factors that the illness and medication create on a daily basis for all involved.
The wilderness of the blame, shame and the’ boxed in’ label that the diagnosis itself carries and the consequence of stigma that attaches itself to ones’ identity is a formidable force Let alone the temptation to condemn oneself and live only at the level of the diagnostic label as a definition of who we are, is a great trap and prison which sometimes leads to death as can the illness itself. This is often how we are reflected back to ourselves from society at large.
I am grateful because I have been helped to see myself as worthy of life: a gift that at one time eluded me had the hand of God not reached for me; had He not gone before to make a path I would not be here today, or learning every day, that there is no condemnation in Christ. To even begin to understand this for me is also the liberation of love in action. This has been a renewing of faith in humanity through the actions of some who have dared in courage to see me as God sees me so that I too can see myself as God sees me.
I do still suffer with rejection from people due to my health status and it is true to say that the rejection of the past has left a deep scar of sadness. Stigma will always create isolation and the best way to degrade a person is through this process. Even when one tries to integrate the subtle withdrawal or the overt rejection can beat against the soul to create absolute isolation from which one is already suffering from in one’s own mind. The challenge is to not allow this to happen and ebb away at your spirit too.
Rejection, judgement, fear manifest in different forms. It may not always be an intentional rejection. The fear of loving someone who may seem to ‘disappear’ at times; the pain being too much, can cause loved ones to drift away in a myriad of different ways. It can break the heart of those who love but equally can destroy the heart of the ones in pain or crisis. This ‘sadness,’ lies in the fact that I too experience this ‘disappearing’ and when I have recovered from crisis and return, unfortunately, there has often been an exodus. It is then that I begin to see myself again as the diagnostic label alone. The label and the illness are definitely not who I am it is simply that which I live with. I am flesh, (mind and soul) and I am a spirit. Am I so very different?
It has been like losing a limb, if I may use that analogy, and becoming dependant on the ‘prosthetics’ of medication. Others can find it hard to see it that way. Perhaps it is more truthful to say that for us; it is like losing the vital core of ones being. And in this we lose considerable confidence and independence. We lose a certain amount of control over our bodies due to the side effects of these types of medicines (as we remember it is necessity versus toxicity). They are not yet so sophisticated that they are able to purely treat the areas of the brain affected by disease or imbalance but can accidently seep into areas of the brain that do not need any chemical correction and in doing so affect those areas adversely. Anyone who has to take any medicine will know to some extent about unwanted side effects; perhaps the difference is that the brain is the control centre of the mind and soul not least the body. However the heart is the organ closely connected to the Spirit of man.
I learn on a daily basis that I am as valid with my condition as others who do not have my particular problems but may have their own types of problems. My behaviour may be different; it may actually in reality be far more understanding; more loving for my experiences: this is the value and true productivity. There are many factors involved in recovery and or living with mental ill health as there are possible causes and contributing factors but there is no known natural cure as of yet. To this end, I have learnt to keep the full face of crisis within the help of the mental health system and the family and Jesus Christ. I gratefully acknowledge the help given and also realise that I have reasons to be thankful.
Firstly, I am thankful for Gods’ grace. I am, highly responsive to medication which addresses to a great degree the positive and negative symptoms of the disease but there are a proportion of people, who are less responsive to the medicines and their effects for the good. These people can be left, abandoned by their families, uncared for; coming in and out of a system poorly set up to protect and help them. They are unable to voice their rights let alone their hearts desires and slowly become like the ‘untouchables ’and can be left without advocacy ; forgotten sometimes even within and by a system that is struggling with its own mechanisms of provision.
They may be fragmented by a schism inside that means they can’t voice their need in a healthy sense, for a higher power to bring salvation, healing, dignity, comfort and council or indeed sanity. They have needs of love too; for it to be given and received. Jesus went through intense suffering both physically and mentally to free all of us; bringing full salvation. Is it perhaps presumed that these people are not included? I think not. I know not. They are known to God and He is mighty to save.
I cannot always voice my faith in words or even in the word at times; however I have recently discovered that to thank Jesus in the midst of disease liberates the heart and the pain of rejection held within but it is a daily fight. I do not thank Christ for this illness but I thank Him for being with me in a way that no one else can and in a healthy personal relationship with Him. Even, if I am unable to speak with Him at the time of crisis; my spirit believes that He is with me as He has promised; never to leave.
We as a society do on the whole lack careful discernment in handling the circumstances of the manifestation of mental ill health whether in hospital or in the community; we lack an openness to begin to learn to see value where there has been great cost involved. There has in my life been a process of anger, blame, acceptance and acknowledgement onto hope and faith by taking responsibility to choose life and love no matter what. I may fail at times and I may not always understand others but I will not give up. Growing up with mental illness has been hard: growing in faith sometimes harder.
I have had to be honest with myself, in recognising my mistakes; the distinction between illness and self, are rightly or wrongly entwined but not mutually inclusive all of the time. It has been a journey of personal growth from having fallen below the base line to here and now. I live with the limitations that the disease and medications bring; the isolation that seems inevitable to some extent and I love within those parameters. Is this in effect not true for everyone? It’s been a hard lesson to learn; but I also hope beyond this and believe for more than is presently known or seen.
The daily battle with medication and illness can lead to much frustration and can impede upon faith but I now know this and can now battle any doubts. I also know which side effects of medications I have to deal with. Brain fatigue and stress and the effects of stress are probably my biggest day to day enemy and as is well documented stress is a precursor to relapse or ill health which is true for most of us to varying degrees.
I deal with the side effects and the illness as best as I can. The important thing to note is that in spite of side effects I have learnt to take my medication and thank God for its existence. This has been a most important lesson to have learnt. I have learnt that life is better on medication; once I had accepted there was a need. I have seen the difference not only through insight but through repeated relapse of the consequences of not doing so yet I remain in hope. I remain in hope that one day, I may not need these medicines anymore for; I pray beyond the need of them.
I hope in and believe for the manifestation of a complete supernatural cure while living with the reality of needing my meds to treat a slow degenerative disease. It’s a paradox and a battle of living both in’ reality’ and in faith; step by step, I go from strength to strength and glory to glory for my spirit is a new creation in Christ Jesus and if He is with me who can be against me.
As in most things in life it greatly depends on how we look at things, both spiritually and naturally. This in itself; how we receive process and assimilate information of all kinds: is the biggest battle we, the mentally ill, face. We confront it every day, every minute and every second of the day in spite of the medications prescribed and fight our way through to find appropriate responses in day to day living and in faith. The soul and flesh can be transformed by and through the Holy Spirit; I believe this to be true: but not the other way around. I cannot earn my full healing nor earn my salvation but I can receive His love which is abundantly available. Thank God that there have been a couple of Churches, who have had members who have accepted the true me into their arms.
The days of trudging to the hospital for intramuscular injections into the deep muscle tissue of ones buttocks to be administered the drugs for years on end - to being allowed - to take oral medication and have some sense of personal autonomy has been a mountain to climb; another important one that has allowed me to climb many others: while working hard on renewing my mind with all the armours ‘prescribed’ and into the renewing of the mind with the word of God spoken and resting within the heart so that I can speak from my heart not just my will.
The medication can and does affect the will as can it hinder motivation and causes in itself a level of confusion and memory loss: the challenge is to maintain a Joy, hope, clarity and faith in day to day life. It is time to celebrate these ‘miracles’ and learn to love and for all of us to renew our minds to the mind of Christ so that eventually our hearts will be like the heart of Jesus; fearless and full of love.
It is time to celebrate our contributions too. For me; it is time to celebrate and fully discover who I am. To begin to know myself again and say no to the voice that condemns or lies. Gods’ strength is needed. I hope and pray that I have and will sow more into others’ lives to create something positive in spite of my personal imperfections and disease. As the anger has gone, I hope to have an opportunity to ‘Give more than that which is required; as more has been given’ and received - as one wise man voiced.
It is often said,’ But there for the grace of God go I’ It is true for me and perhaps that’s true for you too? It is never time to pull away resources. Pray when help is needed; as the supreme cost that Jesus made resulted in: the grace of life! I know this to be true.
Much grace has been given. Favour has been received and love is there and ready to be given its’ Wings. I believe He will not leave me, no matter what and I Give ‘Thanks with a grateful heart’ this is the liberation of Love; stepping, step by step on the right path but having the guts to start again if need be, in love and hope and getting up to walk it out no matter what; as in faith.