Are you ok, Sophie?

‘I’m just doing the hourly checks. Are you okay Sophie?’

I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’m sitting on a bed in a psychiatric ward; a place I have been for the last 50 days. Firstly under an Short Term Detention Certificate (STDC) and now under a Compulsory Treatment Order (CTO). It has been 68 days since my suicide attempt. 18 of those days were spent in a general hospital and the other 50 have been spent on an acute psychiatric ward.

Why am I in hospital? I hear voices and see things. Well just the one (and believe me when I say that’s more than enough). He’s called Malachi and he’s an angel. No one else can see or hear him except for me. But he tells me I have to spill all my blood over a portal so it closes so the Infiltrators (bad spirits) will be sealed away and evil will cease to exist. Why my blood? Because I’m the worthless sacrifice and God chose me to die because no one will miss me when I’m gone. The Infiltrators have been the cause of the Manchester bombings, the London terror attacks and the Grenfell tower block fire.

But I’m not just a psychiatric patient. I’m also a theology graduate, and right now I am in a state of conflict between what the Bible tells me and what Malachi tells me. Thinking on an acute ward is not an easy task to undertake. For one it’s noisy. People shouting, alarms going off, curtains being pulled open and shut as the nurses go about their hourly checks. But 50 days seems like a good point to sit back (on my lumpy bed) and take stock of what is happening in my life.

For every day I have been in hospital I have read the corresponding Psalm (e.g. Day 1 was Psalm 1). Today was Psalm
50. What is interesting about Psalm 50 is that God rebukes those that sacrifice animals, claiming non-human animals as his creatures and stating. ‘those who bring me thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me’ (Psalm 50:23). This made me stop and think. What if Malachi was wrong about me sacrificing myself? Am I not one of God’s creatures too? This is where my conflict comes in because Malachi tells me he is sent directly from God, whereas Psalm 50 is a Psalm of Asaph, in others words a human reaction to the divine. This is where the conflict comes in. I question whose voice I should listen too. Asaph and his sacrifice of thanksgiving or Malachi and his sacrifice of my blood. I know which one scares me less, but which voice does God want me to listen too. And on that note: where is God in all of this?’

‘A lot of people feel that way Sophie’, the hospital chaplain said when I told him I feel distant from God in this place. Comforting as that is to know I’m not alone in feeling that way, it doesn’t help me when I’m the only one awake in the dormitory at 2am listening to snores and of course Malachi talking in my ear. Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. I feel that I’ve been doing the same for 50. I don’t feel close to God in this place. I try to pray, I recite the Lord’s prayer, and sometimes I feel a spark, a connection but then an alarm goes off and it feels that connection has been broken. I also question why God lets me go through this suffering; why does he let Malachi torment me with sinister threats if I don’t do what he says? Jeremiah 29:11 says God has plans ‘to prosper you and not to harm you’.

Again, I’m in conflict between what Malachi says and what the Bible says...

So how do I deal with this conflict? Well, my psychiatrist and I are working to combine psychiatry and theology together to deal with Malachi. A combination of medication and talking therapy sounds purely in the realms of psychiatry, but it does have a theological aspect. I believe that God can work through medication and talking therapy doesn’t always need to be with a therapist. It can include prayer, and although I don’t always feel a connection to God when I pray I believe that God is still there. My prayers may not always be answered, my medication might not always be effective and I may not always feel like talking, but God is still there.

The conflict is not resolved yet and I have some way to go on my recovery journey yet. I don’t know how much longer I will be here. I know I am possibly starting on a new medication soon and on a course of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) soon. I pray God will work through these things and that whose voice I should be listening to will become clearer.

I want to finish with the Psalm I read on day 23 of my hospital stay. To give some context this was the day I was sectioned. I cried as I read this Psalm as the nurses helped me pack my belongings as I moved to the psychiatric hospital. I don’t know how God works, I don’t know if I will get better or if Malachi will ever go away but I know that the following words provided me a great deal of comfort on that day:

  • ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me’ (Psalm 23:4).

I look up at the nurse as she stands by the curtain, ‘I’m doing ok’ I say. It’s only a half-truth but maybe one day I shall know the truth and the truth will set me free.

Sophie is a theology graduate and an aspiring writer. She has interests in theology and mental health. She has a blog called FindSophie which considers this through the medium of poetry and prose.

Sophie Ballard, 05/09/2017
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