Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Friday’s Question: How Do You Grow Your Faith As a Person With a Mental Illness?

posted by Beyond Blue

On Fridays I will address a question related to depression and find the answer from an expert. If you have a question you want answered, please ask it on the combox of this post, and I’ll try my best to do some research and feature it in an upcoming Friday post.

I was invited by Mark Brown of Brownblog.com to respond to the question: How do you grow your faith as a person with a mental illness? Here’s what I wrote on his site:

This morning was fairly typical: I was both inspired and ticked off by the reading of the day, in Mark’s gospel, when Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. Jesus grabs her hand and her fever immediately leaves.

“Nice, Jesus, good going with that one, ” I said to the Son of God, half sarcastically and half sincerely. Because all of us who live with severe depression, bipolar disorder, or any mood disorder know that our illness is chronic. Even on the good days, we wade through some pretty thick crap, and sometimes it feels like we spend the entire day on our knees, begging for that tap on the hand — when the negative thoughts will painlessly evaporate and our hippocampus will stretch instead of shrink, when all the cells housed in the prefrontal cortex of our brain get ready to party, and tell our nervous system that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

But that’s not the way faith works when it comes to a mental illness. At least not in my life and in the lives of most of my readers.

The healing process is slow. Really bloody slow. Most often we take three steps backward for every four forward.

The most difficult task for me — and for many believers — is to weed out the illness from the spiritual flat tire. Because yes, depression can be a telltale sign that something is amiss in our lives, that some aspect in our marriage, in our jobs, in our relationship with God needs attention. It’s screaming: “Yo, me! Some care, please… over here!” That is, if we slow down long enough to listen. And I don’t mean just depression. Any illness — arthritis, chronic fatigue, sinus infections — can indicate that a piece of our mind-body-spirit puzzle is hiding underneath the couch cushion, waiting to be found.

I agree with author Tim Farrington who writes in his forthcoming memoir, “A Hell of Mercy,” that “doubt as to whether you are in a dark night or ‘just depressed’ is probably a very good sign; it means you’re alive and paying attention and that life has you baffled, which is the precondition for truth in my experience.” And I also agree with Peter Kramer, author of “Listening to Prozac” and “Against Depression” that with more education and research, depression will be stripped of its charm and its virtues, that “we idealize depression, associating it with perceptiveness, interpersonal sensitivity and other virtues.” When treatment for depression becomes routine, Kramer asserts, “we may find that heroic melancholy is no more.”

I know my position sounds wishy-washy: because either depression is an illness that we treat systematically without regard to the life of the spirit, or we pray away our sadness, because, if we believe enough, Jesus really will tap us on the hand and make it all go away.

The water between those continents is murky, and I wade in it every morning as I pray. Even as I write this, I’m blasting Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” hoping it will give me the spiritual gas that I need to drive my bipolar car, to ignore the negative intrusive thoughts and keep writing these paragraphs. An hour ago, when my jumbled brain and I sat down in front of a blank screen, I prayed that God make me an instrument, a mere pencil in his hands.

Every day my biggest job is to try to grow my faith as a person living with a mental illness. I ask God to help me know what my job is … the cognitive behavioral techniques, the gratitude worksheets, a better sleep schedule, more therapy, or less caffeine and chocolate. And then I beg him to take the rest … all the stuff I’m pretty sure I can’t control.

I agree with Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche, an international work of communities for the mentally disabled, that the healing process is gradual for the majority of believers. It’s no tap on the arm. Vanier writes in “Be Not Afraid”:

Being reborn in Jesus is not rapid for many of us. It is a quiet, gentle growth, like the growth of the child in the womb of his mother and like his gradual growth in knowledge, affection, physical strength, and understanding after birth. The healing power of the Spirit is a quiet, gentle power. He makes die in us all the fears, the desire to possess or to destroy, the hurts and the frustrations, all the power which wants to dominate. There is a growth in the power of listening, the power of compassion, of patience, of learning to wait for the hour of God. We learn to surrender to the power of the Spirit and the power of God, to stop agitating, to let God take over our lives, to abandon ourselves to the Supreme Healer.

To read more Beyond Blue, go to http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyond_blue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.

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  • dawnspromise

    Once again you have spoken to my heart. I cannot thank you enough for your honest and compassion to mental illness. I am struggling to find my way back home to the Catholic faith. And as usual with me its either all or none. Either I am the most perfect practicing catholic or Im a loser. Your quote about growing in to our gentle growth with Jesus is a blessing I really needed to read this morning.
    thank you so much.

  • paul L

    Yah, good stuff instrument of God. You gave me a lot to chew on there.

  • ladyjdoh

    I have lived with this affliction for many years. I find that my Faith keeps me on an even keel when times get tough, and nmopst of them seem that way!

  • blanche

    Wow, thanks Therese. I have TMJ and when in severe pain, it’s hard to think of anything, let alone God. It’s a reminder to pray and do God’s will at that time more than ever. God Bless !

  • http://rachel26@live.com rachel

    this really struck a chord in me. have suffered for years with depression and anxiety, which eventually led to alcohol and drug abuse which went on to create more depression and anxiety. newly found faith (and the understanding of some wonderful new friends from a church in aylesbury) has helped me see through the rainstorms and i was baptised today and feel like a weight has been lifted. no matter how bad it may seem some days, you are not alone. there is always someone there who cares, keep the faith.

  • sharon

    Wow – really potent – i spoke with a forensic phycologist recently who
    told me mental illness is seperated from emotional illness among his peers; bipolar being an emotional illness. Every day i do my work and pray also; your comments regarding the power of listening and compassion have a special meaning in my life. Thanks for sharing.

  • Glenn Slaby

    Very well said. It is so diificult to let go and Let God. It seems, naively, that so many ‘primitive’ cultures could do what we cannot accept. The mornings are pure hell and the daily readings can be so challenging and disappointing. There has to be hope and faith, but its so difficult.

  • http://www.storiedmind.com John Folk-Williams

    Therese –
    Thank you for these reflections, beautiful and timely – or I should say timeless. What’s been essential for me to get is that everything is suffused with the spiritual, and everything I’ve gone through with depression has awakened spiritual understanding on some level. As Stephany said recently on her blog – the process of working toward fulfillment in life is spiritual. I used to separate this dimension of my recovery process from others, but I realized – and fairly recently – that all the techniques and tools I use to keep me going during the worst time don’t and can’t work without a core of belief and conviction about the spirituality of my nature. That has really helped turn me around.
    Thanks so much — John

  • Angela

    Therese, I have found am immense amount of peace in your writing, because I am an adult child of a mother with bi-polar disorder and schiziphrenia and it has left me with major issues that I have never resolved. I have been very angry with her because of all of the pain and turmoil she has caused in my childhood and frankly in my adult life. I resent her for not being a mother. She has destroyed my family relationships ( between my father, siblings and myself)several times over. She has most recently been caught lying about my husband physically abusing my daughter and threatening to call children services and filing a false report on my family. I was at the point of completely breaking away from my parents, but after reading your article, I am reminded that while I may leave may family, the pain will still be there, and if I can help her workthrough things and find faith in God, then who knows, I may have a Mom after all. -Angela

  • tina lewis

    i know god is real i seen a angel when i was 9 years old i married this man whitch is a haveyn drinker hes been putting me thought hell i used to smoke pot i gave that up used to smke cig i gave that up also my daughter lost her kids because of drugs she has been fighting for they over the past three years like i said life has been hel her husband has been liveing off her sence she was 14 from working in a strip bar to have sex with men for this man that b*tches and puts her though hell every day he makes the system think hes a sant and hes not what can i do to help with these problems

  • Your Name

    This article helped me see that I really am not alone. I do not have bipolar or schizophrenia, but I do have Multiple Sclerosis which also affects mood and at times depression is my worst enemy. Right now I am almost complete with my Bachelor’s degree and am ready to get into the business world, but the economy is horrible. Though I am working a job that could bring me potential, I am really unhappy working there. So much is lingering in my mind, but as this article suggested, taking a step back to allow the workings of our Lord Jesus Christ can make all the difference; furthermore, with Jesus Christ at one’s side, goals are easier to accomplish. It is like a one day at a time process, one cannot make things happen at a faster rate, one has to bear the faith to succeed. Through faith and positive thinking, good things can only prosper. Thank you so very much for this article! It helped me see a little clearer.

  • Cathy

    I am dealing with a prodigal daughter and not being able to work because of a disability. My husband and I are struggling not to lose our home and our car. I feel like God has turned his back on us and I know that he wouldn’t but I feel so alone. I have no close friends to call because they all work and I don’t want to burden them. Could you help me?

  • Unnamed

    I have never been diagnoised with mental illness, but I do suffer depression. I have been unemployed for some time now. I pray and beg God for a job. I beg God for death almost every night until I fall asleep so my family can live off the life insurance. I know He is still in control. I just need any job to take care of my family. I want to commit suicide, but I am afraid God won’t understand and send me to hell for taking my life. I just want this storm to end.

  • Danielle

    I have fibromyalgia and the docs say i suffer from depression,my phsycologist said i had so many problems, but I dont live defeated, when I was 6,15, and 24 I was molested and raped, my first husband of 4 years beat me alot, and stuck a pistol in my mouth once, i got out of it with the clothes on my back, the thing that helped me through all of this is my parents and God, wow, he is awesome, one day a couple years back,a friend asked me how i walk around with a smile and I know its because the Lord is with me, he will not put anything on me that I cannot handle, just wish he didnt trust me so much sometimes, right now, my hubby is in Iraq, he left last June, my sister passed away from an over dose last sept.my mother-in-law had a masive heart attack and then Ike struck,,I used to do drugs, then the Lord sent me my husband i was an addict for 12 years,i am now a recovering addict for almost 3, the Lord is the only reason I am still alive and I walk with a smile, because I am not defeated.. He lifts me up every day.I want to thank you for linking the Lord to so many things,because he can help.

  • Your Name

    Hi,my name is Randall,(Azaza,is surname I gave to my spiritual side).I know all too well the tortures of depression and bi~polarism,and just wanted to say,that it is a constant battle everyday between my best side,and the side of me that’s absorbed so much pain and sin from the world.I can usually keep the good side on top,but there are times when I let past failures and traumas cause me to slip and start blaming,even demeaning GOD,in a way I sooooo regret afterwards.But I always come around eventually,realizing that OUR HEAVENLY FATHER,is always quick to forgive and understands our limitations,as well as our sincerity to restore ourselves back into his Grace.
    When I feel my most at one with our Lord,I feel like I could do anything!All the way up to telling the world that there ARE,ways to solve most every problem that plague humanity today!The only problem for me is,knowing there are so many unwilling to try and make those changes work,by working together.
    To all those suffering like myself and even worse,I pray for you ALL,and know that there is still Hope on the Horizon my friends!!!I’ve found the best way to get out of my worst moods,is by reading as many Psalms as it takes out loud until I feel the Love pouring back into me,then actually seeing my prayers manifested!Good Luck,and…GOD BLESS US ALL!!!

  • http://villain. k

    I don’t really want to talk about what is wrong in my life, obviously there are issues. I think what I was counting on this whole time was a family, that I could have. I thought my dad and his new family was going to help me, I actually let my gaurd down, and started being myself, once I did that, they told me to get out of their lives. They are very rich people, and very mean, my dad chose my step mother over me time and time again. He told me yesterday that I am embarrassing to the family. I have been accused of ruining peoples lives a lot these last few weeks. I have been accused of being a villain. I think the worst part is that even villains try their hardest to make the world a better place. K.

  • Your Name

    The will of God will never take you, where the Grace of God will not protect you!

  • kenneth w.

    How do i deal with family thats tells me to get out when all i have done for this person is help,i even help with the bills,my car broke down and i can’t get to my job.I pry that god will help me in this matter i have no where to go im in church every sunday and i give to god and read my bible as often as i can i have a history of deression and at times i think of killing myself but the onlything keeping me from doing so is that i do’nt want to go to Hell. Help me what do i do ? i do have Faith and i love god with all my being but the familymember has none and satan is trying to get to me the best way he knows how but i am strong.So i ask that you pray for me love you and thank you friend. KENNETH W

  • Your Name

    I have learned that people can go through depression for many reasons. It can stem from some kind of medical imbalance to events happening in one’s life. I have battled depression for years, received counseling and worked through everything I could think of doing to change my situation and I know it is mainly because of my circumstances. I am in an emotionally abusive marriage, I have given 20 years to be mostly a stay-at-home mom with no college degree and finding it extremely difficult to get full-time work that will support me and my mom who has been going through cancer. I worry about the future, how we will be taken care of. I pray that my kids will see the truth and quit treating me with the disrespect their dad treats me with. However, I know that there are is always someone out there in a worse situation than I am in and I try to remember that God is in control and He loves me. He has a plan for us and wants us to prosper. I watch Joel Osteen on TV for encouragement and carry around encouraging scripture to read. Some days are worse than others. I felt paralyzed for so long and wanted to die because I felt so trapped. Nothing has changed for so many years, I am financially dependent on my husband. The more I try to get out, the worse things become. I have to believe God will bless me tremendously in ways I could never imagine. He can do this for us.

  • Christine

    There is a way to ask what to write. I love you… You have the power
    so just ask.

  • http://Spirits Theresa

    This might seem weird but it is true, and I am trying to figure out why its happening and am I supposed to be able to do something becasue of it,
    I can see the spirit people carry, I also see spirits all around, I can tell if they are heavenly or of a demonic nature.. What I can no do is put a name to them or figure out what I am to do when I see them.. The Bible talks alot about spirits and How Jesus called them by name… How do I get that type of decernment?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment MRS RIHANA

    I want to testify of what a spell caster did for me and my hubby.we have been married since 2007 without a sign of pregnancy.I went off birth control then and did not have a period.my gyro gave me progesterone to jump-start a period and it did.,but i did not have another one.we did another round of progesterone followed by 100mg clomid for 5 months,we followed all doctors instructions but all to no avail.I have been buying ovulation kits pregnancy test AND i finally got 3 test when i was ovulating! So ever since that we been trying for years now! Well i was very confused because i keep taking ept test AND they all keep turning out to b negative! I really want a baby girl while my hubby want a baby boy LOLL! I think maybe we are just trying So hard, What i can tell you is that its been so many years now and i still yet do not have my period??nobody to help because every body around us was already at the verge of losing their faith on us.no were to run to until one faithful day i was reading a magazine and i stumble on a page were i found topic or a head line {A SPELL CASTER} who can heal someone from HIV AND AIDS,bring back your EX,enlarge your BREAST,help you win a VISA LOTTERY,losing your WEIGHT and even get six PACKS AND flatten your BELLY,I gave him a try and before i could no it PROPHET DUMEDU rescued me from my problem by casting a spell for me and told me to go and make love with my hubby,then i did,and after nine months i delivered a twins A BOY AND A GIRL. just as prophet DUMEDU said.This spell caster name is PROPHET DUMEDU so many people have witness his wonderful work..He is nice, contact him on dumeduspelltemple@GMAIL.COM if you are in any predicament email him immediately without doubts•Thanks so very much!!
    FROM RIHANA

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