Faith and Mental Illness

I was reminded this evening that not everyone has some sort of spiritual life. I am not referring to religion per se, as in going to church every Sunday or praying to a certain “God” or whatever you may call it. I am talking about an innate positive connection with something (besides another human being) that is undefinable, indescribable, at times unrecognizable, and has more power than you; something that lifts you up, gives you energy, makes you feel peaceful and content.

I choose to call this power in my life “God,” but please don’t get turned off by that word, for that is all it is – just a word. As humans, we communicate through language, words, semantics, labels. Forget about all of that…all of it…and answer me this:

Do you have some sort of spiritual connection with a power greater than yourself? If so, how does it help you cope with your mental illness?

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11 thoughts on “Faith and Mental Illness

  1. Mental illness destroyed my faith in God or a higher power. The things that I have experienced during my depressed episodes have reinforced that the human brain can make itself believe anything, that any spiritual or religious experience I may have had is simply my own brain feeding back onto itself. Some of the medications I tried early on in seeking treatment, rather dramatically drove this point home.

    In a way, I wish it hadn’t. Even a false belief in a God or higher power might be very comforting. But I have seen nothing to convince me that there is any reality whatsoever beyond the physical world of what we see and touch. Frankly, I wish I would find something. For now, I can only reluctantly conclude that there is nothing more.

    • Jack,

      Thank you for responding and for your respectful honesty. I fully appreciate both. The fact that you had faith before your “mental illness destroyed it” says to me that you were once connected to something more powerful than yourself, which means it is possible that this connection can return (whether it is a “false belief” or not is beside the point here.)

      The human brain can make itself believe anything, I agree, but it has its limitations. For example, why can’t we believe that our depression is simply “our own brain feeding back onto itself” as you said? We can’t seem to use our brains to convince ourselves that are symptoms are not there. It is true that medications have a great effect on these symptoms which in turn affect the way we experience the world and life in general because they affect the physicality of our brain’s chemistry. That being said, I ask you to consider the following:

      Under the premise that the only way to experience a physical world is through our physical senses (i.e., what we see and touch, as you said), could is be possible that we all have a non-physical spirit or soul that is merely observing and experiencing this world through our minds and bodies?

      Of course we all know that the mind and body is not perfect. Both are capable of becoming ill and diseased which is where modern medicine comes into play – to attempt to restore the mind and body to its balanced state so that our physical experience of this world is more positive and enjoyable, and in my humble opinion, so that the soul/spirit can have a more positive and peaceful experience of this world as well.

      That being said, it makes sense to me that my spiritual connections are greatly affected by the imbalanced chemicals in my brain because this imbalance causes my mind and body to have a severely negative experience of the physicality of this world, and if my spirit’s only way to experience this world is through my mind and body then guess what? It’s going to suck for my spirit as well.

      If you are open to the possibility of my explanation, then I can tell you more about how I have, only recently, found a way to reconcile this mind-body-spirit conundrum.

      • I’d certainly be interested in your explanation. I may be an accidental atheist, but I’d like to think I can still respectfully entertain other thoughts on the subject.

        • An accidental atheist – that makes me smile. Well, you have indicated that you have an open mind to the premise of my last reply so I will continue on those thoughts.

          What if the spirit is all good; a completely positive phenomenon that we lose touch with when the physical, negative symptoms of our mental illness flare up? If this is possible then to the explanation you gave of your own experience (“mental illness destroyed my faith in God or a higher power”), I respond with a resounding, “Yes, yes it did!”

          For me, however, this doesn’t mean that the power never existed but rather that my connection to it was temporarily blocked by the extraordinary limitations imposed on my mind/body by the mental illness symptoms (which are purely physical, don’t forget.)

          That being said, I have recently been exposed to the belief that my spiritual self, my soul, whatever you want to call it is my “true self” and is a separate phenomenon from my physical self (i.e., mind and body.) Therefore, my true self is not ill. I am not ill. My mind and body are ill, but “I am” not. I explain this idea more fully in this post which was inspired by a video I shared in this post which introduced me to this idea of a “true self” that now completely makes sense to me. It put all the pieces of the spiritual puzzle together, finally revealing to me a comprehendible picture of the connection between this world and the next.

      • Thank you for taking the time to further expound on your ideas, I must admit I am very attracted to the idea of my “true self” not being ill. I am also enjoying perusing your blog and reading some of your other posts.

        The thing that I still struggle with, that still gets me at the end of the day, is that I can simply never trust any particular spiritual or religious experience that I might have. Early on in my treatment I experienced some rather dramatic side effects from some of the medication I tried, and experienced some significant hallucinatory effects. In the face of that, its hard to accept any kind of spiritual/religious experience has any exterior source and is simply my own brain (by malfunction or accident) creating the perception.

        It’s a classic paradox I suppose, how do you trust your senses on these things? But having had that driven home so profoundly, it makes it hard to accept that their could be some sort of higher power providing an experience like that.

        Still, I must say, I find your blog fascinating and I look forward to what else you have to say on the topic.

    • Jack, re: you most recent comment…I understand. Since the spirit is non-physical, relying on my senses to connect to it is difficult for me as well. The strongest connections I experience, thus far, is when I close my eyes in a completely silent room and focus on my breath and nothing else. When other thoughts come to my mind I notice them and then return my focus to my breath and then I visualize a light in my center and concentrate on connecting to that light, being within that light, and then actually BEING that light.

      I just now took a minute to look up chakras so I could give you the specific place I focus on and it would be the “heart chakra.” I know nothing about these chakras and upon just now reading about the heart chakra this is what I found out:

      “In Tibetan Buddhism, this centre is extremely important, as being the home of the indestructible red/white drop, which carries our consciousness to our next lives. It is described as being white, circular, with eight downward pointing petals, and the seed syllable Hum inside. During mantra recitation in the lower tantras, a flame is imagined inside of the heart, from which the mantra rings out. Within the higher tantras, this chakra is very important for realising the Clear Light.”

      I am kind of freaking out a bit right now. I had no idea that the area that I am visualizing my “true self” to be is actually where it is according the the Buddist philosophy!

      You see, when things like this happen to me I can’t ignore the messages. When my inner nudges, things I read, things people say, information from completely different religious and non-religious sources all point to the same concept, I can’t do anything else except to accept it as Truth. To me it is like journalists who have to have heard the same thing from three different sources before they can report it as factual news.

      I am still freaking out but also filled with peace and joy as I have just had more confirmation of this “true self” being true. What a glorious thing to have had this “spiritual experience” with you as my witness!

      Namaste, friend.

      p.s. Did you read my post about what namaste means? Just found out a month or so ago that it means things like

      “The light in me honors and respects the light in you.”

      “I bow to the divine in you.”

      “The light in me recognizes the light in you.”

      which reminds me that you said “its hard to accept any kind of spiritual/religious experience has any exterior source.” I understand this completely and ask you to consider this: what if it is so hard to accept because any true spiritual experience doesn’t come from an exterior source but rather from within; from a source that is within us, that we are actually a part of, that we actually ARE? Do you see how your inner nudges are naturally at work to lead you to the truth? It’s great that you have questions, doubts, etc. because hopefully, they will motivate you to keep learning and searching like they did and still do for me :)

      • I have to say, I have often had a similar thought, that the real me is a little spark in the very back/centre of surrounding layers of flesh and thought. I think I still feel that way, even if, rationally, I accept that as the (still pretty amazing) confluence of chemicals and synapses that forms consciousness.

        Still, I’m faced with the contradictory nature of my experiences and I don’t know that I will ever be able to come to a different conclusion than my current one.

        I very much appreciate you taking the time to expand on your thoughts further and you’ve given me a lot to think about, which is never a bad thing!

  2. WIL,this is a great post. Yes I too feel the same way as you. I call it God but it’s much bigger than that–it’s unknown and so powerful. I didn’t find it until after my soul-loss in the bin, and then it came to me, and I knew it was there all along, carrying me. I like the idea that our bodies are sick, not our souls (which I learned via a link from you). I emailed Father at my church and told him how incredibly spiritual I’m feeling it’s overwhelming. I have a tough time if i go to church because I feel so strongly, I want to cry. I believe in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity. I believe in Jesus. I believe he carried me when i thought I was alone, and that was enough. It sustains me now, when it gets dark or I have an episode. I pray. I meditate. I read Buddhist and HIndu scriptures. It’s amazing.

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