Well, probably the most obvious answer would be that I am Catholic. But why Catholic, specifically? Why not just Christian, since that label includes a larger number of people? Or better yet, why bring religion into it at all?
Since the first two questions can be answered together, I’ll address the last question first.
My goal with this blog is to share the conclusions and tools that have helped me in my struggle with mental illness. There are boatloads of books and other resources that deal with mental illness from a purely secular perspective. Very few of them have been helpful to me. Yes, they communicated the technical details of my disorder to me with great clarity and grittiness. But after a year or two of battling it, I hardly needed an outside party to explain the ins and outs of Bipolar Disorder to me. I was living it. Every. Day. Of my life. What I needed were answers to bigger questions: Why am I going through this? What’s the point in staying alive when I’m this miserable all the time? What can I draw on when my strength is spent, and pills and doctors and therapy have proven useless?
The answer I found was Christianity. My faith, now that I’ve gained a better understanding of it, has been my number one source of encouragement. It’s the only thing that has helped me come to grips with the meaning of my illness. It’s given me a purpose for the pain, which eliminates one of the most frustrating things in life: pointless suffering. It’s the reason I’m still alive today. Any advice I can offer is inseparable from the faith that has shaped my understanding of life. While there may be some content that is not explicitly Christian, most of what I have to say is tied up in my faith. This is not to say that this blog won’t be of use to you if you aren’t Christian. You may find it helpful in getting a different perspective on things. But if you are solidly opposed to Christianity, this probably isn’t the blog for you.
To tackle the first question, my decision to come at the issue from a Catholic perspective is quite simple: Catholicism encompasses the full spectrum of Christianity. Protestant readers, before you turn away with a groan of disgust, please hear me out. This is a mental illness blog, not a theology battle. The word catholic, itself, means “all-embracing” or “universal.” Far from excluding other Christian denominations, I’m simply making full use of all the tools available to me, and some of those tools are only found in the Catholic Church.
I don’t wish to scare off Protestants. Many of my insights and suggestions are drawn straight from biblical texts (not to mention plain old life-experience). The fact that I also make use of Catholic resources on occasion (the Catechism, writings of the saints, the sacraments, the Virgin Mary) shouldn’t be a problem for you — if you disagree with something I’m saying, skip over it. But I really doubt you’ll find what I have to say objectionable spiritually. In any case, setting aside the sacraments, none of what I suggest excludes non-Catholics. You may not agree with my sources, but that doesn’t mean what I say won’t be of use to you. I’m not claiming to have all the answers. I’m simply communicating what’s worked for me and what’s helped me cope.
To touch once more on the reason for this blog being Christian, it’s the very fact that many people are unaware of Christianity’s helpfulness in coping with mental illness that has driven me to start it in the first place. When I was diagnosed with my illness, my faith life was still in its infancy. I had only recently begun to explore some of the many facets of Catholicism, and I was overwhelmed by all the information available to me. I had no comprehension of the valuable tools and guidance that existed in the Bible and the spiritual writings of the saints and theologians. I didn’t know they were there, and there was no one to point them out to me.
For a few years I felt completely isolated. The ship of my old life had shattered, leaving me helplessly tossed about by the waves, clinging desperately to the floating pieces of wood that were my bewildered loved ones. There was a massive ship next to me, the ship of Christianity, full of light and warmth and safety, but there was no one on board to throw me a lifeline. Nobody heard my cries or saw my struggle. The ship simply continued on its way, rescuing and ministering to the needs of ordinary people with normal problems.
As far as I was concerned, I no longer fit into the category of “ordinary,” and my problems certainly were not normal. I felt abandoned by the Church.
Mental illness is not a pretty thing. Throughout the darkness and despair that it plunged me into, the only scrap of faith I was able to hold onto was that there was a God, that He loved me, and that after I died I would receive some sort of recompense for the misery I was going through. It kept me alive, but only barely. And the anger and resentment I felt towards my Creator at times for putting me through all the ups and downs with no explanation, no tools, no support, was crushing.
The truth was, there were tools available to me, and there were explanations. But God chose to bring them to my attention slowly, without the assistance of a human teacher. Looking back now, I can see that had there been someone there to explain everything and support me spiritually, I would not have had any appreciation of the helpless frustration that most people face when confronted with this kind of suffering, and I probably wouldn’t have chosen to write this blog. As it continues to be proven to me time and again, Romans 8:28 “all things work for good for those who love God” is not a trite catchphrase. It’s the truth. It’s just a difficult truth to grasp at times.
So to sum up my answer to the question of “why Catholic?” in one sentence: Catholicism has given me tools and consolation that I’ve found nowhere else, and I firmly believe other people can benefit from them as well, Catholic or otherwise.
Still not sure you’re comfortable with the idea? Take a look through my posts and decide for yourself. The worst that can happen is you might learn something. 😉