Withdrawal – Part 3: Joyful People Suffer

It’s been a long time since I posted anything. Or at least, it feels like a long time. Realistically it’s only been a few months, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. A lot as happened since then.

I’d like to start with the good news: I successfully came off of my last medication (Lamictal/Lamotrigine) mid-December last year. It was, in a way, the most freeing experience of my life. It precipitated a manic episode that ended with me in the hospital, but that’s all right. I learned a lot from it. Christmas 2017 was beautiful for me. So many blessings. I had a strong re-conversion experience in which I gave my life to Jesus again to do with me what he willed. Admittedly, if I’d known doing that would end with me in a hospital, I probably would have hesitated. But God knows our weakness. He hid from me how things were going to turn out. He wanted my complete and unconditional trust, and he was there for me every step of the way. He and His mother, Mary.

I plan to write a blog series explaining what happened. For now, though, I’m still processing everything and picking up the pieces (i.e. catching up on everything I’m behind on after two weeks out-of-commission, and praying to discern God’s will moving forward). I just wanted to send a shout out to my few followers that yes, I am still alive! And I’m doing great. Just decidedly worn out after everything. I look forward to writing more in the future.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

(Click here for Part 4)

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 4: Building a Personal Relationship with God

Once again, this post is very late in coming. And as the fall semester is well underway, I foresee my future posts this year, if there are any, will be few and far between. But worst-case I’ll pick up writing again at the beginning of the New Year. Since there will likely be a gap between this post and the next, I’m going to focus on offering some hands-on, tangible things to try. Essentially, I’m assigning you homework. And I’m assigning me homework. If you’re a student, you’re probably already swimming in homework. But what we’re discussing today is spiritual homework, and if you make the effort to include it in the rest of your busy schedule, you’ll suddenly find yourself far better equipped to deal with the challenges you’re currently facing in your life.

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), it should be fairly clear to you why I believe that a personal relationship with God is critical to being able to suffer the ravages of mental illness (and any other form of suffering) with peace and joy. Embracing the cross means praying “thy will be done.” To pray that from the heart requires that you trust God, and in order to trust God, you need an intimate relationship with him. The good news is that God actively wants an intimate relationship with you, and if you take even a small step forward in opening your heart to him, he will come to your aid with a shower of graces and love to help you continue down this path. And the deeper you go in your relationship with God, the more peace and joy will abound in your life, even in the midst of suffering, because you’ll trust him and you’ll learn to rely entirely on his strength to get through every challenge you face.

So how does one go about forming a deep, personal relationship with God? I have five suggestions I’m going to share with you that have made an overwhelming difference in my own spiritual life, my relationship with God, and my ability to cope with my mental illness. You may already be doing some, or all, of these things. If that’s the case, fantastic! Keep at it! And if you haven’t tried one or more of these suggestions, consider adding one into your routine.

The only caveat I have before I launch into this is that if you haven’t been doing any (or most) of the following suggestions, I’m not suggesting that you promptly start trying to do all of them at once. That’s a surefire recipe for discouragement. Pick one or two, and start slowly trying to implement it in your life. The key is not amount, but consistency. Ideally you’ll get to the point where you’re including all of these things in your routine in some way,  but it takes time to build up to that. Pray for grace and start with something you know you’ll be able to realistically stick to.

  1. Regular Prayer

This one pretty much goes without saying. You can’t form any sort of relationship with someone unless you talk to them. And if you’re trying to actively form a deep, enduring relationship, you need to talk with the person regularly. Every day. Preferably multiple times a day. If that sounds excessive, ask yourself this: how often do you talk to your significant other? Or, if you still live at home, your family? If you happened to be a roommate with your best friend, how often would the two of you talk? Maybe you aren’t a naturally chatty person, or maybe the people in your life aren’t especially receptive to chatter. But if  you want to get to know God, you need to make a point of turning to him in prayer everyday. First thing in the morning and before you go to bed are good times because they’re (usually) easy to remember. But its good to get in the habit of turning to God repeatedly throughout your day. Even just an inward glance and a thought: “thank you!” “I love you!” “Help me!”

Another thing to consider is, what does your prayer life involve? Are you simply reciting formal prayers such as the Our Father? Rattling off a list of petitions for yourself and your loved ones? It’s certainly important to include such prayers in your day, but for forming a relationship with God you need to spend time in strictly mental prayer as well. By “mental prayer,” I mean having a natural conversation with God, using your own words, pausing at times to give him a chance to respond if he wants to. If this isn’t something you’re accustomed to doing, you might very well wonder how to go about it. St. Josemaria Escriva has this to say about it:

You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries — even your weaknesses! Acts of thanksgiving and petitions — and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself —“to get acquainted!”

~ Point 91 in The Way

If you put your mind to it, everything in your life can be offered to the Lord, can provide an opportunity to talk with your Father in Heaven, who is always keeping new illumination for you, and granting it to you.

~ Point 743 in The Forge

If you’re thinking that this sort of prayer would require more than a minute or two, you’d be right. If you’ve never tried to do this before, 5 minutes is a good place to start for a period of mental prayer. Though, you should increase the time after a little while. Personally, I try to fit in a 15 minute block of mental prayer daily, not counting other other little moments of prayer throughout my day. But some people go for 30 minutes or more.

    2. Spiritual Reading

Protestants tend to be more reliable than Catholics about reading their bibles. Or at least, that’s the stereotype. I think it’s important to try to read at least a little piece of the Bible everyday. For Catholics, the daily Mass readings are a great resource. You get a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading. I highly recommend The Word Among Us as a source for these readings, since it also comes with a short little meditation about the readings of the day, not to mention a number of other interesting articles for each month.

But there’s more to spiritual reading than just the Bible. It’s important to read from other sources too in order to expand your own ability to understand scripture and gain new insights about things. Writings by the saints are fantastic, but there are other good resources, such as excellent blogs, and many different books on various topics. I highly recommend Mark Mallet’s blog. His posts are incredible. Even 5-10 minutes of reading every day can go a long way, but if you can’t fit in both scripture and other readings into your day, pick one day a week (Sunday is my preference) to fit in some time for spiritual reading other than the Bible.

    3. Adoration

If you’re a Catholic, you believe that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. You believe that when you go to church and the light is on beside the tabernacle (as it always is, aside from on Good Friday), Jesus is physically present in the room. That’s why we genuflect before taking a seat in our pews. That’s why it’s considered a serious sin when we choose, without serious cause (such as illness, or some inability to travel to a church), to skip Sunday Mass — we’re in essence telling God “I have more important things to do with my time than to come and receive the mind-boggling gift you have offered to me by giving your divine Son to me to nourish my soul.” That’s also why we have adoration services, where we come before the exposed Blessed Sacrament to offer our prayers and worship. Some churches even offer 24-hour adoration, so people can come at any time to pray. But it isn’t necessary for the Blessed Sacrament to be exposed. Jesus is still there in the tabernacle whenever we arrive in the church.

I believe very strongly that visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is an indispensable part of forming a relationship with him. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime — just like we can pick up the phone and call our friends at any time. But there’s a marked difference between calling someone on the phone, and going to visit them personally. There is a level of intimacy that comes when visiting in-person that can’t be achieved in any other way. There two aspects to this: one is the simple fact that you’re in the same place, seeing each other face-to-face. The other is the unarguable demonstration that you care about the other person enough to get in your car and drive to their house to spend time with them. That’s a sacrifice of both time and energy.  Love is proved through sacrifice. And building a deep relationship with someone requires more than just spending the bare minimum of an hour with them once per week (a.k.a. Sunday Mass).

Personally, I’m in the unusual position of being able to go to adoration everyday because I have a key to our church (perks of being part of music ministry). The decision to start doing this has made an incredible difference in my spiritual life and my relationship with Jesus. If you attend a large parish, there are probably official opportunities available to get to adoration outside of Mass at least once per week. But even if there aren’t, there are still ways of getting to visit our Lord if you set your mind to it. My own parish is quite small, since we live in a small town, and so adoration is only offered once per month — not ideal, but far better than nothing! And if you’re clever about it, you can probably find ways to visit more frequently. For instance, you can make a point of arriving an extra half-hour early to Mass to spend the time in prayer. Or, if you have a Catholic hospital nearby, they will have a chapel that is open to the public with the Blessed Sacrament there in the tabernacle. Or you could become involved in a church ministry that gives you regular access to the church via a key… 😉

    4. The Rosary

I recommend this devotion so highly I don’t even know where to begin. The rosary imparts incredible graces. Since my family began the practice of saying the rosary together every evening, I cannot begin to list the miracles, both small and great, that have occurred. It’s transformed our spiritual lives and brought more peace to our home life than we’ve ever had. It’s mind-boggling to me how few Catholics actually make use of this invaluable tool.

Now, if you aren’t in the habit of saying the rosary, I can already hear the objection flooding your mind — “A whole rosary every day? That takes like 20 minutes! I don’t have that kind of time or patience…” To which I respond “How much time did you spent on social media or watching TV today?”

That said, you don’t have to say the entire rosary in one sitting. It can easily be broken up throughout the day. A lot of people (myself included) say their rosaries while driving, waiting in line, or performing mindless tasks like laundry. Admittedly, it’s better if you can just sit down and focus on praying it, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for it, then there are other ways to fit it in.

Committing to say the rosary every day does take self-discipline. It’s not easy. One thing I strongly recommend is having a “rosary buddy.” Find a friend or family member who will be willing to say the rosary with you, and then commit to doing it together every day at the same time. You don’t even have to be in the same place to do it! Shoot each other a text and then both start saying it together. Having another person to keep you accountable makes a world of difference.

    5. Weekly Holy Hour

My last two suggestions have been specifically Catholic devotions, but this one applies to everyone, regardless of your denomination. A weekly holy hour is exactly what it sounds like — a commitment to spend an entire hour, once per week (outside of the usual Sunday Mass or service), with God. This time should include prayer, but it can also include spiritual reading. It can be done at church before the Blessed Sacrament, or at home with your family, or on your own. Really, there’s no “set” way of doing a holy hour. My family does one on either Thursday or Friday as part of our devotion to the Flame of Love movement. We say the Flame of Love rosary (a bit longer than an ordinary rosary), a few extra prayers, and either watch a video from the Flame of Love website (they have tons of fantastic resources on there, so I strongly encourage you to check it out!) or one of us reads aloud from a spiritual book or blog post.

By this point, if you haven’t been doing most of the things I’m suggesting, you probably feel like this is getting more than a little excessive. I don’t blame you. Don’t be discouraged! You aren’t somehow a failure for not already doing these things, or feeling like attempting them is impossible. A couple years back I never would have thought I’d be doing all these things — and believe me, I didn’t start doing all of them at once. It took years. But the difference it’s made in my spiritual life (and my life in general) is beyond words. I honestly can’t imagine living life without these now. They’re what keep me sane and happy, especially when my mental illness is acting up, or my other physical ailments are giving me grief.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can be a bit clever with all this. There’s nothing wrong with combining these things. For instance, I do my 15 minutes of mental prayer while I’m at adoration each day. And my family makes use of the weekly holy hour to say a rosary and do some spiritual reading. Experiment and see what works best for you! Maybe your weekly holy hour could simply be a weekly visit to the Blessed Sacrament, during which time you pray, get your spiritual reading done, and maybe say a rosary. Bam! Suddenly you’re doing all five of my suggestions, just like that! Of course, you shouldn’t limit your prayer time to once per week. That’s got to be an everyday commitment if you want to grow your relationship with the Lord. But try things out and see what works best for you.

One last important thing to keep in mind:

The point with all of this is not to spend hours and hours in prayer and make immense sacrifices. The point is to build a relationship. And you’re building that relationship with someone who loves you more tenderly than you can comprehend, not with some exacting deity who frowns on your every weakness and failure. Even the smallest effort and sacrifice pleases God. In your effort to start doing more for him, you’re going to fall down. You’re going to have days when things don’t go according to plan, and you aren’t able to fulfill your resolutions. Sometimes it won’t be your fault. Sometimes it will. But the important thing is not that you fell — that’s entirely to be expected. The important thing is that you get up and keep trying. I quote Christ’s response in the Prayer of Sorrow that I included in my post about suicide:

Come, Child, look up. Isn’t it mainly your vanity that is wounded? If you loved me you would grieve but you would trust. Do you think that there is a limit to God’s love? Do you think that for a moment I stopped loving you? But you still rely on yourself. You must rely on me. Ask my pardon and get up quickly. You see, it’s not falling that is worse, but staying on the ground.

Pray for graces. And trust.

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 3: Trust

Has it really been two months since my last post? Time sure flies. I just got back from a 10 day trip to Kansas to visit a close friend and attend a writers’ workshop. I’d intended to get a post written up before I left, but clearly that didn’t happen. And now, in the aftermath of a very exciting, blessed trip during which I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I should have, I am experiencing what is likely the start of a mixed or depressive episode. Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

An excellent time to write a post on suffering, yes?

What a perfect opportunity to sit back and analyze whether my belief that it’s possible to suffer depression joyfully is at all accurate.

I may be repeating myself, but having a proper definition of the word “joy” is required for this belief to make any sense at all. And pondering that definition led me to a question:

Is it acceptable to conflate “joy” and “peace”?

One could argue that it’s possible to be at “peace” without being joyful. If you take “peace” to simply mean “freedom from disturbance” or “tranquility,” and nothing more, then apathy can fill the shoes of peace just as easily as joy could. DepressionAn apathetic person feels no disturbance or anxiety. They don’t care enough about anything to be anything but tranquil. But I don’t think anyone in a rational state of mind would conclude that apathetic peace is in any way comparable to joyful peace. It certainly isn’t preferable. Anyone who has ever reached the point of depression where they’ve lost all ability to care about anything in life, knows that the absence of cares does not equal peace. Of course, if you’ve been suffering through a firestorm of self-hatred and you suddenly drop to a level where you don’t even care enough to hate yourself anymore, it can certainly feel peaceful in comparison. Cool water can feel hot to someone dying of hypothermia. But no ordinary person would choose a cold bath over a warm one to ward off a chill. And even the severely depressed person will reach a point where the numbness of apathy becomes a smothering prison that they would do anything to break free from.

featherTrue peace is inherently joyful. I’m not quite sure whether you’re peaceful because you’re joyful or you’re joyful because you’re peaceful. But both are simultaneously present and neither would be possible in the absence of the other. True peace requires joy. True joy requires peace. And I don’t mean external peace. A look at the lives of any of the saints demonstrates that it’s possible to be a very peace-filled person in the most turbulent of external situations.

So when I say it’s possible to be joyful in the midst of depression, I believe what I’m really saying is that it’s possible to be at peace. Because to me, peace is just a calm, gentle form of joy. And I can reaffirm with great confidence that yes, it is possible to be at peace while depressed. I’m not saying it’s easy to reach that head space. I’m certainly not saying I automatically feel that way when my bipolar symptoms rear their head. I’m tempted to say “I have to work at it” in order to reach that place. But really, that isn’t true at all. To be honest, whenever I “work” at being a peaceful person, I usually wind up even more anxious and mentally disturbed than when I started. You can’t will yourself into peacefulness. It works about as well as willing yourself into happiness. If you achieve anything it all, it’s temporary, and the experience is a tense one.

So how does one achieve peace? It’s actually startlingly simple. The plain, uncomplicated truth is that you will never have peace if you make it a goal in and of itself. Why? Because true peace is simply a side effect. It’s the result of something else. And that something else is trust.

confiance2This year has been a year of trust for me. At the end of last year I read an article about picking a word to focus on in the new year. I sat down and prayed about it. And the first word that came to mind was trust. At the time I thought it was weird, because it struck me as something more applicable to my mother, who struggles with anxiety. But this has been a year of realizations for me about the importance of trust in one’s spiritual life—and a real eye-opener as to how mistrustful I really am. When it comes right down to it, the fastest way to become a joyful person is to trust in God. I mean really trust in God. If you aren’t joyful, you don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that. Last year, I thought I trusted God. But now I can see I was deluding myself. Because I’ve gotten a few tastes of what trust actually feels like this year and the peace and the joy that springs from it is like nothing I’ve never experienced before.

If you want to suffer joyfully, you must be at peace. If you want to be at peace, you have to trust in God. If you want to develop true, childlike trust in God…you have to get to know him. You have to develop a relationship with him.

In the next post we’ll take a look at the process of doing precisely that, and we’ll discuss some tangible steps to take.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

Embracing the Cross – Part 2: Suffering With Joy

“O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” ~ Isaiah 54:11-12

As per usual this post is rather late in coming. Mentally formulating blog posts tends to take me a while. But I think I’ve finally figured out how to tackle this next one, so here goes!

The question I proposed to answer at the end of my last post was “what happens when you say ‘thy will be done’ to God, and truly mean it?” To put it simply, you become a very peace-filled person. You become joyful. But how? And why? After all, God’s will inevitably contains suffering of some sort. But the joy comes when you understand that the amount of good God brings out of your suffering far outweighs the suffering itself. I can attest to that from personal experience. But even so, I still struggle with that prayer when anxiety looms in my mind about one thing or another. I know that God will take care of everything in the best way possible, but the niggling little thought still sometimes surfaces… what if I don’t like the results of his plan?

The thing is, God wants us to be happy, and he knows what will make us truly happy in the long run far better than we do. Sometimes reaching the place where we will be truly happy involves going through some rough, uncomfortable places. Or some downright miserable places. And since we usually can’t see the destination that God has in mind for us, we’re left clinging to our faith in the dark, struggling to believe what God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

This may sound rather grim, as if accepting God’s will means just gritting our teeth and bearing what comes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. God’s will should bring joy to our lives, even when it contains suffering. The saints understood this better than anyone. Saints like Therese of Lisieux actively wished for suffering because they found joy in suffering for God. If we aren’t joyful in our sufferings it’s because we haven’t truly surrendered to the will of God and embraced it with our whole heart. The question then becomes, how are we supposed to do that?

First of all, we have to trust God. And unless we have a deep, personal relationship with God, that isn’t likely to happen. You can’t truly trust a person you don’t have a relationship with. And forming a deep relationship means spending a significant amount of time with the person in question. So if we want a relationship with God, we need to spend time with him in prayer and reading. Perhaps we can make “how to deepen your relationship with God” one of the topics of the following posts. I think it’s something well worth looking into. Also, we need to pray for the grace to trust him. We need to cry out to him with the words of the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

Secondly, we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the joy we’re talking about. The joy you experience while suffering is not usually a giddy, delightful feeling that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and tingly and excited. Especially not when you’re depressed. It’s more intellectual than physical. It brings calmness and peace, and also a sense of immense satisfaction. When you’re incapacitated by mental illness, or some other form of suffering, you tend to feel useless. But when you’ve embraced God’s will and accepted the suffering in order to offer it up to him for a good purpose, suddenly that sense of uselessness vanishes. You realize that God is accomplishing something important with what you’re going through, and even if you never personally see what that ‘something’ is, you are satisfied. Because it’s not going to waste.

To close off this post, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of St. Josemaria Escriva’s homilies called “Towards Holiness.” In reference to suffering he says: xiPDbphW

This is the way Jesus fashions the souls of those he loves, while at the same time never failing to give them inner calm and joy … and he impresses on them a living conviction that they will only find comfort when they make up their minds to do without it. – Friends of God, pg 465

When we decide to embrace our suffering, it suddenly becomes a far less traumatizing thing, and we can find peace and joy in the midst of it. The difficult part is getting to the point where we trust God enough to say “thy will be done” and mean it. We’ll discuss that further in Part 3 of this series.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 1: “Thy will be done.”

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” ~ Luke 9:23

Today was a beautiful Easter. I woke to sunshine streaming through my bedroom window—something all the more lovely since it was snowing the past two days. The above picture really doesn’t fit the mood of today in the slightest, but since I intend it to be the cover photo for this series as a whole, I decided to roll with it anyway. I actually meant to write and post this on Good Friday, buuuuuut life had other ideas. Really, I probably should have started this back at the beginning of Lent, but I suppose it’s better late than never, yes?

Today’s post will be more succinct than usual since I intend to focus my attention on one thing in particular: four simple words that shook the earth to its foundations, broke all the bonds of hell and brought salvation to every man, woman and child who was ever born, and will ever be born, should they choose to accept this mind boggling gift. Pretty darn impressive for four little words. And if you’re a Christian, you probably say them everyday (or at least every Sunday at church) without really giving them much thought. Can you guess what they are? They come between “thy kingdom come” and “on earth as it is in heaven” in the prayer Jesus gave to us. How often have they rolled off our lips with hardly a split second’s thought or consideration? (For that matter, how often does the entire prayer roll off our lips that way? But that’s for a whole other post…)

As you’ve probably already surmised, the four words are as follows:

Thy will be done.

They express the same sentiment as Mary’s four words in response to the Annunciation: “let it be done” (Luke 1:38).

This is a very powerful prayer. It’s also a very difficult prayer to say from the heart without tacking “if” or “but” on the end of it. Can you say those four words and mean them — really mean them — without any nagging hesitation or uncertainty? To be honest, I can’t. But I’m praying for the grace to reach that point soon. As soon as possible, in fact. Because while that prayer can be terrifying, it is also the most liberating prayer you can give voice to. “Thy will be done,” said from the heart, is the path to perfect peace — the peace of Christ that the world cannot give.

I chose to begin with this topic because it’s something I’ll be coming back to repeatedly throughout this series. It is the prerequisite to being able to embrace your cross. And embracing your cross is the prerequisite to suffering peacefully, even joyfully. Is it possible to suffer depression joyfully? That’s a question that’s plagued me ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little over five years ago. If you’d asked me that question three years ago I would have scoffed and said “of course not!” Had you asked me last year, I’d have responded with an uneasy “I don’t know.” Today my answer would be “yes, I think.” The I think comes from the simple fact that I haven’t been tested by severe depression since I’ve begun developing this new mindset. Could I suffer through that joyfully? I really don’t know. But is it possible to suffer mild-to-moderate depression joyfully? Speaking from recent experience, yes.

Logically speaking, depression and joy should be mutually exclusive. Certainly, I believed they were for most of the past five years. But one of the most important marks of a Christian is their joy. One of the most important marks of a saint is their joy. Real, pure, joy. If we are living our faith as Christians in a deep way, our lives should be saturated with supernatural joy. Where does that leave those of us afflicted with emotional disorders? Are we just plain out of luck? That’s bothered me for years. Is it possible to experience joy in the midst of mental illness? It’s one of the main things this series will explore. Because the answer, I think, is yes. And it starts with “thy will be done.”

Ponder those words. Do some soul searching. Do they frighten you? Ask yourself why. Why should we be afraid of the will of a God whose very nature is love? He made us specifically so He could love us. He entered the world we corrupted through sin and suffered more than anyone ever has for each individual person alive. For you. Because He wants you. He knows what will make you happy — He made you after all. He knows you better than you know yourself. And He wants you to be happy. His will leads to joy. Why should we fear it? Your heart cries out “Because His will can lead to suffering!” Yes. It can. And more than that, it does. But there is no way to escape suffering in this world. Wouldn’t you much rather be able to face what comes with joy?

Beg for the grace to be able to say that prayer and truly mean it. It’s the key to your freedom. In the next post we’ll take a look at its potential results.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

Suicide: What’s the Point in All of This?

To start off, here’s a playlist of songs I’ve found immensely cathartic when going through rough patches:

 

 

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time. To be honest, despite having been personally suicidal before, I wasn’t sure what to say. It’s a difficult topic and there are no easy answers. However, I’ve been prompted rather clearly to finally tackle this.  I’m not depressed and I haven’t thought about this topic for months, but in my evening prayer last night it popped into my mind out of the blue that I should really write this post. Then last night I dreamed that I attempted to commit suicide–a very strange thing to dream when you aren’t depressed. Then this morning in my morning reading, the article just happened to be about a person who attempted to commit suicide.

I think I get the message.

So whoever it is out there that needs to read this post, just know that God is looking out for you,  because I had  no  intention of writing this originally.

I guess I should start by saying that I understand this topic at a personal level. If you want to die, or have ever wanted to die, I completely understand. If you go to bed at night desperately hoping you’ll never wake up again, I understand. If you’ve come up with at least half a dozen different ways you could pull suicide off, and you go through your days with that in the front of your mind most of the time, I get it because I’ve been there too. It’s an awful place to be. It’s been a couple  years now since I was  in that head-space but I have vivid memories of it. If you’re stuck there right now, I wish I could reach through the screen, give you a hug, and promise you in-person that it’s going to be okay, and it’s going to pass. Because it will. It doesn’t feel like it, but it will.

Suicide is, in some ways, especially challenging to tackle in a Christian context because yes, the act itself is gravely sinful. But as far as I’m concerned, Christianity gives the only solid reason not to go ahead with such a course of action.

Now, first off, there are some serious misconceptions out there about what the Church actually believes and teaches about this topic. In the strictly technical sense, if you in full knowledge of how  gravely wrong the action is, and with clear thought and judgement make the decision to take your own life and you go ahead with that act, you have committed a mortal sin and have cut yourself off from God, and thus, heaven. However, most people that commit suicide are either unaware of just how serious the action is spiritually, and/or are not in possession of clear thought or judgement. This, of course,  does not give you permission to go ahead with it because you’re miserable. Far from it. But it means we shouldn’t give up hope for people that  have already done so.

Here’s what the Catechism has to say:

Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other  human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

~ CCC 2280-2281

Suicide is a serious matter. But it also goes on to say:

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their  own lives.

~ CCC 2283

So no, the Catholic church does not believe that all people who commit suicide are automatically going to hell. But it is still not an option we’re permitted to consider.

Now, there are some things about point 2280 that are perhaps frustrating to a person battling mental illness. The bit about being “obliged to accept life gratefully” for instance. It’s tempting to look at that, roll your eyes and respond “easy for you to say!” Being told to accept life gratefully can seem like a cruel joke when you’re severely depressed, or, perhaps, utterly exhausted after over a year of rapid cycling through mixed and depressive episodes. I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t the least bit grateful to be alive during some of my low points. In fact, I resented it. And then at other times, I would beat myself up over such feelings, telling myself I was a worthless monster for being so ungrateful.

Neither state of mind is correct.

Firstly, gratitude is not an emotion. It’s not a warm, fuzzy, joyful feeling (although it can have such feelings attached to it). You can try to snap yourself into a head-space of gratitude by listing  all of the blessings and good things you’ve received throughout your life, and it’s a good thing to practice doing regularly. But it doesn’t always work. And that’s when you have to fall back on gratitude expressed by action. It’s possible to express your gratitude to someone even when you aren’t feeling especially grateful. You can do things out of gratitude for people even when you’re feeling frustrated with them. The act of staying alive and taking care of yourself when you’d really rather not to can be an act of gratitude. “God, this is the last thing I feel like doing, but I’m doing it for you.” So don’t beat yourself up over not feeling grateful. Simply keep yourself alive and take care of yourself for God’s sake.

Now, resentment is trickier. Feeling angry at God isn’t a good thing, but it happens. In my own experience, it usually arises from feeling oppressed in some way. Thoughts of “what’s the point in all of this?” or “what did I do to deserve this?” rise to the surface, and then satan gets in there and gleefully  stirs it all up till you’re boiling with frustration, resentment and self-pity. “Does God even care about me at all? If he really loves me, why is he putting me through this?” On and on the thoughts go, spiraling around  each other until we’re a tangled up mess. It’s a toxic place to be, and we can’t afford to sit around there stewing. There must be some way out.

The first thing you need to do is consider what you believe about God.

 

If you question whether God actually loves you, look at that picture and realize that God himself is there, dying on that cross, because he loves you personally and wants you personally to be with him in heaven. That’s the only reason he’s there. He didn’t go get crucified for kicks. He also thought about you personally before he created the universe and decided he wanted you personally to exist, with all the aspects of you that make you you, so that he could love you and you could love him in return, and he believed in advance that you would be worth dying in agony for. He also understands what you’re going through in a personal way because he experienced it himself while he was alive on earth (and also because, if you’re baptized, he lives in you and experiences everything you experience).

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of “if he really loves me, why is he putting me through this?”

Firstly, it’s important to realize that God isn’t “putting you through it” in the sense of someone applying a punishment. According to Peter Kreeft in his book Making Sense Out of Suffering, God allows people to experience pain because he either intends to bring a much greater good out of it that couldn’t otherwise come about, or because he intends to avoid a much greater evil than might have happened had he not allowed you to experience it. That may or may not be of much comfort, but it at least points to two possible reasons why God is allowing you to go through this.

There is also a major advantage to suffering that I have already addressed in a previous post. There, I discuss how your suffering can be put to very good use, both for yourself and for the people around you  by offering it up. I encourage you to check  it out, since it offers you a purpose for your pain.

There is also one other aspect to suffering that I think is important and too often overlooked.

“Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

This life is not the point of existence. It’s only a “womb” for the eternal life to come. What we do and experience here determines what we will be when we are “born” into eternity. I firmly believe that people who experience unbearable suffering in this life will experience a much greater level of glory in heaven than people who do not.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Romans 8:18

God knows better than anyone that this life is not the point. If we set all our hopes on being happy here, not only will we be constantly disappointed, but we will also be gravely mistaken. If God allows some people to suffer more than other people, or perhaps more frequently than other people (as is in the case of recurrent illness), it is actually a blessing in disguise. Those of us who spend a lot of time miserable become “detached” in a sense from the world because it doesn’t bring us joy. We can’t count on it to fulfill us. Of course, without God in the picture, that fact very easily drives a person to despair. But it can also drive a person to search for God because they are desperate to find some sort of meaning in life.

If we hang in there, even when we desperately want to die, God will make that sacrifice infinitely worth it. And by offering that pain up, we can make a huge difference in the lives of other people and help save souls. The prayers of the sick, especially intercessory ones, have special weight with God.

Another important thing to realize is that while God allows us to experience hardship, he also gladly helps us bear it if we let him.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Sometimes God allows us to experience weakness in order to demonstrate his power to us. If we go to him for help, throw ourselves down and admit that unless he helps us we are going to perish, he comes to our aid. He protects us from destruction. Until we realize our own weakness and incapability, we often don’t recognize how much he does for us and through us with his power, not ours.

I can  attest to this from very personal, recent experience. This fall, in the midst of the university semester, I dealt with a severe hypomanic episode that morphed into a mixed episode and then dropped me into a depressive episode. It’s nothing I hadn’t experienced before, but there was a major difference between this time and the other times.

My faith life has deepened a lot since the episodes that drove me to consider suicide several years ago. I pray daily, multiple times a day, and have an actual relationship with God. This didn’t take away my suffering. Pain and misery are pain and misery. They hurt. It interrupted my life. I had to miss some classes, fell behind on my assignments and battled lots of intense self-harm urges. And yes, a had I few moments of complaining to God that this wasn’t fair and why couldn’t he have given me some other cross because I didn’t want this one (which is ironic, because when I’m battling relapses of tendonitis I demand that he take that cross away and give me back my mental illness cross instead because I’m better at coping with that *eye roll*). But this time, it was much, much easier to accept my cross, to even embrace it happily at times because it gave me something to offer up for other people, to stay aware of the people around me, to not fall into self-loathing and despair. I was given the strength to do the things that I needed to do. I was able to give myself permission to be weak but at the same time to trust that things would still somehow be okay because I’d surrendered myself into God’s hands and he was taking care of me.

And guess what. Everything worked out fine.

By the way, it is okay to complain to God and tell him how miserable you are. King David, whom God considered to be a man after his own heart, was an expert at that. If you ever find yourself at a loss as to how to pour out your heart to God when you’re in misery, here are just a few examples:

Lord, do not punish me in your anger;
    in your wrath do not chastise me!
Your arrows have sunk deep in me;
    your hand has come down upon me.
There is no wholesomeness in my flesh because of your anger;
    there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
My iniquities overwhelm me,
    a burden too heavy for me.

~Psalm 38:1-5

Save me, God,
    for the waters have reached my neck.
I have sunk into the mire of the deep,
    where there is no foothold.
I have gone down to the watery depths;
    the flood overwhelms me.
I am weary with crying out;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
    from looking for my God.

~Psalm 69: 1-3

Do not reprove me in your anger, Lord,
    nor punish me in your wrath.
Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are shuddering.
My soul too is shuddering greatly—
    and you, Lord, how long…?
Turn back, Lord, rescue my soul;
    save me because of your mercy.
For in death there is no remembrance of you.
    Who praises you in Sheol?

I am wearied with sighing;
    all night long I drench my bed with tears;
    I soak my couch with weeping.
My eyes are dimmed with sorrow,
    worn out because of all my foes.

~Psalm 6: 1-7

Or one of my personal favourites, since the whole thing is short, sweet and to-the-point:

How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
    grief in my heart day after day?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me, answer me, Lord, my God!
    Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”
    lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your mercy.
    Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the Lord,
    for he has dealt bountifully with me!

~Psalm 13

And for good measure, here are two other prayers:

At a Time of Temptation

Lord Jesus, you know what temptation is like. You know how strongly the wrong thing fascinates me, and how much the forbidden thing attracts me.

Lord Jesus, help me not to fall. Help me to remember my own self-respect, and to remember that I cannot do a thing like this.

Help me to think of those who love me, and to know that I dare not bring disappointment and heartbreak to them. Help me to remember the unseen crowd of witnesses who surround me, and to know that I cannot grieve those who have passed on, but who are forever near.

Help me to remember Your presence, and in Your presence find safety.

This I ask for Your love’s sake. AMEN

A Prayer of Sorrow

I have fallen, Lord, once more. I can’t go on. I’ll never succeed.

I am ashamed. I don’t dare look at you. And yet I struggled, Lord, for I knew you were right near me, bending over me, watching. But temptation blew like a hurricane, and instead of you I turned my head away. I stepped aside, while you stood silent and sorrowful. Lord, don’t look at me like that.

For I am ashamed and sorrowful. I am down, shattered, with no strength left. I dare make no more promises. I can only stand bowed before you.

Come, Child, look up. Isn’t it mainly your vanity that is wounded? If you loved me you would grieve but you would trust. Do you think that there is a limit to God’s love? Do you think that for a moment I stopped loving you? But you still rely on yourself. You must rely on me. Ask my pardon and get up quickly. You see, it’s not falling that is worse, but staying on the ground.

Don’t lose hope. The suicidal thoughts will pass. The depression will pass. Go to God  in prayer. Recognize that he will give you exactly what you need to get through what you are going through right now. He might not take your pain away. But he will help you bear it. He really does listen to us. When I was near the end of my rope after months and months and months of non-stop rapid cycling, I flat out begged him for just a month, just one month of stability, or I simply wasn’t going to make it. Apparently I was right about the latter comment because he answered my prayer. The next month was one of total and complete stability, something that completely floored my doctor. Then I sank back into another depressive episode. But after the month of stability I was refreshed and ready for it. God does listen to us. He doesn’t always give us what we want, but he gives us what’s best for us.

And as a closing note, prayer  doesn’t always have to be in words. Quite a few times in my most recent episodes, I simply went to my church, sat in front of Jesus in the blessed sacrament, and wordlessly offered him my pain. I just sat there, resting my head on the pew in front of me, hurting, but knowing that he was there suffering right alongside me, accepting that sacrifice, and encouraging me–along  with his mother, and all of the other saints. Some of my most painful moments were during those visits, but I always left with renewed strength to face the day. The Blessed Virgin helped a lot too. There is something immensely comforting about a motherly embrace, and she gladly offers that. Even if you’re a Protestant, that’s worth keeping in mind. Jesus gave us his mother when he was dying on the cross for a reason.

If you have any questions or just want to talk, feel free to leave a comment. I’m here and happy to listen and offer what advice I can.

Hang in there, and God bless.

Kasani

 

Withdrawal – Part 2: We Don’t Get to Pick our Crosses

He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful. ~ Corinthians 1:8

So back at the beginning of May I posted about my decision to start weening off of my medications. I’m happy to say I’ve been completely off of my antidepressant bupropion (better known as Wellbutrin) since August 15th. All that’s left is to start slowing coming off my mood stabilizer lamotrigine (better known as Lamictal). I’d intended to write several posts throughout the summer commenting on my progress coming off the antidepressant, but things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned them out. In fact, they still aren’t.

My plan for the summer was that I would come off of my antidepressant, experience some possibly moderate to severe depressive symptoms throughout the process and get through them with God’s grace, and then be back to normal by the time the semester started in September.

This lovely plan of mine should (rightly) provoke incredulous laughter from my fellow bipolar sufferers. Really? You planned out exactly what sort of episodes you would have, and for how long, and expected the universe to cooperate with that?

Yep.

Well, it never hurts to think positively, right? Although, I was actually thinking rather negatively since I expected the summer to be hellish. In fact, it wasn’t. Coming off of bupropion was far, far easier than I expected. The worst I experienced was a week or two here and there of mild-to-moderate depression. Nothing more. (I tapered quite slowly, mind you, especially towards the end.) It was almost a let down after how hard I’d worked to brace myself for the worst.

But of course, when my plans don’t work out, it’s usually a complete and total bomb on every side. This is no exception. The rest of my plan was to hit the semester running and make my way through it relatively symptom free as I came off my mood stabilizer (which both I and my mother assumed would be easy peasy compared to the antidepressant).

Haaaah. Hahaha. Ha.

Yeah, no, that’s not quite the way it’s working out.

It seems that lamotrigine is a much harder drug for me to come off of than bupropion was (for whatever reason). Granted, I almost always have some symptoms in the fall. Season changes are a trigger for me. But I’d assumed from everything I’d heard that I could come off of this drug without any trouble over the course of a couple weeks. In fact, my psychiatrist had said back in April  that I could stop it cold-turkey without any problems (and that at the same time I could stop my antidepressant cold turkey. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her). So I decided to drop from 250mg right down to 200mg.

Well. That  didn’t go over well. Much to my surprise, I almost  couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. So I decided to bump back up to 225mg. Ever since that drop I’ve been experiencing mixed episode symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. They were quite dramatic in the week following the drop, and then eased off since then and have been fluctuating between hardly there or unpleasantly intense, depending on how much sleep I get. I’m fairly certain much of what I’m experiencing now is due to the season change and my body adjusting to my new sleep schedule. But the symptoms I experienced in the week after my initial drop were far more severe than any of the withdrawal effects I experienced from the antidepressant. Maybe its a coincidence and I would have experienced those symptoms if I hadn’t changed my meds. Its possible, but I’m certainly not going to count on that. I’ll be tapering this drug much slower than my last one, and have resigned myself to a rougher semester than I’ve had for a while.

I’m not going to lie. My initial response to God about this unplanned development was a whiny one. Why couldn’t I have just gotten all of the really difficult symptoms out of the way in the summer? I could have afforded to be incapacitated then! I’d been prepared for that. I’d been all ready and eager to shoulder that cross. I hadn’t signed on for this cross. The cross of wading through my university courses while battling symptoms. That hadn’t been part of my plan!

The response I received was quite simple: crosses aren’t something we get to choose. Jesus didn’t go to His father with a plan all worked out about which cross he was ready  to carry. He took what His father gave him–and it certainly wasn’t a cross he wanted. He asked to have it  taken away if possible, but he also bowed to His father’s will. And His father gave him all of the grace necessary to bear it. He sent an angel to him to strengthen him in his Agony,  sent Simon of Cyrene to help Him carry the cross, and sent both His mother and Veronica to encourage Him on the road.

He does no less for us, and He also expects no less. He may not let us choose our cross, but he will always, without fail, give us the grace necessary to bear it, so long as we go to him for our strength and don’t try to do it all by ourselves.

This whole experience has also served as a gentle reminder that I need to stop making life plans and assuming  they will work the way I expect, even if I think I’ve made them with Him in mind. Really, you’d think I’d have figured that out by now.

As a parting thought, here’s a lovely something I stumbled across on Pinterest:10549a282c900ed507a9aa63b877cb22

Crosses serve a purpose, even if we can’t see it in the moment.

Take care and God bless!

Kasani

(Click here for Part 3)

 

 

 

Don’t Feed the Monster

It’s been a couple months since I managed to get a post typed up. Mostly life has just been busy, but I’ve also been stuck on what to write about. Coming off my medications has been going much better than I expected —  though not entirely without its ups and downs, as I am in a mild depressive episode now. But this down spell brought to mind something that’s bothered me about the online mental illness community  for a few years,  and lying in bed last night I decided it was time to finally  brought it up.

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The problem is a lack of personal responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. The fact that people expect the mentally ill to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, “snap out of it” and move on, can be a serious problem. It can lead to self-harm and suicide as people are driven to despair by their inability to meet up to unjust expectations. Because it’s in our heads rather than being a physical wound on our body, people often assume we have more control over our disorders than we actually do, and they blame us for things we simply can’t control. It isn’t fair, and the pain and outrage it sparks are legitimate.

But there’s another side to the situation that causes just as much damage, and the onus is on the mentally ill. As someone with a mental illness myself, I feel I have the right to speak out about this.

Mental illness is a monster. It lives inside of you, and when it rears its head it makes life a living hell. Nobody else can see it, and that just makes it harder, especially when we come up against people (often well-meaning people) who try to convince us it isn’t as bad as we think and we just need to try harder, think positive, do X Y Z, and we’ll be ok. We know that most of the time their suggestions simply won’t work and this leads to resentment, both at their ignorance and at our own helplessness. In fact, our helplessness is  such a sensitive topic that just reading about other mentally ill people coming up against stigma and criticism can spark outrage, resentment and a feeling of persecution.

All of this often leads to a strong temptation to embrace the monster.

We embrace the feelings of helplessness, negativity and resentment, and using the (sometimes) legitimate excuse that “we can’t help ourselves,” we choose to wallow in it. This is not to say that we are to blame for how we feel. A person with a mood disorder has no control over what emotions they feel and to what intensity– trust me, I know. But we do have control over what we use those emotions for. The symptoms we experience as the result of our illnesses are a disorder, not a decision. But the actions we take as a result of those symptoms are a decision, not a disorder. We can’t help it if we feel an overwhelming sense of despair choking the life out of us. We might not even be able to help it that we can’t get out of bed in the morning. But we can help it when we choose to listen to dark, depressing music that makes us feel worse even though it strokes our self-pity. We can help it when we choose to surf Pinterest for the darkest, most disturbing quotes and pictures we can find that we identify with deep down, and pin them to show off our pain. We can help it when we indulge in reading things that we identify with, but that only feed our pain, despair, and fill our minds with thoughts of self-harm and suicide. These are our choices. Our disorders do not take away our personal responsibility for them.

Another thing we are personally responsible for is when we vent all of our pain and hopelessness online for other people to see in our writing or art. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sharing one’s pain is therapeutic both for the writer/artist and the reader/viewer. But there are many cases when such sharing is simply toxic. It becomes toxic when there is no faintest trace of hope anywhere in what is being created. It glorifies misery.

But I am miserable! I have no hope!

That may very well be true, but what are you achieving by sharing that so bluntly with the world? I am not suggesting that we should never share the full depth of our pain with people. Sometimes we have to. But who are you going to share it with? With somebody else who is a hair’s breadth away from committing suicide? With a young person who is struggling to find ways to cope with their pain and had never even considered the idea of self-harm until they read about what you do to cope? When we vent our frustrations online we have no way of knowing who will see it. I fully support being brutally honest and sharing just how bad you feel with somebody. But pick that somebody carefully. Not everybody can handle it.

This is not to say that I don’t think people should share their experiences in the public sphere. I support sharing the experiences of pain when done constructively, because it can be healing for other people to know that they are not alone in their suffering. But the key word in that is “constructively.” The idea is to let people know they are not alone — not to crush their hopes and encourage them to kill themselves.

Those of us experienced with the suffering that comes from mental illness have a responsibility towards the inexperienced, the new sufferers, those still innocent of just how bad things can get. We shouldn’t sugarcoat the suffering — that would be lying. But there is a big difference between conveying your experiences in a way that you intend to be helpful and simply spewing your inner darkness into the world uncensored and heedless of the damage it may do to others. I feel somewhat passionately about this because my own struggles with self-harm and suicidal ideation began with reading other people venting about the same problems. Would I have had those problems if I hadn’t been exposed to them in such a harmful way? It’s hard to say. But at the very least, the hopeless negativity of others did nothing to help me in my battle.

In the same breath, I’m the one who chose to read those things,  view those pictures, and listen to that sort of music. I bear responsibility for that. As do we all, when we make the choice to indulge in such things. It’s easy to fall into, but ultimately, it only feeds our monsters.
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To make a long story short: we might be stuck with our monsters, but we don’t have to feed them. Venting our negativity can sometimes be nothing but an excuse to wallow in it. Keep that in mind. Of course, sometimes venting is necessary to keep from exploding (or imploding, take your pick), in which case, choose your audience with care. Sometimes the safest audience is your journal or private sketchbook. Other times, it’s your best friend, parent, therapist, psychiatrist, or fellow mentally ill person who you know for sure isn’t on the brink of doing something awful to themselves at that point in time. And when you’re in a bad headspace, avoid indulging in things that may feel good in the moment but ultimately make it worse. Choosing to wallow in the darkness and feed your monster is no different than getting behind the wheel of a vehicle when you’re drunk.

Just don’t do it. It’s both as simple, and as difficult, as that.

I’ll be praying for you. Take care and God bless.

Kasani

Your Pain Touches Hearts

Brace yourselves. Here comes another post about suffering…

The majority of my posts so far have been on suffering (The Advantage of Suffering and The Sorrowful Mysteries, for instance) because it’s something that goes hand in hand with mental illness. Since it keeps coming up again and again, I’ve decide to create an ongoing series specifically devoted to it.

So here goes…

Why do we suffer?

It’s a question worth asking, and it really has no hard and fast answers. C.S. Lewis wrote a brilliant book on the subject that’s well worth checking out titled The Problem of Pain. I’m not going to try and rehash what he already addressed. Instead, I’d like to put forward just one of the many answers to the above question for consideration.

Because suffering is part of the human condition, it’s one of the few things that any person, anywhere, from any culture, can bond with a fellow human over. Suffering brings people together like nothing else can–at least when the suffering is shared. Suffering allows you to understand and empathize with others who are going through the same, or similar, experiences. Yes, suffering can and does destroy some people. But on the flip side, it can and does move other people to heroic action. The very act of fighting to stay strong as you endure your own trials can bring hope and encouragement to others who desperately need it, without you even realizing it.

A little vignette from my life is illustrative of this.

During the winter of 2012-2013, I went through a very rough patch. I was hit with multiple episodes of severe depression, interspersed with some mixed episodes, and virtually no stability between any of them. While this was going on, I was also having some physical health problems that would have left me feeling miserable all on their own. Adding them to severe depression was really just some icing on an already large cake. But as anyone with depression knows, life doesn’t stop and wait for you to start feeling better. It keeps going. It becomes a matter of sink or swim. There really are no other options.

For me, one of the parts of life that keeps going regardless of how I feel is music ministry. Our church isn’t large.  Back then, it was just me and a fellow lady parishioner who led the congregation in song. We both sang, but she was the cantor and I was the pianist. Her job would turn into an absolute nightmare if I failed to show up–it’s a tall order to lead an entire congregation without any instrumental accompaniment when you have no musical training. The result usually isn’t terribly pretty, though perhaps its mildly better than a dry mass (a mass with no music). Suffice to say, I couldn’t simply bow out, even though curling up in a corner and dying felt preferable to leaving the house. So I pulled together some hymns that weren’t too hard, and that I felt drawn to in my misery, and trooped off to church.

I could barely focus on the notes on the page. I didn’t even try to hear myself singing. I just mindlessly forced the memorized words out with as much force as my blind  discomfort  allowed, not caring if my voice cracked or went off key–which it very likely did. I was in a state of utter resignation. The whole thing didn’t seem worth the effort. I was tired  of life. Everything was way too hard, and I confess I felt more than a little bitter about it deep down. What was the point of having to go through all of it? I was more than a little frustrated with my Creator, though I hadn’t outright admitted that to myself yet.

The mass finally ended. The last hymn was done. I decided that crawling under the piano and dying probably wouldn’t be looked upon as socially acceptable, so instead I started gathering up my sheet music. As I did so, a woman approached my fellow singer. I almost failed to notice, considering how caught up I was in my pity-party. But when I turned my attention on them, I momentarily forgot myself. The woman was wiping tears from her eyes as she thanked us for our effort. There was no way she could know just how poorly I was doing–I’d never talked about it with anyone in my parish, and not even my fellow singer had clued in. But the music we made had touched this woman at a very personal level.

My fellow parishioners aren’t what you’d call an overemotional bunch. If they tear up during a mass, they cover it up and keep it to themselves. They also don’t usually hang around to chat with the music ministry. To have someone walk up to the front of the church and address us is uncommon. To have someone do so while in tears–well, it’s unheard of. I was so shocked I actually forgot how awful I felt. And for a severely depressed person, that is extremely impressive.

I went home feeling the least bad about things that I’d felt in weeks. The entire experience had been made worth it. Why? I suddenly remembered I wasn’t the only person in the world burdened with suffering. There were other people in my own community suffering too–and somehow managing to survive it. And I had just unintentionally reached out and touched one of those people by simply showing up and trying my best to hold it together as I fulfilled my commitment. And the fact that she was courageous enough to approach us and express how she felt touched me. I have no idea what she was going through, and she had no idea what I was going through, but by our mutual suffering we helped each other.

There’s something beautiful about that, no?

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

Withdrawal – Part 1: Have Blind Faith in God, not Doctors

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose ~ Romans 8:28

Sometimes God’s purpose isn’t at all what we have in mind.

I arrived home last December after an hour long drive in the dark, having just completed a grueling 4 and a half hour final exam for my history course. I was tired but content. Finals were over. I was very ready to eat supper,  say rosary with my parents, and pass out for the night.

That wasn’t quite how the evening went.

I walked through the door, kicked off my boots and shuffled into the kitchen where I found my mother waiting.

“Finally done.” I offered her a tired grin. “I think it went well.”

“You have to come off all of your medications.”

She was clearly agitated, hovering by the island in the center of the kitchen with her Kindle in her hand.

I stared at her blankly.

“Huh?”

I’d been relatively stable for the past year, with only two or three mild episodes. I’d finally stopped rapid-cycling two years previously. As far as I was concerned, bipolar disorder was no longer something  I had to  worry much about. I had found a medication combination that worked, and it didn’t give me side-effects. I had a very effective anti-psychotic medication on hand to prevent me from ever having to go through another psycho-manic episode. I barely gave my disorder a second thought  anymore. The tendonitis in both of my elbows that I’d spent the past two years combating was a much bigger problem in my mind, and more than enough of a cross to bear.

My mother is a pharmacist–not exactly a profession than encourages an anti-pill mentality. And yet, much to my alarm,  she  proceeded to explain to me that my medications were all doing terrible things to my brain and if I didn’t come off of them I would wind up in a really bad condition years down the road.

This wasn’t something I wanted to hear. My medications were my safety blanket. They kept me in control. I was not going to stop them. No way. She was nuts.

A lot of anxious wheedling later and my mother succeeded in talking me into at least reading up on what she’d discovered. Upon talking to my awesome history prof at the beginning of the winter semester, I received permission to write my research paper on the topic in order to kill two birds with one stone. So I purchased the audiobook for Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic and began making my way through it during the drive home from school twice per week.

I can honestly say it made for the most upsetting, discouraging, enraging research project I have ever conducted. Upon completing that book I ordered in David Healy’s book Pharmageddon  and used the index to find all of the parts related to psychiatric medication. It only confirmed what I’d already come to accept after Whitaker’s book—namely that drug companies are one of the most corrupt things on the face of the planet, psychiatry has, in some ways, done more harm than good to society, and that much to my dismay, my mother was right.

So to make a long story short, I’m coming off my medications this summer. I wanted to wait until after the semester was over before I started, or I would have probably started back in February. I made my first cutback on my antidepressant, bupropion (better known by its brand name Wellbutrin) on April 23rd, from 150mg to 125mg. It resulted in a week of discomfort, rather distinct discomfort on a few occasions, but I seem to have bounced back to normal. I’ll be cutting back again this coming Saturday, assuming I remain stable between now and then.

Looked at from a stance of  blissful ignorance, what I’m doing is utterly absurd. The daughter of a good friend of mine has flat out stated she thinks I’m crazy. I am rather tempted to point out, in good humour, that I fall under that category by default seeing as I have a mental illness. But the the choice to come off of my medications was far from arbitrary. In fact, after much prayer and deliberation I’m quite certain that this is God’s plan for me right now. I’ll probably be writing posts about this now and then throughout the summer. I don’t expect this process to be a smooth one, and pain is an excellent fertilizer for growth. Not that I go out of my way to experience it, but Jesus himself pointed out that his Father prunes us to make us bear more fruit (John 15:1-8). Pruning  is rarely pleasant.

Yes, I received permission from my psychiatrist to do this. In fact, I went into the appointment expecting to have to argue with her to let me do so; instead, she barely batted an eyelash, made no protest at all, and asked me why I hadn’t already come off of my medications since I no longer wanted to take them.

*cough*

So after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I was told that I could stop my bupropion that I’ve been on for 3 and a half years cold-turkey without any negative side-effects. Even though that flies in the face of everything I’ve read about coming off antidepressants. Needless to say, I disagreed. And after how I felt last week, I’m glad I decided to taper off slowly.

What exactly did my mother and I discover to make us want to do this? For an answer to that, I strongly encourage you to check out the books I mentioned above, particularly Whitaker’s. If you or a loved one are on any psychiatric medications, this is information you need to know. I’m not at all suggesting everyone should drop off their meds. That isn’t feasible for everyone, especially if a person has been on their pills for many years. But people need to know this stuff. It’s serious. And it’s not a conspiracy theory. As one of the professors at my university bluntly stated when I gave a presentation on this topic “I always tell my students to never believe in conspiracy theories, unless they involve drug companies.” The evidence of corruption, fraud, and downright criminal activity is freely available to people who choose to look for it. A look at the various lawsuits that have been filed against companies like Eli Lily is telling. The numerous studies that have been swept under the carpet because their results were inconvenient are even more telling.

I may or may not post my research essay on here. I’d rather people just check out my sources. You are very unlikely to hear about any of it from your psychiatrist. I certainly never heard it from mine. Misinformation among the general public is rampant, drug companies encourage it, and many doctors buy into it as well.

Just one example:

Were you aware that the chemical-imbalance theory of mental illness is completely false? The medical community no longer accepts it because it has been proven wrong so many times over the past 40 years. In fact, there’s never been any solid evidence to support it. But the general public has been repeatedly informed that depression is the result of a serotonin deficiency (or some other chemical imbalance) and schizophrenia is chalked up to an overactive dopamine system. The reality is that studies have repeatedly shown unmedicated schizophrenics have the very same dopamine systems as healthy individuals, and unmedicated patents suffering from depression have the very same variations in serotonin levels as healthy individuals. Check out Whitaker’s book if you don’t believe me.

A quote from Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times on July 11, 2011, says it all:

“I am not one who easily loses his temper, but I confess to experiencing markedly increased limbic activity whenever I hear someone proclaim, “Psychiatrists think all mental disorders are due to a chemical imbalance!” In the past 30 years, I don’t believe I have ever heard a knowledgeable, well-trained psychiatrist make such a preposterous claim, except perhaps to mock it. On the other hand, the “chemical imbalance” trope has been tossed around a great deal by opponents of psychiatry, who mendaciously attribute the phrase to psychiatrists themselves. And, yes–the “chemical imbalance” image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies, often to the detriment of our patients’ understanding. In truth, the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”

I offer in rebuttal two sources that (incorrectly) support the “preposterous” chemical imbalance theory. The first is The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide written by PhD David J. Miklowitz, published in 2011. First off, in a list of the various things that influence bipolar disorder he includes:

biological agents–abnormal functioning of brain circuits involving neurotransmitters such as dopamine” (pg 75).

On the very same page he adds:

“Your brain may be over- or underproducing certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, or GABA.”

Farther into the book he explains:

“we suspect that people with bipolar disorder have disturbances in intracellular signalling cascades, which regulate the neurotransmitter, neuropeptide, and hormonal systems that are central to the limbic system” (pg 88). (Emphasis not added by me)

A short while later he adds:

“bipolar disorder is believed to be related to diminished functioning of the serotonin system…. bipolar disorder has been related to increased sensitivity of the dopamine receptors and changes in the regulation of dopamine ‘reward pathways'” (pg 90).

In Miklowitz’s defense, he nowhere claims that the chemical imbalance theory has been proven 100% true, or is the entire cause of the disorder. But he certainly doesn’t shoot it down as incorrect either.

My second source is the textbook from my Psych 101 university course Psychology: Themes and Variations by Wayne Weiten and Doug McCann. They claim:

“Recent evidence suggests that a link may exist between anxiety disorders and neurochemical activity in the brain…. Abnormalities in neural circuits using serotonin have recently been implicated in panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Thus, scientists are beginning to unravel the neurochemical basis for anxiety disorders” (pg 651).

Later on they claim:

“Correlations have been found between mood disorders and abnormal levels of two neurotransmitters in the brain: norepinephrine and serotonin, although other neurotransmitter disturbances may also contribute. The details remain elusive, but it seems clear that a neurochemical basis exists for at least some mood disorders” (pgs 661-662).

These quotes are taken from the Third Canadian Edition which was published in 2013.

I am not quoting these to defend the chemical imbalance theory. In fact, from what I’ve read elsewhere, I am as convinced as Mr. Pies that the theory is bogus. However, his snide derision of psychiatry’s opponents is as absurd as the theory itself. This theory has been propounded for years by psychiatrists and by people teaching psychiatric students in universities. Is he making the claim that none of these people were”knowledgeable” or “well-trained?” Am I “mendaciously” making up these quotes to smear psychiatrists? I’ve got both books sitting open beside me on the desk. Check them out for yourself if you don’t believe me.

So to make a long-winded story short, you can’t just blindly trust professionals. Do some research of your own. But don’t panic and go off your meds cold-turkey if what you find freaks you out. That’s dangerous. Do more research and taper off slowly, preferably under the supervision of a doctor who is willing to help you.

That turned into a much longer rant than I intended. That always happens when I get on this topic. Anyway, please check this stuff out yourself. And I’ll keep you posted on how things go on my end.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

(Click here for Part 2)