Withdrawal – Part 4: Unpacking the Experience

Hello again, everyone!

First off, I’d like to wish a very belated happy New Year to all my readers. It’s hard to believe I haven’t written a post on here since May 2018. Last year proved to be a long and difficult series of months, but I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now at the end of January 2019 than I was at the same time last year.

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, I was hospitalized for a week at the beginning of February 2018 for a full manic episode, complete with psychosis and all that that entails. Following that, I made a number of posts on here, some of which I have since taken down, since I was still decidedly manic while writing them and now either no longer agree with that I wrote, or they simply no longer make sense to me now that I’m stable again. To be honest, it’s taken a full year to begin fully coming to grips with everything that happened. The idea of blogging about any of it before now was something I just couldn’t face. However I’ve been feeling increasingly prompted lately to start writing on here again. So to start, I will finish of this Withdrawal series with two final posts.

Despite what happened last year, I am indeed completely off all psychiatric medications and have been since December 2017 (setting aside the very small dose of antipsychotic medication I took while in hospital). And believe it or not, I’m actually doing much better now than I was back when I was on medications, though I believe this is largely due to the special supplements I began taking in April last year and have remained on since. I will explain about them in depth in my next post.  I detailed my reasons for deciding to ween off my prescription medications back in the first post in this series. In this post I will give you all a summary of how that process went, and the biggest pitfall I fell into.

As I touched on in Part 2 of this series, coming off my antidepressant medication Bupropion (aka Wellbutrin) actually proved to be much easier than coming off my mood stabilizer Lamotrogine (aka Lamictal). The withdrawal from antidepressants resulted in some mild-to-moderate depression symptoms and fatigue, however I went slowly, breaking the pills into smaller and smaller pieces. From April 2016 to August 2016 I weened myself down from 150mg daily, to nothing, dropping by 25mg increments every few weeks. I took a break from pill withdrawal for a little while before attempting to withdraw from Lamictal, since it’s better not to come off multiple medications within a short period if you can avoid it. I didn’t keep as close a record of my Lamictal withdrawal, since it took most of a year (I was on 250mg daily, if I remember correctly). Each drop in that particular medication caused anxiety, disorientation and mixed-episode symptoms that were mild-to-moderate, so I had to move slowly with it. And when I finally came off the last of it on December 17, 2017, I hit a major pitfall.

Early on in December I could feel the very first inklings of hypoIMG_2584mania tickling the edges of my consciousness–more energy, increased cheerfulness and optimism, much stronger creative drive, etc. However I continued to taper anyway and ignored the symptoms, assuming they would go away. What I should have done, was stopped tapering for a while until I was past the Christmas season (always a troubling time for me when it comes to my disorder). But I didn’t. And I mistakenly believed that because I had tapered off the medication so slowly, I wouldn’t have any sort of relapse upon completely coming off of it. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that it’s common to relapse with a manic episode upon reaching a completely med-free state even if you taper off slowly. In my ignorance of this fact, I slipped into a state of denial over what was happening.

Generally I am quite self-aware with my episodes, but with this particular one, I lost all personal insight. As the hypomania began to escalate to full out mania in late January 2018, grandiosity and delusions took over and I became convinced that I wasn’t bipolar, that I had been misdiagnosed all along, and that I was just entering a new state of consciousness, a heightened level of existence (very similar to some of the delusional beliefs I experienced back in my first manic episode). I was in complete denial that I was manic, so I flat out refused to take any of my antipsychotic medication, Zyprexa. No one could convince me to. I actually had someone slip some of it into my drink at one point, unbeknownst to me, but I quickly discovered it and became utterly incensed and even harder to reason with thereafter.

hospital_hall_by_triller14Looking back, I can safely say my irrational denial sprang in large part from the fact that  having to go through another full manic episode had been my worst fear ever since my diagnosis (worse even than a natural fear of death. I had essentially developed a phobia of mania and psychosis). I couldn’t bring myself to admit the reality of what was happening. Even after ending up in the hospital and experiencing the remission of most of my psychotic symptoms, I remained convinced that I had been unjustly hospitalized, and that I had never been manic in the first place. My behavior was normal enough during my hospital stay that I was able to persuade the doctor to release me after just a week. Looking back though, I can see that I remained manic for months after my release. This, of course, was readily apparent to my parents and close friends, however they felt I was manageable and would be better off at home.

Astoundingly, I managed to go back to work right away and continue “functioning” in daily life without any of my coworkers or students picking up that anything was amiss with me (at the very least, no one ever commented on it). Though internally, I was still fluctuating between various mild delusions and paranoia. For instance, I firmly believed the RCMP were following me around and spying on me for several weeks, and could not be convinced otherwise (this was not helped by the fact that the RCMP did in fact show up at the college where I work and kept undercover surveillance on the place for a week, though this was due to an incident caused by some unruly students and had nothing to do with me. It just happened to be very bad timing) . Thankfully, I kept all of these beliefs to myself, only occasionally mentioning them to my parents and close friends, which is likely why no one else in my life noticed.

It wasn’t until April that my family discovered the supplements that I subsequently began taking. These had an immediate effect—my previously high levels of anxiety and agitation almost completely vanished. For the next month and a half I remained in a hypomanic state, still more extroverted, enthusiastic and impulsive than I usually am, but grounded once more in reality without any lingering delusions or paranoia. Thankfully I was able to direct my extra energy into studying for my RCM music history exam, which I took and passed successfully. Within a week after the exam, my hypomania vanished entirely, and I dropped into the inevitable depressive episode that always follows my manic episodes.

The Advantage of Suffering cover photo resizedThis particular episode reached a moderate-to-severe intensity by the end of May, beginning of June, though it was no worse than episodes I had experienced while on medications. It lessened to a moderate level throughout most of June and parts of July, then eased off further to a lingering mild depression that continued into December, when it finally lifted completely. The episode lasted a total of 6 and a half months, by far the longest episode I’ve ever had, though that probably isn’t surprising considering the 5 month hypomanic/manic episode that preceded it. December was actually my only month of stability in 2018, which is ironic since that’s usually my most unstable time of year. That stability has continued throughout January this year. It’s a real blessing to feel normal again. I’ve been told that as long as I stay on my current supplements, I am not likely to experience any future episodes of mania. I would very much like to believe that, but only time will tell for sure.

I did learn a number of important, if painful, lessons last year, which I will unpack in future posts. In particular, it was a time of much spiritual growth. Jesus and Mary were both very much beside me, guiding my steps the entire way, thoassumptionugh there were times when I felt entirely cut off from them and in the dark, and I backslid to a large degree in many of my devotions for an extended time. That, in and of itself, was a learning experience (a strong blow to the spiritual pride I’d been falling into prior). There were times I felt as if I’d gone completely astray and was right back to square one spiritually, my relationship with Christ and my trust in him reduced to tatters. I will delve into that much more in a future series. Suffice it to say, by the grace of God I am back on my feet again with a reinvigorated spiritual life, and a restrengthened desire for growth in holiness. I can safely say that the process of renewing my 33 day consecration to Mary that I began on December 31 and will finish this Saturday, February 2nd (Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord), has had a large part to play in my spiritual recovery.

I’ll leave it at that for now. In my next post I’ll explain the supplements I’ve been taking and discuss my plans/strategies for the future. In the mean time, take care, and God bless you throughout the coming year!

Kasani

(Click here for Part 5)

divine-mercy4

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 15 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

 

 

 

 

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

To start off, here’s a playlist of some 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 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 and in a state of grace, 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 in that claim 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

Original painting of the Divine Mercy, by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 6: The Crucifixion

We’ve finally come to the last post in this series. A few days late— busyness and a mild relapse of tendonitis prevented me from getting it written for Good Friday —but better late than never.

In the previous post we looked at Jesus’ Carrying of the Cross. In this final post, we’ll examine the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the Crucifixion, and sum up everything we’ve discussed so far. If you’ve missed the previous posts in the series, I encourage you to check out Part 1 for an explanation of what I’m doing with them.

This final Mystery might come across as a largely physical torture, much like the Scourging at the Pillar,  and thus it might not seem to have a lot in common with the sufferings that come along with mental illness. After all, it’s hard to compare psychosis or depression to getting your hands and feet nailed to a tree and being left to hang there until you die— and this after all of the other things Jesus had gone through.

Some might make the argument that mental and emotional suffering are worse than physical suffering, or that Jesus was only on the cross for 3 hours, whereas mental illness episodes can last for weeks and months. But as I said before, mental/emotional pain and physical pain are two different things that can’t be compared very effectively, and considering Jesus was sweating blood the previous day from his emotional and mental anguish, I have a feeling his level of suffering during those moments was worse than the amount of suffering stretched out in a month long (or longer) episode of depression.

But I digress.

For the purpose of this post, what I want to focus on is something that Jesus said while hanging on the cross:

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ~ Matthew 27:46

What is hell? Biblical imagery gives us scenes of fiery torment, souls burning endlessly in agony. But setting aside all of that, what is the definition, the very essence, of hell? I would say it’s to be cut off completely from one’s creator, the source of all goodness, light, and love. I don’t think it much matters whether images of hell fire are meant to be taken literally or not, because to be utterly cut off from God, in and of itself, would be an infinitely greater torment than what any fire could cause.

What am I getting at here?

I’m saying Jesus experienced hell, for our sake, in a very literal sense. The Apostles Creed says “he descended into hell,” but in that case, “hell” is simply a word referring to the place of the dead, not the place of the damned. He went there to share the Good News that heavens gates were now open to them. But when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he experienced something that we simply cannot comprehend with our human intellects, because we cannot comprehend the Trinity. God the Father turned his back on God the Son, for the sake of our sins. It wasn’t for all eternity— or maybe in some sense it was; God is outside of time, after all —but Jesus  was given a taste of what the souls in hell are sentenced to. In his time on earth, he experienced far more suffering than any human soul ever can or ever will, because he bore the weight of all our sins, all our guilt, all our sorrows. According to Isaiah:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” ~ Isaiah 53:3-4

So how does this tie into mental illness? Sometimes, in the midst of our trials, we feel that God has abandoned us. Maybe intellectually we realize he hasn’t, but it sure feels like he has. We can’t feel his presence. We are utterly miserable. Our prayers seem to be going unanswered. It’s like we’ve been forgotten. Rejected. Forsaken. And Jesus fully understands the feeling. We might not understand why God chooses to allow us to go through such experiences, but there’s obviously a reason or he wouldn’t put us through it; and we certainly aren’t on our own in the experience. God did the very same thing to Himself. Jesus gets it.

So what does all of this mean? We’ve walked through each of the Sorrowful Mysteries and have seen the different ways in which Christ has entered into the very same sufferings that the mentally ill are forced to endure. If you still feel at some level that what Jesus went through doesn’t match up with your own suffering, bear in mind what I said back in part 1: Jesus lives in you. He experiences what you experience every moment that you’re alive. Why do you think it hurts him so much when we sin? Especially when we sin by hurting other people. He feels our pain, very literally. When he chose to enter into the human experience, he chose to enter all of it— not just the pieces of it that a carpenter’s son living in ancient Palestine would have gone through. He understands what mental illness feels like far better than anyone else ever can or will— he’s experienced every form of it in existence, at every level of severity and in all life circumstances that accompany it. This is why the letter to the Hebrews can say:

“we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” ~ Hebrews 4:15

Taken by itself, that statement isn’t particularly helpful. Great. So we aren’t alone in our misery. How does that help us any? The next verse offers the perfect answer:

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” ~ Hebrews 4:16

Because Jesus knows precisely how much we are suffering, we can go to him, boldly, and ask for his help. And he will have mercy on us and give us grace to help us endure our trials.

The catch is, of course, we have to go to him first. We have to approach him and ask for help. If we keep ourselves at a distance and refuse to acknowledge that we need assistance, there isn’t much he can do for us. But we’ve been promised time and again that he will look after us if we surrender ourselves to his care:

“O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires.”

~ Isaiah 54:11

“Take courage, my children, and cry to God, for you will be remembered by the one who brought this upon you.”

~ Baruch 4:27-29

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

~ Psalm 30

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”

~ Psalm 31

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delvers him out of them all.”

~ Psalm 34

“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”

~Psalm 72

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

~Matthew 5:1-12

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

~Romans 8:28

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

~Philippians 4:13

Mental illness is a cross— a very difficult one at times. But for those of us that have it, we have to keep in mind that there is a purpose behind it. You might not have discovered what that purpose is yet in your own case. I know it took me a while to discover the purpose for mine, but as time passes I continue to uncover more and more reasons why what I first looked on as a curse has actually become a very odd blessing in a rather unpleasant disguise. If we can truly wrap our minds around the fact that our illnesses were not dealt out to us out of spite, and that the God who allowed us to have them wants to help us manage them, the whole situation becomes a little bit easier to handle. But it requires faith. And faith is hard. Especially when it feels like God is quite simply ignoring you.

When you start to question whether or not God truly loves you and is going to look after you, stop for a moment and picture Jesus on the cross. He put himself there. For you. But there’s more to it than that. Do you honestly think God ever once stopped loving his only begotten son as Jesus went through the experience of taking on all of our sin and guilt? No. But still Jesus felt completely abandoned by his Father as he hung there on the cross. Even so, he commended his spirit into his Father’s hands as he died. And his Father raised him up to new life on the third day.

He will do the same for you if you cling to your faith, even if it’s just by the ragged ends of your fingernails. And not just after you die:

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” ~ Psalm 27

Waiting can be hard. Take it from someone who has spent the last few years doing a lot of it, for various different health problems, not only mental ones. But answers do come eventually. Never stop praying. He will be there for you.

divine-mercy4

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 5: The Carrying of the Cross

In the last post we took a look at Jesus’ Crowning with Thorns and how it ties into our mental illness discussion. Now we’ve reached the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. This particular mystery has quite a lot to unpack. Realistically I could devote an entire series of blog posts just to this one passage of scripture, but for the purpose of our current series, I’ll try to make it more concise.

If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out to get an understanding of why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

As with the Scourging at the Pillar, the Gospels don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on Jesus’ trip from Pontius Pilate to Calvary. Mathew and Mark only state that Simon the Cyrenian was forced to carry the cross for him (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21). Luke adds the bit about Jesus pausing to address the weeping women (Luke 23:27-30). John fails to mention any of the above. The Stations of the Cross, a tradition that allows a person to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s Passion, provides a lot more detail about this journey. There are usually 14 stations, and the are as follows:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus willingly takes up His cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets His Blessed Mother
  5. Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross
  6. Veronica wipes the Holy Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus comforts the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Sometimes a 15th station is included that recounts Jesus’ resurrection as well. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be discussing stations 2-9, though not necessarily in that precise order. We dealt with station 1 previously, and we’ll deal with the final stations in the next post.

Firstly, lets start with some context. Jesus has been through severe emotional torture in the Agony, betrayal by his loved ones, extreme physical torture in the Scourging, and utter humiliation in the Crowning with Thorns. He is covered with deep, bleeding wounds, dust, and spit. He’s weak from lack of food and rest, not to mention blood loss. It’s just been one thing after another, and it’s only going to get worse.

Does that last sentence ring a bell? I know it does for me.

800px-piombo_cristo_cruz_pradoNow a heavy piece of wood is dropped onto Jesus’ shoulders— his bruised, mostly shredded shoulders. Does he deserve this? No. In fact, he’s the only person in existence who doesn’t deserve anything of the sort. It isn’t his fault humanity messed itself up so badly. But he willingly accepts his cross, nevertheless, because it is his Father’s will.  Can we say the same for our own crosses? Of course, we aren’t innocent like Jesus was. We’re sinners. But did we personally do something so horrendous that we were cursed with our mental illnesses as retribution? Probably not. And even if we had done something horrible, God doesn’t go around dealing out punishments. But He does allow us to have our illnesses for a purpose, even though we might not have a clue what that purpose is at the moment. The weight of such a cross tends to provoke thoughts of “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” I don’t have answers to either of those questions, although I’ve asked them myself in the past. All I can say is that Jesus fully understands that feeling far better than any of us ever will.

Jesus, shaking from pain and exhaustion, stumbles, and the weight of the cross drives him to the ground. As his body hits the earth, the heavy cross lands squarely on his back, compounding the pain of his countless injuries. Every inch of his body throbs, his limbs ache with exhaustion. But he hasn’t given up. He tries to gather his strength to get back to his feet, but he isn’t fast enough for the guards. He is kicked and hauled roughly up, then shoved down the road again.

Sometimes mental illness feels like an endless treadmill of misery. You go for days putting one foot in front of the other, struggling to think, struggling to focus, sometimes struggling just to breathe in and breathe out. You raise your head to look down the tunnel you’re in and you can’t see any light at the end of it. You do everything you can to try and pull yourself together and make things work. And sometimes you fail. You hit the ground hard, and you don’t know if you have the strength, let alone the will, to get up again. But you do. You don’t have any other choice. So you get back up and keep walking, even though you don’t see how things are ever going to get better again.

Jesus fell three times on that journey. Three times his legs give out; his horrific injuries slam against the earth and the stones. Each time it’s more difficult than the last to get back to his feet again. And to what purpose? There is nothing good waiting in his future. When he reaches his destination, he isn’t going to be relieved of his burden. He’s going to be nailed to the cross and left to die. He more than understands the feeling of having no light to look forward to at the end of the tunnel.

Partway through this journey, Jesus meets his mother. Can you imagine what she must have felt, seeing her only son in such a condition, with such a fate awaiting him? She is completely helpless. She can do nothing to intervene or save him. She cannot shield him from the abuse of the guards, or make his journey any easier. She stands in the place of every person who has ever had to watch a loved one suffer, unable to aid the afflicted person in any way, shape or form. She feels his pain as if it’s her own.

Anyone who has been in that sort of position can testify to the misery of it. I doubt anyone can feel more helpless than someone forced to stand by while mental illness consumes a loved one. As the person you know and love begins to disappear beneath the symptoms, or the mind-numbing side-effects of medication. Or to know your loved one is struggling with suicidal impulses that they might not be able to curb. But there’s a whole other side to the story. Jesus can see the pain he’s causing his mother. He knows its his fault that she is suffering to such an extent, even though it isn’t his fault that he’s in the position that he’s in. That’s something many mentally ill individuals can understand perfectly well. The added guilt of knowing your loved ones are worried sick, and being unable to do anything fix it.

Partway along this journey to death, Jesus becomes physically incapable  of carrying his cross any farther. The guards are faced with the prospect of him dying before he even reaches the place where he is to be crucified. That’s unacceptable. They seize a bystander and press the man into service, forcing him to carry Jesus’ burden.

There are several things about this particular station that ring true when it comes to mental illness. First, the feeling of being incapable of taking care of yourself. Being unable to handle ordinary burdens while you’re in the midst of an episode. Or being unable to bear the burden of the illness itself. Other people are forced to step in and do the work that you’re unable to complete, or take time out of their lives to look after you. Sometimes these people do so willingly out of the goodness of their hearts. But sometimes, they resent you for it. They’re being forced to deal with something that isn’t their responsibility because you’ve proven incapable. It’s humiliating and guilt inducing. But there is another side to this station. Jesus’ Father knew he would be unable to complete the journey without assistance. A provision was made for that. Whether Simon was willing or not, he wound up being there to unknowingly assist the Savior of mankind. Even though He had to allow his son to go through that brutal experience, He didn’t abandon him. He made sure Jesus would be able to complete his mission. And He will do the same for us.

Along the same vein, Veronica arrives. She breaks past the guards and has to opportunity to wipe clean Jesus’ face. Did that do much practical good? Probably not. But it likely meant more on an emotional level than we’ll ever realize. In the face of such cruelty from the very humans he’s dying to save, there is someone who willingly reaches out to him, makes a conscious effort to comfort him even though she knows there is little she can do. This moment of compassion and solidarity offers him encouragement to press forward and do what needs doing.

Have you encountered any Veronicas in your life? Sometimes they are hard to come by, but sometimes they walk into your life precisely when you need them. A well timed comment or gesture of affection can have an enormous impact. It’s hard to tear our gazes off ourselves when we’re in the midst of misery, but have you ever considered being a Veronica for someone else? Sometimes a suffering person can comfort a fellow sufferer far more than anyone else can.

Finally, we come to the women of Jerusalem. Was it helpful to Jesus to have a group of them trailing after him wailing? It’s hard to say. There is the fact that they were there for him, that they were against his unjust condemnation and cared enough to become distraught. Sometimes its comforting when people are outraged and upset about something on your behalf. But sometimes it’s just frustrating. I can’t say one way or another what sort of impact it had on Jesus, but he can certainly understand what it’s like to have the people that care about you (to some degree or another) bewailing your condition. In the case of mental illness, it really isn’t a helpful response. It can be bewildering, and downright annoying, when other people are more upset about your illness than you are, especially when you’re newly diagnosed. “I’m the one with the disease, here. What reason do you have to be so freaked out?” Not everyone encounters this problem, but some people do. Jesus understands.

This brings us to the end of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. Tomorrow is Good Friday. Jesus will reach the end of his journey to the cross and give up his life to save mankind. In the final part of this series, we’ll examine the how the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion, fits into our discussion of mental illness.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 4: The Crowning with Thorns

In Part 3 of this series we looked at how Jesus’ scourging bore some similar characteristics to mental illness. This post will examine how his crowning with thorns fits into our discussion.

If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out to get an understanding of why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

This Mystery is a bit easier to address than the previous one was because it centers around a topic that most mentally ill individuals are uncomfortably familiar with: humiliation. The label “mentally ill” is embarrassing enough all on its own, but when people witness you being tripped up by the symptoms of your illness, it takes things to a whole different level. Different mental illnesses bring different symptoms, but I can’t think of any that aren’t humiliating to some degree or another when they rear their head.

The list of humiliations is as diverse as the number of illnesses that exist: Panic attacks in public, having to compulsively return to your front door and check that its locked ten times before you can bring yourself to leave for a lunch date with friends, making a complete fool of yourself because you can’t seem to stop spewing out the first words that come to your mind at a speed which is difficult for your listeners to follow, bursting into tears against your will in front of other people, struggling to make sense of what people are saying to you when you’re completely unable to focus on the conversation, finding yourself completely unable to live up to the expectations required of normal people in everyday life, flying into a rage over a minor trigger and spending days afterwards kicking yourself and trying to put back together the pieces of a damaged relationship…the list goes on, and on.

pexels-photo-1556716

Then there’s the shame brought on by the criticism of people who either don’t know any better, or are just utterly insensitive. e.g. “Your life is great. You’ve got nothing to be depressed about. Get over it already.” There are looks of disapproval and gossip behind your back. Or, rather than scorn, you’re faced with unease, nervous whispers, unwillingness to make eye contact with you, and a desire to get away from your presence at the first opportune moment. Or you have people hovering over you, smothering you with concern, watching you like a hawk, trying their best to be helpful, and unintentionally rubbing salt in an open wound: I’m fine right now.  I am able to make rational choices without assistance. I’m not a child. I don’t need 24 hour supervision.

How does Christ’s crowning with thorns relate to all of this? Well, a look at the Gospel passage says a lot. It shows him going through some pretty cruel, humiliating things.

1. Being rejected by the people he loved.

Have you ever had friends, ones you thought would be there for you, abandon you, as if your illness was a plague that they were afraid of catching? Or as if you’re somehow a completely different person now that they know you have an “ominous” label slapped on you? Perhaps they turned on you and became like enemies out of fear, misunderstanding or prejudice. Does your own family blame you for your illness as if it’s somehow your fault? Jesus gets it. He spent three years among his people, teaching them, curing their illnesses, offering them hope… And then suddenly he winds up in serious trouble, through no fault of his own, and what happens? Do they remember his kindness toward them? No. They gather in a mob and shout for his crucifixion at the top of their lungs, even after he’s been turned into a bloody mess from a brutal scourging. And where are his closest friends during all of this? Are they there for him, trying to support him and help him through it? No. They run away in fear, abandoning him, after everything he’d done for them and taught them, afraid that something bad will happen to them if they associate themselves with their teacher and friend.

2. Being stripped naked, dressed up and mocked.

Have you ever felt utterly exposed and vulnerable in front of people you know are judging you for something you have no control over? Have you had people assign false motives to your behavior, making unfair accusations based on ignorant assumptions? Have you ever been rendered completely helpless by your symptoms, only to have people tell you that you’re just being weak, that it’s all in your head (no kidding), or blowing you off because they think you’re making it all up? Jesus gets it. In a half-dead state, covered with deep, bleeding wounds, he was dragged before an entire cohort of jeering soldiers. They tore off his clothes— can you imagine how much that would have hurt in his battered state? —leaving him naked and helpless in front of numerous unfriendly eyes. Then they threw a purple cloak over his shoulders, pressed a crown of thorns onto his head and thrust a reed into his hand as a fake scepter, and they mockingly paid him homage, making fun of him for claiming to be who he actually was.

3. Being beaten over the head with a reed and spit on.

Have you ever been kicked when you were down? Have you had people criticize you and harass you when you’re in too poor of a condition to defend yourself? Have you been publicly embarrassed by other people talking about your disorder in front of you in a condescending or derisive way? Maybe you’ve even been physically assaulted or taken advantage of because of your disorder. Things like this cut deep, especially when you’re already embarrassed and hurting to begin with. Jesus gets that too. He’s been beaten, rejected, stripped, crowned with thorns and mocked. And now the soldiers take the reed from his hand and beat him over the head with it, driving the thorns into his scalp, opening new wounds. Then, rubbing his weakness in his face, they spit on him, despising him for who he claims to be, not considering for a moment that perhaps he’s telling the truth. Then they strip off the cloak and the crown, put his own clothes back on him— and you can bet they didn’t do that gently —and drag him out to be crucified.

1185px-michelangelo_merisi2c_called_caravaggio_-_the_crowning_with_thorns_-_google_art_project

Jesus understands helpless humiliation intimately. He can sympathize with whatever you’ve gone through or are going through on that front.

In the next post we take a look at the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, the Carrying of the Cross.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 3: The Scourging at the Pillar

In Part 2 of this series we looked at Christ’s Agony in the Garden and how it relates to mental illness. In this post we’ll address the second of the Sorrowful Mysteries: The Scourging at the Pillar.

If you missed Part 1 I encourage you to check it out. It explains why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

This will probably be the shortest post off the bunch because I find this particular mystery to be the toughest to incorporate into a mental illness discussion. On the surface it’s an entirely physical torture. It could be argued that such a degree of physical torture as what Jesus experienced is worse than any mental or emotional torture inflicted by mental illness, but that’s not the point of view I intend to take. Physical pain and psychic pain are two completely different things, and I don’t think one can realistically argue that one is worse than the other. It’s all a matter of degree.

The startling thing about this mystery is how easy it is to overlook. In the previous post, I quoted the full scripture passage from Mark of the Agony in the Garden. It’s a large enough piece of text that you can’t simply gloss over it without registering its presence. But Jesus’ scourging is mentioned so briefly in each of the Gospels that for a long time I hardly noticed it. Here are the passages from three of the Gospels (Luke doesn’t explicitly state that Jesus was scourged. It’s implied by Pilate’s words):

“Then he [Pilate] released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified” ~ Matthew 27:26

“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.” ~ Mark 15:15

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.” ~ John 19:1

800px-william-adolphe_bouguereau_281825-190529_-_the_flagellation_of_our_lord_jesus_christ_28188029The scourging receives one sentence in each Gospel. It makes it terribly easy to overlook. But one viewing of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ forever cures a person of the tendency to do that. The scourging scene is easily the most distressing part of the movie, which is saying a lot when you consider everything that follows after it. If you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly recommend watching it, but with the caveat that it is not for the faint of heart. One of the scourges used is made of leather thongs with small sharp bones attached to them. This isn’t something to Gibson made up for dramatic effect. It’s what actually took place. According to Isaiah:

 

“…many were amazed at him–so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals his appearance, beyond that of human beings–“ ~ Isaiah 52:14

Jesus was so mutilated by what he underwent during his Passion that he was hardly recognizable as human. As horrible as crucifixion is, it doesn’t cause physical mutilation that makes you unrecognizable. But a horrific scourging does.  Gibson stays true to that image.

So how can any of this possibly tie into mental illness? Well, in and of itself, it doesn’t. But there are two aspects surrounding the ordeal that have stood out to me as familiar.

The first one is the utter inadequacy of language. There are some things for which words fail us. The simple sentence “Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged” seems a massive understatement. But really, how do you communicate the horrors of such an experience to someone who hasn’t ever seen or experienced it? I don’t think you can. Not being able to accurately describe it doesn’t make the experience any less horrible. And yet it becomes painfully easy to gloss over a person’s suffering in such a situation.

Similarly, you can’t communicate the bottomless depths of depression or the convoluted confusion of psychosis in words to any meaningful degree. Comparing it to a nightmare or to a living hell tends to just slide off people. I ran up against this several weeks ago when I had to try and explain to someone what would drive me to want to kill myself when I have such a good life. The person in question couldn’t fathom how I could get into such a head-space. I was left grasping at straws trying to communicate the experience of severe, clinical depression to someone who hadn’t ever experienced it. When it comes right down to it, all the analogies in the world fall short of the actual experience.

pexels-photo-271418The second aspect of the Scourging experience that bears some similarity to a certain aspect of mental illness is the fact that Jesus saw it coming. There are times in mental illness when we see things coming too. For instance, the first moment when you realize your depression is coming back after a temporary reprieve. Suddenly the horror of the experience you’ve just gone through comes crashing down on you, and panic begins to set in because you don’t think you have the strength to survive the experience again. But there is nothing you can do. You’re trapped, waiting for the inevitable. It’s terrifying.

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him. He even warned his disciples:

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles  to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” ~ Matthew 20:18-19

Yes, the Agony in the Garden was the “official” moment of dread for Jesus. But stop for a minute, place yourself in his shoes, and imagine what it must have felt like to walk up to the pillar, seeing the various torture tools laid out on the table, and be tied there, knowing you’re about to be mutilated beyond recognition. Trapped. Waiting for the inevitable. There’s absolutely no way around it, so somehow you have to survive it.

It’s a chilling thought.

I think most people would agree that such a situation more than matches up to the level of pre-episode, pre-panic attack, pre-you-name-it dread that slams into you when your illness (whatever it happens to be) rears its head. Keep in mind, too, that during the Agony, Jesus still had the tiniest, flickering hope that his Father might rescue him from the experience. As he’s standing tied to the pillar, waiting for the first lash to fall, that hope has long since been abandoned. He understands and accepts that what is about to happen has to happen and that there’s no way around it. But somehow I doubt that lessened the horror.

So next time you feel a relapse coming on, just know you aren’t alone in the feelings of panic or dread that it stirs up. Jesus gets it.

In the next post I address the third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns.

Take care and God bless.

Kasani

 

 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 2: The Agony in the Garden

In this post I’m going to tackle The Agony in the Garden. It’s the first of the five Sorrowful Mysteries. I explained my reason for attempting this series in the first place back in Part 1, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. To briefly recap: I’m trying to explain why Christ fully understands the pain of mental illness despite not being mentally ill himself.

To start off, let’s take a look at the scene itself from the Gospel of Mark:

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him. He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.

~ Mark 14:32-42

You can probably see some things right away when you read this passage from the perspective of mental illness. The thing that started me down the path of examining these mysteries in this context was Jesus’ comment to his closest friends:

“My soul is sorrowful even to death.”

Like everyone who has gone to church since childhood, I’ve heard this reading more times than I can even begin to count. In the translation I’ve heard most often the quote actually reads “My soul is sorrowful unto death.” My assumption for most of my life was that this comment related to the fact that Jesus knew he was going to die and was sorrowful about it. I certainly couldn’t blame him. I’d have been pretty upset myself in his position. But that’s not what he meant. My eyes were opened a little over a year ago when I happened to hear a priest discussing this scripture passage on EWTN. Jesus isn’t saying “I’m really sad I have to suffer and die.” The words he said mean: “I’m dying of sorrow.”

I’m dying of sorrow.

Hearing that painted the whole scene in an entirely different light for me. This isn’t a man in anguish because he’s afraid of suffering. I’m sure the knowledge of the horrible death awaiting him certainly didn’t help matters any, but that isn’t the only thing at play here. Jesus’ emotional torment is far deeper than just dread. In the Gospel of Luke it says:

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” ~ Luke 22:44

According to that version of the Gospel, an angel had to be sent from heaven to strengthen him. There are a number of things about that particular passage that can be debated, but the point is that the torment Jesus was suffering was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Why? Well, think about it. He’s taking on the sins of all mankind. Every single sin, from the most venial uncharitable thought to the worst mass-murders in history, and everything in between and beyond. All the hate, violence, rapes, child-abuse, cruelty, neglect, prejudices, and the list goes on and on. Jesus stepped up and took the blame for all of it so that each of us wouldn’t have to take the blame for our own contribution to it all. It’s easy to give lip-service to that, but when you really stop to think about it, the sheer enormity of that reality is shocking. Can you even begin to imagine the kind of guilt that would induce? It wasn’t just a “well, I didn’t really do any of this but punish me anyway” situation.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus became sin. He didn’t sin. But he took responsibility for sin itself. God never does anything halfway. If Jesus took responsibility for sin, you can bet he felt the effects of that just as if he had committed the sins himself. It’s kind of horrifying, isn’t it?

How does this tie into mental illness?

Emotional anguish. Deep sorrow. An unspeakable sense of guilt. If you’ve ever been depressed, all of that sounds awfully familiar. But there’s something else going on here that is also very likely familiar.

First off, Jesus left the majority of his disciples behind elsewhere in the garden. He was only comfortable bringing along Peter, James and John. He had brought them along to see his Transfiguration too, so it’s safe to say they had a special relationship with him. He didn’t begin to show his “trouble and distress” until after he was alone with those three, so clearly he trusted them more than the others to be able to handle the reaction he was having. Anyone who has ever been severely depressed knows that it’s not something one goes out and chats about with any random person on the street. If you open up about it at all, it’s only going to be with someone you really trust.

Jesus admitted to them that he was “dying of sorrow.” Now, I don’t know about you, but coming from anyone other than Jesus I think that would sound a bit melodramatic. The reality is, it’s a very valid description of what depression feels like. There’s just no way to communicate that kind of anguish without sounding like you’re blowing things out of proportion. That’s why it’s hard to open up to people about it. To not be taken seriously when you’re in that amount of pain is unbearable.

So Jesus opened up and admitted to these three men just how horrible he felt, and he asked them to “Remain here and keep watch.” I don’t want to put words in Jesus’ mouth, but it’s possible to take this statement to mean “Don’t leave me. I need you here to look out for me right now.” Given the state he was in, that’s a very understandable request. It’s the sort of request that often remains unspoken because a depressed person can’t bring himself or herself to burden his or her loved ones, or perhaps because the “loved ones” wouldn’t comply. When it is spoken, often the response is not what we hoped for. Perhaps they’re uncomfortable in our presence because they can see how much we’re hurting and don’t know how to help. Or perhaps they don’t see how much we’re hurting and don’t take us seriously enough to be of much comfort. Either way, it’s not uncommon for this simple request for the comfort of company to go unfulfilled.

So what did Peter, James and John do when the Son of God asked them for this?

They fell asleep.

They fell asleep!

Have you ever had the experience of daring to open your heart to someone and then looking over and realizing whoever it was slept through most of what you said? Literally, dozed off and slept through it? To call the experience crushing just doesn’t quite cover it.

“Are you asleep? Could you not watch for one hour?”

The utter disbelief in these words is nearly tangible, not to mention the pain and disappointment. If you’ve ever been in the position of reaching out for help and being disregarded, not taken seriously, or just plain let down by the people you love, these words ring painfully true. And if there’s anything that causes intense anguish that most people are incapable of understanding or sympathizing with, it’s mental illness.

It’s not like this happened once and then Jesus’ friends smartened up. They fell right back to sleep again. And the second time Jesus came back to them they “did not know what to answer him.” No kidding. I’m sure they felt bad. I’m also sure they were completely unable to comprehend the kind of suffering Jesus was going through. They knew he was upset, and it bothered them, but what could they do? They didn’t understand what was going on. That seems to be the case more often than not when it comes to mental illness. The people who care about you feel bad, but they don’t know what to do to help. And they aren’t exactly to blame for that. They can’t help not understanding what you’re going through. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Jesus’ final words to these three are heartbreaking.

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”

Is there anger in those words? I don’t know. At the very least they seem to carry a fair amount of exasperated disappointment. If you’ve ever felt frustrated, betrayed or let down by people who you thought would be there for you but weren’t, Jesus fully understands the feeling.

So where does this leave us? Obviously Jesus has experienced more mental and emotional anguish than any of us, and he was let down by his loved ones when he needed them most. That covers two potential aspects of mental illness, but there’s plenty more where those came from.

In the next post I address the second Sorrowful Mystery, The Scourging at the Pillar.

Take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 1: Christ’s Intimate Understanding of the Pains of Mental Illness

This is, perhaps, a rather somber post to strike off the new year. Discussing Christ’s passion and death on the cross might seem painfully out of place amidst the joy and splendor of Christmas (a season celebrated by the Church in the weeks following that beautiful day, rather than the weeks prior to it). But let’s face it: the season is not always a happy one. Many people have painful memories, disappointments, and resentments attached to this time of year. I admit that my Christmas this year was peaceful and pleasant—something I thank God for. But I understand what it’s like to be in the throws of depression on Christmas. I’ve been there. I also understand what it’s like to be stuck in a psych ward on Christmas. I’ve been there too. Mental illness does not go on hold for the holidays and leave us alone. If anything, the Christmas holidays make it worse because of the stress and bustle and drama associated with them (not to mention the fact that winter is often a difficult time for people with mental illnesses to begin with). But there’s something we need to understand about this season that might act as a balm for some of our suffering:

Christmas isn’t about celebrations with friends and family, gifts, or good cheer. The meaning of Christmas, the truth that is so often smothered by our tacky secular celebrations, is that Christ took on flesh and came down to join us in our misery. He came down to experience our pain, our sorrow, our grief and distress. He came down to suffer and die for our sins. And he did this out of love. So if you did not have a happy Christmas, don’t feel that it was somehow a failure. Christmas isn’t about happiness. It’s about love: a love that reaches down into the depths of darkness and despair to be with the beloved, whatever the cost. Christ is with you, and he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be here every step of the way this year, whatever it brings.

This series of posts will be an examination of the 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary and how they apply to mental illness. Before my protestant readers run away screaming, rest assured that a rosary “mystery” is simply a meditation on a piece of scripture— the same scripture you read in your bibles. It hasn’t been tampered with or altered in any shape or form. The Sorrowful Mysteries are a meditation on Christ’s Passion and death. The mysteries include:

pexels-photo-236319Now, I could have brought these pieces of scripture up without mentioning the rosary at all. But the fact that I meditate on these parts of Jesus’ life every Tuesday and Friday via the rosary has helped me to understand how they are applicable to me on a personal level because of my mental illness, and how they are applicable to all sufferers of mental illness. The repetition has helped me grasp things that probably wouldn’t have sunk in otherwise.

Why am I bringing this topic up in the first place? I want to address an issue I found myself running into for quite a while after my diagnosis, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come up against it. It goes something like this:

Christ came down to earth to be with us in our suffering, and thus He understands it on an personal level.  As the letter to the Hebrews explains:

“He had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” ~ Hebrews 2:17

And later on in the letter:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace for timely help.” ~ Hebrews 4:15

I had always found these passages to be comforting, but after going through the experiences brought on by my disorder, I began to have doubts. Of course Christ suffered. But He wasn’t mentally ill. He didn’t have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any of the other numerous diseases that affect the mind. Of course, He’s God and therefore must fully understand everything in creation. But can it truly be said that He understands the suffering I experience from my illness at a personal level? How can it be said that He was “tested in every way” when He didn’t have a mental illness to battle?

pexels-photo-977659This objection may sound absurd to some people, and rest assured it’s no longer something that troubles me. After all, Christ lives in me, right now, all the time. He experiences my pain and suffering every moment that I’m alive. It took a while for that to dawn on me. But setting that aside, the reality is He did experience the type of anguish brought on by mental illness during His life on earth, on all its varied levels. It’s plain to see, but for some reason terribly easy to overlook. As we take a look at each of the mysteries I listed above, as well as a few other scenes from the Gospels, I think you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

I tackle the First Sorrowful Mystery in Part 2.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

Self-Harm – Part 3: What’s to be Done?

“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” ~ Corinthians 1 10:13

In the past two posts we’ve discussed self-harm and what can lead to it, and we’ve taken a look at what the bible holds in the way of advice. Now I want to discuss some practical, hands-on ideas for how to deal with this. The above quote by St. Paul can be hard to believe at times, but it’s true. There is always a way out that doesn’t involve sinning. That’s what we’re going to discuss here.

First off, I have no magical cures for self-harm. I don’t believe there are any quick fixes for this. Addictions don’t go away over night. And if your urges are brought on by a mental illness, like mine, it can make overcoming them even more challenging. But getting urges doesn’t mean you have to give-in to them. I can testify to that. And the more you resist them, the easier it gets. Not that it ever gets easy, per se. It’s always a battle. But the more you fight it, the stronger you get.

There are a few tools I’ve developed over the years to help cope. If you’ve been struggling to give up self harm you’ve probably got some coping mechanisms of your own, but they might not be healthy ones. I’ll address that a little further along in the post. For now, lets discuss some healthy ones.

One of the most effective tools I’ve made use of is one I discovered back before I was diagnosed: doodling. It was a self-therapy. It gave me a way to channel my discomfort into something that acted as a distraction. Here’s an example of one of my earliest doodles that I drew back before I was diagnosed:

imaginative_explosion_by_okbrightstar-d34ojiy

Here’s one of my more recent ones:

the_mind_s_eye_by_okbrightstar-d68a0ht

As you can probably tell, I’ve done a lot of these over the years. I’ve actually sold some of them, since people seem to like them. Personally, they wouldn’t be my first choice of wall art, but they’ve been a wonderful therapy. As art goes, I prefer my more realistic stuff (the cover images on this blog, for instance), but when I feel miserable I can’t bear to try and draw anything that looks good. I can’t focus and I don’t have the patience to get things “right.” Doodles allow me to freewheel and do something with my hands without having to think much. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to doodle. When I stick my earbuds in with some music and pick up a sharpie, I can completely detach from real life and lose myself for a while. It makes for a wonderful distraction. I encourage you to give it a try sometime. If you aren’t artistically inclined (not that you really need to be for this sort of thing), why not give crocheting or knitting a try? I’ve never knitted, but crocheting is wonderfully mindless. It gives you something to do with your hands other than hurting yourself— which is the whole point.

Now, this sort of thing doesn’t always work if the urges are really severe. Another coping strategy I’ve tried is running. I’m not a jogger. I’ve never been very athletic. But that almost makes it better. It’s easier to exhaust myself that way. I’ll go outside and jog/sprint until I’m about to collapse from exhaustion. Sometimes that takes the edge off an urge. But running, unfortunately, isn’t always an option— like when it’s -40 degrees with the windchill (yay Canadian winters). If you have a treadmill then that’s a potential option. But if not, you’ll have to try something else.

If I can’t get out of the house, or if I’m already tired despite getting urges, another thing I’ve made lots of use of is showers. Long, hot showers. To be honest, it’s amazing I haven’t washed away down the drain. When I was depressed, the shower was my go-to place. It’s somewhat ironic. People often quit showering entirely when depressed because they lack the energy and motivation. Their hygiene plummets. Mine skyrockets. I live in an apartment with my parents (and for a while, my uncle as well). The shower is one of the only places I can curl up in misery and cry without anyone noticing. And something about sitting curled up under a stream of hot water in an enclosed space is comforting. I’ve spent 40 minutes just sitting there before. Admittedly, it really dries your skin out. And it probably didn’t do very good things for our water bill either… But I didn’t much care.

Now, there are two caveats to this particular coping mechanism: 1) do NOT do this if you have a razor in the shower with you. That would be so self-defeating it’s just not even funny. 2) Don’t make the water so hot it gives you burns. It can be tempting to inflict pain on yourself in that way, but that completely defeats the purpose of the coping mechanism. That’s just another form of self-harm. If you don’t feel you have the self-control to avoid doing that, then don’t make use of this coping mechanism.

There are two coping mechanisms I’ve heard of that I want to warn you away from, mainly because they work by inflicting pain. If you’d rather not give yourself ideas, skip the next paragraph. If you’re already making use of mechanisms of that sort, you might as well keep reading and see my reasoning against them.

One of the questionable mechanisms that I’ve tried personally is that of snapping myself with an elastic band. People use this method because it hurts like hell and doesn’t leave scars. Another one I’ve heard of, but haven’t tried, is holding onto ice cubes. The latter method is probably healthier because it doesn’t leave marks on your skin. But even though these sorts of coping mechanisms are better than cutting yourself, they still aren’t a good idea. Why? They’re still a form of self-harm. If you’re inflicting intentional pain on yourself, that’s self-harm— that includes hitting yourself, pulling your hair, digging your nails into yourself, etc. It doesn’t matter if you don’t break the skin. You’re harming yourself. And when you use coping mechanisms like that, it doesn’t fix the problem. It aggravates it. You’re indulging the urge rather than resisting it. It’s like an alcoholic using beer to avoid vodka. It’s still alcohol, even though it’s much weaker. It doesn’t help you break the addiction, and it can actually make things worse in the long run.

If you’ve made use of mechanisms like that before, trying to avoid them in future is going to be hard. I know because I’ve used them and it was a real challenge weening myself off of them. But coping mechanisms that inflict pain are a bad idea. Avoid them at all costs.

Now that we’ve talked about some basic in-the-moment techniques, I want to address an unconventional self-harm avoidance method that works better than any other thing I’ve tried. If the things I suggested above don’t sound like they’d work for you, then I want you to seriously consider what I’m about to suggest. It might sound bizarre because it’s actually a specifically Catholic tool, and it’s counter-intuitive at first, but it’s made a huge difference for me.

It’s called “mortification.” Protestant readers, bear with me. This will be of use to you. It doesn’t even have to be looked upon as a religious exercise, though for me that’s what gives me the motivation to make use of it.

First off, I’m not talking about the “Oh my word please kill me now that was so humiliating” type of mortification. That’s an emotional state. It has nothing to do with the Catholic concept of mortification. In a Catholic context, mortification is something you do to yourself as an act of self-discipline, either physical or mental. When I first heard about it, my first thought was: “Well, I’ll never be able to make use of that. I have enough problems with self-harm already. That would be unsafe.” But that’s because I completely misunderstood the concept.

Some saints have made use of horrifying mortifications. They sound like worse forms of self-harm than cutting. Mortification in the form of self-inflicted pain is a majorly BAD idea for someone who struggles with self-harm. It’s something that you should NEVER, EVER make use of. There are many different sorts of mortification that are perfectly healthy and will actually help you.  That’s what I’m going to touch on.

sta_rosa_de_lima_por_claudio_coello
St. Rose of Lima

Before moving on to that, though, I want to talk very briefly on why why what the saints have done to themselves in the past wasn’t “self-harm” in the sense that we’ve been talking about. Things like self-flagellation, hair shirts, wearing belts or headbands with spikes pointing inward beneath ordinary clothing, or sleeping on beds of broken tiles all sound a bit disturbing. In the past I’ve asked myself “Why on earth is it okay for them to hurt themselves when it’s not okay for me to do that?!” Aside from the fact that some of the methods I just mentioned were frowned upon by the Church at the time they were made use of, and aren’t used at all (as far as I’m aware) today, there’s a MAJOR difference between that and addictive self-harm such as cutting.

When we self-harm, we’re doing it to satisfy an urge. We want to do it. Intellectually, maybe we don’t, but physically, we’re craving it. That’s why it’s so hard to resist. When the saints made use of the things I just mentioned, they were not satisfying a craving. They didn’t want to inflict that on themselves. It was a sacrifice they were offering up. There was no pleasure or relief there. I’m not saying I’m comfortable with the methods they used. It doesn’t strike me as healthy. But their motives were very, very different than the motive of someone who self-harms to relieve an urge. The two things are complete polar opposites.

At its core,  mortification is about self-denial. You’re curbing the desires of the flesh. And it serves another purpose as well. In a previous post I talked about “offering up” your suffering for a specific intention— the souls in Purgatory, for example. Mortification can be used for the same purpose. Self-denial is a form of suffering, and in some ways it can potentially be more meritorious because it’s something you’re going out of your way to experience rather than something you’re having to endure against your will. Fasting is one example of mortification. Fasting doesn’t have to mean a bread and water diet, or only one meal per day. It can be as simple as skipping your morning coffee (or putting it off for an hour or two). Or maybe not having that second cookie (or not having a cookie in the first place). Or maybe forcing yourself not to drink anything until you’ve finished a meal (especially a salty meal…). Fasting doesn’t even have to involve food at all. It can be skipping your favorite TV show for a day. It can be not turning on the heated seat in your vehicle for a trip in the winter, or not turning on the AC for a trip in the summer. It can be washing your hands with cold water all day. It can be forcing yourself to eat some extra vegetables at a meal that you don’t really like, or not salting your food for a meal. There are many, many different ways of doing this.

There are non-physical mortification as well: making an effort not to complain. Forcing yourself not to daydream when you’re getting work done. Refraining from engaging in unnecessary, compulsive chatter about someone (especially if its gossipy in nature). Being punctual with timing. Forcing yourself to not snap at your significant-other or sibling when they annoy you. Little sacrifices here and there. You’ll notice none of what I’m suggesting is dramatic. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, smaller efforts more frequently is better than immense efforts occasionally.

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Why am I suggesting this?

Well, how does a weightlifter get stronger? By weightlifting. How does an acrobat become flexible? By stretching. How does a pianist gain skill? By practicing. Self-discipline is no different than athletic training. It’s a muscle that needs to be worked. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The less you use it, the weaker it gets. Resisting self-harm urges requires immense self-discipline. If you make use of a little mortification once or twice every day when you aren’t getting urges, you’ll start to get used to denying yourself. Then, when you do get an urge, you have more discipline with which to resist it.

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What’s great is that the very act of resisting a self-harm urge is a mortification. It’s self-denial. You can offer it up for something— preferably something really meaningful so that it gives you strong incentive. I’ve heard of people drawing butterflies on themselves and naming them after friends or family with the idea that if they give in and cut themselves then they’re killing their friend or family member. It’s a nice idea.  If it helps some people, great. It doesn’t work for me, though. When it comes right down to it, I know it’s just a butterfly drawn in marker. A make-believe mechanism of that sort is of zero use to me. But when I know with a certainty that the effort I make to resist self-harming will help someone else, maybe even someone else getting a self-harm urge or possibly contemplating suicide, that’s incentive. That’s real. And spiritually, there is definite merit there.

It might not sound like it, but at first, little mortifications are hard. Way harder than they have any right to be. But if you keep working at it, they get easier. I encourage you to set yourself a challenge: make an effort to deny yourself once, every day, in some small thing. Make sure it’s a legit denial. If you decide to skip your morning coffee when you aren’t feeling like coffee, that’s not a mortification. When you’ve been craving coffee with a vengeance since the moment you opened your eyes and you force yourself to wait until after lunch to drink some, that’s a mortification. After you’ve been doing it a while, you can increase it to multiple things per day. It’s just like weightlifting. Once your muscles get stronger, you end up having to move on to heavier weights to make progress. When a little mortification becomes easy,  move on to something harder. And don’t always use the same thing— unless its something that always works, every single time. I find if I make use of the same thing for several days in a row, it stops being effective.

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This has the bonus effect of making you appreciate things more when you don’t deny yourself. You’d be surprised how much more you enjoy your morning coffee if you force yourself to skip it sometimes, especially when you really want it. You’re also less disappointed if you don’t wind up getting something you wanted— like showing up at your favorite restaurant and discovering it’s closed.

I have one cautionary caveat: never deny yourself in a way that’s unhealthy.  For instance, never skip your prescribed medication to make yourself miserable. If you have an eating disorder, never make use of food-related fasting. Fast from activities, like TV or video games or whatever. Or better yet— eat. Forcing yourself to eat when you need to but don’t feel like it is a great mortification. I went through a phase during my repeated depressions where I was hardly eating anything, both because of the depression and because the antidepressant I was on completely killed my appetite. Forcing myself to eat was a major sacrifice.

On that note, however, I don’t recommend going out of your way with mortifications while depressed. Good mortifications for people who are depressed are things like forcing yourself to take a shower, eat regularly and go for walks— activities that you need to do in order to stay healthy, but are made very, very hard because of the depression. Don’t make things unnecessarily unpleasant for yourself. Depression is unpleasant enough on its own. You’ve got to be smart about this. The idea is to build your self-discipline, not make yourself utterly miserable.

A last cautionary note: don’t go overboard. If you find that you’re miserable all the time because you’re constantly trying to deny yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, it should be a challenge, but its not meant to suck the joy out of life. Little efforts here and there are all it takes. Nothing major.

I’ve found mortifications actually make me happier. The actual act of denying myself is a bit of a drag, but then I enjoy things way more when I do indulge myself. And when self-harm urges come calling, I have much more practice exercising self-control. St. Paul agrees with me on this.

“Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your body’s to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.” ~ Romans 6:12-13

Weapons for righteousness. Making the effort to control yourself is a weapon you can use against the enemy to help build God’s kingdom. That whole “offering it up” concept is very much at play here. To wrap up this series of posts, here’s one last quote from St. Paul:

“Just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” ~ Romans 6:19

If you’re a self-harmer, now’s the time to make a change. If you’ve yet to give into it, keep fighting. If you’ve been trying to overcome the addiction, renew your commitment. Remember why its important. Pray to God for grace. Try employing some of the things I suggested–particularly the mortification idea. You can do this. It is possible. I’m praying for you.

Have any questions or comments? Leave me a reply and I’ll get back to you. 🙂

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

Now by Fireflight

The clock is ticking
The seconds pass you by as you lie frozen
You are petrified of one more failure
A swing and a miss might break your heart in half
Yeah I know you feel alone
Don’t let it break your back

Don’t lay down
Don’t let it destroy you
Pain is real but it’s not gonna own you
Not this time around
(This is your time now)
Get back up, gotta keep on trying
Raise your fist, gotta keep on fighting
This is your time now
This is your time now

Your head is spinning
The path is right before you but you’re stopping
The cycle locks you in and you can’t see
That you’re so close to finally being free
Yeah I know, yes I know
That you can turn the key

Don’t lay down
Don’t let it destroy you
Pain is real but it’s not gonna own you
Not this time around
(This is your time now)
Get back up, gotta keep on trying
Raise your fist, gotta keep on fighting
This is your time now
This is your time now

You’re not hopeless, you’re not worthless, no
You are loved, don’t give up now
This is your time now

Don’t lay down
Don’t let it destroy you
Pain is real but it’s not gonna own you
Not this time around
(This is your time now)
Get back up, gotta keep on trying
Raise your fist, gotta keep on fighting
This is your time now
This is your time now