Embracing the Cross – Part 2: Suffering With Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thy will be done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

I think I get the message.

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

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

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

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

Here’s what the Catechism has to say:

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

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

~ CCC 2280-2281

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

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

~ CCC 2283

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

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

Neither state of mind is correct.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And guess what. Everything worked out fine.

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

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

~Psalm 38:1-5

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

~Psalm 69: 1-3

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

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

~Psalm 6: 1-7

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

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

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

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

~Psalm 13

And for good measure, here are two other prayers:

At a Time of Temptation

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

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

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

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

This I ask for Your love’s sake. AMEN

A Prayer of Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang in there, and God bless.

Kasani

 

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

Haaaah. Hahaha. Ha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care and God bless!

Kasani

(Click here for Part 3)

 

 

 

Don’t Feed the Monster

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

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The problem is a lack of personal responsibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I am miserable! I have no hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kasani

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

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

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

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

That wasn’t quite how the evening went.

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

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

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

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

I stared at her blankly.

“Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*cough*

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

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

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

Just one example:

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

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

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

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

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

On the very same page he adds:

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

Farther into the book he explains:

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

A short while later he adds:

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

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

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

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

Later on they claim:

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

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

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

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

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

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

(Click here for Part 2)

 

 

 

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 took a look 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.

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.

Now 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 took a look 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 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. 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’s 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.

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

The 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.

The 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