The Dark Side: Overcoming It

Everyone has a dark side, but if you don’t encounter difficulty, you don’t usually know this about yourself. People who lack compassion, in my experience, either forget that they have a dark side, or they are living from this dark side and can’t even begin to see the light that would be possible if they went into therapy, exercised and, perhaps, humbled themselves to the Lord.

Are you willing to be mentored by experienced Christians? Are you willing to share your weaknesses and be held accountable by peers in the faith? Are you willing to face your dark side?

Often, we try to avoid making people think poorly of us. But what if we’ve already started to slide in that direction?

If we think people think poorly of us, then typically we will either be defiant and consider ourselves “oppressed” (even if we’re the ones being problematic), or… we may become the “bad” person people think we are. We will act out their expectations of us because we see ourselves only how they see us. This is very true if we don’t have a strong sense of self. Which is why, if you’re really struggling, it is important to surround yourself with loving, non-judgmental people.

Another thing can happen: we sometimes imagine that others think poorly of us when really they’ve already moved on! Don’t forget that this might also be the case!

My neighbor, when I was telling her I was starting this blog, told me to put a list of people’s names whose opinion actually matters to me because it was a given that some people would probably judge me and write me off and I needed to have that list ready so I could keep my priorities straight and my ministry active in the face of rejection. Man am I glad I did that! This way I can follow God’s guidance rather than my desire for approval. This way I can write with raw honesty and minister from pain, but also from the perspective of my recovery.

Christian faith illumines our way out like nothing else does:

If we continue to look outside of ourselves for approval and find rejection, we despair without Christ who reminds us that we are strongest when we learn from our weaknesses and lean on him. We must ask Christ to give us our identity and not our job; our goodness to our fellow humans in spite their rejection of us, and not our popularity.

We must stop looking horizontally, which means focusing on the people around us who we imagine judging us, and instead look vertically, upward to God and then, through him, go on to the work that we are called to do. I think a lot of school and workplace shootings happen when people look horizontally and obsess over where they stand in relationship to society rather than upward to their relationship to themselves, their God, and their consciences. We are to dig down deeper into God in our peril and forget the ways of the world, our reputations and what the world thinks of us. And act justly even, actually especially, when people expect otherwise.

This does not work if we become reckless with our relationships and with the feelings of others or if we simply say, “The world has rejected me, and they rejected Christ. Therefore, I am like Christ and am Christian. ”

Just because you’re rejected doesn’t make you like Christ. Being harmless in the face of oppression, rejection and harm posed by others, even our very friends, makes us like Christ.

We must genuinely seek to make ourselves a living sacrifice through studying our Bible, going to church, and reflecting about how we can improve and taking appropriate action to get there. And by praying for divine aid.

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

May it be so. Amen.

The Church: When it Leads People to Suicide

We are all equal as living, breathing humans. We are all of us, equally, God’s children. The gospel – which preaches humility and loving the outcast and not judging – is a castle made of sand if it is causing harm. And the gospel has led plenty of mentally ill and LGBT folks to suicide even.

St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” How sad it is that people who do not conform to the ways of the “world” learn to hate themselves for it, and often through the church and the body of Christ.

People who do not conform to this world and who suffer teach all of us, especially Christians who are eager to fit in, a good deal. Because they remind us of the fate of Jesus. Because they resemble him as outcasts crucified for bringing into the world an inconvenient truth: the reality of their existence.

I have learned a great deal about living with a stigmatizing illness that cannot be cured from my LGBT friends, who over the years have expressed that, though it was not their choice to be LGBT, people often treated them as if it had been. For my Christian LGBT friends, they become immoral in the eyes of fellow Christians for living out the way that God created them, and they suffer accordingly for it.

We do well to do as my friends do who understand their persecutors with compassion rather feeling shame or anger. I personally try to remember that before I began to suffer with mental ill health I thought that mentally ill people were either dangerous, half-human, homeless, or other things that are unflattering. And my LGBT friends who grew up in the conservative church often prayed every hour that God would make them straight. If they had not experienced the profound pain and isolation of being gay in a conservative church, they would have judged gay people very harshly themselves.

If you are LGBT and in a dark place, don’t hurt yourself; instead get help, and consider clicking on the following link to the “It Gets Better” website for more resources:

https://itgetsbetter.org/

Antipsychotics: What I Tell Myself When My Face is a Mask

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12

Part 1: Masked Life – What I lost…

What do I tell myself when my face is a mask?

I tell myself that I am still me and that my soul still shines from within my body, even if its center is now the heart and not the eyes. Even if my eyes cannot sparkle and the wrinkles around my eyes do not respond immediately to the interactions I have on a day to day basis, I remind myself that I am still me, that my heart is full of love and compassion and I that I still matter to God.

Being on antipsychotics is hard. Everyone is different and so I merely share my own experience:

It changes your whole personality and you only very slowly learn how to accept the fact that you cannot command the room the way you did when you were hyper, sparky and sparkly. Your feet drag, your face doesn’t move except with great effort. Conversations lose their immediacy and you feel less persuasive. You flex your jaw, even when you’re not chewing. Your tongue moves. You are in a fog.

“You look over-medicated, Erin,” an abrasive colleague once shouted across the office at the school where I was working. I had confided in a different colleague that I was on medication and this was how I learned that everyone now knew this about me.

But I was numb from my medicine and so this didn’t even sting.

I lost my glimmer as a motivational speaker and high-impact teacher. My relationships with my students became strained. And eventually, I had to leave the teaching profession because I had lost the love and effortlessness of teaching.

Part 2: Thriving Anyway – What I gained…

Trust of others, because I was not volatile.

Confidence, because I was perceiving reality accurately.

Community, because I had the ability to make appointments because I could trust that I would keep them and that I would be well for them.

Safety. Because I felt safe and was safe.

The ability to trust myself. Self-reliance.

Feeling safe and secure.

Employment. Continued employment.

The relief of my husband who could finally relax.

Continuity. My life narrative.

My parents, with whom I had stopped talking because I had imagined all sorts of things that hadn’t really happened in my childhood and was angry at them.

Resolve. I read Elyn Saks’ The Center Will Not Hold about her persistence in the face of a severe case of schizophrenia and took heart that she had survived and that that meant that I could, too. And through this, too, I found … community. A more authentic community than I had ever known. The knowledge that many are on antipsychotics and live fully functioning lives, and the pride in knowing that some of us even have prestigious careers.

Finally

What will I tell myself if my face is a mask again?

I will tell myself that this is what keeps me alive, but that I won’t need to be on this much forever.

A Word About Today

I have no psychosis and haven’t for a while. But I personally will always be on a low dose of mine. I’m on a fourth of what I was on when I was in crisis.

Why would I ever risk going off of it completely? My trick: take it one day at a time.

How Did I get Better?

There are so many things that helped me get better. And the most important one was the belief that I could get better and the willingness to try many things. Never give up. No matter how hard you’ve fallen. God and his angels are with you.

Everyone’s path to recovery is different, and it is the shape of a spiral rather than a line, with moments of stumbling or utter collapse along the way – and we must be patient while committing ourselves to the journey.

A word about this process comes to mind from the book The Courage to Heal, where the authors observe that mature recovery means that you recognize that you can take breaks from the recovery process. Where you can see yourself as struggling, be at peace with yourself about it, and go on and have a great day anyway.

We are all works in progress and at a certain point I just gave it to God and stopped trying to fix myself. That’s how I got better. But I had to put in a lot of elbow grease first. I had to go to therapy and analyze my faults and see how I was being disruptive, but then I also got to the point where I was like, okay, I’ll never be perfect, I’m not harming anyone, and I can just stop trying to become perfect.

Trust the process and have faith in God’s help (when you feel well enough to see that God might, just might, be with you even in the extremity of your suffering – and this is not always possible).

Try to remember that God will “command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…” – Psalm 91:11. And that you are not alone.

Warning: We Must Change to Heal

Ask yourself:

Am I committed to getting better?

Is there something I am getting from being ill?

What steps am I willing to take to improve?

There is always a chance we have an investment in staying ill… and often we hide this from ourselves.

Ask yourself:

Am I taking responsibility for myself?

Am I thinking of others?

Am I committed to my treatment?

Am I praying for others?

Am I being humble?

Pray to the Lord that he would purify your intentions and give you a fire in your soul to get better. Sometimes we hold on to our illnesses because they help us in unhealthy ways.

If you love someone who is suffering: pray to the Lord that he would purify your intentions as well. Sometimes when one person is unhealthy it is threatening to us to see them change. Maybe we are getting something unhealthy out of things as they are and we are threatened because then if they change, we have to change, too. Be aware of this.

Never forget that no matter what, we must love ourselves as we are to get better, but we also must be willing and open to change.

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” – Psalm 9:9-10

The Deceptive Comfort of Diagnoses: Don’t Stagnate! Keep Going!

“What a relief to finally have a name for my suffering!”

Few who receive a stigmatizing mental health diagnosis utter these words. A bad diagnosis can make what seemed like just a really bad summer a never-ending life-long sentence of despair. If this applies to you, take heart! This does not have to be the case! Diagnoses, though helpful, cause harm unless you frame them differently than most doctors will. Read on to hear what I did to bring healing and hope back to my life in spite of my diagnosis.

It has been said that the body achieves what the mind believes. Our minds are incredibly powerful and they shape our reality and our futures, sometimes even down to what illnesses we get. We don’t just think our way into mental illness, of course, but don’t forget that people can make dramatic improvements in their daily functioning and quality of life just by changing their thought patterns. And so we could also say that the mind achieves what it believes about itself.

Clearing harmful religious structures from my life in favor of a hope-filled Christianity healed me partially. The other essential change was ignoring books and scholarship describing my illness and what this meant about myself and my life trajectory. This was transformational.

Labels are permanent, and mental illness is sometimes, though by no means always, permanent. Research is not bad and reading scholarship is not bad, perhaps, so long as one takes it with a grain of salt. In general I don’t recommend it.

What makes mental illness permanent? Not staying in treatment. Abusing drugs and alcohol. The first step is to acknowledge that you are greatly reducing your likelihood of a good life by being reckless and wishy-washy about treatment. Assuming you’re being careful, what else makes serious mental illness permanent?

Reducing yourself to a label and seeing yourself as nothing more than a label and a set of symptoms that will always be there until you die.

Mental illnesses can last a life time, and in bad cases we probably need to stay on medicine, but we cannot leave it at that. As soon as we frame mental illness as permanent, we’re doomed to stagnate….or get worse!

As people, we read books or watch movies about life all the time. Eventually we can’t tell if we are experiencing life the way we are because the book we’ve read changed us, or because the the movie was so accurate that it captured us perfectly! Diagnoses are like books about ourselves. Once we have them, it means we have found something that describes a part of us perfectly. But unfortunately we then may let them define us completely. And our mind achieves what it believes about itself. The illness becomes permanent.

Once we have a mental health diagnosis and agree with it, then we know what we are to move away from. It is not that we have a container to hold us permanently. No! Instead think of it this way: we have a direction. A goal: lasting stability. Maybe even a full recovery! A diagnosis is a sign that we must do things that move us out of this symptom cluster. In other words, a motion away from our illness.

Above all, never give up hope that you will get better!

If you have a doctor who says you’re only going to get worse, and who doesn’t listen to you when you say you want to keep things positive, get a different doctor! Negativity is poison for your brain. Obviously if you’re trying to get off of a mood-stabilizer (like Lithium or Lamictal) and you are bipolar, you probably shouldn’t go off of it. I would not trust a doctor if they told me I did not need the medicine I take because I know that this is what keeps me high-functioning. But if a doctor paints an overarching doom and gloom picture, get a second opinion.

I will conclude with an example of my own experience:

I once had a doctor who said in my first visit that I was on a low dose of what I was on and that, even though I was doing great, I could expect to double it within the next year! And then continue to go up on it. This is a bad sign! Turns out she had been an emergency room doctor and was used to people in absolute crisis. It was her first year in private practice. She gave me the right medicine change, but I quickly got a different doctor.

We must find doctors who have realism – who don’t just tell us to go off our meds – paired with hope and optimism. Labels and diagnoses frequently take away our ability to see that our suffering might not be permanent. And therefore labels can make the mind achieve the doom that doctors tell us about and that we most fear.

“Should-ing” People Out of a Pain that Heals: Why Snapping Out of It Is Bad

“Snap out of it!”

In this post I talk about why it would be bad to snap out of suffering and how we can help people who are suffering see the bright side. Hint: it’s not what you think!

Know this: it is impossible to “snap out” of serious mental illness. And actually, even people who suffer from less officially “serious” mental health issues (i.e. non-psychotic or non-mood-related disorders) cannot just “snap out” of them; many do well to seek professional attention. But that’s not what this post is about.

Did you know that telling someone to snap out of their woes is terrible, terrible advice, let alone whether this is even possible or not?  People should not just stay in a pit, suffer and wait until they suddenly feel better and can act independently again! Usually this is not even possible. But I’m saying that even if they could, I would stop them from snapping out of it completely. Because by “snapping out of it” we miss the valleys that helps us grow.

“No pain no gain” is a horrible expression, – never use it! especially not to someone with mental illness! And yet this phrase wouldn’t be around if there wasn’t some truth behind it.

We must treat pain as our teacher.

In my own case, pain has taught me what matters in life. To me, what matters is helping people who are suffering. I spent years of my life terrified of and paranoid about things that weren’t even happening. And now that I’m no longer suffering, I can draw on my purified priorities to do what I think will help the most people.

Helping others, even to the detriment of our reputation, is Biblical. St. Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 about the importance of our dying to our outermost self – the bragging self – the what’s my resume look like? self. Because what is inside is being transformed when this happens into something glorious. And that wouldn’t happen if we could just “snap out of it”:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

I would add to St. Paul’s assertion that just as things which are seen are temporary, that things which are felt are also temporary. We must always remind ourselves that we are not our feelings and we are bigger than how we feel. Always!

In a way, Paul seems grateful for pain. Granted it is a light pain. In one passage he rejoices about the thorn in his flesh that has helped him to remember that he is not God but one of God’s creatures.

Now the next question is this: How might we help loved ones who are suffering to see this very real bright side to their suffering? How can we frame this for the person so that they can see how they could grow from this?!? How lucky they are?!? How exciting to find something positive! The silver lining!!!!

The answer: we can’t make anyone see it. We can only hold space for them to find it out for themselves.

Unfortunately, it is easy to provide encouragement by forcing collective wisdom like “no pain no gain” or “every cloud has a silver lining” on people who are suffering. I say unfortunately because it’s not long after we have done this that we have alienated the person we had meant to help. They probably won’t trust us with their pain again! And they’ll be still more isolated for it! In fact, they might do the opposite thing to spite us! (Read anything by Dostoevsky for more on this dynamic – my favorite is The Notes from Underground).

I will conclude with an example from my own experience.

I remember how, while stuck in the bleakest despair, my grandma once gave me a gratitude journal and told me to find something to be grateful for everyday and write it down. It’s not so bad! Indeed, from the outside things looked great still. To HER! The practice of looking for the good could not have been further from my mind. The thought of it repulsed me and I threw the journal in the trash, determined not fit into the stereotype of the shallow Californian superficially pretending that all was well when I felt like crap. Life went on. (By the way, it’s not only Californians who do this…)

Several months later my mom bought me a gratitude jar. Mom instructed me to write on a piece of paper something to be grateful for every day and then to put it in the jar. And then she backed away and left.

Hmmm…. This felt different….

….

…Because she did not press me on it, and because she did not lecture me on how important it was to be grateful… because she did not “should” on me and say, “you should be grateful!” …Because she did not ask me again, let alone daily, if I was doing what she had recommended…, or remind me that so-and-so had it worse because they had problem X… Because of all of this, I did not throw it away. No – while I did not use the jar, – I’m too much of a contrarian for that – still I did not throw it away. And then something amazing happened.

Somehow, over the course of a few months, I began to feel, and eventually to know, that that empty jar was waiting for me for when I would be ready to fill it. It became my space for hope. This was completely unconscious. And with time I visualized myself being able to put notes in it.

What can we learn from this? This: Even though gifts can fall flat, they might not. It doesn’t hurt to try. And the person can always throw them away if they don’t like them. Just don’t take that personally if it happens, and definitely don’t “should” on the person, saying, “but I spent 100 dollars on that!” And don’t “should” on the person telling them how to solve their problems in the manner in which you would solve them if you were them. You’re not them. And no one suffers in the same way.

Give the gift and back away. Don’t bring it up again. And don’t give gifts too often. Frame it like this, maybe: “Hey, when I was having a hard time, this really helped me. I know we’re all different but give this a shot if you ever feel like it. Up to you… Hey I gotta run!”

Finally, and I say this to the ill and well alike, if you haven’t bought yourself a gratitude jar, consider it. It is a place holder, a reminder that no matter how bad we feel, – and it’s not just people with mental illness who can feel horrible – we are not our feelings and we will not feel the same way forever. And some day, if we do not give up all hope, our gratitude will be deeper for our pain. And that we will be better servants of God and better able to minister to others for it, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Remember, as St. Paul wrote, “the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen [or felt] are eternal.” Amen.

 

Remembering the California Fires of 2018: A Lament for Paradise, California

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13)

At times of utter devastation, where the possibility of rebuilding seems distant if not impossible, when lives and livelihoods and dwellings have been laid to waste and futures put on hold, it is in stories of overcoming and angels that we are to take refuge.

Laments over the destruction of cities were frequent in Biblical times, dating back to the Sumerian laments of the second millenium BCE. And while most laments were given at a time of rebuilding and hope, the book of Lamentations in the Bible is different: God does not answer the lament of the people as they cry out to Him. They are left there, forsaken, even at the end of the book. By the end of Lamentations, there are no hopes of rebuilding the Temple that has been destroyed; instead, the people are left to their mourning. And so when I heard of the destruction of an entire city in November, my mind went back to Lamentations and I read it again.

Eyewitness accounts have described the Camp Fire of Butte County, California, which razed the city of Paradise, as apocalyptic. Indeed, one look at pictures of it confirms that it had the flavor of what we can only imagine the end of the world will be like. As Christians, we are called to look for hope. But how is this even possible? And how will the victims of the fire not be justifiably outraged at even the slightest suggestion of such a thing?

And yet, even here, angels can be found amidst the ruins and devastation:

Eva Walker was one of many trapped in the fire and trying to escape. And like so many, she eventually lost all hope of being rescued. While she thought she had been saved when taken in by fire fighters in their fire truck, she discovered that even this did not guarantee survival. As the flames pressed still tighter around the truck, she became increasingly alarmed. So did the firefighters.

…and in their time of greatest need, one of them prayed to the Lord.

Hear now their testimony of survival and of overcoming, which aired on 60 Minutes several days ago:

Eva Walker: The bushes were catching on fire. The trees were on fire. So you’re moving to get away from the flames. But there’s nowhere to move to.

She thought she’d been saved when the strike team pulled her into the truck. Captain Jessen made a desperate radio call for air support but the smoke was too thick, the winds too strong for help from above. Firefighter Casey Peck quietly started to pray.   

Casey Peck: I was just thinking to myself, just praying like, “Please, Lord, be merciful. And– watch over us. Watch over our families.”

Bill Whitaker: You were praying for your life?

Casey Peck: Yeah.

Just then, through the darkness, two lights appeared. A firefighter driving a bulldozer responded to Jessen’s call for help and started clearing an escape route.  

Eva Walker: And all of a sudden, the bulldozer who I swear to God is an angel, was the one who came through. I don’t know where that man came from. I mean, who does that? Who drives into the flames? He did.

Bill Whitaker: You called him an angel?

Eva Walker: Called him an angel. He saved all of us.

Her angel was bulldozer driver Joe Kennedy.

 

We must look to stories of hope, and pray to the Lord even now, when it seems he has abandoned us…

“Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom thou hast done this…” (Lamentations 2:19)

Amen.

 

——————————————–

60 Minutes interview transcript:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paradise-lost-inside-california-camp-fire-60-minutes/

A place to donate:

https://buttecountyrecovers.org/give

 

My Story: An Academic Career Ruined, a Reputation Tarnished… and yet…

This post holds a combination of how I viewed my life at the end of my twenties (I was a “failure”) and how I view it now.

I remember when my academic career was ruined as a result of my experience of mental illness while in graduate school. No one would recommend me. No one wanted to work with me. Looking back I can’t say I blame them. But the isolation and the despair I experienced was nothing like I had ever known. And because no one shares about their recovery until they’re in their 60’s or tenured, I had no one to look toward with hope. Which is why writing this blog is my calling…

I went to graduate school at UC Davis. Straight A’s. Fulbright scholar. Highest honors at Berkeley as an undergraduate. Departmental citation for excellence in research…

…And it all disintegrated over the course of two years as I lost touch with reality. Since there is no mental health education in this country, I did not know what was happening to me as I became progressively worse. And since I lacked insight into what was happening to me, in other words, since I had not the faintest idea that I was becoming ill, there was no reasonable way that anyone could intervene meaningfully.

I couldn’t have held my life together nearly as well without my husband. So I don’t blame people who don’t power through. Even people who really fall hard can make a great recovery.

I often ask myself: What would have happened if I had received mental health education when in high school or before entering the university? In that case I would have seen the warning signs, or believed other people when they shared them with me. And people who were worried about me would have been able to come up to me and use common language with me to explain that I needed medication and to take a break. Which no one did.

I powered through and got two MA degrees and then went on to work full time for 6 years… Many people do this, and then they don’t share how hard they had it for a while in the 20’s. They move on, have great resumes and get good jobs like I have. But if I had just taken a break for a year to resume my studies the following year, people would have forgotten about my struggles, I would have continued to be brilliant, and I would not have alienated myself from my departments.

My calling happens to be writing and sharing my story, studying literature and making connections between life, literature, faith, health and wellness, and helping others like me. It is a joy to be more open than most. And my illness makes it so that I know that academia would never be a good environment for me. And I am empowered to choose wellness.

Each of us has our own distinctive fingerprint as a creature of God. And it changes over time. In this season I am doing the right thing for myself: sharing my recovery and staying out of hierarchical things like graduate school, which are triggering for me if I’m not on loads of medication.

There is still a lot of stigma, job discrimination and misunderstanding around the topic of serious mental illness. So be careful who you share with and what you share…know that you can make a full recovery just like me. And know that, unlike me, you don’t have to share just how bad it got. If I wasn’t called to share, no one would know any of this about me. And just imagine how many people there are like me who don’t feel that call toward health advocacy?

Always remember this: that from our suffering comes great growth. I often think about how committed I would have been to material wealth, career success and Facebook bragging expeditions if my life hadn’t gotten real with a serious health challenge in my early years. Now I am creating and living the life I want.

The Fruits of the Darkest Night: When the Great Darkness Breaks and How to Speak to Travelers of the Dark Night of the Soul

Several years ago I spent many months researching the poetry of Tiutchev and Novalis, two poets from the 19th century. One was Russian and the other German – and if you’re wondering, yes, this was during my graduate school years! My goal: to understand why the night was so important to them in their poetry. Night is depressing, terrifying or absolute bliss to them in their writings and I wanted to figure out what made them tick.

Honestly, though I didn’t tell my professors at the time, I was interested in how that process of turning from light to darkness related to me as a person with mental illness. You see, my life had gone from light to darkness, and would go to still darker depths in the years ahead, through the experience of mental illness. But I thought that in studying these poets I could find at least something positive in the night.

If all is dark, everything looks the same: bad! If it is dark we can look inside ourselves and can’t see outside! Have you ever felt that no matter where you go in the day, no matter what wonderful thing happens, you will be stuck in the gloom of your mind? Take heart: those of us who have known and experienced this great darkness in our lives seem to know ourselves best. And our joy later is still deeper for it.

God forbid we stay in the darkness! As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

While all of us who have been through the dark night of the soul can speak to the growth and joy that came into our lives after experiencing it, we should be careful how we sing songs to a downcast spirit living through that hell in the present. We must inspire hope, and speak to light after darkness, yes. But we must never forget that sometimes speaking itself is not the right approach. Maybe we shouldn’t speak of Christ. In fact, we should call upon Christ and be a witness to Christ by merely being there with the person as a witness to Christ’s love.

I don’t know about you, but when people have tried to talk me out of my suffering, it has made me feel horrible, and actually angry at myself for not being able to snap out of it.

The most important thing I learned from Tiutchev and Novalis is that our way of understanding ourselves and looking at our nature while experiencing darkness is often inadequate. We become estranged from ourselves when we dissect the darkness of our minds without care and compassion.

When I first started struggling with mental ill health, I read a ton about it. But not uplifting things about overcoming. Not stories of survival or triumph. No, I read books written for therapists describing what was wrong with me, I read horrible Wikipedia articles and books on how trauma never is fully healed, how my childhood had damaged me. And then all I could see in myself was a problem to be fixed… and one that would never be fixed or lovable again.

And I realized that some people thought that just because of my illness I was not worth their time, and worse, that I could possibly be dangerous.

I lost all of my awareness of my own humanity and sense of self-worth.

I would like to conclude with a message of hope:

For my favorite poets, the world of night, which could be so terrifying to them, was also a spiritual place that brought them closer to God. God is accessible when we are in Nature, and God is always there with us in the darkness of the darkest nights of our lives.

If our modern drive is to dissect our minds and the minds of others, and if that is creating illness and disharmony that is becoming ever more frequent in the world, then I firmly believe that being in nature and God is what will bring us back to ourselves. Reminding ourselves that we are not God, the DSM whereby our illnesses are laid out is not God, and our therapist, though hopefully God’s helper, is still not God.

Many churches facilitate this return home to God through Christ, while others create still more judgment and self-hate that will only further separate us from the Lord. My prayer is that all hurting people seek God in multiple churches until they find their church home. A home that is meaningful, enriching and affirming, and allows them to access their God. Our God. The Father wants all of his children to come home. This is why he sent His Son, who willingly endured the darkness of the crucifixion so that we might all be spared eternal darkness.