During my episodes of schizoaffective disorder I believed that I was a messiah who had to save the world. I thought there were divine signs guiding me toward the correct course of action. I felt I had to save the world and bring about another golden age as I had heard about in ancient China. The way I figured this would happen was by disseminating my thoughts along a telekinetic network in which everyone except myself had access to. I had a constant adrenaline rush and high energy which also created a great deal of sleeplessness. This condition is called mania.
I was brought up Catholic and I viewed the world from a Christian perspective. In the course of five years I experienced two episodes like the one I described above which were extremely damaging. When the dust settled I was unable to speak a coherent sentence, I had auditory and visual hallucinations, OCD to the point where I was causing myself physical pain from my cleaning obsessions, and I had a great deal of anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis.
During the initial aftermath of my episodes I completely lost all faith in religion. I started reading a great deal of existentialism, which journeys away from religious beliefs. Attempting to become a messiah had caused me a great deal of difficulty. Plus, I felt abandoned. Throughout my entire life I strove to do as well as I could and to treat people well, and my life still didn’t wind up the way I had envisioned it. I felt that God had abandoned me during my most difficult times and that there was no such thing as divine intervention. I believed I had been put through too much hell for there to even be the possibility of any type of divinity. It was an empty feeling. I thought there were just too many terrible things happening on earth for divinity to have any sort of presence. Therefore I gave up on it and transitioned to Buddhism.
For a while being Buddhist was very helpful. I read the Dharma every day and I gained a great deal of wisdom from religious practices. It kept me calm and composed when I was going through situations that could have been very tumultuous emotionally. I eventually reached a point where I felt Buddhism wasn’t working for me either and I didn’t know what to think. Between two religions I felt neither of them was working towards improving my mental health and I had to find something else. At this point I completely abandoned religion and once again I felt emotionally empty.
As I progressed in my recovery and improved my mental health I periodically questioned my decision to not be religious. I was a self-proclaimed atheist and took pride in this. I had never addressed religion from a mental health perspective. I realized that I had allowed movies and television to twist my belief system. I addressed the concern that during my darkest hours I had been abandoned by all divinity. I realized that sometimes divinity doesn’t have any agency in this world, for good or bad. It made sense to me that a higher power wouldn’t give me free will if it was going to guide and decide each and every action for me. That was something I had to do on my own.
Another thing I tell myself is that although I went through a great deal of hell I still found a way out of it. That way was a result of modern medicine, parental intervention, and a good network of people who helped me along. I was able to recover from my illness but until I recovered I wasn’t able to see these blessings.
Growing up I had a cognitive impairment which caused me a great deal of mental and emotional pain. I was intelligent, but unable to effectively communicate with others. People constantly made fun of me for it and it was painful. I thought I had been let down in the way I was created. As I progressed towards becoming healthier I realized there were other gifts I was given for the areas I lacked in. I had great parents who taught me a great deal about life and they always stood by me. I also had a lot of energy and a great work ethic. I had great character too, and a positive outlook on life.
Once again I began questioning my abandonment of religion. I transitioned from an atheism to agnosticism. When I re-examined religion from a healthier standpoint and with a clearer mind, I realized that there were a number of precepts, ideas, and beliefs, that promote good mental health, and which I had gotten away from.
I eventually became uncertain whether or not there was a great beyond, or a divine force that put us all into creation. Even so good and positive things can result from our interpretations of these mysteries. I learned that there were a great deal of lessons from Catholicism that actually helped me through my episodes. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t believe in divinity whether I would have even been able to survive my first episode, where I was sleeping on a tile floor, nearly starving to death, and wearing nothing but skimpy clothing to keep me warm in the middle of a New England winter. My belief in good in the world was truly what helped me push through the adversity to the other side of it. I also began to question whether I would be the man I am today, who is able to weather extreme adversity on a daily basis and still do a good job as a manager at a butchery, who owns a home and has a lot of friends. Buddhism taught me a great deal about emotional intelligence and the value of intelligence overall; those values comprise a fundamental aspect of who I am.
Together Catholicism, Buddhism, and Existentialism helped me to compile a great deal of life knowledge to help me shoulder the burden known as schizoaffective disorder. I have reached a point where I am neither for or against religion but I have hope in divinity and the great beyond. After realizing how much I had learned from the number of resources available to me –– religions and other schools of thought –– I learned to adhere to what was working; regardless of where it was coming from. As an agnostic who leans towards a belief in divinity, I felt better about myself and more emotionally sound, open to the belief that there are higher powers who are looking out for all of us. I realized too that, regardless of the source, there’s a great deal of good that can be derived from all schools of thought. As a student of life I’m willing to learn from any source that’s going to help me become a healthier, and more mentally functional human being regardless of the source. I learned to respect others for what works for them and to put to good use what works for me; rightfully so.
Photo by Freddie Phillips