Crazy is a terrible word. I equate it with other derogatory words like whore or fat pig. These are words that are… unspeakable. Yet here I am, using crazy to describe how I used to think about myself.
And prayer? Yes, I pray. But no, that is not what makes me crazy. In fact, praying is probably the sanest thing that I do every day.
The day crazy entered my life
Where the crazy began for me was in high school. I first noticed the crazy sneaking in when I began lying to my doctor. My mother had long suspected that I was depressed. She talked to our family doctor about it and then scheduled an appointment for me.
When I went in for my check up, my doctor asked me if I was depressed. I lied. I told him that I was not depressed.
Why did I lie? Because I was a Christian. Being a Christian and feeling that I needed to lie was the first sign that I was crazy. Rather than be who I was, I allowed a split to occur: One part of my life was the spiritual part. And another, separate part was the physical part. At the time, I didn’t have a way to allow the two sides of my life to coexist. The unexplained and uncomfortable parts of my life were added to my shadow, growing larger and darker, leaving less and less of myself available to other people and especially to myself.
Inside, I struggled. “How is it possible that I could feel depressed? I should be happy. Being depressed is a bad example to other people.”
Having a shadow is a powerful thing. We all have one, but some of us have larger shadows because we are unaware (or unwilling to be aware) of what lies just behind us.
As a result of the split within me, my depression went untreated for years. After high school, I worked in a wholesale plumbing warehouse. Some days I felt happy, but many other days my gloom felt like a straitjacket. I couldn’t escape the oppressive mood no matter how much I exercised, prayed, read positive books or told myself to feel better.
The day I made peace with crazy
In college, I took a course on Mental Health and Spirituality. That course began to change things for me. It opened my eyes to how anyone can feel depressed, regardless of how good you may be. Depression is an illness, not a sign that you are broken. Later that same year, for the first time in my life I went for counseling.
I can still remember the session that changed things for me. I don’t remember what I said, or even what the Counselor said. It probably doesn’t matter, because it’s what I did that changed me. I was honest this time. I admitted that I felt a deep gloom and sadness. I admitted that no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake my vice-grip thoughts.
Honesty is one of the most powerful things that you can do to recognize the shadows that you carry with you. Being honest with yourself can release pain, unhealthy expectations and burdens that you have carried for years.
My Counselor was kind and she listened to me. She recommended that I learn more about depression. She gave me hope that freedom is possible.
Since that time, I have had numerous Counselors and honestly, at times I still feel depressed. But my depression has moved out of the shadows. I have changed how I think about myself when I am depressed and I no longer see myself as broken because of my mental illness. I know what to do and I have better ways to care for myself. I am more compassionate, more understanding towards myself. And I am honest.
4 Ways that spirituality and mental health can work together
4.Be spiritual, but remember that being too spiritual may not be a good thing
It’s easy to overly spiritualize our health. Some of us have no difficulty wearing glasses or taking an aspirin, but we draw the line at taking an antidepressant. Sometimes we conclude that if you take a pill for your mind, you will become less spiritual, less real. Taking an antidepressant or any other medication won’t make you less authentic or less spiritual. It’s no different than wearing glasses.
3.Be honest: Your shadows are not any worse than the next person’s
Your baggage is not a badge that declares that you are somehow more broken than the next person. Your shadows are just different. If you are hard on yourself about your mistakes, you heap shame onto your soul.
Shame is toxic to your depression, your anxiety, your trauma, or your emotions. Shame is like a set of lenses that become super glued to your soul. They color your world, making it difficult to speak up, open up and just talk. You sense judgment everywhere and you have no freedom.
The less you are honest with yourself, the larger your shadow will grow. Don’t ignore your baggage, acknowledge it. But hold onto hope rather than shame.
2.Give your mind a break
Your mind, your emotions, your identity, and your imagination need more than meditation, more than prayer and more than going to church. Your mind needs a Sabbath.
You may not be familiar with Sabbath, so I will use an example from Jesus’ life. (Stick with me, no sermons… I promise!)
When Jesus was on earth, he disappeared a lot. Sometimes he prayed, sometimes he talked, other times he listened, and sometimes he just walked. Disappearing is different than numbing yourself. Numbing will push thoughts, behaviors or impulses out of conscious thought. Disappearing is being unavailable to other people for a while so that you can be fully available to yourself.
What are the things that make you more fully available to yourself? I have a few practices (Sabbath experiences) that make me more open, more available. A few examples are prayer and meditation, along with journaling and talking honestly. Another powerful Sabbath experience for me is being in the mountains.
When did you last take time for Sabbath? Give your mind a break and take it out of the cage for a while.
Faith and spirituality have a number of mental health benefits: Belief (not limited to religious belief) is a huge coping skill for when you struggle; it will make you less likely to use drugs or become alcohol-dependent; and you will also live longer. Your body will respond better to medical treatments.
Having a faith that is rule-bound and self-critical can be harmful to your mental health and overall well-being. It is love that heals, not religion alone.
Experiencing depression and anxiety have made me more empathetic, more caring and better able to support other people who suffer. For more, see this post “Depression Will Make You a Better Human Being.”
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Keep it Real
Photo by Stephane