Mental Ilness: Who Am I?
Finding the self, soul’s truth is essential for spiritual life. Unfortunately, I belong to the twenty percent of the population who suffer from mental illness, searching for truth is painful, confusing, and marked by missteps. My mind’s thoughts may lie, present false realities of trust, fear, hope. How can one continuously block out unwanted thoughts, voices, anxiety, mood swings, and darkness? I am one of the more fortunate who suffer. I am a minority. Yet, this is not just my search, but the search of the many other Catholics.
We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).
As perpetual children of God, we must continuously search and question. Our insecurities, faults, weaknesses, we must admit, accept, carry these burdens and become transparent, for ourselves, for others, toward God’s purer. Human frailties, our crosses, do not hide but, share. Our vulnerabilities bring us closer, unit us. Lighten our load by helping others with their crosses.
Finding the soul, hidden by suffering, how? Quests commence with the baggage of doubt assisted by an open heart, faith, and trust. Begin asking, inquiring Who Am I. Start the search of discovery for the true self – beyond frailties, illnesses of brain and mind. A painful, difficult trial. For this writer, having neither faith nor, trust nor open heart, much was need, still needed from others. The journey toward the interior castle, acceptance of the unexpected awaits. Both pain to joy. I was fortunate.
My path. Undiagnosed until thirty-five years of age, misdiagnosed, given erroneous medications, over-medicated. Twelve years later, 2004, hospitalized – five times in as many months. Finally, the correct identification of a lifetime’s infliction. Therapy revealed more. A slow process of cutting into the mind’s puzzle. Layers of life’s events peeled away toward a true center. Stopping the long downward spiral, slowly, painfully discovering life beyond surviving. Gradually. Growth. Confidence. Finding Truth? Growing to what I was meant to be, as God wanted?
What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. ‘Who am I, then?’ The one who sees that (Eckhart Tolle).
With true self visible, obtainable, survivor’s questions of “Why” arose, “Why me? Why Now? Recovery for some diagnoses is never complete. For others, an impermanent painful trial and a return to ‘normalcy’. I recovered more than others, not fully – some traumas never leave. I am lucky – family, friends, a home. Too many are not. Why? Why this journey, this long path, incomplete? And those unable, succumbing, taking the path I nearly traveled? How many more turns are on my path? Are new paths in my future?
In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened ( Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).
Now I give, with joy, with pleasure, helping others along their life path’s struggles. Work and reward of what I thought was impossible just a few years ago. Now I am what I wanted to be. Now, I pray, for enough time on earth to continue discovering my inner self, making transitions, finding my soul in this world of fog, shadows, and noise. And helping others on this path.
The purpose of suffering, to learn, grow, serve, and to seek You? Have I, have many? Are we learning to be, enjoying life, assisting others, a new life? May I am not the servant burying his talents. May I preach the gospel without words.
Today, the mind’s eye sees Your beauty of the sun’s glow, of nature’s snow, of rain and clear skies bringing forth inner joys. I see others’ beauty, enhanced, not besmirched, by imperfections. God’s children, made in your image. In You. Deep down our soul must be directed to the simplest pleasure with gratitude for life. How distracting life can be from the beauty offered.
All this splendor, faith, and hope can disappear with the certain triggers of fear as nightmares arise. The mind hyperventilates. The life’s light is drawn closed, bringing forth waves of darkness. Rationality, love, disappear, losing connections to God.
Lord, is this why you created me, born with certain conditions, experiencing trauma generating additional problems – to serve, become closer to you, to others, to grow? Have I? Can the future’s path be a little smoother, clearer, transparent, for myself, for the many? Knowing you could have permitted much worse, nevertheless, please prohibit trials of our nightmares never forth come? In failure, do not punish, nor condemn when I disappoint. Let me continue toward Thee. Will you permit all lives seeking you, not to meander alone, purposeless? Let all see their purpose in Your handiwork.
Finding the Self
How does mental illness, any illness define, affect, shape us? It is part of, but not us. The illness affects thoughts, actions but, it is not us. Emotions, internal conflicts, impediments are part, but these are not us! We are frail of mind and body, made with emotions incorporated into our being. We are made in God’s image to be drawn to Him.
Intrusive thoughts, darkness, anxiety inhabit, inhibit us. Too many, hobbled by diseases are shunned, cast aside, deemed inferior and incomplete, because of minute misadjusted chemicals in the brain, and body not of our doing. We slip, we fail. Who does not?
Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these, also will vanish with death (Ramana Maharshi).
Our true self, our soul, is known to those loving us, accepting us, and always by God. We, like all children of God, are not our possessions, talents, nor deeds. We are what we love, whom we love, how we love, and do what we unto others despite their incompleteness, faults, and failures. Do we treat all like brothers and sisters?
All humanity is limited by constraints, not of choice. We have no involvement of where, when, health, and social positions we are born into. We are placed, chosen by God. We have duties and obligations. Given gifts and judged upon the use of these gifts, as in the parable of The Talents. It is the one given the least, who does the least, from fear, the one not accepting the great Love, shown and freely given.
Decisions on Path
A thousand decisions a day, almost without thought, purpose, meaning. Are we awake, aware of the wider world? How many represent our faith and beliefs? How can we create ways of giving ourselves, being proactive, going beyond daily formalities? Where are our simple acts of kindness?
Lord, May I have the courage to choose correctly in the smallest of actions to the greatest of challenges.
Who I Am?
Life’s choices, hopefully never as drastic as sung by the tragic hero, Jean Valjean, in the stage presentation of Les Miserables, from the song Who Am I.
When i have come so far,
And struggled for so long.
If I speak, i am condemned,
If i stay silent i am damned.
Knowing our souls belong to God, intensifies our responsibility of fulfilling our purpose. Hopefully, I’ve found my truth? Is this only journey’s beginning? Consistent work, healing continues besides fighting the mind’s demons. Therapy, family, friends saved in my life. Now repayment, the beauty of obligation. What has been learned, gifted must be shared. Are we using our talents to the fullest? Is being me, enough? How much deeper lay my true self? Am I, are we, Preaching the Gospel by deeds.
You and your purpose in life are the same thing. Your purpose is to be you (George Alexiou).
Beyond the Path
We live in this greatest mystery – life, in this unfolding story of our lives preparing for the unknown tomorrows. Lives of impermanence moving forward, toward eternity. We are part of the world visible, where our actions can multiply the world’s beauty, like the butterfly, a flower, a simple tree’s magnificence, if we know how to see. Is it possible seeing, without knowing oneself, beyond the wounds, intrusiveness, of mind’s malfunctioning neurons? Beyond invasive demands of everyday life? I unearthed through faith, discipline, searching for the inner.
May I, we all be what the Prayer of St. Francis intends,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This is what I hope to be because “I am the drop that contains the ocean” (Yunus Emre).
Editors Note: This article was originally published in the Catholic Stand and is retrievable at The Catholic Stand