On Mental Health

Personal faith, and how to reconcile it with a mental health diagnosis

The focus of this article is an issue I’ve been struggling with for some time, which just resurfaced in my thinking in the form of symptoms. The subject and problem just sort of fell into my mind, piggy-backing on the “voices” which, as is often the case, felt half profound and half completely random. I’ve summed up the issue that I struggle with in the title – personal faith, and how problematic it can be to try and align it, or reconcile it, with a mental health diagnosis, and within this article I’ll describe how the incidence I just had of the “voices” triggered a consideration of this problem.

This was the series of events as they happened. I was sitting thinking about writing a wordpress article and was considering the idea that the subject of the article might be too emotionally raw to write about at that time- the issues raised might be too painful to explore and so potentially might bring on negative symptoms. I thought about this for a minute or so and then thought, as I often tend to do, “I’ll plow ahead anyway.” I started writing, but after about 30 seconds experienced the following symptoms.

The faces of two people I know, people that have been in my thinking recently and are significant in terms of past symptoms, popped into my mind’s eye and said to me ‘no Ally, don’t write this now it’s not safe for you.’ This experience came on top of my own personal realisation that it was, in fact, not the right time to write the article and so I stopped- but it felt profound. It felt as though someone or something else had popped into my mind’s eye and communicated good sense. It felt like something was protecting me, which is how it often feels when these strange experiences happen.

However after about another minute I realised my thinking had drifted and the largest part of me had become focused on ferociously picking the whole incident to pieces, analysing how and why (what were those faces about?) and whether or not I ought to have acted differently.

What I’m generally trying to articulate is that I’m very bad at simply accepting experiences which require a bit of faith. Generally I like to believe that I have faith in my life, because I really feel that I do, but I’m not very good at accepting occurrences, when they actually happen, which function to back it up.

It’s a sort of paradox in my thinking, originating from the fact that this faith often seems to tie into my schizophrenia, and therefore can never be experienced simply. Instead, half of me will experience the profound sensation and take it for what it feels like- something significant and beyond the rational- all the while the other half of me is desperately trying to analyse it, desperately trying to rationalise it.

Faith is something which seems counter intuitive to rational analysis, something which exists on another level and in opposition to it. My schizophrenia, on the other hand, is something that I have usually needed to rationally analyse to keep under control. So one can see why I have problems with small faith indicating moments- anything which feels strange and vaguely profound triggers an urge to unpick, an urge to logically unravel. In doing so the sensation of faith, the feeling of something operating outside of rational boundaries, is lost.

After experiencing these voices, and the sense that they were operating to try to protect me and my sense of well-being, I immediately began down the following thought pathway in an effort to logically explain the occurrence. It seemed to me that I had had a thought which caused a danger flag to be waved; if you keep writing symptoms may come on, and this caused a flash of nerves or adrenaline, a chemical “danger flag” was raised. I made quite a quick decision to carry on writing anyway, only changing my mind after about thirty seconds when two faces of people I know flashed into my mind’s eye, telling me ‘stop writing, this isn’t the right time to write this.’

Logically what I think happened was that I realised, quickly, that plowing ahead with the writing, despite being aware of the risks, wasn’t clever. So my nervous system doubled down on the message, reinforcing the original warning which seemed to have been ignored with familiar and safe “voices” and a splash of chemicals which made the message feel profound. This is the purely rational version of events.

Analysing the occurrence with a personal critical eye, and this is where a sense of personal faith comes in, I also think the safe voices mirrored the fact that I was sympathetic to my own dilemma – the injustice of having to monitor my behaviour so closely for fear of the symptoms. The voices weren’t chiding or criticising me, they were only protecting and I could tell this because the people the voices the belong to, in the real world, are not people I associate with judgement or chastisement. They are generally on my side. My own mind produced a symptom set which gave me the sense of being understood and protected, and so, the question remains in my mind- was an outside factor (something external to me) involved in generating those two voices, or did I do it all on my own..?

Faith would suggest that there are protective forces, entities, energies etc etc, (just as there are harmful ones), and that in that moment I was touched by a protective one and guided away from the potential for negative symptoms and back towards safety. However I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, and don’t quite fully know how to resolve the issue in my own mind.

Every time I start to think about external forces, energies etc a series of danger-flags wave red, alarm bells start clanging and a part of me remembers the most intense of the schizophrenic experiences, when I believed I was in touch with and connected to x force, y entity, and a z energy. It all starts running away with itself, and I lose the initial sense of reassurance and awe that such faith should provide. This is the sting in the tail of the positive aspects of the schizophrenia, eventually they start to bleed into negative- and around and around I go again.

Basic behaviorism theory therefore dictates that whenever I start to try and consider questions of faith, spiritualism or anything profound and non-material, those echoing warning bells mean that my thinking never gets very far; anxiety comes on and closes the subject down. This is the opposite of what faith should do for a person, and so the whole experience is immensely frustrating.

Moreover, my doctors have been telling me, extremely categorically for the last fifteen years, that those two voices were created by the “mental illness” only, by a chemical imbalance in the brain; and are therefore something negative, troublesome and wholly without positive value. The doctors would tell me that deriding anything of faith value from such experiences is unhelpful, wrong, and completely delusional. So this extremely hard line, which is backed up by (it usually seems) the entire psychiatric profession and most of general society, is quite difficult to go up against in ones own thinking. I don’t agree with it, but it’s very hard not to be affected by such a pervasive and well-accepted idea. The idea being, there is nothing “protecting or guiding you,” this is only a delusional thought process and part of the condition of mental illness.

I can’t fully stomach this version of events though, I can’t swallow it entirely. There is something simply too close and too otherworldly in the experiences, something which feels much realer than the hard rationality of the doctors.

What I need to do is find a way to develop and consolidate the ideas and beliefs which make up my own personal sense of faith, and then find ways to cement them in my thinking and in my day to day life. I need to really think through what it is that I believe, write it down perhaps, and then come up with practices which I could enact, to solidify and strengthen this sense of personal faith in my daily life. I could then work out how this differs from the symptoms I experience, and really draw a line between the manifestations of schizophrenia, and what it is that I believe about this crazy state of existence we all find ourselves in.

It’s obviously quite a massive task- getting to the root of what one actually believes about the nature of life- but I hope to work it all through in my thinking eventually. Lol- I have faith that I’ll get there, just don’t ask me to actually define what I have faith in yet.

Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Personal faith, and how to reconcile it with a mental health diagnosis

  1. I can’t say I’m a man of faith, I like anecdotes – such as someone once said “there’s as many religions as their are people” or “you need to find a niche” and I thought both of those were very profound. I’m not really looking for an answer or anything ultimate in my life, more like a solution. I dont think I ever understood faith.

    Like

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