Save me, O God, for the waters have come in unto my soul.
2 I sink into deep mire where there is no standing; I have come into deep
waters where the floods overflow me.3
I am weary of my crying, my throat is dry;
mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. (Ps 69 1-3)
Being mentally healthy I believe, is not a constant in most people’s lives. There are those whose struggle with inner balance is more problematic, and they may need professional help. However, how far removed are they from me? I have come to believe that when I become angry, or overly fearful, or anxious, I can slip into a mental state that is not healthy, and during those inner storms, I need firm ground to stand on. I believe that firm foundation that I stand on, is the ‘The Will of God’, that I seek union with through prayer, the reading of scripture, as well as, being a Catholic, the sacraments. In prayer, I have come to understand my need for grace through personal experience.
When my inner life is like being on very rough seas, and I fear that I will be thrown out of the boat. and be swallowed up by ‘whatever’ it is I am working through, I have found that God does respond, that I find a firm island amidst the raging sea to stand upon.
If there is a drawback to living an interior life, it is the ever-growing understanding that I can’t blame others for my struggles, and that I should not punish those around me for the pain, and emotional turmoil, I may be going through. So am I a mentally healthy human being (?)…..sometimes I am, at other times, I need to be very, very, careful how I respond. Pain throws me back on myself, and if I do not seek help from God, or others, whom God uses to help me, then all I have left is myself, my inner suffering, without hope of finding a way out. Understanding this can help me to keep my head above water, from me being absorbed by my own inner drama, and losing myself in this dream (nightmare) like state.
As a believer, God is central. I also believe that all who seek health, inner balance, and who have the courage to deal with it, even if they do not believe, find grace, and help, just as I do. For God is not a respecter of persons, but all are loved and sought by God.
A young woman wrote to me about her struggle with mental illness, as well as her powerful inner experiences of God. She wanted some way to tell the difference. Below is a letter I wrote to her, though not being in any way a professional, I was careful in what I said. I used my own personal experience. Below the letter is an essay I shared with her about my own inner life, and personal struggles. I could tell she was a dear, loving soul, and most likely further along than me in learning to trust God, and never to lose hope. I, of course, have changed her name.
Thank you for your letter. Sorry, it has taken me so long to answer you. You asked about ‘mental illnesses and the spiritual life.
When it comes to the life of the soul, in relation to God, I can’t say much, since each soul is unique, so God works in a unique fashion with each of us. Having some sort of mental illness does not in any way change that reality.
We all need to have our feet on the ground so to speak. So our faith should help us to do that. To live each day seeking to do God’s will. Which can be found in our reading of the scriptures, our other spiritual reading, as well as the influence of those we respect. That would include professional’s mental health workers that have shown themselves reliable and understanding.
It is best to keep it simple. If you have a profound experience, see what the fruit of the encounter is. If it brings fear, or confusion, or perhaps distrust of others, then it is best to bracket it, and move on. A true spiritual experience need not be analyzed but lived out.
The reality is God’s love for you, and no matter what you go through, Jesus is always ‘yes’, and never leaves us.
Mental health is not a constant for any of us. We get angry, anxious, scattered, and during those periods of time, we all need to be careful about making choices, or doing some sort of action. We are all pretty much in the same boat.
Below is something I wrote a few years ago about my own inner journey. This life is about being faithful, and when I fail to begin again and to pray for those who struggle the way I do, it is then I lose sight of what my life is all about.
In the love and peace of Christ Jesus
Br. Mark Dohle
I make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ
I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it.---Kristin Armstrong
One day a woman tried to put me on a pedestal because I wrote something that touched her. So I responded that I write because I am fragmented, my inner life can feel like a bowl of marbles which fell upon the floor and I am pulled in many directions at once. I write about compassion because I struggle with it. People who are normal don’t need to write. I write words about developing empathy since I have had the experience, many times, of not having any, and to show kindness, is like fingernails being dragged over a blackboard. I am often empty, filled with fatigue, anger, and fear, so I write about facing it with faith. My faith can be weak, yet it persists, perhaps because grace will not let me go. So I often scribe about faith being a choice.
My heart has been deeply wounded by life, just as many, many are. Yet the wound of God’s love is deeper like it is for many as well. The paradox is this, the more I understand my actual emptiness; the deeper grace seems to fill me. Though the process is slow, God seems to love slowness, as well as simply being with me when I struggle and fail. I write to bring these fragments together; I send them out because it is healing, for if I don’t, writing seems stillborn.
I know that I am average; this humiliates me, for I would so like to be so very special, but knowing that my brothers and sister throughout the world carry the same burdens, allows me to actually grow in compassion and empathy. I can’t be filled with self-pity when those around me are on the same path as I.
As St. Paul stated: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col: 1:24)”. My heart is still trying to understand, but perhaps it is telling us that separation is an illusion, that when Christ Jesus said whatever you do to the least, you do to me, is actually a rock hard fact. When that is forgotten by me, I stop seeking to do the most loving thing.
Unique as we all are, but not unique at the same time, it provides a knot of inner tension that allows joy to bud forth. Not sure how that works but it does for me. The truth does set us free.---Br.MD