As a faithful follower of Christ my entire life, my spirituality and connection to the divine have always meant everything to me. My life would not be what it is without my knowledge of and faith in God, my Heavenly Father, and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I have always depended on the great gift of the Comforter that Christ left with his disciples, the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. I’ve been taught since I was young how to understand what the Spirit is trying to communicate to me through his still, small voice. It is explained to people in various ways because it can affect and teach each of us a little differently, so each of us must learn exactly how he sounds to us. A scripture in my faith’s canon says that the Holy Ghost will speak to me in my mind and in my heart, and that really rings true in my experience. I can often just feel ideas popping into my head, and I can feel in my heart a good feeling that confirms they are from a trusted source.
But my challenges with my mental health over the years have thrown wrenches into that beautiful process off and on, in various ways. The depression, irritability and anger I’ve felt have blocked that positive flow of messages from a loving God, leaving me to feel adrift and alone and cut off. I’ve sometimes felt that there are just no answers coming to prayers, and I’ve given up asking. I’ve even gotten angry at the heavens then for leaving me in that isolated state, with no communication coming my way. All of it leads to me feeling that I’m alone and undeserving of God’s love, that for some reason he just isn’t paying attention.
Even medication I’ve taken has caused difficulties of its own. As I wrote in my previous post about my long list of medications over the years, when I tried Abilify for a few months about a year and a half ago, I felt absolutely numb. It was unnerving because I’m usually a bubbly person who often sees the bright side of things and, in terms of faith, relies on (even might take for granted) the wonderful peaceful feeling that comes from turning to prayer and scriptures and other messages of a spiritual nature. I know that when I listen to good music that reminds me of God and Christ or when I read a scripture or an inspirational magazine article, I’ll feel uplifted and recharged. I’ll feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, a marvelous gift. So for the few months I took that medication, I didn’t feel anything, including those spiritual feelings. I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel peaceful or Spirit-filled whenever I did all the things that would normally make me feel that influence. It bothered me a great deal. It was a strange feeling to go to church, where I would normally feel happy and inspired, and just feel … nothing. A black hole where there would normally be gardens in bloom with all colors of gorgeous flowers of faith.
What got me through that time was just the knowledge I had still in my mind about all the experiences I could remember. My brain had stored away the memories of knowing that God had answered my prayers at specific times and that I knew that the Holy Spirit had usually been in my heart. I couldn’t feel it then, but I trusted in my head that it had happened before and would come back to me, no matter what wacky tricks this medication was playing with me. And sure enough, when I got off that medicine and got to mostly myself again, I did feel that peace again. The black hole was gone, filled again with light.
So the wrong medication can play tricks on faith. Depression and other mental illnesses can do their own brand of damage. I’ve been through that emptiness before and am kind of feeling it again, and I’m sure I’ll keep experiencing it throughout this mortal existence. It’s not pleasant, and I’d rather not have to go through this. But my feeling is that this is my cross to bear, so I’m doing the best I can to handle it gracefully. Saying I’m doing my best is the truth, but even then it feels silly to say because “my best” can sometimes not be a whole lot. I feel alone inside of myself and that God isn’t sending me answers or the positive feelings I need. But I know in the part of my brain that’s not “messed up” somehow that he’s still there.
I think what I want most to do here is connect with other people who experience these feelings. I think that faith communities are slowly doing better at directly and publicly addressing matters of mental health in the context of religious belief, and that’s wonderful. But depression and other mental illnesses work hard to isolate their sufferers. Those of us who know in our minds and in our hearts that God is aware of us and loves us but sometimes don’t really “feel” it the way we should because of neurochemical vagaries can talk to each other to buoy each other up not just in our specific trials but in our faith. We’ve been given a great gift to have a Savior and the good news of the gospel he has taught. I believe there are still miracles today. Honestly, though, some days, amid the clouds that create a darkness of despair in my heart and head, I don’t feel a conviction that God will work a miracle in my life. And since I know that isn’t true, deep down, I have to work hard to combat the feeling that is false. A dear, dear friend of mine told me a couple of times that she and her mother were able to talk to a well-known Christian writer of our faith after he gave a talk they attended. She wrote me to remind me what he had told them: “He suffers from depression and told my mom and me that being faithful means that you remember the Lord is with you and mindful of you even when the depression doesn’t let you ‘feel’ it. He is still there!” I just cling to that like a little round life saver thrown to me in an ocean of big waves. Eventually the waves die down, and I’m still clinging on for dear life: alive and well yet again. Still.