Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Mental Health and my realization

I know I usually just post sermons, but I have been reflecting on a realization that I had about a year ago.

Like most people, I have put in quite a lot of effort attempting to solve my problems- especially my mental and spiritual problems. The way I have often gone about doing this was analyzing my emotional issues and my sins. I would journal about my "issues". I would go as deep as I possibly could. I would turn over every single stone and scrape the green slime I found underneath into a test tube, which I would run through a centrifuge and then put under a microscope.

There were many benefits to doing this. I learned a lot about myself. I learned the beginning glimmers of thought that would turn into sin if left unchecked. I learned what traumas from my past were still effecting me, and many many other things. I learned a lot.

But there was a downside. I became so focused on sin and my mental state that I went down a deep dark hole and it felt like there was no bottom. Eventually, I think it led me into depression.

Through some of my training in preparation for being a priest I was taught to look for the pain because the meaning was usually where the pain was. As a hospital chaplain the joke was that you knew you did your job if the patient was crying. It was funny because there was a little truth in it. We were taught to look for the edge of the wallpaper and start pealing it back. I started to assume that a smile was really just a mask for pain. The smile wasn't real. I couldn't do any good work with a smile, but tears I could work with. The real spiritual growth happens through tears. ... I assumed that was true for myself and for others for a long time.

Now, I'm not saying tears are bad, and I'm not suggesting we all walk around with fake smiles on our faces. Be real, or at least find people you can be real with. What I am saying is that I fell into a trap. I came to believe that sadness and pain were real and happiness was not real. Happiness was a mask. It was an illusion. There was no depth or meaning in joy.

The theological reality, however, is that joy was first and is more foundational than sadness. Joy will be eternal in God's kingdom and sadness will have an end. Joy isn't a mask- joy is at least as real, or maybe more real, than sadness.

I had come to believe that I could reach a state of psychological and spiritual wholeness through dealing with all my problems. It's like I had a box full of strings with knots in them and my job was to sit and go through the box and untie the knots. Once all the knots were untied then I would finally be whole and free and happy. But the box never seemed to ever get empty. I got good at looking at knots. I got good at finding knots- sometimes I found knots where there were none.

My realization was that I was not going to find joy and wholeness by dealing with my pain. I came to believe that I had to find a way to focus on the beauty and joy that is more foundational to God's creation. I don't ignore my pain, but I no longer see it as more real than joy. When I realized this I felt like I walked out from under a dark cloud. The depression that had lurked at the edges of my mind for so long (see dysthymia) seemed to dissipate.

I'm not saying this is true for anyone but me. I know there are people who deal with incredibly debilitating depression and mental illness. I'm not saying that I have the cure for depression for all human beings. I'm just saying I feel like I found my way out and perhaps there is someone out there who will read this and that will be their way out too.


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