This blog is called, “Finding Joy Despite Mental Illness”. I haven’t written in quite some time because I’ve struggled to do this. I wanted joy in my life. I prayed for joy. Then, I begged for joy but it didn’t last. I found sadness. I found anxiety. I found anger and frustration but I did not discover joy. I have schizoaffective disorder -- a form of mental illness that combines attributes of both bipolar and schizophrenia -- and it sabotaged my good intentions. It made the storm seem all powerful.
Mental illness is frequently misunderstood. It is not a choice. It is not a weakness. It cannot be cured by using positive thinking. Positive thinking is great, and important, but it is not always possible. When I was in the worst of my storm, I was in agony. I would scream trying to drown out the voices. I BEGGED God, pleading in tears, to stop the torture. I deteriorated to the point where I could barely function. I struggled with depression and mania, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The voices in my head berated me, telling me I was worthless, urging me to kill myself. Even as I fought believing those words, my brain twisted them until I didn’t know what the truth was.
I lived with delusions. At one point I believed I was literally in hell. I felt completely abandoned by God, utterly hopeless. Ironically, under that delusion, there was no point in killing myself because I was already in hell. That delusion faded away and I escaped the idea that I was literally in hell but was still convinced I had angered God and He was punishing me. I felt God hated me. I had failed Him. I didn’t know what I had done to anger God and turn Him against me. I would sit and beg Him to tell me what I had done screaming, “I’m sorry”, wanting relief from the nightmare. I didn’t know these thoughts were delusions – and still struggle with that reality – until the doctors told me. I consider myself a devout Christian, holding the belief that Christ paid the penalty for our sins so we can live in fellowship with God but, because of my illness, that belief became a fact I could consider but not apply to myself. I felt condemned, isolated from God.
Even now I pray for healing. I’ve tried everything from positive thinking to medications, even trying electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The positive thoughts are struggling to compete with the delusions. Medications would work at first but then would stop being productive or would produce side effects that would leave me sicker than when I started. I still rely heavily on them but it’s a double edged sword. ECT has left me with significant memory loss. Some memories – I’m told – will return. At one point I had to stop driving because I couldn’t remember how to start the car. Those memories have returned but I still don’t remember where I got my Bachelor’s Degree and I struggle to follow conversations. I’ve come to hate when people say, ‘You remember. . .” No, I don’t. I don’t remember at all.
Even with all I’ve faced, I have been blessed with people who care about me and cover me with prayers. I may not always be able to think clearly enough to fully appreciate their gifts but when I can, I thank God for having them in my life.
So, have I found joy? Sometimes but, more importantly, I have found strength. I have found courage. I have found faith. My struggles consume me much of the time but I still fight. I fight the delusions with truth as much as I can. I remember that I don’t have to be “cured” in order to be “strong”. I face the delusions. I battle the voices. Even though the delusions try to make me believe giving up my life makes sense compared to the pain that I feel, I still don’t give up. I have faith that God has NOT abandoned me but is by my side and so are my friends, family and, most of all, my spouse. So, while I’m still struggling to find joy that lasts, I cling to those times when the medications do work. Times when the positive thoughts come to mind just when I need them. Times when I feel loved and supported by those who care about me. It’s been a long time since I was able to write but I’m doing it now, and that brings me moments of joy.
I write with hope. I hope this brings encouragement to those who also struggle so they know that they aren’t alone. I hope that being able to write means I am getting better instead of being stuck in an eternal struggle. I hope this provides a way for me to find joy in the midst of the storms I seem to face all the time. I have not found joy that lasts yet, but I have hope that I will!