Mental Illness and the Stigma of the Spiritual Experience
In the throes of a mental illness episode, especially psychosis, the theme of God seems to appear and reoccur among many people, often leaving us wondering, why is that? This also causes a lot of people to sneer and stigmatize the spiritual experience of someone who has a mental illness (What Is Stigma?).
Is there a logical explanation why people have such life-changing spiritual experiences during this time? Many people are funny about religion/spirituality and are very often put off by people that become intensely committed to God, but I often contemplate the meaning and significance behind these spiritual experiences.
My Personal Experience with Spirituality and Mental Illness
I experienced a psychotic episode due to bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties and started hearing voices inside my head, seeing things not of this world and became delusional. As I looked at myself in the mirror one night, I came to a solid conclusion that I finally figured out who I was -- Eve from the Garden of Eden. It was as real for me as to the reality of you reading this blog right now (The Demons of Mental Illness: What Possesses Us?).
It was a realization like no other, but who does Eve hang out with when she is in the Garden of Eden? Yes, Adam of course. In the very early morning in darkness, I heard faint noises coming from the apartment over and knew I had to knock on the door. When I did, a young man answered whom I had never met before. When I told him I was looking for Adam, he stared at me greatly confused.
Luckily, my perceived Adam was a gentleman and after a conversation, I returned to my apartment (How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness). Eventually, this young man was key in aiding with my admittance to the psych ward the next day, but my spiritual experiences did not end there. I felt a presence of God so strongly that I had constant conversations with Him asking for guidance, offering praise and pleading for help.
I traveled the streets during my hospital passes with a bible in hand as it made me feel safe; I visited the chapel every day while in the hospital and my pastor was one of the four people that visited me during my one month stay. I was mostly alone and lost during this time, and my acceptance of God was the only thing that kept me believing that my life could get better. It took time and things improved; and I am now left with a strong sense that my illness is not a curse from God, but in actuality a cursed gift.
Spirituality Ignited by Mental Illness is Stigmatized
Currently, when I attend my psychiatrist appointments, I often run into the same young man who stops me in my tracks and tells me flat out, “Jesus loves you and will return to the earth one day to save us.” I smile as I understand his passion for talking about his beliefs, and we have a long conversation every time I see him. He is happy and content and feels he is meant to share his knowledge to better the world. Had I not had my own personal mental health experiences with spirituality, I probably would not be as gracious, just as many others would laugh, scoff or tell him he is just plain nuts.
I have met others who have started entire organizations because of their experiences of a God in a psychosis. One woman, in particular, is proud to share the love that she experiences from her own beliefs. She always tells me, “It is not about religion, it is about love.” She is happy and excited to be committed to a cause that is close to her heart and she would not have it any other way.
We all hold our own spiritual beliefs entrenched in various denominations, churches and often just practice what we believe in our own homes. Does it matter that someone experiences an intense spiritual connection with God during a mental health episode? It surely does to them a lot of the time, but it ought not to be something to be dismissed or ridiculed by others who have not had such experiences.
We are all entitled to our own spiritual beliefs that are induced by mental illness or not, and why not have respect and tolerance of these experiences? It does not mean that you have to agree with them. I have seen the belief in God better and enhance the lives of many people who have a mental illness and they feel blessed to have had these experiences and honestly, I now feel the same way.
Paquette, A. (2014, November 24). Mental Illness and the Stigma of the Spiritual Experience, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2014/11/mental-illness-and-the-stigma-of-the-spiritual-experience
Author: Andrea Paquette
Rhonda, what a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing the hope. We won't all have the storybook ending all the time, but we all get moments of gratitude that may grow as our spirits grow. Somehow it seems my unseen mental illness can be softened by something else unseen (and just as elusive) spirituality.
To put it short, I didnt believe what therapists and psychiatrists said about it being a lifelong sentence. The illnees destroyed my life utterly from 1st grade on. Had psychosis in 08. Mania destroys your life forever, even if you just text while manic. the power of of social media. I always believed the illness wasnt what drs (who never experienced it themselves) said it was. It was a spiritual iron maiden. Stimuli from all angles would spear me to the depths of my soul mind and heart nonstop and i was being torn apart always. AND YET even after experiencing a psychosis, which was 8 days of sleeplessness and audio, gustatory, sensory, visual, and olfactory hallucinations simultaneously, and what is called in books as the worst human experience, nothing really compares to the social murder spree that has been done to me. The defaming, the gossip, a way to murder someone forever without actually killing them and without that person knowing. It must be stopped. I went to every spiritual avenue to find the cure, to find the answers, to find the TRUTH. New age energywork bs, shamanic, meditation, tao de ching, everywhere. Then, had a few dreams in my darkest hours and Christ led me to him. I read the psalms and they described my pain and their solutions! hear this: "why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." Psalm 42:5.
That was in April of 2013. Then, in March 22, 2014 (my psychosis was March 16-24, 2008) I got into a terrible accident and got a severe traumatic brain injury but received the golden hour thanks to divine intervention and when I woke up in the hospital, my quest for peace, truth, redemption, forgiveness for all my wrongs in all my life, for love came to a crowning moment out of what was a tragic event. I was cured of mental illness!!!! i know that i know i am free, it means nothing if anyone tries to tell me in not. What is impossible for man is possible with God. I still suffer tremendously daily at the hands of strangers and people who breathe out cruelty and wish me dead and hope for the worst for me and tie me up with crucifying labels, but I love everyone and for anything i ever did to cause harm (i mostly caused harm on myself and never intentionally on others) I was always sorry. I was always seeking the most impossible goal: TO LOVE AND BE LOVED. FORGIVENESS. REDEMPTION. RECONCILIATION. SAFETY. PEACE. and through Christ only are such things attained. I am glad my salvation doesnt depend on the imprisoning perceptions of complete strangers. Or else, if that were so for all people, we all are thoroughly screwed no matter what. The way people with mental illness are treated and labeled and spat on needs to be stopped. it is an act of murder to do that to people, whoever does this needs to be stopped. They threaten lives by doing it and they dont feel bad about it. they usually enjoy it actually. I never knew secretly murdering someone could ever be enjoyable. Never did i do such a thing to anyone WHILE I WAS IN PSYCHOSIS. AND YET DAILY IT IS DONE TO ME. This world is insane. Either the madness rubs off on you, or you are immune because you have no clue about the world youre in, or because you thought you found something to help, or you found Christ. Also, dont let people tell you it is inescapable. I refused to believe that and searched for the truth and for freedom and after almost dying several times thanks to narcissistic new age bs, archaic repackaged lies, the terrible meds and going off them cold turkey, the social war on my soul, surviving an accident that 400% of the time causes m.i. to worsen and being healed from it and many other afflictions.. I mean. Why do people love to destroy people? to feel better in comparison. or some arrogant self righteousness. or just are literally the new wave of serial killers. You can kill someone this way and yet be innocent. Please oh insane world. STOP TORTURING PEOPLE AS PUNISHMENT TO PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM THINGS YOU CANT BEGIN TO IMAGINE DESPITE WHAT STUPID SICK DRUGS YOU TAKE FOR FUN.
When my son caused a fatal car accident & went to juvenile detention (for manslaughter) after spiraling out of control & getting on meth because of the guilt & shame, I went to see him for the first time & he refued to see me. It broke my heart & I cried & prayed all th way back home. A beautiful hawk flew in front of my car. The saying "watch him like a hawk" immediately came to mind & I'm convinced GOD was assuring me. "i will watch him like a hawk- I've got this!" I have seen hawks on many occassions sice then & its usually when I'm manic & I always feel that I am heading the right way. In fact, just yesterday when I was going to his house to see the 3 beautiful grandughters he has since given me, I saw one!
That huge percentage of our brain can be used for those of us that are forced to tap into it. I believe it is useful & very real. We plead to GOD for signs, he hears us & answers. No doubt!
I am bipolar and have had a handful of major "manic" episodes that required months long hospitalizations. Every episode emphasized spirituality...good vs. evil. The very first manic break occured when I was 30. I was in a Catholic chapel for silent, meditative prayer. As if a switch flipped in my head (it literally felt like that), I felt like the other parishioners could hear my prayers and read my mind. I was horrified, believing that everyone could hear my thoughts. I ran out of the chapel and ended up being Baker Acted by my family that night. On another episode, I too believed I was Eve from the Garden of Eden, and that I was being persecuted for damning the world. At one point, I was trying to determine if I was Mary, Mother of God, or Mary Magdalene. I went round and round with these notions. I know that I heard some sort of "demon" at one point. I've never heard a voice like it. It ridiculed me. It came from no person present. No one else seemed to hear this.
I was filled with fear for my life at all times.
These are just a few episodes I've had, but I assure you, my experience with this psychosis/spirituality is vast.
Here's a theory...is "evil" (however you define this for yourself),the mastermind behind insanity and mental illness? If so many people who experience mental illness also experience such religious/spiritual undertones, could it mean that there is more to this condition than biology?? Are we being spiritually attacked? ...just makes me wonder. ~Debbie
I agree totally with you, Andrea. I have personally experienced many unusual experiences some spiritual when I was mentally ill. Except mine started when I was 21 years old. There were evil voices that looked to me then as black shapes sort of triangular. That would tell me to kill myself or say my name repeatedly, but when I told my mother about these voices she told me to pray. And so I did and afterwards they stopped for quite awhile. I also saw my aura while bathing, I would have thoughts of someone coming over that were very strong and when my doorbell rang. I couldn't believe it!My grandmother had just passed on.And I could see messages that looked like pictures that she I believe was sending me.
Today I have thankfully recovered from the worst symptoms of my illness. And I would like to add that before becoming mentally ill. I had a real experience with a ghost. That I will Never forget! :D I also believe part of the reason I became ill was meant to be. Because it brought out in me so many wonderful spiritual experiences!
I am presently learning how to practise spiritualism, but I stay away from anything that involves evil like horror movies or some of these ghost encounter/psychic tv or pc shows.
One final thought my psychiatrist once wrote on my file that my faith in God.He wrote is referred to as having angel ideology, but I firmly disagree!
The West locks up its mentally ill. But in many other cultures, it's a path to Shamanism. We're afraid of the unseen. Which is silly of course, but we fear what we don't know. Having the direct experience, we know.