Welcome to day 11 in the #Write31Days blogging challenge. I went to church today for the first time in a long while. There’s a church on institution grounds here, but I can’t walk there alone from my unit and the staff don’t always have time to take me. There’s someone who drives people to church, but for whatever reason they’ve limited this service to people of the elder units. We reached an agreement with the pastors that, if the staff took me one way, I would be driven back. This way, if the staff are not too busy around the time church starts at 10:30, I can go to church. Sometiems though, I’m just too lazy.
I say th is all because today I want to talk about faith and mental health. I originally inteded to write a boring, informative post on personality disorders again, but they take a lot of effort and aren’t always appreciated. So I’m going to talk faith.
I was raised atheist and didn’t become interested in faith until I was around eighteen. At first, it was just curiosity. I didn’t start feeling God’s presence till I was about 25.
At this point, I define myself as a progressive Jesus follower. I have not (yet) been baptized and hence don’t take all of the traditions of Christianity all that seriously. I try to focus on the positive part of Christianity, ie. the idea that God through Jesus Christ helps me be a better human and reach eternal life. As the pastor said in church today, eternal life in the Biblical sense does not refer specifically to entry to Heaven, but more to a fulfilling life in the here and now as well as in the afterlife.
I haven’t always focused on the positive. Here is where my mental illness comes into play. After all, you were probably wondering why I write this post for #Write31Days. Well, when I was still in a pretty dark place when on the acute ward, my faith, which was still too fresh to be called a faith, stood in the way of my havng a positive outlook. I was pretty sure God was punishing me for my childhood behavior problems with this state of depression.
Though some churches believe in a punitive God, most have abandoned this idea. Even so, many mentally ill people start experiencing their faith backfiring. Some churches still endorse this idea. After all, there’s still a lot of stigma associated with mental illness and even non-relgious people still sometimes believe it’s the sufferer’s own fault for having a bad attitude.
In the Netherlands, most mental health agencies employ pastors and other spiritual counselors to help patients find the answers to life’s important questions. Pastors and spiritual counselors reach out to people rgardless of their faith. For example, one of my husband’s family members, himself atheist, found relief in knowing a pastor would at least talk to him when he was in a hospital. I originally found the same. I started talking to the institution pastor in early 2010, before I’d declared myself a progressive Jesus follower. Even now that I do feel God’s presence, I don’t always talk faith with the institution pastor. Sometimes, I talk other life issues, but sometimes, I just talk over how life is going in general. Sometimes, I still discuss my occasional struggles with the idea of a punitive God.
As I said, many mentally ill people find their mental illness impacts their faith and vice versa. Some have religious experiences many people consider delusional. Some feel, like myself sometimes, that God is punishing them or that they are possessed. Some find their faith helps them fight their mental illness. I hope that more people find themselves on the latter path.