By John Wm. Dunn
As I wrote in a previous article, “recovery is a journey, not a destination.” Throughout my lifelong struggle with a schizoaffective disorder, I have encountered several obstacles, commonly referred to as a crisis or relapse. Like several individuals who struggle with a serious mental disorder, I was diagnosed during my early twenties following an emotionally painful upbringing during my adolescent years. Fortunately, I was introduced to the Christian faith at an early age which planted the seeds of faith in my heart; however, although I was very interested in religion, I did not feel as though my faith produced an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit such as love, joy, and peace until I experienced my first psychotic break and subsequent relapses. In other words, I “found” myself in the depths of my mental illness, which is where this article begins.
Any form of mental break, whether it be an emotional break resulting from bipolar disorder or (as in my case) a minor psychotic break from reality, is a highly stressful and traumatic event. At the time of my initial break, not much was known about mental health and there were a lot of stigmas surrounding these issues. Furthermore, I experienced an abundance of spiritual insights that were out of touch with reality. Despite these delusions, my core beliefs that “God is good, that he loves me, and that he has the power to help me recover,” (Celebrate Recovery) led me to a small country church right here in Michigan where I simply meditated on the image of the cross of my higher power, Jesus Christ, and finally felt the overwhelming fulfillment of faith in love, joy, and peace that I was searching for.
My personal journey through mental illness has been intricately intertwined with my journey to understand my higher power and myself through the eyes of my higher power. Unfortunately, at the time of my psychotic break, the spiritual and professional communities had widely varying perspectives on mental health issues and subsequently I received very little holistic care. Because the holistic care I desired was not available due to factors including cost and the increasing effects of stigmatization from society, I felt extremely isolated from everyone in my innermost circles and had a virtually non-existent support network. In short, I experienced an extreme loneliness and isolation which medications could not treat. Eventually, my faith, which I perceive as my “invisible companion,” allowed me to retreat into the innermost depths of my heart, which I refer to as my “prayer closet.” Throughout this period of my journey, I began to receive a much clearer image of myself and my higher power which began to clarify my spiritual delusions as I became educated in sound doctrine from a four-year Christian university. In other words, I began to transcend the obstacles on my journey through the guidance of my “invisible companion” (faith) whom I believe is the source of my virtues and my conscience which guides me in my ethical decisions as to how to act in accordance with my virtues which have ultimately led me to a higher level of recovery.
This article on faith, “the invisible companion,” concludes my series on the three “cardinal virtues” (faith, hope, and love as presented in my earlier articles: “Finding Hope in Love,” and “The Virtue of Love” which encompass the virtues of all human beings including goodness, love, compassion, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, wisdom, knowledge, justice, and fairness. From personal experience, I know how hard it may be to find faith in the depths of a psychotic break or in the turmoil of a major relapse; however, I strongly encourage anyone who is in this situation and/or has any questions about their spirituality to seek and/or continue any professional help for your situation and consult a spiritual leader of your choice especially if you have never given much thought to your spiritual journey. I have found that I have enjoyed the most intense moments of spiritual growth and an abundant number of blessings from my higher power in the darkest moments of my journey through mental illness. As I have stated in a recent faith-based sharing group, I view relapse as an opportunity to learn more about myself and my higher power which simply increases my faith.
Once again, I welcome any feedback on this article even if you do not agree with my perspectives on any or all the virtues I have presented or if you do not believe in a higher power. Please feel free to contact me regarding this or any other article at firstname.lastname@example.org
John began his journey over twenty-five years ago with a psychotic break in which he experienced several religious thoughts and delusions which were out of touch with reality or true spirituality. Throughout the years following his diagnosis as an adult who struggles with schizoaffective disorder, he has received formal education in religious studies and philosophy while praying and studying the “big picture” of mental illness and the “bigger questions” of life. Through his religious studies courses he received an understanding of his inner being which includes his diagnosis as well as the “big picture” of how he would feel if he were mentally and emotionally stable. Through his education in philosophy, he came to an understanding of how to reach this state through a logical approach to his therapy. It is his desire to share this journey which he will continue throughout the remainder of his mortal life with his audience.
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