By John Wm. Dunn
I wish to begin this article by expressing my profound gratitude to anyone who has read either my personal story or any of the articles on what I refer to as the three “cardinal” virtues: faith, hope, and love. It has been my purpose in writing on this subject to share the foundations of my journey through mental illness as well as the personal and spiritual growth that it has facilitated. This journey, presented in my personal story, “My Journey Through Mental Illness”, has just begun to bear fruit in the eyes of those who know me from the “outside”, that is, members of a society who exercise ignorance and stigmatization of my diagnosis. If you are familiar with any of my previous articles, I hope you will realize that, although I adhere to Christianity, I firmly believe that all character virtues are embedded in human nature regardless of spiritual or non-spiritual belief systems. Furthermore, I consider the three cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and love to be the building blocks of higher psychological and spiritual virtues of wisdom, leadership, courage, justice, and ultimately, transcendence. In this article, I intend to present my beliefs on the virtue of wisdom, which is taught by all belief and non-belief systems, and my personal story of how I came to receive wisdom through my understanding of the “big picture” of mental illness.
Traditionally, society has taught us that wisdom is acquired through experience and higher education. Unfortunately, society generally does not allow for abnormal experiences, such as the emotional trauma I faced as an adolescent, to be a valid foundation for profound wisdom. Without delving into the implications of a dysfunctional and broken family which we all experience to a certain extent, I entered young adulthood with a severely impaired state of mind which ultimately led to a psychotic break. Fortunately, I received a solid secondary education and was well prepared academically to enter a four-year university. This preparation provided me with the factual knowledge I needed to understand my illness and utilize critical thinking skills while examining my inner being throughout the next twenty-five years to “grow” through my illness – a lifelong journey which continues as I write this article. I must emphasize that this is a lifelong journey because I continue to take prescribed medications for my illness and am committed to lifelong learning – a virtue instilled in me through higher education.
Since the early days of human society, we have struggled with the “big questions” of poverty and justice – a journey which I am currently beginning to explore in a current writing project titled, “The Journey of Mankind.” Although the topics of poverty and justice are much broader than mental illness, I hope you can understand that those with a mental health condition are more likely to experience all forms of injustice in contemporary society – a fact which is very personal to me as I am a member of this population. Because this fact is so close to my heart, I earnestly began to pray for the wisdom to understand myself (with my mental illness) and the plight of mankind. Because I was forced to live on a poverty-level income and was able to delve deeply into prayer and meditation through lifelong learning, I was able to connect with my primary spiritual gift of great faith which has provided me with the wisdom and knowledge to overcome several trials as pointed out in my piece “Finding Faith in Crisis”. Please note that I do not claim to have the answers to all of life’s questions; I am simply saying that I understand my illness and experiences with poverty and injustice from my personal perspective as revealed to me through prayer and experience. I intend to discuss the issue of social justice in my next article.
In “Finding Hope in Love”, I wrote that there is a time to act upon wisdom out of love – a virtue which I have stated “brings all things together in perfect harmony”. Taking this leap of faith (to act upon wisdom out of love) is one of the most courageous acts a mortal being can perform. I say that this takes courage because it often requires vulnerability on behalf of the being. From personal experience, I have found that my most intense moments of personal growth have occurred when I have shared my personal feelings with another person. I cannot say that I have always used sound judgment in these scenarios; however, my higher power has always led me to a higher level of wisdom and contentment with godliness which has provided great gain for me mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. For all you philosophers (including myself) out there who love your logic and reasoning, I completely understand the courage it takes to make this “leap of faith”. I intend to discuss the virtues of courage and leadership in a future article. I have learned from my experience in marriage that love transcends all virtues including reason and wisdom along with courage and leadership by uniting them together in perfect harmony.
I must reiterate that I do not claim to have all the answers to the plight of mankind because this is an eternal journey; however, I hope that you will join me on this journey towards a higher state of being by sharing your thoughts and/or questions with me by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org Please join me next month as we continue this journey together.
NAMI Washtenaw recognizes all faith and spiritual traditions, including those who do not subscribe to a faith or spiritual tradition, we invite you to tell your story from your own faith perspective. Submit this form to express your interest in contributing.
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.