Relating to something you cannot comprehend is tricky business. Parents, medical professionals, and friends face the challenge when trying to understand the blackness and bleakness and wrestling of individuals struggling with disorder of the mind and soul. I hesitate to say ‘mental illness’ due to the often incorrect assumptions associated with the term.
Images of the Virginia Tech gunman or of Gerald Loughner come to mind since news reports are often the only association people have with mental disorder. The most widely used photo of Loughner, diagnosed with schizophrenia, shows a wild-eyed, grinning man, which doesn’t ease us into compassionate conversation or opinion.
As an example of misunderstanding, two film versions of the classic novel Moby Dick played on television recently and their portrayal of the tormented Captain Ahab varied wildly. Melville, the book’s author, described Ahab as “gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea,” fixated on a mission that would doom him and others. The peg-legged Ahab paced his ship, brooding, swept away in thoughts that frightened his own soul. By today’s standards, we would describe him as paranoid, obsessive, and in the throes of major depression. He was a tormented man.
In the movie versions, one of which was a science fiction adaptation of the novel, the actors portrayed Ahab as a bulging-eyed bully who spoke with breathy growls (sci-fi version), and as a talkative captain with shifting moods and fixated behavior.
After reading the novel, I’d say neither actor nailed the character of Ahab. His torment was complex, his depression horrifying, his obsession frightening. The actors’ understanding of mental torment seemed contrived. Perhaps they had never experienced such depths of anguish and could not relate.
For those of us who know a family member who suffers from depression or schizophrenia or if we suffer ourselves, a more accurate picture comes to mind when we meet someone with a tormented mind or soul. We might get gripped with fear just like those who have no clue about the depth of confusion and anguish others suffer, but we’re also apt to reach out, to search for solutions, or to pray long and hard in the night.
Whether you believe mental torment results from sin or from a physical imbalance in the brain, the path to a sound and healthier life won’t come overnight. Counseling and spiritual growth takes time. So does finding medication and learning life skills.
For a Christian suffering from mental torment, the anguish of “abandoning faith” for a pill can worsen the torment. Wrong religious beliefs, distorted thoughts, and desperation — only someone skilled can clear these layers of confusion. Who is great enough to unravel a tangle of spirit, soul, and body?
With a blog named Schizophrenia. Christianity. Hope. you can imagine the answer. None of us fully comprehends the answers and cures to suffering, especially when a chronic illness upends our lives. So let us pray, reason together, and give grace to one another. May our perceptions change about those who are mentally and emotionally sick and about our God when he seems silent. May he grant us the courage to let go of our wrong beliefs and unbelief and to persevere in our faith, with holy joy. He alone can bring all this to pass.