In Christianity Today magazine, David Weiss writes about his “faith amid the ravages of mental illness.” Weiss was a church-going, straight A college student when doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His devastating experience eventually led to vital insights about his sickness, his faith, and the plight of others. With his permission I have summarized some of his insights and included comments of my own in parentheses.
Weiss describes how his symptoms and suffering “turned his life into ash” and caused a crisis of faith. He acknowledges the difficulty of accepting the hard truths about himself and about suffering that helped his recovery, but slowly he began to rebuild his life.
he acknowledges that his perceptions about life became altered, not only by the symptoms of schizophrenia, but also by the experience of suffering. During the years of anguish, “reason and logic gave way to instinct and fatalism,” said Weiss. His fatalistic perceptions were not hallucinations, but symptoms of despair.
(Though the organic symptoms of depression sound the same as the signs of spiritual despair, the two are different. Think back to the foundational beliefs you had about God and his dealings with mankind before you became ill. When those beliefs weaken or fail due to suffering, a spiritual despair takes place. Addressing how pain has affected your view of God and the world can restore hope. Symptoms of depression make this a difficult task and we often need help from our faith community to sort this out.)
Unfortunately, despair compels us to pull away from help. Weiss eventually admitted his family could see more clearly than he could and he acknowledged his need for their input and support.
Weiss pointed out that his family suffered from “the brunt of my selfishness.” Wasn’t he simply sick and not to blame for acting poorly? In his case he saw a difference between physical sickness and a choice based on his own will. He observed the habits he had developed and did nothing to resist: “I have fallen into the self-absorbed routine of sleeping, eating, and pretending I am somebody else.”
(Weiss finally realized that after medication stabilized him and allowed rational thought he still refused to make healthy choices for himself. Even though difficult side effects of medication affected him, he also saw an added element of selfishness in himself that hindered progress.)
Weiss’s self-described selfishness also destroyed his sense of gratitude. He now reminds himself often that though he still suffers he is fortunate “to have a loving family that supports me, gifted doctors who understand mental illness, medicine that manages my condition, and a God whose mercy never ceases.”
Weiss’ suffering did not occur as a freak incident in human history. He finally saw himself suffering “amid a great brotherhood of pain-stricken fellows who mistakenly believed, as I once had, that no one else understands our plight.” As a result of his new perspective about pain he learned compassion for others. An unexpected bonus came for Weiss who discovered truths about God he had never experienced:
A God who heals. A God who loves. A God I cannot logically explain to my psychiatrist. A God who manifests his genius by salvaging good from the evil in our lives…A God who calls himself Emmanuel—God with us.
Much of what Weiss addresses are issues of the heart, beneath the mind of a man struck with symptoms of schizophrenia and depression. Though he has not found complete healing of his diagnosed illnesses, he has found healing in his heart, toward God and others. May you and I experience the same courage and growth in our knowledge of God.
You can find the complete article by David Weiss at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/schizophrenic.html?start=5
You can visit David’s blog at: http://davidkurtweiss.com/about/ and find posts by his family and other guests about the topic of mental illness.