This is a post I have tried to write many times, I have draft versions of it in my archives going back years, and scribbles in journals where I have tried to organise my thoughts into something resembling organised so that I could strive to broach this subject.
It’s a subject I want to broach, it’s one which holds a lot of questions, uncertaintanty and also certainty for me. But also, in my own opinion I know I will quite significantly differ with other people in one way or another on this subject and given the nature of the subject this can sometimes cause upset, or confusion.
So, before I start delving too deeply into my own thoughts let me say I am not intending hurt, upset, or otherwise to anybody. I am very respectful of others beliefs and opinions and nothing I say is intended as disrespect. As we all know, with mental health as with much else, what works for one does not necessarily work for another and we have to be respectful of that. This post is based on my own experiences and so the questions I have are from my own viewpoint and there may be no other person in the world who shares my opinion…or there may be many.
I live on the same street as a church, not just any old church though, it’s a Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. This means we get a knock on the door from members of their congregation fairly regularly, what with us being easy pickings and all! I recently had a conversation with the two ladies who were delivering the word for their church. They had asked when would all the suffering end, and then referred to a passage from the bible, which I was familiar with, as the answer.
“God . . . will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain.”—Revelation 21:3, 4
What was strange was they had come on a day I was really struggling, and just having a chat with them (albeit knowing they were trying to recruit me) for ten minutes really helped improve my day. What they said was reassuring and in some ways it reminded me that religion does hold hope and comfort for you when you are suffering.
What I have found though, is that while in the short term, like in my experience above there can be some short term relief from religion. Long term religion never held any comfort for me, instead causing me more pain and questions than help and solace.
I was brought up in a semi-religious family. I was christened methodist, I was taken to church every Sunday and religious holiday until I was a teenager. There is an arm of my family who are strict Mormons so every member of my family has had the conversion talk at some point or another! When I was 20 and living in Greece I started the process of converting to Greek Orthodox having fallen in love with the religion and it’s traditions but then life hit me hard and my doubts stopped me.
I have always found it hard to digest how any God who loves their people could see so much suffering and let it happen. I’m not just talking about mental health here, war, illness, poverty. I could go on with this list. It’s never sat well with me that I spent my childhood years being preached to about how much God loves us and how he will protect us, while at home I was seeing alcoholism, violence, abuse. Once we were away from that I then had a Father who used me like ragdoll and even turned his rage on me. To me, I felt I deserved it, and part of that reason was that I wasn’t good enough to be saved by God. After all He had let it happen based on the church’s teachings.
Through my teenage years I became more cynical, we didn’t attend church anymore, I was considered reckless by my family (my undiagnosed bipolar starting to come out) half of the time and I was deeply depressed the other half. I was agnostic at this point, probably to the point of not caring.
As I said earlier, while I was in Greece I discovered the Greek Orthodox Church and I fell in love with it. There was something about the religion, maybe it was not fully understanding the services (sung in Greek by the Priests) or the theatrical nature of the services with incence and beautiful churches but I was sold. I was also in a very hypomanic phase of my illness during this time, until I was raped, beaten and almost died. At this point depression and rage crept in and with it my age old doubts about religion and what it could offer me.
I did get married in a church, mainly for my Mum who wanted me to have a church wedding, but I did it my way, in a black dress and Dr Martin boots! The vicar originally marrying us was pro- our outlook and understood my doubts having had a long discussion with me about everything. She was also very understanding regarding my mental health. But when our wedding collided with her holiday and we had a stand in who was not so understanding, and was outrightly rude about some of our choices, including our bible reading, during the service, I realised being judged was not for me.
In the 15 years since my Greek incident, I have become more interested in all religions, but less interested in being religious. I don’t identify as agnostic or atheist, nor do I identify as a methodist anymore. I doubt, and am unclear, but to what extent I haven’t decided nor am I sure I will ever. But do I have to, it’s just another label people try to apply to us just because they want to. Why can’t we just BE.
I do think religion is fascinating the way it captivates people. How different people connect with different relgions. How some people with severe mental health conditions can completely come off their medications because they find peace in the peaceful meditations of Buddhism or Hinduism. How some people find comfort in the words written in the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah.
Religion is a vast minefield where for one person it is a miracle and for another it can be a trap holding them back. For me it was a trap, but I do wonder in amazement firstly that people can hold such faith in things that cannot be proven and secondly that so many find such comfort from their illness’ from this faith.
I would love to hear views from others on this subject. Are you someone who finds comfort from your mental illness in religion. What is it about your faith that offers so much support? This is the one aspect of this discussion I cannot fully offer here.