Monday, May 23, 2022

Mental Illness: A “Crown of Thorns”

I guess I should say something for “ Mental Health Awareness Month.”

I heard somewhere that it was Mother Teresa who said that Jesus entered into special solidarity with the mentally ill when the crown of thorns was driven into His head.

In any case, I have been consoled by this “connection” - it helps me to remember that Jesus is present, that He is with me, accompanying me in my episodes of Major Depression and OCD. Indeed, He understands all the twists and turns of my overcharged, brilliant, strange, creative, wildly dreaming, fantastically overanxious, relentlessly driven, exhausted brain.

Medication has helped me (while also, no doubt, taking its physical toll on me over the course of decades). After years of trying many things (and still in conjunction with some of them) I have found that long-term treatment with regular medications is something I still need. They have been crucial for an overall stability that enables me to care for my loved ones and use the parts of my brain that do work pretty well.

I thought May was also supposed to be “Lyme Disease Awareness Month” but I haven’t seen much about it this time around. I suppose we all have “epidemic fatigue” from all the COVID vigilance. The tensions of the past couple of years have certainly worn me down. Nevertheless I continue to maintain my uneasy “truce” with Lyme, provided I pace myself slowly and diffuse stress as much as possible.

But mental pain in particular is sometimes like puncture wounds in the head. This is an analogy, of course, but modes of perception undergo distortion and constrain our capacities to see things in perspective within ourselves. It’s still very hard to convince many people - who occasionally “feel down” but manage to “pull themselves out of it” by thinking positively or changing a few activities - that mental illness is not like what they experience. Mental illness involves relentless afflictions that tear down the foundational psychological and emotional resources that help normal people resolve basic problems. It sucks the person into a downward spiral from which he or she cannot rescue his or herself without the intervention and support of mental health care practitioners, as well as loved ones and friends (insofar as possible).

It’s good to “be aware” of mental health. Whether or not you suffer in this way yourself, many of the people around you are “Christ” struggling on their way of the Cross while enduring the special blinding, burning, shattering pains of the particular “Crown of Thorns” that is mental illness.

Please, do not mock them. Do not let them fall to the ground and be crushed. Be compassionate and help them carry their burdens. Life is hard for all of us, and yet we are called to live it together, to live with understanding and love toward one another, caring for one another, sharing one another’s burdens. In this we follow Jesus, who is present with us, who is close to us in all our pains and disabilities, who frees us from the self-absorption of our sins - frees us to love and to let ourselves be loved - and carries all our burdens and our very selves because He wants to be with us forever; He wants us to be His brothers and sisters: divinely transformed in the Holy Spirit and humanly whole and free, dwelling in the House of the Father, which is our true home.