I am writing this blog as part of Time to Talk Day 2016, a day to get the nation talking about mental health issues and end the misconceptions surrounding people with mental health issues. I have schizoaffective disorder, which is a crude combination of schizophrenia and bipolar. I hear voices a lot (including good and bad religious voices), get paranoid and think people are trying to kill me, and suffer from severe depressive episodes. It’s a very isolating condition and one that attracts much stigma.
My illness has a huge impact on my life. The worst thing is that churches are a huge trigger for my psychosis, so I cannot attend church without fearing the worst. Friends have abandoned me or cut me off without explanation. Some of those friends are practising Christians.
As a practising Roman Catholic, it can be quite hard to separate my faith and my psychosis – they seem to be rather intertwined at the best of times, let alone the worst! For example, when I was about 13, I had a ‘religious experience’ where I could sense Jesus’ presence in my bedroom. Many will dismiss that as a hallucination, but to me it was very profound and real. Coming from a denomination that has a rich tradition of mystics and saints experiencing the Divine in ways that could easily be classed as mental illness is both helpful and confusing in terms of discerning my own experiences! When I first read St Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, it was as if St Teresa had known I would be alive and experiencing this in 500 years’ time, and was reaching out to me through her writings.
What can fellow Christians do to help me and fellow sufferers of mental illness? Emulate Jesus in all that they do, say, think and feel. Remember that He was never afraid to reach out and minister to the sick. And to all those who are suffering, just remember 1 Peter 5: 10.
Written by SCM Member Shanika Ranasinghe