Sarah Dubinsky and I are diagnostic cousins. Her label is schizoaffective Disorder. Mine is bipolar with psychotic features. Tom-a-to, tom-ah-to. We both struggle with a chemical imbalance that can severely affect our functioning, causing us to perceive what is within us and around us in ways that can be debilitating.
We discovered we both had auditory hallucinations. I asked Sarah about hers.
Sarah: I have different types of voices. The external ones are not so much commanding as negative. Judgemental. Guilt-inducing. Then, there are my internal ones. Assessment voices that are like inner dialogue. These serve a purpose until they spiral into a deeper psychosis…. How about you?
Me: Similar. I had never thought of the assessment voices, but I get that. My external voices are accusatory. Condemning. I’d love to get rid of those, but I’m afraid if I do I will also lose my creative ones.
While Sarah and I are psychological kindred spirits, we do not share a common spiritual or philosophical worldview. Sarah describes herself as a Jewish atheist. I asked if this had caused tension within her family. She answered with wry candor,
Sarah: When I first told my father I was an atheist, he said, “We didn’t raise you to be an atheist. We raised you to be an agnostic.”
Me: So what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Sarah: I don’t really know. I’m just on autopilot. I get up to do what’s best. Do no harm. Don’t get harmed. Be grateful. Not act like I’m better than anyone else. So what are your beliefs about a higher power?
Me: I’ve come to know God in Jesus Christ. Like you said, this doesn’t make me better than anyone else. It means I am to love the lonely, welcome the stranger, embrace life from before birth until after death.
Sarah: What about your beliefs gives you comfort when you think of your struggles with mental illness?
Me: That’s a really good question that’s hard to answer because faith impacts all my life. It comforts me when I am afflicted and challenges me when I become complacent. With mental illness, I need a firm hope that I am cared for when I think I’ve lost my mind. Christ gives me this…. So what comforts you?
Sarah: Knowing that mental illness is random. It is not a punishment or test from God. Not a lack of faith. It just is. It’s nobody’s fault.
I asked Sarah what she would like to see faith communities do more of to address mental illness.
Sarah: I would like to see them talk more about suicide. Address the guilt often felt by those with mental illness and their loved ones. Remove stigma and self-loathing.
To the untrained eye, it may have seemed a random coincidence that Sarah and I became friends. But the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Even through Facebook.