This article goes into what it's like to have mental illness and grow up in a very strong religious family. I hope to be able to explain the different pains and hardships that come with religious faith when confronted by mental illness, and the different masks I feel I must wear. I also want to show how important it is not to give up on what you want.
I have always grown up in a very religious family. All members of my family go to church and have very strong religious convictions. It was always expected of me to be like everyone else; love church, go on a 2 year religious mission and live by the standards of the faith. Though I love my church now, it was not always this way. Practicing my faith with MDD, General Anxiety Disorder and OCD is like an uphill battle that seemingly never ends. It's like being in extremely unfamiliar territory where everyone knows something you don't. This caused me to wear a mask to act like I was a part of the secret. It was a mask of strong spiritual conviction and constant stream of happiness. I had to act like I belonged with everyone around me, when I felt nothing could be farther from the truth.
As anyone with mental illness can tell you, putting on these different masks of belonging and emotion can be the most exhausting thing you ever do. When everyone around you is crying and hugging because they feel the Spirit and religious fervor, I was sitting there feeling nothing but the emptiness of indifference. I felt like an outcast or an alien, in a place that I thought was supposed to comfort me and provide me with a sense of purpose. So I put on the mask required to look and act the part. I would get up and bear my testimony about how much the Spirit had changed my life and gave me the desire to right my wrongs, when in reality I had nothing to say at all. I was so desperate to fit in and feel like I belonged that I tried to fake feeling the grace of God in my life. But unfortunately, "faking it till you make it," does not work at all when it comes to religion. I would end up leaving the building feeling more lost and empty than ever.
There was a time when I used to enjoy going to church and feeling like I was a part of something bigger than myself. But that time has passed for now, and I'm only left with journal entries of past religious experiences. I wish I could rely on these past experiences for a strong conviction of what I want to believe in, but it truly does not work like that. I can't say that I remember what it's like to feel the guidance of the Spirit, because once the darkness hits you, everything that gave you joy and peace is completely unrecognizable. All you know is the darkness. It's like a solid ice wall blocking you from feeling anything, and no matter hard you hit the ice it just won't crack or break. I've gone through a long period of not believing in God, or thinking that the darkness was stronger than the light.
But deep down religion was always something that I wanted in my life, I just couldn't figure out how it fit into a life with mental illness. One day I was feeling good and enjoying church, the next I couldn't feel anything and was totally disconnected. After many years of this confusion and not feeling the Spirit, I am still fighting hard to find my way back to the light and feel again. I still struggle immensely and feel like I'm in a limbo with religion, but I know what I want and that's to get stronger in my convictions about my faith. So I keep going and try to take action to make my life a little better and brighter. I don't regret any of my time being religious and can say now that I do believe in God again. When I couldn't feel His love personally I found Him through philosophy. To me, believing in God is a very logical thing, it only makes sense that there is a Divine Creator behind all this around us. During my schooling I found many reasons to believe in God. While others felt Him, I saw Him. I could see His hand in my life still teaching me despite my mental illness.
Though I found a new way to believe in God, it still doesn't make things easy. It takes time and effort to stay religious, especially when many people who go to church don't understand anything about mental illness and how it effects religious people. But that's part of the reason me and my siblings started Hobo, to spread awareness and the perspective of those with mental illness in the hopes that people will change and come together to love and support as we should.
Although I haven't figured out my religious path yet, I think the important thing is to never stop trying. I may not feel what everyone else is feeling but there are still many ways God can reach me, I just have to be patient and willing enough to see them. He often will send other people to influence or help when you don't feel Him personally. Being religious and having mental illness is not easy, but nothing good comes easy. Like all things you have to work for it. But it is important to not get discouraged or feel like something is wrong with you when you don't feel the same as everyone else. Though others may not understand, you shouldn't worry about what they think. Just keep going forward with action at your own pace and compare yourself to how you used to be, not to other people.