Embracing the Cross – Part 3: Trust

Has it really been two months since my last post? Time sure flies. I just got back from a 10 day trip to Kansas to visit a close friend and attend a writers’ workshop. I’d intended to get a post written up before I left, but clearly that didn’t happen. And now, in the aftermath of a very exciting, blessed trip during which I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I should have, I am experiencing what is likely the start of a mixed or depressive episode. Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

An excellent time to write a post on suffering, yes?

What a perfect opportunity to sit back and analyze whether my belief that it’s possible to suffer depression joyfully is at all accurate.

I may be repeating myself, but having a proper definition of the word “joy” is required for this belief to make any sense at all. And pondering that definition led me to a question:

Is it acceptable to conflate “joy” and “peace”?

One could argue that it’s possible to be at “peace” without being joyful. If you take “peace” to simply mean “freedom from disturbance” or “tranquility,” and nothing more, then apathy can fill the shoes of peace just as easily as joy could. DepressionAn apathetic person feels no disturbance or anxiety. They don’t care enough about anything to be anything but tranquil. But I don’t think anyone in a rational state of mind would conclude that apathetic peace is in anyway comparable to joyful peace. It certainly isn’t preferable. Anyone who has ever reached the point of depression where they’ve lost all ability to care about anything in life, knows that the absence of cares does not equal peace. Of course, if you’ve been suffering through a firestorm of self-hatred and you suddenly drop to a level where you don’t even care enough to hate yourself anymore, it can certainly feel peaceful in comparison. Cool water can feel hot to someone dying of hypothermia. But no ordinary person would choose a cold bath over a warm one to ward off a chill. And even the severely depressed person will reach a point where the numbness of apathy becomes a smothering prison that they would do anything to break free from.

featherTrue peace is inherently joyful. I’m not quite sure whether you’re peaceful because you’re joyful or you’re joyful because you’re peaceful. But both are simultaneously present and neither would be possible in the absence of the other. True peace requires joy. True joy requires peace. And I don’t mean external peace. A look at the lives of any of the saints demonstrates that it’s possible to be a very peace-filled person in the most turbulent of external situations.

So when I say it’s possible to be joyful in the midst of depression, I believe what I’m really saying is that it’s possible to be at peace. Because to me, peace is just a calm, gentle form of joy. And I can reaffirm with great confidence that yes, it is possible to be at peace while depressed. I’m not saying it’s easy to reach that head space. I’m certainly not saying I automatically feel that way when my bipolar symptoms rear their head. I’m tempted to say “I have to work at it” in order to reach that place. But really, that isn’t true at all. To be honest, whenever I “work” at being a peaceful person, I usually wind up even more anxious and mentally disturbed than when I started. You can’t will yourself into peacefulness. It works about as well as willing yourself into happiness. If you achieve anything it all, it’s temporary, and the experience is a tense one.

So how does one achieve peace? It’s actually startlingly simple. The plain, uncomplicated truth is that you will never have peace if you make it a goal in and of itself. Why? Because true peace is simply a side effect. It’s the result of something else. And that something else is trust.

confiance2This year has been a year of trust for me. At the end of last year I read an article about picking a word to focus on in the new year. I sat down and prayed about it. And the first word that came to mind was trust. At the time I thought it was weird, because it struck me as something more applicable to my mother, who struggles with anxiety. But this has been a year of realizations for me about the importance of trust in one’s spiritual life—and a real eye-opener as to how mistrustful I really am. When it comes right down to it, the fastest way to become a joyful person is to trust in God. I mean really trust in God. If you aren’t joyful, you don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that. Last year, I thought I trusted God. But now I can see I was deluding myself. Because I’ve gotten a few tastes of what trust actually feels like this year and the peace and the joy that springs from it is like nothing I’ve never experienced before.

If you want to suffer joyfully, you must be at peace. If you want to be at peace, you have to trust in God. If you want to develop true, childlike trust in God…you have to get to know him. You have to develop a relationship with him.

In the next post we’ll take a look at the process of doing precisely that, and we’ll discuss some tangible steps to take.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

Embracing the Cross – Part 2: Suffering With Joy

“O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” ~ Isaiah 54:11-12

As per usual this post is rather late in coming. Mentally formulating blog posts tends to take me a while. But I think I’ve finally figured out how to tackle this next one, so here goes!

The question I proposed to answer at the end of my last post was “what happens when you say ‘thy will be done’ to God, and truly mean it?” To put it simply, you become a very peace-filled person. You become joyful. But how? And why? After all, God’s will inevitably contains suffering of some sort. But the joy comes when you understand that the amount of good God brings out of your suffering far outweighs the suffering itself. I can attest to that from personal experience. But even so, I still struggle with that prayer when anxiety looms in my mind about one thing or another. I know that God will take care of everything in the best way possible, but the niggling little thought still sometimes surfaces… what if I don’t like the results of his plan?

The thing is, God wants us to be happy, and he knows what will make us truly happy in the long run far better than we do. Sometimes reaching the place where we will be truly happy involves going through some rough, uncomfortable places. Or some downright miserable places. And since we usually can’t see the destination that God has in mind for us, we’re left clinging to our faith in the dark, struggling to believe what God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

This may sound rather grim, as if accepting God’s will means just gritting our teeth and bearing what comes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. God’s will should bring joy to our lives, even when it contains suffering. The saints understood this better than anyone. Saints like Therese of Lisieux actively wished for suffering because they found joy in suffering for God. If we aren’t joyful in our sufferings it’s because we haven’t truly surrendered to the will of God and embraced it with our whole heart. The question then becomes, how are we supposed to do that?

First of all, we have to trust God. And unless we have a deep, personal relationship with God, that isn’t likely to happen. You can’t truly trust a person you don’t have a relationship with. And forming a deep relationship means spending a significant amount of time with the person in question. So if we want a relationship with God, we need to spend time with him in prayer and reading. Perhaps we can make “how to deepen your relationship with God” one of the topics of the following posts. I think it’s something well worth looking into. Also, we need to pray for the grace to trust him. We need to cry out to him with the words of the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

Secondly, we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the joy we’re talking about. The joy you experience while suffering is not usually a giddy, delightful feeling that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and tingly and excited. Especially not when you’re depressed. It’s more intellectual than physical. It brings calmness and peace, and also a sense of immense satisfaction. When you’re incapacitated by mental illness, or some other form of suffering, you tend to feel useless. But when you’ve embraced God’s will and accepted the suffering in order to offer it up to him for a good purpose, suddenly that sense of uselessness vanishes. You realize that God is accomplishing something important with what you’re going through, and even if you never personally see what that ‘something’ is, you are satisfied. Because it’s not going to waste.

To close off this post, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of St. Josemaria Escriva’s homilies called “Towards Holiness.” In reference to suffering he says:

This is the way Jesus fashions the souls of those he loves, while at the same time never failing to give them inner calm and joy … and he impresses on them a living conviction that they will only find comfort when they make up their minds to do without it. – Friends of God, pg 465

When we decide to embrace our suffering, it suddenly becomes a far less traumatizing thing, and we can find peace and joy in the midst of it. The difficult part is getting to the point where we trust God enough to say “thy will be done” and mean it. We’ll discuss that further in Part 3 of this series.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 1: “Thy will be done.”

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” ~ Luke 9:23

Today was a beautiful Easter. I woke to sunshine streaming through my bedroom window—something all the more lovely since it was snowing the past two days. The above picture really doesn’t fit the mood of today in the slightest, but since I intend it to be the cover photo for this series as a whole, I decided to roll with it anyway. I actually meant to write and post this on Good Friday, buuuuuut life had other ideas. Really, I probably should have started this back at the beginning of Lent, but I suppose it’s better late than never, yes?

Today’s post will be more succinct than usual since I intend to focus my attention on one thing in particular: four simple words that shook the earth to its foundations, broke all the bonds of hell and brought salvation to every man, woman and child who was ever born, and will ever be born, should they choose to accept this mind boggling gift. Pretty darn impressive for four little words. And if you’re a Christian, you probably say them everyday (or at least every Sunday at church) without really giving them much thought. Can you guess what they are? They come between “thy kingdom come” and “on earth as it is in heaven” in the prayer Jesus gave to us. How often have they rolled off our lips with hardly a split second’s thought or consideration? (For that matter, how often does the entire prayer roll off our lips that way? But that’s for a whole other post…)

As you’ve probably already surmised, the four words are as follows:

Thy will be done.

They express the same sentiment as Mary’s four words in response to the Annunciation: “let it be done” (Luke 1:38).

This is a very powerful prayer. It’s also a very difficult prayer to say from the heart without tacking “if” or “but” on the end of it. Can you say those four words and mean them — really mean them — without any nagging hesitation or uncertainty? To be honest, I can’t. But I’m praying for the grace to reach that point soon. As soon as possible, in fact. Because while that prayer can be terrifying, it is also the most liberating prayer you can give voice to. “Thy will be done,” said from the heart, is the path to perfect peace — the peace of Christ that the world cannot give.

I chose to begin with this topic because it’s something I’ll be coming back to repeatedly throughout this series. It is the prerequisite to being able to embrace your cross. And embracing your cross is the prerequisite to suffering peacefully, even joyfully. Is it possible to suffer depression joyfully? That’s a question that’s plagued me ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little over five years ago. If you’d asked me that question three years ago I would have scoffed and said “of course not!” Had you asked me last year, I’d have responded with an uneasy “I don’t know.” Today my answer would be “yes, I think.” The I think comes from the simple fact that I haven’t been tested by severe depression since I’ve begun developing this new mindset. Could I suffer through that joyfully? I really don’t know. But is it possible to suffer mild-to-moderate depression joyfully? Speaking from recent experience, yes.

Logically speaking, depression and joy should be mutually exclusive. Certainly, I believed they were for most of the past five years. But one of the most important marks of a Christian is their joy. Heck, one of the most important marks of a saint is their joy. Real, pure, joy. If we are living our faith as Christians in a deep way, our lives should be saturated with supernatural joy. Where does that leave those of us afflicted with emotional disorders? Are we just plain out of luck? That’s bothered me for years. Is it possible to experience joy in the midst of mental illness? It’s one of the main things this series will explore. Because the answer, I think, is yes. And it starts with “thy will be done.”

Ponder those words. Do some soul searching. Do they frighten you? Ask yourself why. Why should we be afraid of the will of a God whose very nature is love? He made us specifically so He could love us. He entered the world we corrupted through sin and suffered more than anyone ever has for each individual person alive. For you. Because He wants you. He knows what will make you happy — He made you after all. He knows you better than you know yourself. And He wants you to be happy. His will leads to joy. Why should we fear it? Your heart cries out “Because His will can lead to suffering!” Yes. It can. And more than that, it does. But there is no way to escape suffering in this world. Wouldn’t you much rather be able to face what comes with joy?

Beg for the grace to be able to say that prayer and truly mean it. It’s the key to your freedom. In the next post we’ll take a look at its potential results.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

Suffering – Part 1: Your Pain Touches Hearts

Brace yourselves. Here comes another series about suffering.

The majority of my posts so far have been on suffering (The Advantage of Suffering and The Sorrowful Mysteries, for instance) because it’s something that goes hand in hand with mental illness. Since it keeps coming up again and again, I’ve decide to create an ongoing series specifically devoted to it.

So here goes…

Why do we suffer?

It’s a question worth asking, and it really has no hard and fast answers. C.S. Lewis wrote a brilliant book on the subject that’s well worth checking out titled The Problem of Pain. I’m not going to try and rehash what he already addressed. Instead, I’d like to put forward just one of the many answers to the above question for consideration.

Because suffering is part of the human condition, it’s one of the few things that any person, anywhere, from any culture, can bond with a fellow human over. Suffering brings people together like nothing else can–at least when the suffering is shared. Suffering allows you to understand and empathize with others who are going through the same, or similar, experiences. Yes, suffering can and does destroy some people. But on the flip side, it can and does move other people to heroic action. The very act of fighting to stay strong as you endure your own trials can bring hope and encouragement to others who desperately need it, without you even realizing it.

A little vignette from my life is illustrative of this.

During the winter of 2012-2013, I went through a very rough patch. I was hit with multiple episodes of severe depression, interspersed with some mixed episodes, and virtually no stability between any of them. While this was going on, I was also having some physical health problems that would have left me feeling miserable all on their own. Adding them to severe depression was really just some icing on an already large cake. But as anyone with depression knows, life doesn’t stop and wait for you to start feeling better. It keeps going. It becomes a matter of sink or swim. There really are no other options.

For me, one of the parts of life that keeps going regardless of how I feel is music ministry. Our church isn’t large.  Back then, it was just me and a fellow lady parishioner who led the congregation in song. We both sang, but she was the cantor and I was the pianist. Her job would turn into an absolute nightmare if I failed to show up–it’s a tall order to lead an entire congregation without any instrumental accompaniment when you have no musical training. The result usually isn’t terribly pretty, though perhaps its mildly better than a dry mass (a mass with no music). Suffice to say, I couldn’t simply bow out, even though curling up in a corner and dying felt preferable to leaving the house. So I pulled together some hymns that weren’t too hard, and that I felt drawn to in my misery, and trooped off to church.

I could barely focus on the notes on the page. I didn’t even try to hear myself singing. I just mindlessly forced the memorized words out with as much force as my blind  discomfort  allowed, not caring if my voice cracked or went off key–which it very likely did. I was in a state of utter resignation. The whole thing didn’t seem worth the effort. I was tired  of life. Everything was way too hard, and I confess I felt more than a little bitter about it deep down. What was the point of having to go through all of it? I was more than a little frustrated with my Creator, though I hadn’t outright admitted that to myself yet.

The mass finally ended. The last hymn was done. I decided that crawling under the piano and dying probably wouldn’t be looked upon as socially acceptable, so instead I started gathering up my sheet music. As I did so, a woman approached my fellow singer. I almost failed to notice, considering how caught up I was in my pity-party. But when I turned my attention on them, I momentarily forgot myself. The woman was wiping tears from her eyes as she thanked us for our effort. There was no way she could know just how poorly I was doing–I’d never talked about it with anyone in my parish, and not even my fellow singer had clued in. But the music we made had touched this woman at a very personal level.

My fellow parishioners aren’t what you’d call an overemotional bunch. If they tear up during a mass, they cover it up and keep it to themselves. They also don’t usually hang around to chat with the music ministry. To have someone walk up to the front of the church and address us is uncommon. To have someone do so while in tears–well, it’s unheard of. I was so shocked I actually forgot how awful I felt. And for a severely depressed person, that is extremely impressive.

I went home feeling the least bad about things that I’d felt in weeks. The entire experience had been made worth it. Why? I suddenly remembered I wasn’t the only person in the world burdened with suffering. There were other people in my own community suffering too–and somehow managing to survive it. And I had just unintentionally reached out and touched one of those people by simply showing up and trying my best to hold it together as I fulfilled my commitment. And the fact that she was courageous enough to approach us and express how she felt touched me. I have no idea what she was going through, and she had no idea what I was going through, but by our mutual suffering we helped each other.

There’s something beautiful about that, no?

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 6: The Crucifixion

We’ve finally come to the last post in this series. A few days late–busyness and a mild relapse of tendonitis prevented me from getting it written for Good Friday–but better late than never.

In the previous post we took a look at Jesus’ Carrying of the Cross. In this final post, we’ll examine the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the Crucifixion, and sum up everything we’ve discussed so far. If you’ve missed the previous posts in the series, I encourage you to check out Part 1 for an explanation of what I’m doing with them.

This final Mystery might come across as a largely physical torture, much like the Scourging at the Pillar,  and thus it might not seem to have a lot in common with the sufferings that come along with mental illness. After all, it’s hard to compare psychosis or depression to getting your hands and feet nailed to a tree and being left to hang there until you die–and this after all of the other things Jesus had gone through.

Some might make the argument that mental and emotional suffering are worse than physical suffering, or that Jesus was only on the cross for 3 hours, whereas mental illness episodes can last for weeks and months. But as I said before, mental/emotional pain and physical pain are two different things that can’t be compared very effectively, and considering Jesus was sweating blood the previous day from his emotional and mental anguish, I have a feeling his level of suffering during those moments was worse than the amount of suffering stretched out in a month long (or longer) episode of depression.

But I digress.

For the purpose of this post, what I want to focus on is something that Jesus said while hanging on the cross:

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

What is hell? Biblical imagery gives us scenes of fiery torment, souls burning endlessly in agony. But setting aside all of that, what is the definition, the very essence, of hell? I would say it’s to be cut off completely from one’s creator, the source of all goodness, light, and love. I don’t think it much matters whether images of hell fire are meant to be taken literally or not, because to be utterly cut off from God, in and of itself, would be an infinitely greater torment than what any fire could cause.

What am I getting at here?

I’m saying Jesus experienced hell, for our sake, in a very literal sense. The Apostles Creed says “he descended into hell,” but in that case, “hell” is simply a word referring to the place of the dead, not the place of the damned. He went there to share the Good News that heavens gates were now open to them. But when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he experienced something that we simply cannot comprehend with our human intellects, because we cannot comprehend the Trinity. God the Father turned his back on God the Son, for the sake of our sins. It wasn’t for all eternity–or maybe in some sense it was; God is outside of time, after all–but Jesus  was given a taste of what the souls in hell are sentenced to. In his time on earth, he experienced far more suffering than any human soul ever can or ever will, because he bore the weight of all our sins, all our guilt, all our sorrows. According to Isaiah:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:3-4

So how does this tie into mental illness? Sometimes, in the midst of our trials, we feel that God has abandoned us. Maybe intellectually we realize he hasn’t, but it sure feels like he has. We can’t feel his presence. We are utterly miserable. Our prayers seem to be going unanswered. It’s like we’ve been forgotten. Rejected. Forsaken. And Jesus fully understands the feeling. We might not understand why God chooses to allow us to go through such experiences, but there’s obviously a reason or he wouldn’t put us through it; and we certainly aren’t on our own in the experience. God did the very same thing to Himself. Jesus gets it.

So what does all of this mean? We’ve walked through each of the Sorrowful Mysteries and have seen the different ways in which Christ has entered into the very same sufferings that the mentally ill are forced to endure. If you still feel at some level that what Jesus went through doesn’t match up with your own suffering, bear in mind what I said back in part 1: Jesus lives in you. He experiences what you experience every moment that you’re alive. Why do you think it hurts him so much when we sin? Especially when we sin by hurting other people. He feels our pain, very literally. When he chose to enter into the human experience, he chose to enter all of it–not just the pieces of it that a carpenter’s son living in ancient Palestine would have gone through. He understands what mental illness feels like far better than anyone else ever can or will–he’s experienced every form of it in existence, at every level of severity and in all life circumstances that accompany it. This is why St. Paul can say:

“we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Taken by itself, that statement isn’t particularly helpful. Great. So we aren’t alone in our misery. How does that help us any? The next verse offers the perfect answer:

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Because Jesus knows precisely how much we are suffering, we can go to him, boldly, and ask for his help. And he will have mercy on us and give us grace to help us endure our trials.

The catch is, of course, we have to go to him first. We have to approach him and ask for help. If we keep ourselves at a distance and refuse to acknowledge that we need assistance, there isn’t much he can do for us. But we’ve been promised time and again that he will look after us if we surrender ourselves to his care:

“O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires.” Isaiah 54:11

“Take courage, my children, and cry to God, for you will be remembered by the one who brought this upon you.” Baruch 4:27-29

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” Psalm 31

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delvers him out of them all.” Psalm 34

“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.” Psalm 72

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:1-12

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” Philippians 4:13

Mental illness is a cross–a very difficult one at times. But for those of us that have it, we have to keep in mind that there is a purpose behind it. You might not have discovered what that purpose is yet in your own case. I know it took me a while to discover the purpose for mine, but as time passes I continue to uncover more and more reasons why what I first looked on as a curse has actually become a very odd blessing in a rather unpleasant disguise. If we can truly wrap our minds around the fact that our illnesses were not dealt out to us out of spite, and that the God who allowed us to have them wants to help us manage them, the whole situation becomes a little bit easier to handle. But it requires faith. And faith is hard. Especially when it feels like God is quite simply ignoring you.

When you start to question whether or not God truly loves you and is going to look after you, stop for a moment and picture Jesus on the cross. He put himself there. For you. But there’s more to it than that. Do you honestly think God ever once stopped loving his only begotten son as Jesus went through the experience of taking on all of our sin and guilt? No. But still Jesus felt completely abandoned by his Father as he hung there on the cross. Even so, he commended his spirit into his Father’s hands as he died. And his Father raised him up to new life on the third day.

He will do the same for you if you cling to your faith (even if it’s just by the ragged ends of your fingernails. And not just after you die:

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27

Waiting can be hard–take it from someone who has spent the last few years doing a lot of it, for various different health problems, not only mental ones–but answers do come eventually. Never stop praying. He will be there for you.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 5: The Carrying of the Cross

In the last post we took a look at Jesus’ Crowning with Thorns and how it ties into our mental illness discussion. Now we’ve reached the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. This particular mystery has quite a lot to unpack. Realistically I could devote an entire series of blog posts just to this one passage of scripture, but for the purpose of our current series, I’ll try to make it more concise.

If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out to get an understanding of why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

As with the Scourging at the Pillar, the Gospels don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on Jesus’ trip from Pontius Pilate to Calvary. Mathew and Mark only state that Simon the Cyrenian was forced to carry the cross for him (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21). Luke adds the bit about Jesus pausing to address the weeping women (Luke 23:27-30). John fails to mention any of the above. The Stations of the Cross, a tradition that allows a person to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s Passion, provides a lot more detail about this journey. There are usually 14 stations, and the are as follows:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus willingly takes up His cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets His Blessed Mother
  5. Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross
  6. Veronica wipes the Holy Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus comforts the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Sometimes a 15th station is included that recounts Jesus’ resurrection as well. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be discussing stations 2-9, though not necessarily in that precise order. We dealt with station 1 previously, and we’ll deal with the final stations in the next post.

Firstly, lets start with some context. Jesus has been through severe emotional torture in the Agony, betrayal by his loved ones, extreme physical torture in the Scourging, and utter humiliation in the Crowning with Thorns. He is covered with deep, bleeding wounds, dust, and spit. He’s weak from lack of food and rest, not to mention blood loss. It’s just been one thing after another, and it’s only going to get worse.

Does that last sentence ring a bell? I know it does for me.

Now a heavy piece of wood is dropped onto Jesus’ shoulders–his bruised, mostly shredded shoulders. Does he deserve this? No. In fact, he’s the only person in existence who doesn’t deserve anything of the sort. It isn’t his fault humanity messed itself up so badly. But he willingly accepts his cross, nevertheless, because it is his Father’s will.  Can we say the same for our own crosses? Of course, we aren’t innocent like Jesus was. We’re sinners. But did we personally do something so horrendous that we were cursed with our mental illnesses as retribution? Probably not. And even if we had done something horrible, God doesn’t go around dealing out punishments. But He does allow us to have our illnesses for a purpose, even though we might not have a clue what that purpose is at the moment. The weight of such a cross tends to provoke thoughts of “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” I don’t have answers to either of those questions, although I’ve asked them myself in the past. All I can say is that Jesus fully understands that feeling far better than any of us ever will.

Jesus, shaking from pain and exhaustion, stumbles, and the weight of the cross drives him to the ground. As his body hits the earth, the heavy cross lands squarely on his back, compounding the pain of his countless injuries. Every inch of his body throbs, his limbs ache with exhaustion. But he hasn’t given up. He tries to gather his strength to get back to his feet, but he isn’t fast enough for the guards. He is kicked and hauled roughly up, then shoved down the road again.

Sometimes mental illness feels like an endless treadmill of misery. You go for days putting one foot in front of the other, struggling to think, struggling to focus, sometimes struggling just to breathe in and breathe out. You raise your head to look down the tunnel you’re in and you can’t see any light at the end of it. You do everything you can to try and pull yourself together and make things work. And sometimes you fail. You hit the ground hard, and you don’t know if you have the strength, let alone the will, to get up again. But you do. You don’t have any other choice. So you get back up and keep walking, even though you don’t see how things are ever going to get better again.

Jesus fell three times on that journey. Three times his legs give out; his horrific injuries slam against the earth and the stones. Each time it’s more difficult than the last to get back to his feet again. And to what purpose? There is nothing good waiting in his future. When he reaches his destination, he isn’t going to be relieved of his burden. He’s going to be nailed to the cross and left to die. He more than understands the feeling of having no light to look forward to at the end of the tunnel.

Partway through this journey, Jesus meets his mother. Can you imagine what she must have felt, seeing her only son in such a condition, with such a fate awaiting him? She is completely helpless. She can do nothing to intervene or save him. She cannot shield him from the abuse of the guards, or make his journey any easier. She stands in the place of every person who has ever had to watch a loved one suffer, unable to aid the afflicted person in any way, shape or form. She feels his pain as if it’s her own.

Anyone who has been in that sort of position can testify to the misery of it. I doubt anyone can feel more helpless than someone forced to stand by while mental illness consumes a loved one. As the person you know and love begins to disappear beneath the symptoms, or the mind-numbing side-effects of medication. Or to know your loved one is struggling with suicidal impulses that they might not be able to curb. But there’s a whole other side to the story. Jesus can see the pain he’s causing his mother. He knows its his fault that she is suffering to such an extent, even though it isn’t his fault that he’s in the position that he’s in. That’s something many mentally ill individuals can understand perfectly well. The added guilt of knowing your loved ones are worried sick, and being unable to do anything fix it.

Partway along this journey to death, Jesus becomes physically incapable  of carrying his cross any farther. The guards are faced with the prospect of him dying before he even reaches the place where he is to be crucified. That’s unacceptable. They seize a bystander and press the man into service, forcing him to carry Jesus’ burden.

There are several things about this particular station that ring true when it comes to mental illness. First, the feeling of being incapable of taking care of yourself. Being unable to handle ordinary burdens while you’re in the midst of an episode. Or being unable to bear the burden of the illness itself. Other people are forced to step in and do the work that you’re unable to complete, or take time out of their lives to look after you. Sometimes these people do so willingly out of the goodness of their hearts. But sometimes, they resent you for it. They’re being forced to deal with something that isn’t their responsibility because you’ve proven incapable. It’s humiliating and guilt inducing. But there is another side to this station. Jesus’ Father knew he would be unable to complete the journey without assistance. A provision was made for that. Whether Simon was willing or not, he wound up being there to unknowingly assist the Savior of mankind. Even though He had to allow his son to go through that brutal experience, He didn’t abandon him. He made sure Jesus would be able to complete his mission. And He will do the same for us.

Along the same vein, Veronica arrives. She breaks past the guards and has to opportunity to wipe clean Jesus’ face. Did that do much practical good? Probably not. But it likely meant more on an emotional level than we’ll ever realize. In the face of such cruelty from the very humans he’s dying to save, there is someone who willingly reaches out to him, makes a conscious effort to comfort him even though she knows there is little she can do. This moment of compassion and solidarity offers him encouragement to press forward and do what needs doing.

Have you encountered any Veronicas in your life? Sometimes they are hard to come by, but sometimes they walk into your life precisely when you need them. A well timed comment or gesture of affection can have an enormous impact. It’s hard to tear our gazes off ourselves when we’re in the midst of misery, but have you ever considered being a Veronica for someone else? Sometimes a suffering person can comfort a fellow sufferer far more than anyone else can.

Finally, we come to the women of Jerusalem. Was it helpful to Jesus to have a group of them trailing after him wailing? It’s hard to say. There is the fact that they were there for him, that they were against his unjust condemnation and cared enough to become distraught. Sometimes its comforting when people are outraged and upset about something on your behalf. But sometimes it’s just frustrating. I can’t say one way or another what sort of impact it had on Jesus, but he can certainly understand what it’s like to have the people that care about you (to some degree or another) bewailing your condition. In the case of mental illness, it really isn’t a helpful response. It can be bewildering, and downright annoying, when other people are more upset about your illness than you are, especially when you’re newly diagnosed. “I’m the one with the disease, here. What reason do you have to be so freaked out?” Not everyone encounters this problem, but some people do. Jesus understands.

This brings us to the end of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. Tomorrow is Good Friday. Jesus will reach the end of his journey to the cross and give up his life to save mankind. In the final part of this series, we’ll examine the how the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion, fits into our discussion of mental illness.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 4: The Crowning with Thorns

In Part 3 of this series we took a look at how Jesus’ scourging bore some similar characteristics to mental illness. This post will examine how His crowning with thorns fits into our discussion.

If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out to get an understanding of why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

This Mystery is a bit easier to address than the previous one was because it centers around a topic that most mentally ill individuals are uncomfortably familiar with: humiliation. The label “mentally ill” is embarrassing enough all on its own, but when people witness you being tripped up by the symptoms of your illness, it takes things to a whole different level. Different illnesses bring different symptoms, but I can’t think of any that aren’t humiliating to some degree or another when they rear their head.

The list of humiliations is as diverse as the number of illnesses that exist: Panic attacks in public, having to compulsively return to your front door and check that its locked ten times before you can bring yourself to leave for a lunch date with friends, making a complete fool of yourself because you can’t seem to stop spewing out the first words that come to your mind at a speed which is difficult for your listeners to follow, bursting into tears against your will in front of other people, struggling to make sense of what people are saying to you when you’re completely unable to focus on the conversation, finding yourself completely unable to live up to the expectations required of normal people in everyday life, flying into a rage over a minor trigger and spending days afterwards kicking yourself and trying to put back together the pieces of a damaged relationship…the list goes on, and on. Then there’s the shame brought on by the criticism of people who either don’t know any better, or are just utterly insensitive. e.g. “Your life is great. You’ve got nothing to be depressed about. Get over it already.” There’s looks of disapproval and gossip behind your back. Or, rather than scorn, you’re faced with unease, nervous whispers, unwillingness to make eye contact with you, and a desire to get away from your presence at the first opportune moment. Or you have people hovering over you, smothering you with concern, watching you like a hawk, trying their best to be helpful, and unintentionally rubbing salt in an open wound: I’m fine right now.  I am able to make rational choices without assistance. I’m not a child. I don’t need 24 hour supervision.

How does Christ’s crowning with thorns relate to all of this? Well, a look at the Gospel passage says a lot. It shows him going through some pretty cruel, humiliating things.

1. Being rejected by the people he loved.

Have you ever had friends, ones you thought would be there for you, abandon you, as if your illness was a plague that they were afraid of catching, or as if you’re somehow a completely different person now that they know you have an “ominous” label slapped on you? Perhaps they turned on you and became like enemies out of fear, misunderstanding or prejudice. Does your own family blame you for your illness as if it’s somehow your fault? Jesus gets it. He spent three years among his people, teaching them, curing their illnesses, offering them hope… And then suddenly he winds up in serious trouble, through no fault of his own, and what happens? Do they remember his kindness toward them? No. They gather in a mob and shout for his crucifixion at the top of their lungs, even after he’s been turned into a bloody mess from a brutal scourging. And where are his closest friends during all of this? Are they there for him, trying to support him and help him through it? No. They run away in fear, abandoning him, after everything he’d done for them and taught them, afraid that something bad will happen to them if they associate themselves with their teacher and friend.

2. Being stripped naked, dressed up and mocked.

Have you ever felt utterly exposed and vulnerable in front of people you know are judging you for something you have no control over? Have you had people assign false motives to your behavior, making unfair accusations based on ignorant assumptions? Have you ever been rendered completely helpless by your symptoms, only to have people tell you that you’re just being weak, that it’s all in your head (no kidding), or blowing you off because they think you’re making it all up? Jesus gets it. In a half-dead state, covered with deep, bleeding wounds, he was dragged before an entire cohort of jeering soldiers. They tore off his clothes–can you imagine how much that would have hurt in his battered state?–leaving him naked and helpless in front of numerous unfriendly eyes. Then they threw a purple cloak over his shoulders, pressed a crown of thorns onto his head and thrust a reed into his hand as a fake scepter, and they mockingly paid him homage, making fun of him for claiming to be who he actually was.

3. Being beaten over the head with a reed and spit on.

Have you ever been kicked when you were down? Have you had people criticize you and harass you when you’re in too poor of a condition to defend yourself? Have you been publicly embarrassed by other people talking about your disorder in front of you in a condescending or derisive way? Maybe you’ve even been physically assaulted or taken advantage of because of your disorder. Things like this cut deep, especially when you’re already embarrassed and hurting to begin with. Jesus gets that too. He’s been beaten, rejected, stripped, crowned with thorns and mocked. And now the soldiers take the reed from his hand and beat him over the head with it, driving the thorns into his scalp, opening new wounds. Then, rubbing his weakness in his face, they spit on him, despising him for who he claims to be, not considering for a moment that perhaps he’s telling the truth. Then they strip off the cloak and the crown, put his own clothes back on him–and you can bet they didn’t do that gently–and drag him out to be crucified.

Jesus understands helpless humiliation intimately. He can sympathize with whatever you’ve gone through or are going through on that front.

In the next post we take a look at the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, the Carrying of the Cross.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 3: The Scourging at the Pillar

In Part 2 of this series we looked at Christ’s Agony in the Garden and how it relates to mental illness. In this post we’ll address the second of the Sorrowful Mysteries: The Scourging at the Pillar.

If you missed Part 1 I encourage you to check it out. It explains why I’m writing these posts in the first place.

This will probably be the shortest post off the bunch because I find this particular mystery to be the toughest to incorporate into a mental illness discussion. On the surface it’s an entirely physical torture. It could be argued that such a degree of physical torture as what Jesus experienced is worse than any mental or emotional torture inflicted by mental illness, but that’s not the point of view I intend to take. Physical pain and psychic pain are two completely different things, and I don’t think one can realistically argue that one is worse than the other. It’s all a matter of degree.

The startling thing about this mystery is how easy it is to overlook. In the previous post, I quoted the full scripture passage from Mark of the Agony in the Garden. It’s a large enough piece of text that you can’t simply gloss over it without registering its presence. But Jesus’ scourging is mentioned so briefly in each of the Gospels that for a long time I hardly noticed it. Here are the passages from three of the Gospels (Luke doesn’t explicitly state that Jesus was scourged. It’s implied by Pilate’s words):

“Then he [Pilate] released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified” Matthew 27:26

“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.” Mark 15:15

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.” John 19:1

The scourging receives one sentence in each Gospel. It makes it terribly easy to overlook. But one viewing of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ forever cures a person of the tendency to do that. The scourging scene is easily the most distressing part of the movie, which is saying a lot when you consider everything that follows after it. If you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly recommend watching it, but with the caveat that it is not for the faint of heart. One of the scourges used is made of leather thongs with small sharp bones attached to them. This isn’t something to Gibson made up for dramatic effect. It’s what actually took place. According to Isaiah:

“…many were amazed at him–so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals his appearance, beyond that of human beings–“ Isaiah 52:14

Jesus was so mutilated by what he underwent during his Passion that he was hardly recognizable as human. As horrible as crucifixion is, it doesn’t cause physical mutilation that makes you unrecognizable. But a horrific scourging does.  Gibson stays true to that image.

So how can any of this possibly tie into mental illness? Well, in and of itself, it doesn’t. But there are two aspects surrounding the ordeal that have stood out to me as familiar.

The first one is the utter inadequacy of language. There are some things for which words fail us. The simple sentence “Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged” seems a massive understatement. But really, how do you communicate the horrors of such an experience to someone who hasn’t ever seen or experienced it? I don’t think you can. Not being able to accurately describe it doesn’t make the experience any less horrible. And yet it becomes painfully easy to gloss over a person’s suffering in such a situation. Similarly, you can’t communicate the bottomless depths of depression or the convoluted confusion of psychosis in words to any meaningful degree. Comparing it to a nightmare or to a living hell tends to just slide off people. I ran up against this several weeks ago when I had to try and explain to someone what would drive me to want to kill myself when I have such a good life. The person in question couldn’t fathom how I could get into such a head-space. I was left grasping at straws trying to communicate the experience of severe, clinical depression to someone who hadn’t ever experienced it. When it comes right down to it, all the analogies in the world fall short of the actual experience.

The second aspect of the Scourging experience that bears some similarity to a certain aspect of mental illness is the fact that Jesus saw it coming. There are times in mental illness when we see things coming too. For instance, the first moment when you realize your depression is coming back after a temporary reprieve. Suddenly the horror of the experience you’ve just gone through comes crashing down on you, and panic begins to set in because you don’t think you have the strength to survive the experience again. But there is nothing you can do. You’re trapped, waiting for the inevitable. It’s terrifying.

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him. He even warned his disciples:

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles  to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 20:18-19

Yes, the Agony in the Garden was the “official” moment of dread for Jesus. But stop for a minute, place yourself in his shoes, and imagine what it must have felt like to walk up to the pillar, seeing the various torture tools laid out on the table, and be tied there, knowing you’re about to be mutilated beyond recognition. Trapped. Waiting for the inevitable. There’s absolutely no way around it, so somehow you have to survive it.

It’s a chilling thought.

I think most people would agree that such a situation more than matches up to the level of pre-episode, pre-panic attack, pre-you-name-it dread that slams into you when your illness (whatever it happens to be) rears its head. Keep in mind, too, that during the Agony, Jesus still had the tiniest, flickering hope that his Father might rescue him from the experience. As he’s standing tied to the pillar, waiting for the first lash to fall, that hope has long since been abandoned. He understands and accepts that what is about to happen has to happen and that there’s no way around it. But somehow I doubt that lessened the horror.

So next time you feel a relapse coming on, just know you aren’t alone in the feelings of panic or dread that it stirs up. Jesus gets it.

In the next post I address the third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns.

Take care and God bless.

Kasani

 

 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 2: The Agony in the Garden

In this post I’m going to tackle The Agony in the Garden. It’s the first of the five Sorrowful Mysteries. I explained my reason for attempting this series in the first place back in Part 1, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. To briefly recap: I’m trying to explain why Christ fully understands the pain of mental illness despite not being mentally ill himself.

To start off, let’s take a look at the scene itself from the Gospel of Mark:

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him. He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand. ~ Mark 14:32-42

You can probably see some things right away when you read this passage from the perspective of mental illness. The thing that started me down the path of examining these mysteries in this context was Jesus’ comment to his closest friends:

“My soul is sorrowful even to death.”

Like everyone who has gone to church since childhood, I’ve heard this reading more times than I can even begin to count. In the translation I’ve heard most often the quote actually reads “My soul is sorrowful unto death.” My assumption for most of my life was that this comment related to the fact that Jesus knew he was going to die and was sorrowful about it. I certainly couldn’t blame him. I’d have been pretty upset myself in his position. But that’s not what he meant. My eyes were opened a little over a year ago when I happened to hear a priest discussing this scripture passage on EWTN. Jesus isn’t saying “I’m really sad I have to suffer and die.” The words he said mean: “I’m dying of sorrow.”

I’m dying of sorrow.

Hearing that painted the whole scene in an entirely different light for me. This isn’t a man in anguish because he’s afraid of suffering. I’m sure the knowledge of the horrible death awaiting him certainly didn’t help matters any, but that isn’t the only thing at play here. Jesus’ emotional torment is far deeper than just dread. In the Gospel of Luke it says:

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke 22:44

According to that version of the Gospel, an angel had to be sent from heaven to strengthen him. There are a number of things about that particular passage that can be debated, but the point is that the torment Jesus was suffering was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Why? Well, think about it. He’s taking on the sins of all mankind. Every single sin, from the most venial uncharitable thought to the worst mass-murders in history, and everything in between and beyond. All the hate, violence, rapes, child-abuse, cruelty, neglect, prejudices, and the list goes on and on. Jesus stepped up and took the blame for all of it so that each of us wouldn’t have to take the blame for our own contribution to it all. It’s easy to give lip-service to that, but when you really stop to think about it, the sheer enormity of that reality is shocking. Can you even begin to imagine the kind of guilt that would induce? It wasn’t just a “well, I didn’t really do any of this but punish me anyway” situation.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus became sin. He didn’t sin. But he took responsibility for sin itself. God never does anything halfway. If Jesus took responsibility for sin, you can bet he felt the effects of that just as if he had committed the sins himself. It’s kind of horrifying, isn’t it?

How does this tie into mental illness?

Emotional anguish. Deep sorrow. An unspeakable sense of guilt. If you’ve ever been depressed, all of that sounds awfully familiar. But there’s something else going on here that is also very likely familiar.

First off, Jesus left the majority of his disciples behind elsewhere in the garden. He was only comfortable bringing along Peter, James and John. He had brought them along to see his Transfiguration too, so it’s safe to say they had a special relationship with him. He didn’t begin to show his “trouble and distress” until after he was alone with those three, so clearly he trusted them more than the others to be able to handle the reaction he was having. Anyone who has ever been severely depressed knows that it’s not something one goes out and chats about with any random person on the street. If you open up about it at all, it’s only going to be with someone you really trust. Jesus admitted to them that he was “dying of sorrow.” Now, I don’t know about you, but coming from anyone other than Jesus I think that would sound a bit melodramatic. The reality is, it’s a very valid description of what depression feels like. There’s just no way to communicate that kind of anguish without sounding like you’re blowing things out of proportion. That’s why it’s hard to open up to people about it. To not be taken seriously when you’re in that amount of pain is unbearable.

So Jesus opened up and admitted to these three men just how horrible he felt, and he asked them to “Remain here and keep watch.” I don’t want to put words in Jesus’ mouth, but it’s possible to take this statement to mean “Don’t leave me. I need you here to look out for me right now.” Given the state he was in, that’s a very understandable request. It’s the sort of request that often remains unspoken because a depressed person can’t bring himself or herself to burden his or her loved ones, or perhaps because the “loved ones” wouldn’t comply. When it is spoken, often the response is not what we hoped for. Perhaps they’re uncomfortable in our presence because they can see how much we’re hurting and don’t know how to help. Or perhaps they don’t see how much we’re hurting and don’t take us seriously enough to be of much comfort. Either way, it’s not uncommon for this simple request for the comfort of company to go unfulfilled.

So what did Peter, James and John do when the Son of God asked them for this?

They fell asleep.

They fell asleep!

Have you ever had the experience of daring to open your heart to someone and then looking over and realizing whoever it was slept through most of what you said? Literally, dozed off and slept through it? To call the experience crushing just doesn’t quite cover it.

“Are you asleep? Could you not watch for one hour?”

The utter disbelief in these words is nearly tangible, not to mention the pain and disappointment. If you’ve ever been in the position of reaching out for help and being disregarded, not taken seriously, or just plain let down by the people you love, these words ring painfully true. And if there’s anything that causes intense anguish that most people are incapable of understanding or sympathizing with, it’s mental illness.

It’s not like this happened once and then Jesus’ friends smartened up. They fell right back to sleep again. And the second time Jesus came back to them they “did not know what to answer him.” No kidding. I’m sure they felt bad. I’m also sure they were completely unable to comprehend the kind of suffering Jesus was going through. They knew he was upset, and it bothered them, but what could they do? They didn’t understand what was going on. That seems to be the case more often than not when it comes to mental illness. The people who care about you feel bad, but they don’t know what to do to help. And they aren’t exactly to blame for that. They can’t help not understanding what you’re going through. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Jesus’ final words to these three are heartbreaking.

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”

Is there anger in those words? Quite possibly, though obviously I can’t say that for certain. At the very least they seem to carry a fair amount of exasperated disappointment. If you’ve ever felt frustrated, betrayed or let down by people who you thought would be there for you but weren’t, Jesus fully understands the feeling.

So where does this leave us? Obviously Jesus has experienced more mental and emotional anguish than any of us, and he was let down by his loved ones when he needed them most. That covers two potential aspects of mental illness, but there’s plenty more where those came from.

In the next post I address the second Sorrowful Mystery, The Scourging at the Pillar.

Take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries – Part 1: Christ’s Intimate Understanding of the Pains of Mental Illness

This is, perhaps, a rather somber post to strike off the new year. Discussing Christ’s passion and death on the cross might seem painfully out of place amidst the joy and splendor of Christmas (a season celebrated by the Church in the weeks following that beautiful day, rather than the weeks prior to it). But let’s face it: the season is not always a happy one. Many people have painful memories, disappointments, and resentments attached to this time of year. I admit that my Christmas this year was peaceful and pleasant—something I thank God for. But I understand what it’s like to be in the throws of depression on Christmas. I’ve been there. I also understand what it’s like to be stuck in a psych ward on Christmas. I’ve been there too. Mental illness does not go on hold for the holidays and leave us alone. If anything, the Christmas holidays make it worse because of the stress and bustle and drama associated with them (not to mention the fact that winter is often a difficult time for people with mental illnesses to begin with). But there’s something we need to understand about this season that might act as a balm for some of our suffering:

Christmas isn’t about celebrations with friends and family, gifts, or good cheer. The meaning of Christmas, the truth that is so often smothered by our tacky secular celebrations, is that Christ took on flesh and came down to join us in our misery. He came down to experience our pain, our sorrow, our grief and distress. He came down to suffer and die for our sins. And he did this out of love. So if you did not have a happy Christmas, don’t feel that it was somehow a failure. Christmas isn’t about happiness. It’s about love: a love that reaches down into the depths of darkness and despair to be with the beloved, whatever the cost. Christ is with you, and he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be here every step of the way this year, whatever it brings.

This series of posts will be an examination of the 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary and how they apply to mental illness. Before my protestant readers run away screaming, rest assured that a rosary “mystery” is simply a meditation on a part of scripture–the same scripture you read in your bibles. It hasn’t been tampered with or altered in any shape or form. The Sorrowful Mysteries are a meditation on Christ’s Passion and death. The mysteries include:

Now, I could have brought these pieces of scripture up without mentioning the rosary at all. But the fact that I meditate on these parts of Jesus’ life every Tuesday and Friday via the rosary has helped me to understand how they are applicable to me on a personal level because of my mental illness, and how they are applicable to all sufferers of mental illness. The repetition has helped me grasp things that probably wouldn’t have sunk in otherwise.

Why am I bringing this topic up in the first place? I want to address an issue I found myself running into for quite a while after my diagnosis, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come up against it. It goes something like this:

Christ came down to earth to be with us in our suffering, and thus He understands it on an personal level.  As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews:

“He had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Hebrews 2:17

And later on in the letter:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace for timely help.” Hebrews 4:15

I had always found these passages to be comforting, but after going through the experiences brought on by my disorder, I began to have doubts. Of course Christ suffered. But He wasn’t mentally ill. He didn’t have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any of the other numerous diseases that affect the mind. Of course, He’s God and therefore must fully understand everything in creation. But can it truly be said that He understands the suffering I experience from my illness at a personal level? How can it be said that He was “tested in every way” when He didn’t have a mental illness to battle?

This objection may sound absurd to some people, and rest assured it’s no longer something that troubles me. After all, Christ lives in me, right now, all the time. He experiences my pain and suffering every moment that I’m alive. It took a while for that to dawn on me. But setting that aside, the reality is He did experience the type of anguish brought on by mental illness during His life on earth, on all its varied levels. It’s plain to see, but for some reason terribly easy to overlook. As we take a look at each of the mysteries I listed above, as well as a few other scenes from the Gospels, I think you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

I tackle the First Sorrowful Mystery in Part 2.

Take care and God bless,

Kasani