Depression/Anxiety: Striving to live life to the full
My deep faith helps me to know that I am loved unconditionally by God, and that I am always held lovingly in the arms of my Creator. This truth of my faith has been a source of immense consolation and peace throughout my life, especially since I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder or manic-depressive illness, which is a common, severe, and persistent mental illness that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood.
I am fortunate that the gift of faith was handed on to me at an early age by my parents, and that this faith was nourished by my family, school and parish life. My childhood was not without its challenges. Having being born with a congenital deficiency in one of my limbs, I was conscious of being different to other children. However, it was never something that bothered me and I was quickly able to adapt, and acknowledge that it was a sign God had given me of my uniqueness; that I was precious and loved in God’s eyes, and that before I was formed in my mother’s womb, God had a plan for my life.
Feelings of being alone and unloved
During my childhood and in my early teenage years, I was bullied at school and I often experienced periods of desolation and feelings of being alone and unloved. The feeling of emptiness that resulted from being put down and picked on took up a big space in my heart. My mood dipped very low as a teenager and I began to lose interest in my school work. I found it difficult to speak about my struggles and I was prescribed anti-depressants and attended psychological assessments.
A young faith community
I always had a good level of intelligence and academic ability, and I recovered from my periods of depression to achieve the necessary grades in my final exams at school in order to enrol on my preferred course at university. The support of a chaplain at school was very important to me. Living away from home as an independent young adult gave me the opportunity to grow in many ways, especially in my faith. I encountered a young faith community for the first time and I began to have more formal times of prayer. However, I still experienced struggles with mood disturbance and anxiety and I suffered a mental breakdown.
God accompanies me
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder it was difficult for me to accept, but my faith helped me to understand and cope with the illness over time. It was a gradual process and I have continued to rely on the support of the medical professionals with whom I engage. I feel, though, that I have experienced profound healing through my faith. My deep trust in God enabled me to see my illness in a different light, and to surrender the struggles that I sometimes experience into the hands of the loving God who accompanies me on every step of my journey.
All things are possible
I find renewed peace in my heart and the strength to persevere in life by spending a sustained time in daily prayer. At a human level the struggles with my mood and anxiety can make it challenging to cope, but with God I have realised that all things are possible. Over time I have been able to understand my suffering in the context of my faith, and I have learned to surrender my struggles to Jesus on the cross, the fullest expression of the Father’s love for me.
As I spent more time in prayer it led me to develop a close personal relationship with Jesus. In prayer I was able to let go of my struggles and surrender them to Jesus, his arms outstretched on the cross in love for me. I experienced the forgiveness and mercy of God in tangible ways and this gave me the desire to have a deeper relationship with the Lord in my daily life. I pledged to be a missionary, and to work in evangelisation and for the service of the Church.
A daily prayer space
As I detached myself from human comforts I found that I was better able to enter the stillness of God’s presence and truly experience inner peace. I found that by letting go of my human struggles and accepting myself in my weaknesses I was able to experience the loving mercy and compassion of Christ who wants us to cherish every moment and live life to the full.
I have learned to establish a daily prayer space with God, and in that space my heart is never troubled or afraid. I speak to the Lord from my heart and listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, guiding me to live life in the present moment, one day at a time. By spending a sustained time in prayer each day I have discovered a new purpose and meaning to my life.
Healing through faith
I have received much healing in my life through my faith. I have learned to truly forgive, to let go and let God. I still experience periods of anxiety and depression and rely on the support of the medical professionals I meet with to stay well; but I can say with certainty that my deep faith in God has enabled me to cope positively with my bipolar illness, and strive to live life to the full.
This is part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Week. Read the others:
14-20 May 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative to encourage discussion about and reduce stigma around mental health issues. The Jesuits in Britain want to take this opportunity to help our readers and listeners to pray, think, learn and talk about life’s uphill struggles, whether they are associated with diagnosed mental health conditions or other circumstances.
Across our online platforms, there are a number of different resources about situations in which people struggle to find peace of mind and heart. Our written and audio content will explore some of the causes, effects and manifestations of anxiety, and look particularly at the dynamic between faith and mental health.
We will be considering ideas, offering prayerful support and sharing experiences. However, please seek professional help if you are concerned about yourself or somebody else.