Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Does Your Faith Tell You?

I have struggled with faith and mental illness my whole life. I grew up Christian, but in my Christianity and denomination, I was taught mental illness was a punishment. (Remember, this is personal experience of a specific time and place, not a statement of what any denomination of Christianity actually believes.)

There were also a lot of stories in the news at that time about people doing bad things, like killing someone, or smashing their car into a brick wall, and saying the devil made them do it. Many people in my church believed that the devil could take people over. The news and church also said these people were mentally ill.

I started to notice something was wrong with my brain when I was six, and I grew up believing that people who had something wrong with their mind were evil and being punished by God. Yet at the same time I could not figure out what a child could have ever done to deserve such punishment. It only made sense then that I was an inherently evil person. This was scary and devastating to me, especially since I really wanted to be a good person. I was scared that maybe the devil really did take people over and if I was not careful it might happen to me.

Eventually I realized late in middle school and in high school my church could not possibly be right. I knew that technically I was not a bad person, but it had been ingrained in me so much that I still always worried I was bad and just did not know it yet. The only positive in my faith was the Virgin Mary. I saw her as an accepting and loving figure who loved me as I was, so she would always protect me. When I would have panic attacks, I would pray to her.

During college and afterwards I grew even farther away from my faith. We went to church periodically, but the beliefs never felt right to me. In my opinion, far too many people were judged as being bad because they were "different" in any number of ways.

UU Chalice
As happens with many of us, we started to look for a new church when I got pregnant. I knew faith was important and wanted a religion in which to raise our son. Our friends invited us to their Unitarian Universalist church and when we visited and heard the first principle, which says everyone has inherent worth and dignity, I knew this was our religion.

My current religion now tells me we are all perfect and loved just as we are. Mental illness is not a punishment and there is no devil involved. It is an illness like any other illness.

Unitarian Universalism is also a covenantal church which means we make intentional promises of how we will treat each other with respect and care. This added a new component to my understanding of my illness.

It meant other people respected me and trusted that I would treat them well. No one assumed that just because I was bipolar I was going to be disruptive or hurt myself or others.

I also learned about accountability and love. I am loved just as I am, but the church was clear that they know all of us, mentally ill or not, may not always act kindly or appropriately. Were this to ever happen, the church would not ignore such behavior. They would support my treatment and believe in me, so much so that they would hold me accountable for bad behavior if I had any. What this showed me is that I had a choice in life. I had always previously been worried that I was inherently bad and just didn't know it. This faith told me I was inherently good, and needed to know it so I could be the happiest and healthiest person possible.

What a difference. I was free to be myself and if I struggled, I had loving support with appropriate boundaries.

I feel that my spirit and self worth were crushed by the way the church community of my childhood saw mental illness. As an adult, when I entered into a religion that was accepting and loving, my spirit was renewed. I could regain my self worth. I finally started to see myself as I saw other people, as an important and valuable person in the world worthy of love.

Each one of us will have a different relationship with the divine, or that which is greater than us. We need to find the spiritual path that works for us to be healthy and whole. For me, I believe God is Love and EVERYONE is loved. It is our responsibility to bring that love into the world because if everyone knew they were valuable and loved, I feel there would be much less violence and hatred in the world. I also think people like me would see hope and a reason to work for maintenance of our illness. When I felt unloved, I didn't care if I got better. When I knew I was loved, I knew I could get better.


Rev. Katie


  1. As a fellow UU challenged by major depression and anxiety, this article was thought-provoking as to my choice of religious denomination and uplifting too. Thanks Rev. Katie! ~Anastacia Adamcik

  2. Hi Anastacia,
    I am glad you find UUism uplifting. I hope it helps you in your difficult times. Thank for reading and commenting.

    Rev. Katie

  3. Being a Pagan Woman this post resonates to me. While I was not raised with any Religion (father was an Atheist, mother Agnostic) I sought Spirituality upon the birth of my son. I believe we all encompass the same cosmic spirit of love. I am, along with everyone else, a person who holds that love within me. That place of love, is where I grasp when in the midst of a difficult cycle.

    I'm loving your blog.

  4. Hi Cyclothymic Goddess!
    I am gald you like the blog. Your description of the spirit of love is wonderful, thank you for sharing.

    Rev. Katie