Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight
This is a book I am currently reading. It is written by an Episcopalian priest. Consider this your theological disclaimer. I’m certain that there are elements to the book that don’t fit a nice little Lutheran orthodox niche.
Having said that, I have found it about the best book on mental illness from a Christian perspective I have read thus far. She seems to have a pretty firm grasp of the theology of the cross and suffering, doesn’t gloss over the ugly parts, and finds hope in the resurrection.
Her lens through which she views mental illness is bipolar disorder. This is a very different beast than my own sickness, major clinical depression. This illness at different times has been called manic depressive, and many other titles which I won’t try to list. While clinical depression has lows and more lows, bipolar disorder is basically a roller coaster of ecstasy and despondency, bouncing from the two in a way which is nigh impossible to fathom for the outsider.
Here are a couple paragraphs from Greene-McCreight which I found poignant and insightful:
So, during mania, I felt completely different from the way I did at the depressive pole. Mania doesn’t hurt the way depression does. Depression meant that every breath, every thought, every moment of consciousness hurt. Every particle of my consciousness ached, throbbed, stung. Mania was the opposite: every breath, every movement, every image before my eyes, every thought sparkled, glittered magically, filled me with ecstasy. Centrifugal motion, bliss.
At this point, thanks to the medicine, I am not filled with ecstasy. Neither am I in agony. I just want to end my existence. I am tired-not physically,, no, because the medicine is working. HEaven forbid I should be physically tired. Leave it to American medicine to make a drug that provides productivity even during depressive episodes. But I am tired of existed inside of myself, I don’t want to be inside my own skin, am tired of feeling and talking and figuring out why I feel this way and that way, tired of putting off the inevitable, that I should return to the earth from which the muddy Adam was shaped. (p. 55)
Obviously this is not the portrait of a shiny, happy, victorious Christian. This is the picture of the sufferer, who struggles with the medication which continues existence and yet hates the existence it gives. I personally find it refreshing. I just get so sick of fake, infused happiness and joy. This false happiness isn’t as prevalent in Christianity now as it was ten years ago, but it is still very much there.
As I wrap up the book, I’ll try and offer a few more citations that will be of benefit, particularly looking at where we put our trust, and the interaction between medication, faith and therapy.