Today I go to see a new psychiatrist, and I’m really nervous. What does it mean to see a new brain doctor, especially for someone with my spirituality? For those of you who don’t know, I thought I’d share.
If you’ve read my last couple of posts, you know by now that part of my primary psychological diagnosis is bipolar disorder. It’s managed by medication, but it’s still part of my life, lurking around the corner. Every day I take meds to keep it at bay, and every day I am reminded that my meds help keep me sane.
Nonetheless, I once had a mental health provider ask me whether I had ever considered that my spiritual beliefs and practices, namely Wicca, were “contributing to your psychosis.”
I was stunned.
This was in our first meeting, mind you. He had just met me, and all he was doing, as far as I was concerned, was exhibiting his own prejudice. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
But I wonder if you have heard—or even thought—similar things. I’m wondering whether you, dear reader, have had your beliefs dismissed as mental illness or as exacerbating an illness you have disclosed.
I heard this week about a minister emeritus, a longtime member of a UU congregation, who said from the pulpit that anyone who believed in mystical experience was mentally ill.
Now, as I have disclosed, I am mentally ill, however much I may be in recovery. And as you might surmise, I do believe in and identify as a mystic. I have had experiences I cannot explain as rational. I have had experiences of connection to and awareness of All That Is that are not, as far as I know, reachable by rational means.
But just because both of these things are true doesn’t mean that one implies the other.
Still, it’s not quite that simple.
As I wrote on the Patheos Blog, Nature’s Path¸ “In my case…direct experience has also been about the ebbs and flows of mental illness and mental wellness. About “sickness” and “health,” about chaos and recovery, and about a constant felt sense of the Divine and an aching grief for the loss of that sense.”
It’s true that my sparkling, embracing, constantly felt sense of the Divine was different before I went on medication. Some people describe meds as “flattening” their feelings or experience. That doesn’t quite do it for me.
I don’t feel less than I was before treatment. I don’t feel flattened or bleached or any of those things.
I do, though, find that I have to work harder to feel the frisson, the glorious, sensual feeling of Divine touch—or more aptly, my awareness of Divine touch. It is true that medication has changed the doors of my access to awareness. Some of the doors have swung wide open. Some of the doors have moved a little closer to the jamb.
However I have been changed by treatment, recovery, and medication, they haven’t stolen mystical experience. They’ve helped me live in the world. And it’s not just one world that is available to me. The twilight vision of priestesshood is still mine.
And so is twilight vision the result of mental illness? Is understanding the flow of energy around a Circle mental illness? Is Drawing Down and being Drawn Down upon mental illness?
There are plenty of perfectly sane people who have and do all these things. There are plenty of people like me—sane and living in the world of shared reality, thanks to their treatment and recovery—who experience all of these things, and more.
I have Aspected—been a channel for Divine influence and presence—more times than I can count. I have carried the anger and frustration of my recently deceased grandmother in my own body, in the impossibly furious expression of my face. I have participated in Afro-Caribbean rituals that have included various kinds of sacrifice.
But none of this is about mental illness. I know mental illness and its whisperings and shouts. I know suicidality intimately. I know assault and its resulting night terrors, flashbacks, and dissociation. I know paralyzing fear and anxiety. I know about not being able to keep my mind focused on one thing for more than a minute at a time.
Those things are illness. Those things, those markers of illness, are not increased or activated by the felt sense of the presence of the Divine.
That presence is what my practice, my shared ceremony, my divination, and my prayer is all about.
Those things—those beautiful and powerful, small and large, quiet and booming ceremony, practice, divination, prayer, all the things that bring me close to the One Who Is Many—are part of sanity. They are part of what grounds me, keeps my feet connected to Earth so solidly that I can help others. They are part of why I know that you and I have things to talk about.
I understand what it is to wonder what your practice is all about. I understand what it is to wish you had a practice to ground and center you, to clear your energy and give you a sense of security in the arms of the One Who Is Many.
And I also understand what it is to feel crazy, to be “crazy.” I understand the intersections of these things, and I hope you and I can reach out, touch one another’s fingers together, and know that we understand.
I invite you, then, to read more. Not just of my blog, but of my weekly love letters. I truly want you to read them, to feel in them the sincerity of my words, and the way I am reaching out to you. Click to see Reflections, the love letter I send on Mondays, and decide whether you like it.