My Journey with Mental Illness

My name is Larissa and I just graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of arts with distinction in English and professional writing and communication. In the fall, I will attend the masters of fine arts program in creative writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Most people who know me are aware that I like to write, read and travel, that I have four younger siblings whom I love very much, and that I want to be someone who writes for a living. I think right now that although I truly am a writer in my heart, I don’t know if I can make a career out of writing. What I do know for sure, however, is that it will happen if it is in God’s will.

Yes, I am a believer. However, between the ages of ten and fifteen, I thought that there was no such thing as God. I grew up in a Catholic house, went to church every week, and was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, but that just wasn’t enough to keep my faith alive. I stopped praying. That was probably the worst thing about it.

Around the same time I stopped believing in God, at the age of ten, I became horribly depressed and a few months later, I started to hear voices that I couldn’t understand and which I later learned were actually hallucinations caused by a degenerative mental illness.

I am not sure even now, fifteen years later, what triggered the depression, anxiety and psychosis, but I can guess that my sudden termination of my relationship with God contributed to the experience of these symptoms that are still with me to this day.

I started to return to God when I realized that I was so depressed that on most days I could not function (as in, get out of bed, eat, talk, etc) and wanted to end my own life. The way that I see it, God was trying to get me to talk to Him and return to Him. I realized that He was sending me messages all the time, every day, to let me know He was still there for me. I turned my back on Him but He never stopped trying to reach me, show me that He loved me, and tell me that everything would be okay.

The depression didn’t just go away when I started to believe again in God. In fact, there are times it is more intense than it was when I was a child. What has changed is that now when I feel alone, helpless, hopeless and terrified, I know that I am not alone (God is with me), helpless (He is my ever-present help in times of trouble), or hopeless (He is my hope, and as long as I have Him, I have strength). I still get scared, but on those days, He watches over me, carries me, and whispers again and again and again: “Be not afraid.” When I hear His voice, I remember to be still and know that He is God.

I doubted for a long time that everything would be okay, even after I returned to God because I thought that I was evil for hearing voices, that I had done something wrong to deserve this illness, and that by taking medications, I was stifling God’s will that I have an illness. And after many days of prayer, days that turned into months and months that turned into years, I realized that I was wrong to think these things, and I accepted that the illness was my cross to bear, and prayed that the fruit of the sufferings I bore would be pleasing to God.

I am not recovered. I don’t think I ever will be. But I know that every day, miracles happen. For example, I often witness people changing their minds about mental health issues because of something I say, and how though once they discriminated and belittled the mentally ill, they realize that a mentally ill person is still a person. I’ve seen lives change because of this change in attitude. Sometimes, the suffering of the mentally ill, including my own, however much I once hated it, has led them to have a change in heart. Now, I don’t hate my suffering. I don’t try to get rid of it. Suffering is a way for God to claim souls for the kingdom. The Holy Spirit speaks in mysterious ways, and I pray for all those who are reading this blog post because they are touched by mental illness… I know, because we all are. Because of that, we need His salvation. Sometimes, we must carry the crosses of others who are in need of our shoulders to ease the burdens on their own shoulders. This is also necessary: to love.

And I pray that one day all people will not only realize that a mentally ill person they know is a person who deserves love, but that this person is a son or daughter of God, one whom God loves dearly and for whom God has a sanctified plan, and that their suffering is not in vain but rather, is an invisible but beautiful act that may have a purpose in your own salvation, be a part of God’s master plan for us all, and which may bear fruit that is pleasing to God. For example, suffering—either mental or physical or emotional—is one way for us to learn to be humble.

This is what suffering is: a testimony to how frail we are as human beings, and a constant reminder that we need God.

We need to give our lives to Him. We need Him to change us, heal us, and utterly transform us into the people whom He wishes us to be. We weren’t made to suffer forever. We are made for more! Suffering is only something that happens in this life. In the next, there will be no suffering. Only love.