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Faith and Mental Illness

Reluctant Agnosticism

For all my life I have been into religiosity and faith. I remember that, as a child, I would collect rosaries and prayer books, voraciously read the Bible, and participate in Bible studies and expositions. My delight was mainly about going to church, spending time in the chapel, reciting prayers until I could not keep track of time. My most favourite time of the year would be Holy Week and All Saint’s Day, or any occasion which merits a more prayerful atmosphere. It was at a tender age of eight that I thought to pursue becoming a nun when I came of age and not enter college so as to devote myself full-time to the Church. All these are much telling of how devout I could be: a devotee nonetheless to what I thought of as right and fulfilling. And true enough, I have gained the reputation of being someone whose loyalty to religious thought shall always be intrinsic to me until I have gained the attention of my teachers such that they sought for my inclusion in Bible-themed competitions. With a smattering of Scripture up my head, and my being thoroughly involved in the religious arena wherever I go, I delighted in discussions that glorified God as He alone has become the centre of my attention. Withal, I never cared that much about peers or youthful vanities; it was in prayer that I sought my most needed refuge and I would find my very own comfort in meditation and Biblical tenets. This is not so surprising, as my family would have Saturday rosary at 6PM and religiously attend church every Sunday. Therefore, I grew up with the notion of religion as the be-all and end-all of my life that no cares nor worries shall shun me out of it.

I was religious and trumping it up even further that, in my teenage years, with having thought of discovering the “truth” from a non-Catholic religious TV show, together with my aunt and mum, I got myself baptized in the religion represented by said TV program. I continued for two years until I heard some strange doctrines that I could not find the temerity to actually swallow. I left and returned to Catholicism for 11 years, to the consternation of my family. I would attend apologetics seminars and Mass in secret until such time came that I was openly brandishing my supposed apostasy that my family lost hope that I would return to their newfound faith. I was proud of my Catholicism, and the devoutness returned. I would even participate in traditional Latin masses and continue even further into joining recollections and gatherings with people I thought of as friends and brethren in the faith. And of course, I gained a supportive “family” of sorts who were supportive of my endeavours as a Catholic learning more about the belief that suckled me ever since childhood. I became close to certain lay apologists, some priests, and I was indeed flying high in my Catholic identity that I have resolved to stay in it forever. Damn my family, those who assail me and my belief! I would fight for it until the end!

But I was wrong.

An unfortunate incident arose, which was in part of my own doing, all in my desperate attempts to flee from my family. I ostracized myself from all the Catholic groups that I belonged to and I was a bit ostracized in return as well. I took off; and as a revenge I heaped upon myself, I returned to my parents’ faith. Of course they thought their prayers had been answered and they encouraged me heavily with how I must be fervent and zealous now that I have established my comeback to the novel faith I have left as a college student.

Which made matters worse.

The services are lengthy, sometimes lasting for 12 hours in each of those three days for each quarter. Saturday services are no different, and they tax my body, especially that I have anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. Certain restrictions are being upheld (which I don’t have much of a problem with, exactly) and one is not expected to “rebel” (i.e., voice out reservations or doubts) against the ministry and preachers. Your speech is tempered, almost with no freedom of expressing dissent at all. Much more, they seem to stigmatize mental illness by saying that a Christian is not supposed to be depressed—this, going against what I stand for. There are a myriad more of things that I could not bring myself to agree with but I shall not detail any further than what I have stated above as they are not directly related to the point of this post. Regardless, it seems that I have heaped upon myself even more troubles than being enclosed in a safe hiding place: I began having intense bouts of depressive episodes to the point of filing for a three-month leave from work. In like manner, there are sermons that make my head spin; for, in my perspective, all I hear are complicated interpretations of Scripture all geared at allegedly arming the members with much-needed knowledge in order to outlast the trying times of the last days. These make me even more confused about God, and why He needs to act as a sadist who delights in blind obeisance and poured-out efforts all in the name of pleasing Him. I find the doctrinal restrictions irreconcilable enough for me: obligations vis-a-vis God’s supposed inerrant and unending mercies. Consequentially, I find myself in a conundrum, in an endless journey wherein I get lost in the bushes.

I could not find God.

My fervent devotions were shattered, the desire towards pleasing the Lord has depleted itself. I do not even know if I should believe in anything anymore, given the paradox of church-related obligations that tax the mind and spirit. Sorry, but I do not experience so-called “wisdom” as preached to the members, nor do I take delight in the noise which they mistake for solemnity. Yes, I do appreciate the teachings but for some reason there is always a hint of control that I feel in my gut. Is God really like this? What, in the first place, is God’s mercy? If his mercies are endless why make the members labour so much to the point of fanaticism?

I could not see God.

Through all these I began tinkering with agnosticism and atheism; although atheism I consider utterly hardcore, something which I find unthinkable that I ought to deny all that spells of the supernatural or the existence of a deity. What I find myself in right now is an unsure way of knowing what God is all about, or what He ought to be in relation to human beings and their perpetual goings on in their everyday lives. I want to know the reality of God, if He truly exists, and what kind of God is this God. Do not get me wrong: this is not so much as to denying His existence, but more into probing about what He is, actually. Does He allow free speech? Is He understanding of a lowly human being’s tendencies for depression forasmuch as he understands on what it is all about? Is service to Him relative to His needing painstaking labours just so humankind could glorify Him? These things I could not answer, ironic enough for this religion I am in supposedly has all the answers straight from the Holy Bible. But why has it destroyed my own sense of the sacred?

So right now, all I can say is that I am reluctant agnostic. Yet, then again, this could change and all I want is to have my faith back. For now, though, I could not see it nor experience God as I have had as a child. Maybe in time I will.

Choleric-melancholic, blogger, teacher, mental health advocate, book lover.

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