Saturday, June 09, 2007

Faith and mental well-being

Studies have been done about the benefits of faith to our health, including our mental health. Most of them have found that religious people have a greater ability to cope than people without a faith. One of the top researchers in this field is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical Center. An interview with him by Lisa Schneider brings to light some of his findings. Dr. Koenig has a number of books out on the subject.

The reason I bring this up now is because yesterday a friend asked me, "What does your belief in God mean to you and your ability to cope with bipolar disorder?" When I started listing for her what my faith meant to me, I found I couldn't stop. Once more - as always happens when I take the time to stop and think about it - I was overwhelmed at how far I have come since I first began believing in God nineteen years ago. My life has become rich and full of purpose. I was transformed and I continue to be transformed. It is an exciting journey.

I want to share here some of the things I'm doing that I'm quite sure I wouldn't be doing if I hadn't been studying the Bible, learning about Jesus, spending time in prayer, and belonging to a community of friends who share my beliefs. When I became a follower of Christ:
  1. I learned to fear less and trust more.
  2. I gained the courage to speak openly about my disorder by writing about it, realizing that it's only by talking about mental illness that we can reduce the stigma. This is what God would want for the world.
  3. I learned that I don't have to be ashamed of having a mental illness. I am God's child.
  4. I sensed God's love for me and learned to share that love with others.
  5. I gained the support of wonderful friends who love me with a godly love, no matter what I go through or what I do or say.
  6. I discovered a purpose that is greater than me, work that I find exciting and of significant value.
  7. I discovered gifts I never knew I had. I became a leader and activist. (not bad for someone who was for so many years a shy person, afraid to speak up)
  8. I learned to persevere and never give up hope.
  9. I learned that when I help others, I become strong. I am no longer a victim.
  10. I learned that I can, in a very special way, understand those who struggle like me. Listening to other people's problems connects us. A meaningful bond develops. There is richness in that.
  11. I learned that God made us to be creative - in his image. When I have the urge to make something happen I try to obey. What an exciting life that creativity has brought me!
  12. Though depression is still a hellish experience, I have come to look on it as something to use. By trying out different coping techniques and writing about them, I can make good come out of bad. I've learned that each episode helps me learn more about life. The Bible talks about trials as a "refining fire." We become better - stronger. Being reminded of what depression is once in a while helps me have compassion for others who go through it.
  13. Though I often feel too small to carry out the work I've taken on, I now realize it's okay to be small. I better realize how big God is, and how I need to allow him to work through me. I only have to be his hands; he will do the rest.
  14. I learned to appreciate the way the great potter molded me, one step at a time. And I know he's not through with me yet.
I am grateful for all God has given me. I like who he made me to be - bipolar and all. Life is good.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

What a nice post. It's so very thoughtful and meaningful. I share many of your beliefs but I don't think I could have expressed my feelings any better than you have.


Mel Alarilla said...

Hi Marja,

I was so thrilled just reading your latest post. My, you have come a long way indeed as a Christian. As the Bible says, you are being transformed from glory to glory until you reach the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus Christ. What's so amazing is that, all these are happening amidst your trials which could have put stronger persons to acts of self destructions. Truly you are blessed by the Holy Spirit. Keep on writing your soul inspiring articles as you become a conduit of God's amazing grace and blessings to others. Your selfless endeavors will surely lead many restless souls to Christ. God bless you and your loved ones more and more.

Yours in Christ,

Mel Avila Alarilla
of "Random Thoughts"
Mel Alarilla of "Blessings"

Cindy said...

Though I often feel too small to carry out the work I've taken on, I now realize it's okay to be small. I better realize how big God is, and how I need to allow him to work through me. I only have to be his hands; he will do the rest.

Oh, bless you, YES! This is one of the things that keeps me breathing on the bad days that threaten to overwhelm. What a relief to be able to be, as Emily Dickinson wrote, "Nobody" and to know somebody bigger is perfectly capable of handling the big picture.

marja said...

Thank you Susan, Mel, and Cindy for your comments and encouragement. And welcome Mel and Cindy. I'm glad you found me.

Cindy: I'm so glad you could relate to what I had to say about it being okay to be small. It IS a relief to be able to think of ourselves that way, isn't it?

Dream Writer said...

I love your passion and desires to be well both mentally and spiritually.

I wish I had your strengths.

Syd said...

Marja, thanks so much for sharing your faith in this amazing way. It is a reminder to each of us that we are exactly where we're supposed to be. The real question is are we DOING what we're supposed to be doing. God can use each and every one of us, just as we are, if we let Him... and it's very apparent that you're doing just that! May God continue to richly bless you and your ministry.

"Dootz" said...

Marja, thanks for sharing these insights. Perhaps the verse that has been most meaningful to me to understand my illness in light of faith is 2 Tim 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline." The KJV translates that last word as "a sound mind." In any event, fear used to grip me more than anything, and Jesus is walking me out of that world into his world of perfect love.