Apart from my Catholic faith and my relationship with Jesus I am certain I would be dead. It’s as simple as that. Whether from a bullet from a prison guard or by my own hand, I’m not sure, but the world would be getting along without me. And no one can suffer mental illness without wondering if he’d be better off dead anyway. It’s hard to imagine a cross harder to bear, or heavier, or more laden with shame. But through it all Jesus has given me hope, strength, and indefatigable peace. He has not saved me from suffering; rather, he has given me a much greater gift: he has saved me through suffering. My suffering, my weakness, is a badge of honor, and not a scarlet letter.
Since my illness began I have spent many nights outside, alone, cold and tired, even barefoot on one occasion, wandering in an oblivious haze; I’ve been thrown out of motels, restaurants, and other public places; I’ve been frisked, arrested, pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and jailed; I’ve been in and out of psych wards; I’ve been seen by many doctors (one of whom summed up my condition the most succinctly when he exclaimed “Jesus Christ, you’re crazy!”); I’ve been ignored and turned out on the streets when I obviously needed help; I’ve suffered major depression, suicidal desires, and chronic lethargy; I’ve lived for years in my mother’s basement; I’ve been fired, and I’ve quit many jobs under a cloud, either with or without notice. I’ve also gained almost 100 pounds from my medication, which carries a high risk of diabetes and other side effects even more unpleasant; and the bright spot is, I have—however imprudently—taught myself to smoke (the self-medication of nicotine calms the nerves and provides a small lift out of the mental fog, giving a few minutes of something approaching a normal self-awareness).
My Catholic faith gets me through everything. I know that I am a human person who has value, despite consistently underperforming in almost every job I’ve had in the last 13 years, and there have been many. I am not a “mentally-ill person” or a “schizophrenic”; I am a human person who struggles with mental illness. My illness does not define me; my relationship with Jesus does. And Jesus, in our relationship, looks out for me.
Read it all. Those of us who know and love people struggling with mental illness can only be grateful for Schifter’s candor and courage — and for the grace God gave him to share his story.