Approaching Witchcraft With Mental Illness

Approaching Witchcraft With Mental Illness March 12, 2018

CW: Mental illness, trauma (in general).

an island, with a normal top and the land shaping into a monstroys skeleton beneath the water
pixabay/CC0

LABEL TIME: I’m diagnosed Type II Bipolar, with an addition of C-PTSD for extra funsies. (CW: discussion of trauma in C-PTSD link.) It keeps me busy.

Among the many things rattling around my skull, approaching the concept of Witchcraft with mental illness gives me the most pause. When one’s brain is chemically imbalanced, whether psychologically or physically, it poses an extra layer of guess-work and mistrust to most subjects. Not least of which is those things that profess to healing or control.

Yet because of that imbalance, reaching for something—anything—that promises to heal is like dangling Adderall in front of a senior with final exams coming up. Or heroin in front of someone battling crippling chronic pain. Or alcohol to numb night terrors. Maybe we don’t need it. Maybe we don’t even want it; not really. Maybe we think it won’t work. But…

But…

It’s worth trying, right? Because what if it works?

A dangerously unstable cliff edge.

Booze for the Soul

Often, followers of various religions have assured me that letting whatever deity of choice into one’s heart soothes all hurts. Similar, less ecclesiastical voices say that simply by letting light and happiness in can one heal. “Just smile!” or “Jesus will guide you!”

I know I can be tongue in cheek—humor is my most finely-honed shield—but I had and have zero doubt: Jesus would guide me right off a rooftop. That’s where I was not too long ago; where I end up when things get bad again. And you know how it is. It always goes bad again.

Many complex trauma survivors walk away from their religious beliefs. For example, to believe in a good and loving God who allows suffering and heinous abuse to occur can feel like the ultimate betrayal. (The Mighty; )

I talked about my lack of religion already, so for a while, I ignored this. Of course, hindsight is perfection on a razor’s edge. Here’s the ugly truth: There were many, many times when I screamed inside my skin for a god to save me.

Faith, man. It’s a hell of a drug. …Especially when you’re only borrowing it for a little while.

a cup of coffee steaming, but the steam looks like magic
pixabay/CC0

A Magickal Version of Meth

You know why they call it a fix? Because it’s supposed to fix whatever is wrong with you. It’s a cure-all, a panacea—neglecting to add that it works because it gives you the illusion of control. You manage the pain; take the edge off; gain control of your anxiety, your health, your physical abilities.

You quiet your demons.

All pro-action, right? You are making a choice to take that fix and apply it.

My feelings (or is it my fear?) tells me that magick is the same choice, albeit one far more psychological than physiological. To be a Witch is to make a bid for power, to reach for threads out there and shift them the way you want them to go.

As Mat Auryn says at For Puck’s Sake:

“You cannot bend or shape reality without power. As witches, we seek power and that power allows us to shape ourselves and shape our world.”

Power. The ability to gain control of something so far out of my control…?

An interesting notion.

Trick question: What’s the difference between a psychological method of control and a physiological method of control?

What separates either from a magickal method of control?

Rational minds, I assume, might point to intent and will and how magick doesn’t have addiction issues or narcotics or…

My brain: isn’t the illusion of control what we turn to drugs for?

Isn’t magick… what? A wish? Is it like a drug, a balm to “heal” the pain, but ultimately only masks it with an illusion of control?

Faith, right? Faith and power and a desperate need to exert either…

Spoiler: What Do I Know?

I wrote, and I do quote myself:

Belief is a funny thing. To me, it’s different from faith. It’s, I think, more easily shattered. It’s a dream, rather than the sheer faith of one’s worship of gods. Belief is my bag. Faith? Not so much.

Did I mention that my thoughts tend to wander down cyclical, tangential paths? I don’t plan these articles ahead of time. I go with what I think and later… well, later, I often talk myself into a new direction. My therapist (well, ex-therapist; she skipped town, probably not my fault haha, no, really, awesome lady) had become a master at letting me talk, while skillfully redirecting my cycles back to the gist.

And well… and… well.

a pink and white petaled flower floating on a still pond
pixabay/CC0

I was wrong about faith and belief; extremely limited in my definition of faith, even. I associated it at the time purely with religious connotations, even while I have struggled and struggled to rebuild a shattered faith in who I am and what I do.

Faith, right? Faith in myself. And belief in Witchcraft. Belief in… healing? Faith in Witchcraft? That it might… what?

Round and round about I go, wary of what help I may or may not put my faith in…

So I suppose that takes me right back to my initial question, stated or otherwise:

Is it because I’m desperate for a panacea, a modicum of control, that the power of Witchcraft appeals to me? Or am I actually drawn to it for itself?

Does it matter?

My mental illness keeps me always on a knife’s edge, questioning every new step I take. With time, through this blog, through experience and through learning, I intend to figure it all out.

But for fuck’s sake, brain… shut up.

 


K. C. Alexander is an SF/F author and very proud of smearing her bloody fingers all over the lines. She writes aggressive transhumanist sci-fi, co-wrote Mass Effect: Andromeda: Nexus Uprising, and may or may not be a witch. Like what she does? Consider checking out her tarot reads and behind the scenes glimpses of her work.

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  • Teresa Reitan

    Witchcraft with Mental Illness. Like the writer of this blog/article, I too suffer from mental illness, and she could have been reading my mind. I don’t mean in the paranoid sense of the word. No, in the sense of her experience is so similar to my own. My own mental illness at this point is well controlled, I’m happy to say. A combination of a cocktail of meds and working on myself through talk therapy has resulted in a knowledge of self that makes even my “crazy” ideations work for me. Still I do have those moments when I feel low and powerless, and that is when her article especially speaks to me.

  • You keep on keeping on. It’s our greatest (and sometimes most hidden) strength! Let’s remember we got this, okay? Every single goddamn day is a victory.

  • Teresa Reitan

    Yeah. It’s what I do. It’s all we can do, because the alternative is to cease to live.

  • ƤΔǤΔŇ

    I related to this so much. I was diagnosed this summer with bipolar ll (I have the comorbid diagnosis of BPD but I’ve known about the borderline for years) and when I look back at many rituals and magickal workings over the years I wonder how much was real and how much was my hypomania giving me a pseudo spiritual experience. It’s hard to know the difference. I’m still learning how to tell the difference. I also know ritual and magick can trigger my hypomania so I have to be very careful.

    As for feeling like magick is a “fix” I never felt that way. I felt the opposite. Instead I nearly left Wicca and witchcraft because I felt God/dress betrayed me by making me wrong. It feels karmic. I was so pissed at the Divine. What was the point of magick if it couldn’t fix the biggest problem in my life? I remember begging and praying to God/dess in a rage, screaming with tears streaming down my face to heal me. S/he finally said “Only you can heal yourself. Witchcraft can do that if you find the right magick and do the work.” So I searched and discovered soul alignment, purification, the Great Work, the Holy Guardian Angel, shadow work, balancing using the elements, and dark deities. I am Persephone who has been kidnapped by mental illness (Hades) and forced to remain in the Underworld. But I can find my power here. Now I’m using them to heal myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and astrally. To find my power in this Underworld, this hell. These are things modern therapy and medicine completely ignore. I no longer hate witchcraft. I’m grateful for it.

  • That is amazing and I am so, so glad that you are where you are. That’s inspiring! And so are you.