First, I came from a family with Christian values. My faith in God started to get intense during the latter years of high school, which in my opinion, is when I started having symptoms. In my experience religion plays a major role in my mental health- its delusions, its coping skills, and in my recovery. In medical terms they call my religious rituals and delusions "religious preoccupation."
Before I was diagnosed I was highly religious. In fact, I wanted to be an evangelist and to go to a Christian college. I would read my Bible for several hours a day throughout the day, listen to hymns, and meditate. Sometimes I would ignore people if they wanted my attention while I was meditating I was in such deep thought. Also, I would carry my Bible with me everywhere I went.
When I was delusional I assumed I was a prophet of God, and I eventually believed I was Jesus Christ. While in this state, I felt like everyone was against me and that I was being persecuted all over again like in the Bible. I sensed I had spiritual abilities where I can tell whether someone was good or evil. In the Bible this is called the gift of discernment. Those that were "evil" had black eyes, and others that were "good" glowed to me. Most of the time I sensed evil people around me which frightened me and made my anxiety level high. Also, I felt like I understood God and that I had a special relationship with Him.
To me, the Bible came alive. I started to view people as biblical characters. I believed in spiritual welfare. Spiritual welfare to me is when there is a clash in the spirits, or people, where the good and the bad do not get along. Things happen like gossiping, and cursing arise from spiritual welfare. I felt like I was in the mist of spiritual welfare and that I was a spiritual warrior.
I think that having an undiagnosed mental disorder made my religious practices go to an extreme. In other words, I was obsessed with religion. Like I said earlier, I read my Bible several times a day, and I attended church services a few times a week. And whenever, I did not do my pray or ritual in the order that I usually did it I knew I would have a bad day.
Part of my delusions involved the devil trying to get me to commit suicide. After watching a church service on television I saw the words "how to commit suicide" in the section to order tapes and CDs. This startled me and forced me to turn off the television. That same day I heard a hip-hop song on the radio that suggested to me that the devil wants me to commit suicide. I ignored the music and viewed it as the devil playing games with me, and as spiritual welfare.
I believe my religious beliefs helped me combat suicidal thoughts. However, had I not received treatment when I did I do not know how long I could have struggled with the disturbing thoughts.
Whenever I was in distress, like from the voices or other hallucinations, I would go on walks, pray, or sing hymns. I prayed a lot, in the mornings to bless my day, before meals, during times of stress, and before bed. I used prayer as a coping strategy before I was diagnosed, and did not know why I feeling confused, alienated, and stressed. Sometimes I would make up songs to sing that gave praises to God and that comforted me and made me feel like I was not alone. However, I must emphasize that I never thought the voices I heard were God, I thought the voices were the people around me.
Still in recovery, I view having this illness as a blessing in disguise. For example, when I first attended college I knew I wanted to have a business I just did not know what type of business. Since my diagnosis I have started a non-profit organization, Embracing My Mind, Inc. To me, the illness has given me a new found purpose.
Now, I do not consider myself religious, instead I see myself as spiritual. However, I still attend church and have faith. Looking back on all that I have experienced in life and with this illness I feel blessed. Blessed to be here, blessed to able to live independently despite my disorder, and content that I am able to facilitate groups and to go back to college. I am thankful to everyone who has contributed to my recovery- medical staff, family, and peers.
Even though my faith has played a major role in my life and throughout the course of my illness I am not bias to say that my specific religion or other religions are solely responsible for one's recovery even though it is a factor. I think religion, whatever that faith is, is a factor in one's recovery because of their outlook on life and on the illness.
To answer the woman's question, in my opinion, it depends on one's support network. Yet, I do believe that people with a mental health diagnosis and who have faith may have a strong support system which helps in their recovery. I think that faith-based groups like other groups offer a lot of support.
To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).