The Author

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
I am overcoming schizophrenia, and I believe others can too. Here is how I am managing my condition...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Religious Preoccupation

After a talk, a woman asked me if my faith contributed to my recovery because she noticed that I mentioned it throughout my speech. In addition to that, she told me that she observed people with faith as having a better outcome in their mental health recovery.

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).

14 comments:

helenasmole said...

It's interseting that I had some similar delusions, although I am not religious (never attended church). I believed I was Jesus Christ. I believed people were evil and talking about me - I mean strangers on streets. I believed I was taking all the suffering upon me.

To sum up, you brilliantly discerned mental illness from religious beliefs and from faith itself as a spiritual category. Great writing!

Helena Smole

Ashley Smith said...

Hi Helena Smole,

It is a mystery why religion influences mental health to the extent that it does. I tried to do research on mental health and religion to discover how they are connected and one article suggested why Not have a link between religion and mental health because it is a part of life.

I can totally relate to the delusional experiences with complete strangers. In the beginning, my delusions involved people I had a relationship with and then it extended to complete strangers like in your situation.

Thank you for sharing your personal experience.

Take care,

Ashley Smith

Jen Daisybee said...

Ashley, I also had the delusion that I was Jesus Christ. I had so many bizarre things happening, seeing things that other people did not see, finding special codes and secret messages everywhere, being followed by the FBI and the CIA (in my mind, not in real life), that I think the way I tried to understand it all was to think that perhaps something supernatural was the cause of everything that was occuring.

I believed that I was pregnant by immaculate conception for a long time too, and tha was really hard to deal with. I would go to get pregnancy tests and be told I wasn't pregneant and I thought this was a conspiracy where the doctors were lying to me.

At really low points I thought I was doomed and destined to die like Jesus, and that if I did not kill myself I would literally be hung on a cross.

So I really understand your topic here. I think that, from what I have heard from people who experienced psychosis and from everything I have read, religious delusions are extremely common. I also came from a Christian background though I am no longer religious and I think this background was part of the reason I thought I was Jesus.

I actually went to church with my mom a couple times when I was psychotic and believed the songs worshipping God were meant for me! That was really weird. I remember walking down the aisle thinking "These people are all singing and clapping for me!" Sometimes I enjoyed thinking I was Jesus, but not most of the time.

Ashley Smith said...

Hi Jen,

Wow- we have a lot in common! Like you, I thought I could understand secret messages. I thought everything was symbolic. For example, a truck making a U-turn may mean to me to turn around. In fact, I thought God was sending me "the real date" through milk cartons, therefore I did not believe people when they told me the date!

Another point you brought up was immaculate pregnancy. I had forgot all about this strange thought I had till you mentioned it- pregnancy. At one point I thought I was pregnant, however, I thought people injected me with something in my sleep to get me pregnant. I wanted to take pregnancy tests but did not have access to them in the psychiatric ward of the jail where I stayed. However, I did not believe this for a long period of time as you did in your experience.

I appreciate your openness and feedback.

Warm regards,

Ashley Smith

Brian Meagher said...

Hi Ashley,

You said, "I believed in spiritual warfare[sic]. Spiritual warfare[sic] 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 warfare[sic]. I felt like I was in the mist of spiritual warfare[sic] and that I was a spiritual warrior."

I mean, what you believed back then is still true, right? I mean, Jesus is real. I don't think any Christian disagrees with that part of what you say you believed. The only thing I might mention is that the Bible says we're all sinners, but sometimes the Lord wants to speak through you, me, or someone else to others, and there is conflict because, as Joyce Meyer says, there are "agents of the antichrist" everywhere, and God gives us the Holy Spirit to say the right words to the right people at the right time.

Having said that, being able to control yourself is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) so if you can't stop thinking certain intrusive thoughts, there is something wrong, and it might be medical. But "God has... given unto us a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind." The reason I say that is to let you know that the work you are doing to overcome schizophrenia is valuable and just as spiritual as reading the Bible, going to church, or any other part of being a Christian--it's your life, and you matter to Jesus. I think that fighting the illness is just as important as anything else you've ever done!

To sum up, you are a spiritual warrior, and you're doing a great job. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Brian

Doug Mohr said...

Dear Ashely,

The Bible mentions schizophrenia.But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 5:6-8) Frank and Ida Mae Hammond wrote a book, "Pigs in the Parlor." It is a revelation about the demonic spirits that are behind schizophrenia.

Jesus Christ has given us power over demonic spirits in His name. A person can get to the point that they will need someone to pray with them to set them free and disciple them in the Word of God to walk in victory.

I am ministering to a girl right now that has become addicted to the anti-depressants. God has healed her of a physical condition and she is getting stronger and stronger.

I pray that the people that are suffering will find someone that can pray for them to set them free.

Sincerely,
Rev. Douglas Mohr

Ashley Smith said...

Hi Rev. Douglas Mohr,

Thank you for your opinion on schizophrenia. While faith plays a role in my acceptance of my mental health condition I personally do not use it as my primary coping skill.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that can be treated through diverse treatments. I strongly disagree that it is a demonic spirit. I believe my recovery is a miracle, with the support of medication and various treatments enabled by advance technology, to help me overcome this medical concern. Yes, prayer and other faith-based skills are helpful, but in my condition it was not enough.

I hope you will seek professional guidance and support for the girl battling mental health for her best interest.

Regards,
Ashley Smith

MissUnderstood said...

Hi Ashley! My name is Jennifer and I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in December 2004. Before I was diagnosed, I had gotten saved 4 years prior. I did JUST LIKE YOU - read my bible for hours daily, cut the world off, fasted, let go of cigarettes and premarital sex. Soon after, God blessed me to move to Atlanta and i was working and going to New Birth as a praise dancer. I got sick and thought people were talking to me in my mind - I thought I had learned an Atlanta language that only people in Atlanta know. Since my diagnosis, I have stopped dancing, got married, picked back up cigarettes and had a baby and gained ALOT of weight. I dont know many people who have what I have and it really does something to me to know that you had the same thing as me. You dont know! I have struggled since my diagnosis with everything - not trusting my doctors, relapse, although i take my meds everyday. please respond and i would love to know how you did it because i would love to do what you have done in my area. there are not alot of resources out here in sc. thanks!!

MissUnderstood said...

Thank you for your blog! I did the exact same things as you did - everything...and then some! I know you did it cause i did the exact same things! To the tee! I wish I were in atlanta cause then i could attend your meetings etc! But since Im not, you have given me a great idea to start my own blog about my experiences with schizophrenia and the things I have done!
I was diagnosed in dec 04 and since i have gotten married and had a baby. but i struggle everyday with lack of energy weight gain and not being as independent as i used to be. i really do struggle with this whole schizophrenia thing. people who dont have it dont understand. period. really struggling for identity... pls respond. thanks!!!!

Ashley Smith said...

Hi Jennifer,

I am glad we can relate to each other, and that this blog lets you know you are not alone in this experience with schizophrenia. I visited your blog, and noticed you stopped writing, I encourage you to get back to writing it really helps me stay focused. Thank you for your enthusiastic feedback and I hope you read more on this blog and let me know what you think.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

hi, I know this post is old but I was wondering if during the time when any of you went through a religious phase, were you very angry? my brother has been going through this for the past two or three years and shows all of the signs you are talking about, and I've been thinking that he is schizophrenic for about four months. anyway, the main thing with my brother is that he fights constantly with us and with everyone. he screams at us for no reason because he thinks we're going against god when we do something that' doesn't have anything to do with religion. it's really scary. we're all very afraid that hes going to do something he regrets. he's currently on anti depressants but he was diagnosed with bi polar and isn't taking medicine for it. thanks

Anonymous said...

Have you ever lived with someone with this condition other than yourself? It must be controlled with meds, for the persons whole life.

Anonymous said...

I need some help. My ex husband has devil obssessed delusions. I strongly believe he has schizoid type of disease. He won't get help and lies about his issues as germ phobia. I need him to get help as I have shared custody of our small child. I am very frustrated. His illness takes up his brain 24/7. He is also abusive. I have a PPO on him but my child is unprotected. He is not orderes to get medical advice...only ordered to have psychological therapy and they don't seem to understand schizophrenia at all. Please help.

Ashley Smith said...

I hear your frustration. However, giving advice on this matter is out of my expertise. I strongly encourage you to contact a crisis hotline such as the Georgia crisis access line 800.715.4225. Also, www.nami.org is a great place to find free support groups for family members. Attending such meetings could enable you to share your experience with other members and get their advice on the matter.

Regards,
Ashley Smith