Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Mental illness: Why?
I see men and women who can't recognize reality any more. Illness has thrust a different world on them! They see and hear things that aren't real, they have well-constructed pasts that aren't real, they can't remember where or when or who they are. Depending on how severe their psychosis is, their families grieve as though they have died.
One woman, "Petra," seemed like a shell of a person. She walked the halls, disheveled and clad in pajamas and a blanket. She stared blankly, spoke little, and had no idea where she was or why she was there. She crawled into other people's beds if they left them empty. And her family could not care for her.
There are less severe cases, too. A young man I met was sure that he had no disease, at least nothing that needed medication. I look at his face and know that he'll see the inside of the hospital again if he decides not to take his meds. And another woman was clearly splitting (as she idealized me and demonized the doctor, then idealized the doctor a little while later) and was disorganized in her speech and thoughts and future plans.
The other day in Adoration I asked Jesus, "why do you allow this? Don't You want our higher faculties to be intact so that we can follow You?"
I'm so in love with my intellect! I practically identify with it. St. Thomas Aquinas stressed the importance of the intellect in the Christian life. In heaven, the intellect enjoys the sight of God as He replaces concept and phantasm in the Beatific Vision: "since the Divine essence is pure act, it will be possible for it to be the form whereby the intellect understands: and this will be the beatific vision" (IIIQ92A1).
And although it is finally the will by which we choose good and avoid evil, the intellect informs the will of what is good and evil.
So why would God allow some souls to have such intellects that can't distinguish reality from internal stimuli?
In Adoration, I pleaded hard for Maggie, Leah, Petra, and the others. I really wanted them to be well, I didn't want them to be unable to see and choose God's mercy before they died (sometimes the lives of psychotic and mentally ill people is tragically short). I asked for it on their behalf.
I was particularly touched by Leah's condition, and I imagined her, lying as she did in her bed, shrouded in sheets to hide from the inescapable voices she heard. I imagined her like that and my kneeling next to her, both of us before the throne of God. And then I realized that I would not be praying so desperately if it were not for her. She was a little guardian angel to me, spurring me on to greater dependence on God. I have heard parents of disabled children occasionally remark that their children help redirect them daily towards God; Leah was doing this for me.
So maybe God allows mental illness for reasons like that. Let's pray for the mentally ill. (As a side note, Leah is much better now; it's amazing what antipsychotic drugs can do. She's no longer hearing voices and she was discharged.)