Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mental illness: Why?

I have had to talk to God a lot about patients lately. Specifically, the very psychotic and very addicted patients in the pysch hospital I work at right now.

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.

Another woman, "Leah," began to curse at me and yell at people who were not there: she looked off into a corner of the room and yelled, then apologized and insisted that nothing was there, and that she was not crazy, could she be discharged please?

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.)

1 comment:

  1. Many years ago I worked in a state residential facility for the profoundly mentally retarded (adults). They had all manner of co-morbid psychiatric issues (but it was so long ago I've lost the vocabulary to describe it all). I chose that job straight out of grad school because I felt God SO strongly there. I don't understand it, but He was truly there present in a big way with these people. That experience leads me to believe they don't need intellect as we understand it to behold God. Perhaps they are simple like the children to whom Jesus was referring when He said the Kingdom of God belonged to such as these. Maybe people with higher intelligence but still mental ill are similar in that regard...of course I don't know what is in the mind of God, but I can hope.

    That doesn't answer for me the question of why God would allow it on earth (I have a big problem with suffering, LOL) but it helps give me hope for their eternal future.