Good News In Psychosis Recovery

A poignant story recently published  in the New York Times,  describing a  man’s selfless nursing of  his wife through a season of mental illness, left hanging her piteous question, the one all such sufferers ask, that I myself asked countless times as I struggled to glean meaning from my own psychotic break, “Why would God do this to me?” Tullian Tchividjian says this about that profitless question, “The Why’s of suffering keep us shrouded in a seemingly bottomless void of abstraction where God is reduced to a finite ethical agent, a limited psychological personality, whose purposes measure on the same scale as ours.”

Since there really are no satisfying answers to these questions on this side of eternity, I soon ceased with the self-pitying, “Why?” and learned to ask the more helpful question Description unavailable“How?” for wisdom and strength for the daily battle against the depression and anxiety that remained like detritus from a storm, after my own  short season of post-partum psychosis.  And I learned to love the “Who”,  the One who dwelt with me in the suffering, with even greater devotion.

I learned to  call anxiety “My Tether to my Lord” because every time the enemy of my soul tried to batter me about with it, the struggle against it only served to wrap me around my Savior with even greater intensity.  It drove me to Him with great ferocity, because I learned if I could only run to Him quickly instead of seeking to escape the gnawing turmoil within, the scary feelings would ebb, and I would  be safe.  I learned that often I was anxious or depressed because I had believed a lie, or a relationship was broken, or I felt abandoned.  I learned to wait on the Holy Spirit to enlarge my heart — to show me the way out of these terrible feelings, and enable me to make things right — to give me the courage to humble myself before another, or the will to acknowledge what was true, and line my thoughts up with how God viewed things.

And in this simple way I was  healed: truth by truth. But because it was simple does not mean it was  easy.  I felt like I was in a kind of intense rehabilitative physical therapy for my soul– every tangled thought was painfully stretched out for examination in the light, and put back  in proper alignment with the word of God.

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  And in answer to His prayer I applied His Word to replace every lie,  and so I was healed.  There are no other ways to repair a mind. Secular Psychology  calls this process CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Christianity calls it “renewing the mind.” It should be preminent in the triage for soul pain. Any other way out  is only a  band-aid. And those therapies without God’s cure for souls  merely mask symptoms.

Like Happy Pills that take the edge off psychic pain, but can dull a keen attention most needed, and sap from our meager rations the energy most required  for active aggression against our mind’s  defections from the truth.  Psychotropic drugs can enable  a truce that should never be made with lying thoughts, and allow the  psychic wounds of ‘stinking thinking’ to fester  into a terrible spiritual gangrene.This study suggests that long term use of meds worsens anxiety. Pain has a reason for being, as Lewis observed, rousing us from “our sins and stupidities… pain insists upon being attended to.”

I was shaken to wakefulness at last, when  in His sovereign will He allowed me to suffer a psychotic break.  I thank God for this ‘severe mercy’  –it woke me to do urgent battle against my sin instead of devising ways to escape it. The struggle to repair my broken mind made me a disciple of Jesus instead of a double-minded person looking to every wind of false doctrine and wave of a magic wand in hopes to  make all the suffering  go away quick. It made me love the Word of God with even greater passion. It made me compassionate towards others who suffer, and gave me a comfort that  gives hope to others. This  weakness became my greatest strength because I had to  constantly depend on Jesus.

One who also knows this kind of intense dependence, Joni Eareckson Tada, wouldn’t trade her wheelchair for some temporary health and peace, because the wheelchair was the means God used form her character, as she shares in  her book, “A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Pain, Suffering and God’s Sovereignty”  She says, “So here I sit, glad that I have not been healed on the outside, but glad that I have been healed on the inside, freed from my own self-centered wants and wishes.”

That is a hard thing to say or even to understand, and the hardest of all to live this kind of suffering out daily, but our God moves in a mysterious way doesn’t He?   William Cowper, the writer of that immortal hymn, sufferer of great depressions and mental breakdowns,  spoke more wise words:  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense/But trust Him for His grace.”

And though Cowper himself never had a ‘happily ever after’ end to his life–how I wish he could have pressed in to his own wonderful true words!–yet it was his faith in spite of the bleakness of his life that provides the hope and comfort so absent in more happy-clappy  stories, the sort that like to list “10 Keys to Successful Living”.

Through my struggles, I  have come to know more intimately the God who strides the storms of every life, and  though I know  none of His  Hard Sayings will be made perfectly plain on this side of the dark glass we gaze through, I thank God! I have been freed at last from a blind unbelief that ‘scanned His works in vain’.

And  unlike the author of the NY Times essay, who concludes his piece with this wistful sigh of nostalgia, longing for the intensity of relationship he and his wife  shared as they fought her mental illness,  “I think that is what I miss…A time when only two things mattered to us: life and love”, I do not miss any of my own bitter struggle, but I am thankful for those hard days.  They taught me what matters most: clinging desperately to Jesus  for life, and drinking deeply of His unfailing love.

Here is a lovely acoustic version of Cowper’s hymn, performed in English by a woman who ministers among the Germans. The phrase highlighted on the video translates to,”Behind a frowning providence/He hides a smiling face.”  Yes, what a mystery, His severe mercies can be —  His smile  is hidden, but when you resist fear, and draw near to Him in the place of suffering you will find His gracious Father-heart for you. Don’t miss it by settling for mere survival. Press into the Savior. Out of darkness, light will shine.

4 Comments on “Good News In Psychosis Recovery”

  1. tina Says:

    This article was a tremendous blessing. Thank you for sharing. Do you have other articles that detail how you went about replacing the lies with truth? I would like to know how to walk that out in daily living.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. Sorry about not answering right away. My plate is really, really full right now, and today I literally need to fill 150 plates for our church homeless dinner –but if I don’t answer you now, I never will.
      I plan to write more extensively on the practicalities of this spiritual discipline this summer when I have more time. Meanwhile, the best treatment I’ve ever found of how to ‘take thoughts captive’ is found at my friend Laurie’s site, Beauty for Ashes, here:

      This is part six of a series, and the whole of it is so helpful,and it is why I have never felt the need to detail how to do this fight for joy. She writes so well about it. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

  2. Karen Butler Says:

    As I was listening to the Sons of Korah– an awesome band from Australia that sings the Psalms to great accompanying instrumentals — this morning, I was remembering what a helpful resource soothing Scripture based music was to me when I was healing from my affliction. I would have this kind

    of really wonderful music playing on continuous loop in the background. Remember, David and his ministry of music to King Saul! Music does soothe the savage beast of anxiety, and even more so when it is the word of God being sung.

  3. […] For  those very scientific reasons, I would be very reluctant to be part of a church support group that had a partnership with non-Christian psychiatrists. ButI have found there are spiritual reasons to reject psychiatry’s remedies, as well.  Because, like Amy Simpson, I too grew up with a mother who was Schizo-affective (a combination of bipolar and schizophrenia),  and I myself had a post-partum psychotic break.  But I refuse the stigma and proudly proclaim that there is great hope for  recovery  to those fighting  for a dignified life. Many of us who have recovered refuse the accepted narrative  that we have a crippling chemical imbalance in our brains that dooms us to a lifetime of substandard living. Jesus can and does heal those with mental disorders. He still sets captives free: […]

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