Medicine is not enough for Laura Lea who has mental illness, but she has an idea of what she does need
It has been impossible to tell my family about the experience of being mentally ill. No one apart from my ex-husband knows about my diagnosis, nor do they know what it’s like inside my head. Once I was asked by a church minister to describe it and I told him to think about the worst thing that happened to him, his worst hour, and then it just keeps going on without relenting. This is the nearest to what it’s like.
There is a lot to say about my illness, my decision not to tell my family and how I feel about it all – but so little opportunity to say these things where it’s safe and useful. Recently I was at a conference on spirituality, religion and mental health for social workers, nurses, service users and carers. I spoke about the danger and pain in mental distress by reading out some words I’d written.
I’d spent two years as a member of a strategy group talking to senior managers and others in West Sussex about how to bring spirituality into a holistic approach to mental health care. Lots of workers seem unsure about spirituality, how it is relevant and whether there is time or space to make it part of their practice. But without hope, without addressing all aspects of my world, my practical needs and my hurting heart and head, recovery would be difficult.
I told the conference that in the light my thoughts start to race and pain tightens in my stomach. Panic stalks me. I have to be careful. If I allow the panic, fear will have me. I am possessed, like a bird that sees its own reflection in the house window and, mistaking itself, flies at its own image.
It isn’t enough to decide that I want to refrain, to begin the painstaking work of understanding when I am becoming trapped by my mind and to then find a different way. How can I do this work without a reason or only because of the forgotten dream of living in an ordinary way, with ordinary human misery and ordinary human joy?
I need healing, I need a reason to try, I need an anchor to keep me steady in the storm. Alone in the light I forget. Forget that someone taught me to read and a doctor gave me medicine, that sometimes people smile.
When I look up at the sky on a night when the stars are out and there is a full moon, I sometimes think “mad” moon.
But then I start again and I see the stars, not the memories or the thoughts that stars bring. I look beyond and I see some mystery. That with the chaos there is also order. And the word “faith” occurs to me. Perhaps a fleeting and hard-won faith found from the darkness, a possibility of a belief, that there is a deep thread of hope that works for wholeness, running mysteriously and quietly, sometimes silently though our lives. No, medicine is not enough. If I cannot find a reason, or an anchor to hold me while I fight the giants of mental distress, psychiatry will fail. It is my soul that matters.
Laura Lea uses mental health services