Inner childhood pain, existential angst, severe anxiety & indecision about new projects – could all this be normal ‘work that the soul needs to experience and work through’?
This is how my wife sees things, but it was not always this way. As I started seriously exploring the diagnosis within the bipolar spectrum, every few pages that I’ve read have provided much validation for this being the source of our my wife’s distress. Every new insight, another piece of a complex puzzle which represents life with an illness that targets mood. With my wife’s mood rapidly spiralling down over the last week, I decided to try battle the ‘denial demon’ head on, before the window of opportunity closes with worsening cognitive function. Already her thinking has become disorted with anxious ruminations about a new project she was due to start. Huge doubts, fears of failure, indecision whether to quit, & hundreds of “what ifs” which go completely unnoticed by her. Is it normal to have some uncertainty when taking on a new project? Of course! But it’s the intensity of the worry, severely limiting functioning outside that issue, that represents a dysfunction which is extremely challenging for anyone around her.
Since my wife is convinced that her inner pain and issues with mood are a spiritual message, with only a spiritual solution, I reached out to a local spiritual leader in our community, who happens to have had much communual experience with providing support for couples dealing mental health issues, combined with his own personal experience with his wife’s battle with depression. This was not a simple process. My wife’s main reluctance was doubts about confidentiality – even with significant reassurance, trusting a highly respected spiritual leader of the community still takes a huge effort when anxiety sets in.
The discussion was extremely helpful. Overall, his extensive experience in this area led him to believe that while there are cases of doctors being too quick to prescribe medicine for mental health issues, there are many cases where years of therapy, prayer or other spiritual growth work, would not do anything for the underlying biochemical abnormalites suspected in many conditions. We also explored this relationship between spirtual work, emotional and physical health issues. For anyone who believes in Gd, clearly He is the ultimate healer, but what is the role of doctors and medicine, especially when it comes to emotional / mental health issues? Most religious doctrines accept doctors and Western medicine as working as tools or ‘agents for Gd’, to affect the persons healing. Could a person be healed through prayer and meditation alone? It’s possible, and may be considered miraculous. Is this the recommended path in life – to rely on miraculous healing, without also seeking medical help?
According to Jewish sources in the Talmud, insights about this issue may be inferred from the controversial debate whether the ideal is to be learning the Bible all day (as if, relying on miracles for money for food/shelter etc), or combine learning part of the day, with working part of the day, to earn a living. The Talmud records that while both perspectives have strong merit and justification, the deciding principle was ultimately guided by an honest look at the real world. Essentially, they described a crude observational study looking at what happens in the real world, noting that many families with husbands learning Bible full-time, live in severe poverty with signifcant health and spiritual impact on the wife and children. So the conclusion suggested that while full-time devotion to Bible study may be the ‘ideal’, for most families this is not the recommended path. While there may be examples of holy Rabbis (such as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar), who were able to ‘rely on miracles’ for their sustanance for 12 years while hiding in a cave, we cannot assume that principle will work for us. The potential for severe consequences would make such a choice irresponsible and foolish. Similarly, excluding all doctors and medicine, working exclusively on spritual growth for mental/emotional health issues, relying on miracles, could have significant irreversible consequences for marrital health and family stability.
A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted Gd to rescue him. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to Gd and I’m sure he will save me”A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to Gd and I’m sure he will save me”A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to Gd and I’m sure he will save me”All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with Gd. Ushered into Gd’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”
Conclusion: Don’t stop praying, but pray for Gd’s help in finding the right doctor, a compassionate therapist, the right combination of meds and a speedy recovery. AMEN