Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 2010
Disease pushes prayer beyond my grasp
Schizophrenia takes the mind on a relentless dance that denies this worshiper his desire to pray
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Recently a charity I have been involved with, the Champion's Centre, asked me to pray. We had just placed an offer for a property to build a facility for the homeless suffering from mental illnesses. We have been searching for the last three years, so I wanted to pray our offer would finally be accepted.
The only problem is I am unable to pray. One of the symptoms of my mental illness is an inability to pray. Schizophrenia doesn't allow me to have a quiet mind . . . ever.
People assume my medication makes all the symptoms, such as voices in my head, go away. The medication helps me make the symptoms more manageable, but it doesn't erase them.
I envy my wife's being able to spend her quiet time in prayer everyday. Whenever I try to quiet my mind to meditate, pray or contemplate, the voices in my head actually increase in volume because they are no longer being drowned out by the noise of the everyday world.
I joke that everyone talks to God, but when I talk to God, he talks back. I have to joke to cover the pain this causes me.
When I tell people of faith that I can't pray vocally, they rarely understand. I've tried to explain to confessors that I can't do the rosary as a penance and they seem upset.
I don't read body language or inflection well because of my illness, so it can be difficult for me to differentiate if the priest is upset at me, or at my complicated illness.
So while I can't sit down and pray like my contemporaries, I can pray by good deeds, words and actions. That is all I can do.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that can result in hearing voices, seeing visions and other hallucinations; disorganized thinking and racing thoughts.
If you could see a picture of the inside of my head with a PET scan, you would see a vastly different brain function than the ordinary. I'm usually careful about whom I disclose my spiritual self to, because I have been advised on more than one occasion I should put myself through exorcism.
I have become wary of that part of my faith. I do believe in the forces of good and evil, and know there are those rare individuals who do in fact need exorcism - but I'm not one of them.
It can be tiresome to deal with the stigma of this illness and have people say that I must be possessed if I hear voices in my head. If I instead suffered from a heart condition or diabetes, I hope that my fellow Catholics wouldn't tell me to quit taking my medicine and just have someone pray over me to heal my condition.
MIRACLE OF SCIENCE
I know that miracles can happen, and prayer can change things, but I also consider modern psychiatry and pharmacology to be a miracle.
The changes in my life that the medication improvements have made in the 17 years since I was first diagnosed are staggering. The medication I currently take, Risperidol Consta, has truly been a miracle for me.
Some people believe I was afflicted because my faith was not strong enough. However, I believe my faith has been a beacon of hope that allows me to continue to live with a disease that crushes many.
While I may not be a normal Catholic in terms of my prayer life, I know the Lord blesses me every day, and I hope I am grateful for and worthy of those blessings.
(Austin Mardon received the Order of Canada in 2007 for his advocacy for those that suffer with schizophrenia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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