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August 16, 2013
Pebbles, Potholes, and Perspective
Spirituality: The Fifth Pillar of Psychiatric Recovery (Part 2)
by Sarah Hancock

Now that we have covered the five pillars of psychiatric recovery, I just wanted to delve a little deeper into the fifth pillar, spirituality.

Although spirituality is a key part of my life, it is not a primary factor in the lives of the majority of the world's population. You might be wondering, if it's not central to the majority of people's lives, why is it an integral part of Psychiatric Recovery? The answer is simple — because it works. Embracing spirituality brings meaning and purpose.

Let me clarify how it works by utilizing an example in existence since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous. Although not created to help people with psychiatric diagnoses, Alcoholics Anonymous is another peer-driven program that successfully helps people recover from alcoholism.

One of the vital forces behind AA is their 12 Steps. The second and third step states that recovery is possible when a person comes "to believe that a power greater than [the individual] could restore [the person] to sanity. Additionally, the person must make "a decision to turn [his or her] will and our lives over to the care of God as [he or she understands] Him (

After finding meaning and purpose in life, a person in AA later becomes a sponsor, helping others along their road to recovery. The same can hold true for people on their psychiatric recovery road.

Although many may question what that has to do with mental illness, I argue that people can get better when they apply this principle in their lives. Doing so has everything to do with psychiatric recovery and in fact can launch people into recovery. Why? Because when you begin experiencing psychiatric symptoms, life feels like you no longer have control, regardless of how hard you try.

It can really help when you recognize that there is a higher power who cares about you. I'm not saying that a person can cope with illness through spirituality alone; I'm saying that recognizing spirituality can help people to feel like they are not alone in the fight — that there is a loving Father who wants to help them find meaning and purpose in life.

Now comes the sticky wicket. When someone is in the depths of acute symptoms, feeling that support through the spirit is extremely difficult if not impossible. I would argue this dilemma is why many people with psychiatric issues have problems with what doctors call "religiosity." Religiosity occurs when the person's entire focus becomes religion. I think that a person with religiosity is desperately searching for the peace that comes from drawing closer to God.

In my experience with mental illness, I can testify that even when you are doing all you can to have the Holy Ghost in your life, if your brain chemicals are not balanced, you do not feel it. For example, from 2005-2007 I worked in the temple as the recording office's administrator's assistant. I watched my life very closely so that I would be worthy of entering the temple daily.

I'm not saying I was perfect, but I am saying I did all I could to keep my covenants, yet this period was one of the hardest I'd experienced until that point of my life. My paranoia was though the roof.

Minute by minute and hour by hour I had to constantly remind myself that people in the temple were not going to kill or rape me because they too were living worthy of a temple recommend. I constantly had one eye focused (as well as I could) on my work while the other was basically doing a constant scan over my shoulder to see if someone was sneaking up on me. I was paranoia's poster child.

Even now as I think about how scared I was then, my heart races. There I was, in a dedicated building of the Lord, doing His work, and my brain chemicals didn't allow me to feel the benefit of the Spirit. I was in "survivor mode" (see Dealing with Survivor Mode).

For the first 14 years of my illness I read my scriptures daily, said my prayers, tried to keep up with my visiting teaching, tried to limit TV usage, and live up to all my temple covenants and all the principles in "For the Strength of Youth," yet it wasn't until recently that I got my chemicals balanced and reaped the benefit of my obedience and diligence. That's like trying to satisfy a craving for chocolate fudge cake by eating heaping helpings of chocolate fudge cake every day yet not tasting it for fourteen years.

For those of you who love someone with a mental illness — especially bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder — you have to come to grips with the fact that if their brain chemicals are off and regardless of how valiant they are, they cannot feel the same peace you do after doing things like reading scriptures, attending church, and going to the temple. Nor will they, until they can get their chemicals balanced through utilizing coping skills and finding the right medication.

The despair is so heavy and dark that at one time I as I sobbed uncontrollably in an isolation room at the mental hospital (feeling no worse in there than I did in my own home and actually relieved because I knew I was safe from my own hand), I consoled myself by logically realizing I must be feeling a part of what our Savior felt when the Spirit withdrew in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Instead of becoming upset with yourself or your loved one for not doing enough, please call upon the Lord to strengthen your patience and do what you can. The Atonement will make up the rest as promised by Nephi when he said, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

At times it may not seem like someone is doing all he can, but whether or not this is the case is to be judged by God because only He understands the load someone caries and can see how much effort is really being put forth.

For a person with a mental illness, realizing that spirituality is a pillar of recovery is huge. Recognizing that God wants people to feel happy (not guilty) can help develop hope as a person struggles to dig from within the strength Heavenly Father has given him.

It is difficult to feel as though all you do is futile, but it is not futile. When a person finally feels the power of meaning and purpose (something others without a balance take for granted) it's like finally tasting that chocolate fudge cake — divinely worth the wait.

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