The Intersection of Faith and Mental Health Disorders

IMG_9844I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Cute name. Not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

Ideas like “love” and “faith” sounded stupid and aggravating when I was an angry, depressed, teenage atheist. After I’d spent four years half-heartedly trying to be dead and realized I’d never have the guts to actually kill myself, the word “love” didn’t sound nearly as stupid. Desperation does magical things.

In Mormonland we refer to this as “preparing the iron.” God is the Refiner and we are the iron, molded into our best possible selves through the heat of the fire.

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)


Before converting to Mormonism, I dabbled in every possible form of therapy. I swallowed tiny green pills by the name of Zoloft. I went to mandatory cognitive behavioral therapy. My parents had the house checked for mold. I let tiny old Chinese men stick needles in my back and feet. I took a rainbow of health supplements and exercised regularly. These therapies had the cumulative effect of peppering my life with the occasional false hope.

Love is what transformed me from dysfunctional, to hobbling along, to decently happy. Faith is what carried me the rest of the way to serene and content, though definitely still eccentric. It’s difficult to separate the two since “faith” and “love” are so intertwined that they’re practically synonyms. When I refer to “faith” I mean faith in the love of my Heavenly Father, rather than just the love of the human beings that care about me.

Love and faith never cured my mental health issues. Ask my husband. I rely on his support  to smooth out my reckless impulses such as buying tickets to the Chicago Star Trek Convention while we live in New York or wanting to indulge in that old habit of cutting my thighs with razor blades. Frankly, I still have days where I wake up and wish I didn’t. I don’t put that on the brochure when I’m making friends, but it’s part of who I am.

The reason that doesn’t suck (as much) is because I now know this: my Heavenly Father created me and he did so with a purpose. He knew Borderline Personality Disorder would be a part of me just as he knew selfishness and ingratitude and these exponentially-burgeoning-hips would be a part of me, too. He knew all of this and still he created me. Still he loves me.

He knew that my life would be difficult. As a Mormon, I believe I, too, knew that my life would be difficult and that in the Pre-Existence I chose to come down to earth anyway. The reason? Apparently I grow when I go through difficult things. In this respect, mental health illnesses are no different from any other trial. Bad things happen. People suffer. Hopefully, we learn. The only potential difference is that much of the suffering with mental illness is silent. There is no neon sign over my head declaring, “I WISH I WERE DEAD” on my bad days. (Actually a blessing, because think about how much harder it would be to make friends!) But I don’t wear a cast, and I can’t Instagram any cute pictures from a hospital to draw support and empathy. Most people I meet know nothing about my past or the struggles I continue to face.

The thing is, Heavenly Father never promised us that our trials would be glamorous. Only that they will make us better people– IF we choose to learn from them. The mood swings from my hormones often seem purposeless to me, but I know that all of my experiences have sanded me to a softness and compassion I couldn’t otherwise have.

Besides, I’m happy. Isn’t that enough?

Even on those Neon Sign Days where I wish I could take back my decision to come to Earth, I know that my Heavenly Father loves me. I am not alone. Jesus knows how I feel. My lungs may be tight and I may be shackled to my bed, but I know there is light and fresh air creeping around the corner. It may not be tomorrow or the day after, but it will come. We are built to thrive.

God exists. Before I knew this it was like living as though I didn’t believe in gravity; I walked around with weights strapped to my feet because I never knew when I would spontaneously fly off the ground. I had no way of knowing, but this stability always existed. Now I can unstrap the weights from my feet and play.

Photo credit: Dianne Shumway


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