Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mental Illness and Spirituality

From Hyperbole and a Half: Depression Part 2
When I was living in Philadelphia, I attended an open Full Moon Ritual at a local Wiccan Coven. I went with two other pagans I had met previously and attended two Sabbats with at the same Coven. This was just at the beginning of my path in paganism, so I felt very new, out of place, and ignorant. I was also probably the youngest person of legal age there (which is to say, I was 18 and everyone else was 28+.) This ritual was different in that my friend had a visitor from Florida joining us. An elderly witch who had been a witch for more than the sum of my lifetime.

On the car ride home, we somehow started talking about mental illness. Mine in particular. I don't recall the timeframe, but I might have brought up how I wasn't doing well in school and would probably be moving to my parents' house in Nebraska. The witch from Florida said something to the effect of, "If you give yourself over to the Goddess, she would take away all your sadness."

Perhaps it was Lugh who gave me the strength, but I was able to firmly and boldly say, "No. That is not how mental illness works, and is extremely ignorant to suggest that it is."

That was almost three years ago, and my mind is really fuzzy on exactly what I said and how I said it. I just remember feeling extremely proud of myself for defending myself against someone who intimidated me. Recently, I had a similar clash with my own mother who also did not understand how mental illness worked and did not understand that my illness was a chronic illness--with known no cure.

But there are plenty of places that discuss mental illness, what it is, and what it isn't. I'll include a few informative links at the bottom of this article. Instead, I wanted to just discuss how my mental health has impacted my spirituality--and vice versa. For the record, I am diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have the following phobias as well: Agoraphobia, Agraphobia, Hypnophobia, Panphobia, Telephone phobia.

I also want to make clear that I am speaking about my personal illnesses and my personal spirituality. People who share my phobias and illnesses may not react the same way I do, and that is okay. It doesn't make either of our illnesses less "real" or "wrong," just different.

Onto the specific parts, in no particular order:

---Experiencing Nature

Recently, I was reading an article about giving offerings as a Gaelic Polytheist and I felt a huge wave of guilt. The author wrote about how offerings should be buried and returned to the land. They mentioned how people in apartments may find this troublesome, but that having a compost pile could take that place or storing away the offerings and going to a park to dispose of them instead. Now, the former is near impossible with how small my apartment is. The latter is... Well, I have agoraphobia due to severe panic attacks trying to leave my apartment about a year ago. Leaving my apartment nowadays takes a lot of spoons out of me. If I want to do an offering every day, that would mean leaving my apartment every day. And currently, that is too many steps ahead from where I'm at.

In that same vein, going out to experience nature at a park is difficult. Walking and just being in a very outdoor environment is important for connecting to land spirits as well as just connecting to the world around me. Yet not only do I live in an urban environment, but Omaha is flat and open. This also triggers my agoraphobia, because I grew up in thick forested areas. Without the shield of the forests, I feel exposed and unsafe. I think I recently found a small park that could serve as a place to visit, but it's a little drives away from where I live. Not walking distance. And I am still trying to muster up the courage to fully explore it before it gets too cold to do so. (Spoiler: I probably won't get to explore it until the Spring, given my current state of anxiety.)


On a religious side of things, Gaelic Polytheism has a large focus on community. On an individual level, I like meeting people and having local friends. This has been especially hard moving to a new area where I had ties to anyone but my immediate and disjointed family who had only been in the area a few months before me. I am slowly bridging connections: I am living with a loving and wonderful boyfriend, I am going regularly to the UU Pagan Group's rituals, and I met a friend from that group. But I still don't feel like I'm part of a community, and the main reason is because of my social anxiety.

See, going to the UU Pagan Group in the first place was extremely taxing on myself. Up until an hour before going to the Lughnasa ritual, I was unsure if I would be able to make it. But I did, and luckily that ritual was really small (five people including myself. Much easier for me to manage than the latest ritual, which was upwards of 10 people.) And still, when I go, I have this nervousness that something will go wrong. It doesn't help that I have already been kicked out of not one but two groups. However, the friend I made (Chalice) makes it easier to go since she shares the same viewpoints that got me kicked out of both the other groups. Nonetheless, social anxiety will strike prior to each and every meetup.

And by going to the UU Pagan Group, I feel I should also start attending the Sunday Services at the church that are intended for all the UU members. However, I intended to go last Sunday and ended up sleeping instead. It's very, very difficult for me to feel comfortable leaving my apartment, let alone going somewhere to potentially meet new people.

---Daily Rites

This is something I am presently working on, but daily prayer and daily offerings. The real problem with these is that I am simultaneously trying to make better sleeping habits. With any luck, I might be able to combine the two to help me go to bed easier as well as get up easier. I have yet to develop any habits though, so we'll see.

---Communicating with Gods

This is a curious one... Though I have been met with mix replies from the community. As long as I've been devoted to Lugh (3ish years now?), I've simultaneously been afraid to contact Him without Him first poking me. This is because of Social Anxiety, which feels so ridiculously silly but is nonetheless true. I'm anxious to talk to Lugh in the same way I'm anxious to go to UU pagan rituals: obsessive thoughts of, "Will He talk back? Will He be back by this? Will He be mad I haven't talked?" etc etc etc. Consuming, worrying thoughts. Something I'm hoping doing daily rites will help alleviate this.

Also, though, this makes it difficult to approach spirits or deities I haven't worked with yet. All the anxieties that come at me when I think about meeting someone new are also used with spirits and deities. Only, unlike a mortal human, I don't always get immediate feedback about how I am coming off. (Thank the Gods for my boyfriend who I can throw out negative self-talk and he will instantly rebuke it. He spoils me in that way.)


Moving away from how mental illness has hindered me: my spirituality has helped me in a lot of ways. For example, doing crafts helps with my depression. I think it's the combination of working with my hands as well as creating something tangible that helps me feel better. It's not a cure, but it's a treatment when the depression isn't so severe. Having a religious focus has given me a lot of incentive to create things, too. I have created devotional art for my wall, or created items for my shrine. Also, spellwork I tend to do is usually on the creative side as well.

Speaking of spells, when my depression is severe I find it difficult to do spells I would otherwise do. I have queued up in my brain a list of spells I want to do to better my home. Have I done them yet? Nope...


Oh, and lastly...meditating. I have a lot of problems trying to silence my mind to do this. Yet, this is also a reason why I should keep trying to meditate despite my problems doing so. Helping to quiet my mind will more than likely help with my anxiety and racing thoughts. It's a work in progress, though. Until then, when asked to meditate as an assignment or as a way to accomplish X...is rather difficult to impossible to improbable.

ALL in all, I have some roadblocks that come up while I pursue my religious path. This really isn't any different from trying to pursue my academic or occupational path, but this is a religious blog with my spirituality as the focus. Also, I wanted to just vocalize how religion doesn't cure mental illness. Perhaps it can help, and can be a coping mechanism in some cases, but spiritual beliefs alone won't cure mental illness.

So, if you feel comfortable doing so, Reader...
do you have any chronic illnesses that hinder your spiritual path? Do you find ways to cope? Has your spirituality helped with your chronic illness?

Links to Mental Health:


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, as I'm sure you helped many (myself included) who are Pagan and deal with mental illness to realize it's okay to not always feel 100%. I felt called upon by the Morrigan and have found She gives me strength and stability. I am never under the premise that my issues will disappear, but rather that I will be given serenity and wisdom to understand that I will have good/bad days and that's okay. And that it is okay to do what I feel I need in order to feel good in my daily life and practice. I don't attend larger pagan festivals because it is too much anxiety for me, but I am able to meet once monthly with my small pagan group for worship. I do a lot of solitairy work and have found ways to incorporate spirituality into the everyday such as in knitting and baking.

    1. I didn't even consider that writing this would shed light that it's okay to not be okay. I'm glad it can be seen that way, though.

      I'm glad Morrigan is able to give you strength and stability :] I think I need to reach out more to Lugh and maybe even Brigid--once I can push through the anxiety, that is. But like any friendship for me...it takes time, but is definitely possible.

      I'm also really glad you are finding solitary work that allows you to feel spiritually connected but doesn't add any stress. I look forward to seeing your knitting posts on Tumblr :]