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My experience with mental illness

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Even when I was young, I felt the presence of Jesus in my life.  I guess it started when my mom sent me to Sunday school.  I felt a stirring inside of something I can’t fully  explain.  All those songs about Jesus loving the little children… I knew he loved me.

When I went to camp as a young girl, I’d walk along the beach alone.  Lost in my thoughts.  I’d pretend that I was beautiful like the teenagers I saw.   I was beautiful, I just didn’t see myself like that.  While I was walking on the beach, I remember feeling like I was being watched.  At the time I didn’t know who it was.  As I got older, I’d wiggle because I felt I was being watched.  When I was an adult I put it together and realized Jesus was watching me grow.

It was a love affair from the beginning between the Lord and I.  With all passionate loves there is heartbreak.  My mother died of cancer when I was ten years old.  It was a long drawn out illness that lasted about five years. I think I saw my mother suffer too much.   It’s hard for a child to watch your mother die of cancer.  The intense pain and grief lasted years. I didn’t know but I was depressed.  All I knew was that I was very angry with the Lord.  I know now that he has a plan for each of us.  I only understood this as l got older. 

My dreams were dark and I stayed away from church in my late teens.  Jesus did not abandon me.  He had never left my side.   As time passed, I went to Mass by myself.  I prayed for my mother and for my own health. Other than that, I did not know what to ask Jesus for.  It was only later in life that I began to understand all my blessings come from the Lord.  I could ask him for financial assistance, protection, guidance and much more.   

My 30s were not peaceful.  My marriage was stable but I was not.  My work life was lacking, so I quit my job.  What happened is difficult to explain.   I started not feeling well and I was becoming increasingly paranoid.  My obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms came back.  In my 20s, I had the classic hand washing compulsion and the obsession with germs.  It was bad for a while but I learned a remedy on my own.  That if I don’t give in to the compulsion, it slowly goes away.   Years later I took a course on OCD.  The instructor said you have to at first live with the anxiety.  Stop yourself from checking or washing and live with the anxiety.  Then slowly the anxiety begins to lessen.  Does it go away?  Everyone is different but mine although it did not go away, it is considerably better.  I am able to function quite well now.

Dealing with all these mental health issues was not easy.  I began to pray in a way I never did before.  I would just speak to the Lord and tell him my problems.  I’d pray every day that He would alleviate my illness.  It did not happen overnight but I could see that things were changing.  My relationship with the Lord grew and I could tell He was listening to my prayers.

As we approached the millennium, my relationship with Jesus got stronger.  I noticed something really wonderful happening to me.   Whenever I would say the name Jesus, the Holy Spirit would fill my entire body.   I’d get a tingling sensation throughout my body.  Whether I’d say it out loud or to myself.  I interpreted this as being full of the Holy Spirit.  I knew the Lord was encouraging me to have a close relationship with him.

One time my husband had to fly across the country to come and get me.  I was in a terrible state.  There’s a comfort that you always feel with the other person that you love.  Our marriage has lasted despite my setbacks.  The one thing we have that truly binds us is faith in the Lord.   We pray together and for each other.    

My parish offered a Bible class.  I felt the Lord was trying to help me understand the Bible.  I met a woman in Bible class.  She told me her son is bi-polar.   She told him enough of these doctors and come to church with me.  He’s doing better now and her story is so similar to mine.  I’m also doing better thanks to the Lord.  I came away from that class with greater understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Catholic. The Lord speaks to us in many ways.

I’d play a game called interview.  It’s a question and answer game about spiritual matters that I made up.  It was to test where I was in my faith and knowledge of the Lord.  Questions like,  “What is Jesus?”  To this I’d answer Jesus is love.  I’d pretend I was on the radio or on television and answer the question.   “Where is heaven?”  If we are saved.  We go to heaven when we die.  “What does Jesus want us to know?”  He wants us to follow him and love one another.  The game would go on in my mind for a while.  A question that always stumped me was, “What does Jesus want you to do?”  I think I’m doing it now.  I’m writing about the Lord.  I think this is my calling.

As things turned out, my OCD symptoms subsided for the most part.  I’ve been mentally healthy for years now.  I owe this to Jesus and the work he’s done with me.  Even my doctor, I thank the Lord for leading me to him.  Prayer is key, helping me with life’s challenges.  I can face them because the Lord is with me.

Ann Layne is Catholic and has been married for 25 years to her husband.  

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