The Thorn in My Side

Credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

Things have been pretty difficult for me lately. I made the mistake of going off my medication because it was making me too groggy to perform my job. At first I felt like, “Wow. I’m doing all right! I’m glad I got rid of those blasted pills.” However, weeks later, my mood began spiraling downward: I no longer desired to interact with colleagues and students (which is unacceptable since I am a teacher), and the time I was spending with my wife and kids was starting to suffer.

In a panic, I resumed the normal dosage after being off the meds for so long — a big mistake. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

As a way to cope with all this, I felt the need to share some things with you.

I believe that God put it on my heart to begin this blog. Before I post anything, I pray about it and let the draft sit for a few hours just to make sure that it meets my/God’s standards. I have messed up a few times, though. For instance, I thought by posting censored images of pornography that I would, in essence, be smacking people in the head with a wooden staff, waking them up to how degrading and inhumane porn is to the women who are displayed — and to women in general.

I also thought that by throwing in a few cuss words here and there, it would make me “relatable” to non-religious people who read my posts. I have since come to my senses; I should “not conform to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather, by trying to be a good example of a Catholic and upholding God’s standards, I can “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” (Ibid.)

Anyway, I believe that God allowed the thorn of mental illness to be stuck in my side, and, by surviving two suicide attempts, He has allowed me to live in order that I may share my experiences with the world.

Maybe it’s a result of quitting my meds cold turkey, or maybe it’s because they weren’t working properly, but since I started blogging, my heart has felt like it is ready to burst with fountains of tears. It’s a feeling that I’m used to experiencing, but not on a constant, day-to-day basis.

There are so many people whom I am meeting in the blogosphere and beyond, individuals whom I wish more than anything I could hug and comfort. I have sobbed from reading their blog posts, and I have cried during our correspondence. How I wish I had God’s healing power as the apostles had in the Book of Acts. I wouldn’t attempt to be like Jesus and perform public miracles or anything. Instead, I would visit these poor people with broken hearts and broken spirits and heal them in private, avoiding any limelight or fame. These feelings of yours are not healthy, some might be thinking. But only God knows the answer to that.

When I was in graduate school, and before I became a Catholic, I led a small Bible study through a non-denominational campus ministry. It was a small group that I shepherded: only about four other members. They have gone on to become professional artists, engineers, and physicists, but back then, we were just a ragtag band of emotional outcasts who needed each other. I include myself because, although I was chosen as the leader by the pastor, I was “one of them.”

One time, a member who went on to become a physicist heard through the grapevine that I was thinking about quitting leadership. “You can’t quit,” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “You are a true leader in ways that you cannot imagine.” I didn’t know what he meant, although the encouragement was nice to hear. However, due to such low self-esteem, I never considered myself a leader.

Another time, a member who is now supporting himself as a very talented artist in California told me as we were driving, “You know why we follow you? Because you feel. You really feel.” Again, I appreciated this, but I didn’t (couldn’t) fully comprehend it.

It was after years of seeking God and praying to find Him that I discovered that my ability to feel and suffer with those who were hurting was perhaps connected to my being diagnosed with mental illness. I’m not saying that only those struggling with mental illness can most effectively help others. However, it helped me to begin learning about this stranger who was myself.

I used to pray daily that God would take away my illness and make me normal. When I was hospitalized, though, I learned from one of many counselors that there is no such thing as a “normal” standard by which to measure others, including those with mental health issues.

My favorite time to pray is at night. I go into the walk-in closet with my Bible and saint cards and gaze at the crucifix above the doorway. After learning that St. Dymphna was the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, I bought her saint card because it had a special prayer on the back. I soon discovered that God was communicating with me through the words in the prayer (the bold words in italics are mine):

…Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Prayer to St. Dymphna)

If it be Your will. These five words pierced me like a silver-tipped arrow. God will cure me or leave me like this according to His will. But why would God leave me in this condition? Doesn’t He help those He loves? Does that mean God doesn’t care about me? Quite the contrary. St. Paul struggled with a mysterious thorn in his side and pleaded with God to remove it. However, God’s response was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For some reason, God is allowing my illness, my “thorn in my side,” to remain. Perhaps He will remove it at some point. Perhaps it will be there for the rest of my earthly life. I do know that St. Paul was able to accomplish great things for God and His Church because he was forced to rely on God and His strength, and what an awesome strength it is to have!

On a related note, if you’re suffering or hurting in any way, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Tell someone. Tell me. Call a help line. Do something. Please.

And be assured that even Jesus needed comforting during dark times in His life. (Luke 22: 41-44)

~t

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About Topaz

I'm a college teacher, writer, and faithful Catholic. I do my best to juggle all of these while dealing with my mental illness -- a constant thorn in my flesh. View all posts by Topaz

8 responses to “The Thorn in My Side

  • Pilgrim Jet

    Hi! Let me just say, my favorite post so far!

    Honestly, I have mixed emotions about this. I’m a bit sad that this thorn is still there. But you know what, this again reminds me of St. Josemaria (my favorite saint), I’ve learned from him a lot. One is that, to “suffer” with eagerness and acceptance. I hope I did not scared anybody there with the statement. But I’ve learned not only from Jesus but from Our Blessed Mother and the Saints that there is something good and great in “suffering”. In fact we can offer this “suffering” to God and make it one with Jesus.

    Please allow me to share some quotes from St. Josemaria:

    A course in suffering

    A whole programme for a good course in the ‘subject’ of suffering is given to us by the Apostle: spe gaudentes — rejoicing in hope, In tribulatione patientes — patient in troubles, orationi instantes — persevering in prayer. (The Way, 209)

    Join your suffering, your Cross that comes from within or without, to the Will of God, by saying a generous Fiat – Be it done! And you will be filled with joy and with peace. (The Forge, 771)

    Let us bless pain. Love pain. Sanctify pain… Glorify pain! (The Way, 208)

    Suffering and cheerfulness

    If we join our own little things, those insignificant or big difficulties of ours, to the great sufferings of Our Lord, the Victim (He is the only Victim!), their value will increase. They will become a treasure, and then we will take up the Cross of Christ gladly and with style. And then every suffering will soon be overcome: nobody, nothing at all, will be able to take away our peace and our cheerfulness. (The Forge, 785)

    And that’s some of the reasons why I like St. Josemaria, patron saint of the ordinary.

    I am also glad that you see things on a much brighter side. I pray you will continue to do so. St. Dymphna will surely assist you all they way. I will personally find out more about her story. =)

    • Topaz

      Hi Jet!

      Thank you so much for sharing the quotes from St. Josemaria. I have to admit that I haven’t studied about him much. Of course, after reading his quotes on suffering, I will definitely be researching his life and writings.

      I have to admit that I am only beginning to understand the concept of being united with God through suffering. I will pray that the Lord enables me to understand this on a spiritual level.

      Thank you again for your encouraging feedback! 🙂

  • Kaela Moore

    Topaz,
    This is a topic I’ve thought (and prayed) about extensively. I went through several times in my life where I prayed and prayed that God would take a bad situation away so that I didn’t have to deal with it–and so that others wouldn’t have to deal with it either. Eventually, He made it quite clear to me that I wasn’t praying properly. (Ha!)
    Every trial and “thorn” is an opportunity to lean on the One who made you, grow into an infinitely stronger individual, and openly share your struggles and triumphs with others.
    Now I just pray for strength–for me, for family, friends, etc–because we don’t want to stay passive spectators or naive “children.” Many of those situations have become tools that God uses to help other people. It’s not like I’ve done anything “right,” it’s just that God is much smarted than me and knows how to use potentially destructive situations to bring life and encouragement to other people. Beauty from ashes!
    You are bold in sharing your struggles and are a huge inspiration. God will continue to use you to help others who are going through similar things. Be encouraged. Keep it up. His plans are GOOD and He will work it all out!

    • Topaz

      Thank you, Kaela! I really appreciate your thoughtful insight.

      As I identify and get rid of the sin that has been in my heart for so long, I feel that God is blessing me in proportion to how much I am seeking after His will. That’s like a “duh” statement, but, believe me, it has taken me YEARS to eradicate “pet sin” that I have allowed to stay in my life. Like a little yappy dog, it was tugging at my pantleg, but I thought nothing of it. How ignorant I was not to see how I was still prevented from proceeding forward.

      You are so right about “beauty from ashes.” I mean, because of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, we can come to God as His children and enjoy eternal life with Him.

      Thank you again for your encouraging comments. Individuals like you inspire me! I will keep it up — although I don’t know what I’m doing half the time — because, somehow, by the grace of God, He has enabled me to still be here to write stuff like this.

  • Jen Kropf

    This was really good to read – had a definite impact on my heart. I don’t blame those people in your group for wanting you to stay in leadership. It’s hard to find someone who feels so strongly, on a level that will make others cling to you. And it’s a good lesson learned – the thorn in our side. I’m going to start praying for you (if that’s cool), that God’s peace and Spirit would come upon you and give you rest. And that you would flourish in ministry. I get the medication thing. It can be tough. No one is perfect, and frankly I think that God likes to use those of us with flaws. It makes it possible for Him to prove His glory. Where we are incapable, He is capable. He’s got a long history of using people like that.

    • Topaz

      Thank you, Jen! Thank you for praying for me. I will also pray for you and your intentions.

      It’s true about how God uses flawed humans to accomplish His will. In my devotional this morning, I studied about how the apostles, especially Peter, let Jesus down time and time again. Peter eventually blossomed into the man that God envisioned him to be, but not without failures.

  • Food For The Journey

    Topaz,

    You have this amazing gift of inspiring, lifting up, and encouraging other people by sharing your depressive illness. How is that possible? I consider it a rare and beautiful thing! I have no doubt that every one of us who is having a down day or is also suffering from depression, can come to you and find water for our parched hearts. Thank you!
    I was a very young and naïve Christian when I sought to choose a “life verse.” The one I chose is Phil. 3:10, “That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Now that I am years down the road from when I first read that verse, I can see that I was asking for trouble. Literally. I was going after the sweet “knowing” in a nice kind of way. God was going for my throat! Who am I to think that I can attain the resurrection without first going through hell? So now I know, as I have never known before.
    I think we all have our “thorn” and that this thorn is not overlooked by God, but used of Him to show His great power lest we become proud in our own desire to do good. Remember, the thorn appeared after Paul had been given a glimpse of heaven and it was meant to keep him humble.
    Topaz, you are already one of the most humble human beings I have met (well, not exactly met, but you know what I mean). God has given you a ministry that only you can fulfill. I intend to stick around to watch you.

    Jane

    • Topaz

      Jane,

      Thank you very much!! I’m not kidding when I say you have made my entire week! You brought up so many great points in your reply like going through hell before attaining the resurrection and how Paul did indeed get a glimpse of heaven before the thorn appeared.

      All I can say is that God is doing all this. Seriously, a year ago I would not be in the right mindset nor would I have the faith to blog about these things. It really is humbling — so very humbling.

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