Tag Archives: Bible

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


St. Jude, Pray for Me

“It’s 10:00. Time to get off the computer,” my wife calls to me as she heads to the spare bedroom. It’s become her own bedroom recently. Not because we’ve been fighting. Actually, I’m not really sure why.

Ayako comes from a land far across the sea. It’s a land where I used to live. Seven years of my life, to be exact. One reason we moved back to the States after our two sons were born in Japan was because I was slowly going insane. I couldn’t handle life in such a tiny, crowded land anymore. I was fed up with everyone gawking at me like a caged zoo animal. Japan didn’t make me crazy, though. I already was.

“Yes, dear,” I reply, the sarcasm dripping from my lips like the cheap, sugary syrup we buy at Walmart. Asako knows that I can’t sleep at night, that I have nightmares; nightmares that cause me to awaken in the middle of the night, body and hair drenched in sweat, screaming in terror at the demons inside my mind. That’s one of the reasons she took over the spare bedroom and made it into her own little studio apartment.

I slam the magnetic cover of the iPad and toss it down beside me on the sofa. Well, now I have no excuse not to spend time with God before bed. That’s what I wanted, right? I barely succeed in convincing myself.

I grab my Bible and a small stack of holy cards, all of which were blessed by my parish priest, and head to my private chapel. It’s not as elegant as it sounds. It’s actually my, our, walk-in closet. I keep my plastic bottle of holy water on the top shelf, out of sight of my wife, and my gorgeous redwood crucifix with the silver corpus hangs above the doorway.

Ayako doesn’t mind. In fact, I always let her know that I’m going in to pray (meditate, as I call it) so that she knows not to bother me. Even though she’s lived in the U.S. for five years now, Ayako can’t quite grasp the concept of spontaneous prayer. I use meditate because she can at least use it as a reference point to her Buddhist upbringing.

I close the closet/chapel door and fall to my knees. Looking up at the crucifix, I quickly turn away, not worthy to gaze at the sterling silver body of Christ.

I’m such a failure. I’m such a screw-up.

I don’t attempt to utter anything to God. This is a time that I need the Holy Spirit to commune with my soul. In complete silence, I gaze down at the tan carpet, St. Jude staring at me from the pile of holy cards. He is the one I want, need, to talk to. Yes, Jesus can help me instead, but I feel a closeness to certain saints, especially Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Like me.

Eventually, as my legs become numb after sitting in Japanese seiza position for too long, I stretch out my legs and recite the prayer on the back of the card to St. Jude. I speak each word carefully, each syllable coming from deep within the well of my soul.

I had given up black metal and death metal the day before. My Internet cyber-buddies and our metal club were still around, but I was long gone, a cyber-ghost in the virtual clubhouse of my former Order. Music by bands such as Watain, Djevel, Cannibal Corpse, and Serial Butcher was still pounding through my buddies’ elaborate computer speakers. I didn’t hear any of it, though. The Holy Spirit was the only thing coursing through my mind and soul at the moment.

You did it.

I gave up Satanic music. No, I’m not talking about the Rolling Stones or Metallica; if you Google “satanic black metal bands,” you’ll see that I’m not just another religious right-wing nutjob. There really is Satanic music out there. And it appeals especially to lone introverts. Like me.

Satan didn’t unleash the wolves of Hell after me; he is much too sly for that. Instead, Satan gouged a hole in my heart, one reserved for loved ones who pass away too quickly or for sweethearts who leave too suddenly.

I never even met these people, I try to tell myself. In time I’ll get over it. That’s what Ayako tells me, too.

Feeling a little better, I look up the list of Apostles in the New Testament to see St. Jude’s name. It gives me comfort.

I go to the kitchen and pop two Xanax. I’m sure that the demons will visit me at some point tonight. The Xanax will help.

But Satan is smart: He will send the demons in the early hours of the morning, after the Xanax wears off.

~topaz