Can’t pray it away
I consider myself a devout believer (in my case, Muslim)–not because I pray and steer clear of pork and alcohol, but because I believe whole-heartedly in a loving God who will never give me more than I can handle. Like many people of faith, I’ve received some absolutely idiotic responses from my fellow believers after sharing the fact that I have bipolar disorder. Well-meaning “sisters” and “brothers” have told me that I must not be praying enough or giving enough alms or fasting enough. Though my faith has helped me enormously in dealing with bipolar disorder, my fellow faithful have often unwittingly attempted to lead me astray, suggesting that faith alone can “cure” me, that I don’t need medication, and that there’s nothing wrong with me that God alone can’t heal.
No one said anything like this to me when I had a pancreatic tumor. No one told me that it was the byproduct of some crisis of faith or that I should avoid life-saving surgery or medication. Rather, people just said they’d be praying for me and left it at that. Perhaps the reason people of faith are so quick to suggest that mental illness is the result of some spiritual crisis is that the mind and soul are so integrally related. In fact, many philosophers equate the two. So I understand the urge. Still, I’m not willing to accept the arguments. I often respond with this Sufi saying: “Trust in God, but tether your camel.” That is to say, it’s not enough to trust in God, you also have to use the best available resources to ensure your camel (or in this case, my mind) doesn’t run away. For me, this means taking my medication (to which God has blessed me access), following the recommendations of medical professionals (who are, afterall, also children of God) and of course, praying for strength, patience and resilience.