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On Mental Health and Spirituality

August 4, 2015

As someone who has run the mental health treatment gauntlet for many years, the one piece that has always frustrated me is when they say “today we are going to talk about spirituality.” The resounding groans and obvious checking out of the group participants has always been tied to one thing: “spirituality” always ends up turning into talks about Jesus. 

Don’t get me wrong, if Jesus is helping you handle your shit, awesome. However, turning a conversation that is supposed to be about caring for the soul and spirit into a sermon on the importance of the Bible and church causes many people who desperately need spiritual care to check the fuck out. This is not your forum to proselytize in. We are not here to have our eternal souls saved from damnation. 

Before you get off on a Jesus/Christian bashing tangent, understand that I’m not writing this to talk about Christianity. In six years and countless rounds of therapeutic treatments, it never crossed my mind until this morning that I had let the alienation of those classes affect something that is key to my mental health. I have been a practicing-mostly-in-a-private-closet witch for fifteen years. I grew up Christian, and the conflict with the many family members and friends who still have ties to the religion I left has caused me to go to great lengths to downplay my faith. I hold great fears on the responses, on how they will affect my child, on how they might affect my employability, and on how, in this “progressive” time, there is still a substantial amount of discrimination and hostility in the United States for holding non-Christian beliefs. I have seen the harm caused in the name of Christianity and I deeply fear it. 

I am a witch. It is not a secret that I am a witch. I post pictures of my altar. I affiliate myself with incredible practitioners, covens, and events. I have relationships with deities that many would say are myths. I work magic to change the world. This is who I am and it brings me great joy and peace. 

Yet, as I sat in the classes on the importance of spiritual self-care and how it affects mental health, I could not reconcile it as a reality for me. I do not have a church to go worship in. I do not have a sacred holy book. I cannot talk about my gods and their lore, and expect most of the room to be at least passingly familiar with the stories. If I talk about how They work in my life, I get accused of insanity or consorting with evil. I found myself becoming closely allied with the atheists. Although they did not share my beliefs, they were far more content to just say “not my deal” and move on. Together we wrote off the classes as not relevant; we didn’t need big voices in the sky to fix what is wrong with our brains. 

Last night, I cleaned my altar for the first time in months. I lit candles and incense, and performed rituals I had been putting off because of lack of energy and headspace. I made offerings. I prayed. Prayer is only something I have recently been able, through the words of YesheRabbit, to start calling what it is: a petition to the god/desses. It is not just a Christian thing, contrary to the thought that had led me for years to flinch at the word. 

This morning it struck me how much clearer my head is, compared to the last couple weeks. I have been hanging on just this side of rage-quitting and hiding under my bed forever. The many contributing factors to my building mental health meltdown felt insurmountable and out of my control. I was fighting them off by trying to stay busy, and I was rapidly losing. The accomplishments in my garden and life, and the couple recent distance rituals I participated in were temporary balms to the perpetual devastation of hurt and heartache. Now, the sun peeking through the blinds as I lit the candles and hummed my morning devotion felt like hope, not the sign of another day of failure. 

Oh, this is what they mean by feeding your spiritual needs. This is how my mental health can be supported through the feeding of my soul. Why didn’t I get this before?

Feeding the soul doesn’t mean some perfect routine of devotion. It doesn’t have to include getting on your knees before any deity, though it helps to answer the ones calling you; they’ll get less subtle the longer you ignore them. (Trust me, I am an expert on the flying brick consequences.) Feeding your soul is about honoring what brings you joy and fulfillment, but more than that: feeding your soul is about connecting to the universe around you. Here is the moment where I can hear Mother Nature speaking. Now is the time I can feel the link between myself and every living creature. This is white I feel small, yet infinite. In this moment, I am whole, capable, and powerful. I see myself, and I am beautiful. 

In the battles of chronic physical and mental health issues, the loss of one’s life essence – their very spirit – is often painfully evident. Pain, in any form, has a pervasive ability to smother joy. In the quest to keep moving, it is vitally important to find the light to banish the darkness overtaking the soul. You don’t need to find God, in any specific form. You do, however, need to find what moves you on a primal level and hold it close. Take a walk in the woods, stand on a cliff by the ocean, pray, dance, make art…do what feeds the fires of your heart and makes your spirit sing; the part of your brain that isn’t an asshole will thank you for it. 

Until Next Time,

~Rose

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