I find it difficult writing a post about religion. I think it’s at least partly because religion was such a controversial topic between my mother and me that it’s always been a discussion best avoided, other than when tackled in a purely philosophical, non-personal and non-emotive sense.
However, I have come across a number of mental health bloggers with a strong faith, which I have both envied and admired. And which, I have to say, made me very conscious of the fact that it’s a subject that has so far never figured in my posts. Which is itself indicative of the fact that it’s a subject that has figured very little in my life over the last few years. But it’s time I tackled it, at least in overview, both in the spirit of my commitment to self-disclosure and being open about all aspects of my BPD; and also in the hope that others might identify with these feelings, and that what I say might be helpful, at least to some. I hope it is of general interest – for those with a belief in God, for those without, and for those who are not sure. I think that BPD can make having faith in anything very hard – and as such, I hope that this post speaks to all those who struggle to keep faith with anyone or anything that used to be important to them.
I have always had a faith – apart from when I almost lost it during my final year of school. In that year, I went to bed every night not caring whether I lived or died, but counter-intuitively, I seemed to care very much, whether my faith lived or died. That faith has had different types of ‘flavours’, at least partly dependent on who I was with, or the major influences in my life at the time – but it has always been there. However, I have noticed that time and time again, my worst times as regards my BPD and my depression, have coincided with crises of faith of one kind or another. At the times when conceivably, I needed it the most, it has either abandoned me, or I it. It has either left me in agonising doubt, or I have left it on the scrapheap.
I think it’s true to say, that for the last few years, I have been ‘keeping God on the back burner’. I’m a little worried that He might not like to be put in that position, but I’m hoping that, under the circumstances, He might make allowances. The unfortunate reality of mental illness is that it can be so all-consuming, that it leaves little room for anything else. For me, self-absorption increases, my attention turns inward, and more and more of my life starts to be lived in my head. Relationships suffer – including spiritual ones. It’s not that I no longer believe – it’s that belief, in anything, simply does not feel relevant.
Like my husband, God has also suffered from me putting him, inadvertently, in the ‘parent box’. ‘The parent box’ is a very bad place for anybody to be. If you are in the ‘parent box’, it means that I transfer all of the negative feelings I have towards my parents, onto you. It means that things that you do that remind me of things that they do, or did, trigger disproportionate and excessive reactions. If you are in the ‘parent box’, you will not be allowed within a light-year of my emotions, and my communication with you will be at best monosyllabic. My communication with God is not even monosyllabic – I haven’t been able to pray in almost two years. In a way of thinking that is typical of my own BPD, I feel as though I have to give God everything or nothing. I don’t feel that I can pray while there are areas of my life I’m not yet prepared to be challenged on – self-harm, for example.
It’s unfortunate that my BPD is currently aligning the image of God as a ‘parent figure’ with my own experience of parental figures, rather than holding Him up as the ‘perfect parent’. Perhaps this is partly because I find it hard to relate to the concept of a ‘perfect parent’ – unlike my husband and a number of friends that I have spoken to about this, I don’t remember a time when I thought my parents were perfect. In particular, I am extremely sensitive to issues of control, and to the threat of engulfment. My two most recent therapists have called my mother ‘intrusive’ – she believed that nothing should be private between parent and child and has always failed to understand how we could ever be anything other than ‘of like mind’ with each other. It’s partly that same fear of being controlled and of being taken over, that is holding me back at the moment from trying to re-engage with my faith.
But there are other reasons for my being wary of ‘throwing myself back into religion’. I am aware that pursuing my faith more actively, will in all likelihood help me. It has done so before, and every temporary ‘recovery’ has been associated with a period of revitalised connection with God, with some periods lasting longer than others. But none of those has prevented a re-occurrence of old problems, or a relapse and flaring up of BPD symptoms again. I’m not blaming religion for this and I’m not saying that I adhere to the idea that religion is some sort of panacea. But for me, I think it has acted as part of a reinvention of self and a taking on of a new identity. That process, and that ‘escape route’, has in the past placed a temporary sticking plaster over a very deep seated and enduring problem. And that is precisely what I would like, this time, to avoid.
That is precisely why I am putting myself through the very painful process of therapy, at a time in my life when I feel that it is costly. When I feel as though I should be spending more mental energy on my children while they are still young, rather than expending so much of it in the therapy chair and being absorbed both in the process of therapy, and in my relationships with my therapists. However, part of me suspects that it is vital to do it now, because the next big life-change or emotional challenge, particularly if it concerns my parents as they get older, could be the one that precipitates an even more significant crisis for me, and therefore for my children too.
When all of this is over (or at least, when my life is more under control), I would very much like to come back to God – if He will have me. But I would like to come back because I have found myself, and not because I want to lose myself again. And if he’s guiding me behind the scenes; if I’m being held by an invisible thread, then I’m very grateful, really I am. Getting Him out of the ‘parent box’ might feel nigh-on impossible sometimes – but luckily He’s known for the odd miracle or two.