I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 16. This was a terrifying experience for me when I was essentially still a child. I had never thought or felt anything like it up to that point.
The terror caused by paranoid delusions is indescribable, it was so intense and consuming, I couldn't even sit still and would pace backwards and forwards into the night.
At the time I lacked the experience to deal with any of it and thought I would never find peace. That was until Jesus came into my life. Initially I kept my illness secret from both my Christian family and my biological family due to the universal fear society has and connotations arising simply from the word, schizophrenia.
I have had doors of opportunity slammed in my face as soon as my mental status was discovered. This includes academic, employment and state organisations so I have campaigned to raise awareness of the truth.
While trawling the Internet for online support for Christians with schizophrenia, or indeed any mental illness, it became apparent that the Christian view of mental illness was not one of a shared unifying philosophy that transcended denominational boundaries.
The majority of Christian resources on the subject were in the US where the predominant view seems to be that symptoms were either a faith issue or spiritual attack. This is based on the medieval belief that psychotic illnesses are evidence of demonic possession. This view was also common in biblical times. The story in Luke’s Gospel of the unclothed man who lived by the tombs, scarred from tearing at his shackles is reminiscent of the social stigma driven perception of a schizophrenic. Even the towns, folk rebuked Jesus for freeing the man from his nightmare. They could no longer ostracise him.
The signs for change are encouraging however as the Anglican church not only unites in prayer and awareness to commemorate World Mental Health Day but embraces with love and compassion those with conditions like schizophrenia. The Church does this best when it refuses to view the experiences and social isolation of schizophrenics as a disability holding them back, but sees us as having unique abilities for social outreach and lay ministry. Often we can connect with others who need to know God's love in a way most clergy cannot.
It is refreshing to personally be involved in the pioneering establishment of a support group for Christians with mental health issues at the request of our local parish clergy. In addition to this, the NHS Trusts that provide mental health services are now huge proponents of the value of spirituality in recovery.
The psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia such as hearing voices, hallucinations and paranoid ideation or delusion instinctively leads to a rapid and intense fear and subsequent adrenaline response creating a fear/thought cycle which can quickly spiral out of control into a horrifying and complex fantasy.
But by embracing faith, reading the Gospels and learning that God and his loving goodness can always be trusted, it is possible to challenge the instinctive fear, replacing it with absolute faith. Once you do this, you understand that no matter what you hear, see or think, the truth that God's love and goodness, through the light of Christ, will always shine through and prevail over any perceptual darkness. As Jesus said, "I am the light and the life. He who believes in me shall never die". (John 11:25-26)
The sense of calm and eventual peace this faith can bring is profound and far reaching. Eventually this safety in faith becomes the learned response rather than fear. The higher state of peace and joy that results, allows paranoid thoughts or delusions to be challenged with more peaceful and optimistic alternatives until, as with the fear, delusions are deconstructed and replaced with Christian perspectives on reality.
This newly achieved spiritual high consists of a type of peace and joy that simply cannot be generated by any other intellectual or emotional means. It helps with the ‘negative’ symptoms of schizophrenia which includes the absence of basic and complex emotions, feelings and instincts.
Other schizophrenics out there who perceive only the dark nightmare of psychotic delusion driven fear, anxiety and panic will think this 'rewiring of faulty circuits' impossible and a delusional belief in itself, but my personal experience suggests otherwise. Let the words of Christ be your seeds, nurture the saplings with faith and they will bear the fruit of Christian values and you will see that actually God's loving goodness was with you always and your experiences ultimately were hugely constructive. 'From the ashes of destruction grow the roses of success'.
Robert Foster, 36 has lived with schizophrenia since the age of 16. He was born and raised in Co.Durham and has worked in a variety of public service roles. He holds a degree in law and a Masters in Forensic Science. He is currently working in an advisory role to the NHS while undertaking another post graduate course in Pharmacology. He has been a practising Christian for the last three years