My decayed soul.
Its broken cry still heard.
the hounds of heaven
tore at my ankles
but I wept surrender
because He came back for me;
I am Homeward bound.
How on earth did I get here? My poor parents. They have endured a lot having me as a daughter. I’ve heard that we all have a story and I’ve always wondered when to begin mine. There always seems to be more – events and tragedies cascading like dominoes. I realize that it is still happening. It is not done because I am not done. Maybe when I am lying on my deathbed I will see the final shape of things. But for now, I will begin with how I got here. To the Church. Every domino is manageable now that I am here. I guess this is my journey home.
This part of the story begins on a strange Friday night. In my small cozy bedroom, with family and friends huddled together in the living room, I gave birth to my firstborn. I was wondrously proud of myself and I mothered him with my entire soul. He was unwell but I got to enjoy him for almost a year. He passed away in my arms, out on the balcony. It was as lovely as a death can be. I am not sad. I grieve but I am not sad. He had a wonderful life and he was awarded the opportunity to pass away peacefully in his mother’s arms. He knew nothing but his mother’s embrace and what more could a I ask for than to know that my child had a life of only love and comfort?
His life is like a flash of light. The intensity so strong, it lights up the rest of my life. His life is the beacon that I return to for perspective and comfort.
A year after his death, I got sick. I was 23.
NOS stands for Not Otherwise Specified. Psychosis NOS. The doctor said that I was NOT schizophrenic. It could be that my mind was unable to handle the loss and it just broke. A little. “Many people can be prone to psychotic breaks.” he said. I looked at the package insert for the medication: “Geodon is for the treatment of schizophrenia.” This was not going to work. I begged myself not to feel better. I was certain I would be back, in a week, saying that I still didn’t feel right.
But it did work. The fog lifted. The voices stopped. I regained my body. I was free and better and relieved because I had my life back. Fine, I thought, I’ll take this medicine but I am not sick like “sick sick” just slightly…. off. Most people take medicine, right? I planned on telling others that I was depressed.
Then it stopped working. I felt strange again. I had returned to work and I could barely make it through the day. The doctor increased my dose and added another medication.
“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” – St. Therese
I had four people within “me.” A woman, around forty, who hung out to my upper right. Another, about 16, to the left of me (she was a terrible influence) and a boy, maybe four, behind me. The boy had a sweet tooth and persuaded candy out of me. The older woman was mostly kind, she tried to take care of things. That girl was an asshole.
I started to wonder if people could read my mind. I was afraid that they could tell I was falling apart. I knew all of it wasn’t real and I knew it all made no sense but I couldn’t stop the strange thoughts and ideas. The medicine helped me to know that it was just my mind turning on me but it had stopped alleviating my symptoms. My body often felt foreign.
I have been in five mental hospitals. People ask why I converted to Catholicism. This is why: because I was sick. Really sick. Now I am better. I will go to where ever my healer tells me to go. He pointed me to the Catholic church, so I went.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” -Saint Paul
At my sickest, I could not stop the endless tormenting, the flood of voices within me and feeling like other people were occupying my mind. Schizophrenia has two components, positive symptoms like delusions and negative ones. Sometimes the negative symptoms were the most difficult. I can handle the voices and I continue to experience them now and again. It is no different than trying to read or do something in a crowded place. It is only bothersome if I let it be. The negative symptoms were things like severe depression or lack of any emotion at all. It felt like I was in a constant out of body experience. I didn’t know who I was. I knew that I was me but it was like trying to remember a sound heard long ago. I couldn’t reach it. I have been on almost every anti-psychotic medication as well as mood stabilizers, epilepsy medications and ant-depressants. I went nowhere but to my doctor and the pharmacy for a long time. Most of the time, I didn’t want to live.
“If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” – John 15:19
After a diagnosis made it all official, my case worker applied for Social Security. For years, I did strange things and couldn’t figure out who I was. Things would get overwhelming and I would end up with another hospital stay. I lost a lot of friends. I never thought I would be able to be a wife. I never thought I’d ever have another child. I kept mostly to myself. People, change, being busy all made things worse. I eventually moved in with my dad. I was getting used to the idea of being alone. I was going to be just fine. The days were long and burdensome but I managed to go a year without a hospitalization.
Then a man on the internet fixed my computer.
I casually asked him where he was located. He said the New Orleans area. I asked about Katrina. I didn’t know anyone from New Orleans and I had only heard about the infamous hurricane from TV and newspaper. He began to tell me about how he lost his grandfather who climbed into the attic to escape the flood waters. He had a story, he said, just like everyone else did. No one was exempt. The conversations moved from instant messenger to the phone. He found out that it was my son’s birthday and he asked “do you want me to call you?”
I was dating a man named David at the time. He was an attorney who worked long hours and he didn’t think he would ever want children. He knew about my illness and he liked me anyway. He was a kind and generous man. He liked giving me gifts and trying to cheer me up with my favorite things. I think he enjoyed taking care of me. After I spoke to the man in New Orleans, also a David, I broke it off with the attorney. I knew that if I felt a spark for someone else that I would probably never meet, this man was not right for me. He deserved someone who could fully reciprocate his affections. I was beginning to think I may be able to get married someday. I hoped I’d meet another man that was okay with me. Some days were better than others. Some days I could do what an average person does on a slow day. Other days I stayed in bed, curled up tight, waiting for it all to go away.
New Orleans David and I talked a lot. He was healing his life. I was healing mine. He said he loved me before he even knew what I looked like. “Don’t worry, I am not superficial.” He said. David is the most humble man I have ever met. I finally sent a picture so he could recognize me at the airport. “She’s hot! She’s actually HOT!” When he tells the story of when he first saw my picture, his face lights up. “I felt like I had won the lottery!” He has always said that he knew that he loved me no matter what but when he found out I was “as beautiful on the outside as the inside, it was like icing on the cake.” I don’t feel beautiful but I am thankful that he thinks so because he’s the only one that matters.
Things moved quickly. He came to Denver and stayed at this disgusting cheap motel. I asked how long he thought the relationship would last. He said “I don’t know. Probably forever.” I went to New Orleans and we decided to marry. My parents were nervous. We all met with my doctor. David was different because he never tried to fix me. He let me be. When I was unwell, he would sit with me and stroke my hair for a little while and then he would get up and go do his own thing. I liked that. He never made me feel like I had to be any different and he never seemed to wish that I was different. He wanted no glory for taking care of me because he thought there was nothing to take care of. It was just me. My parents noticed that I seemed better than usual around him. They supported the marriage.
We got married in his parent’s back yard. He wanted a Catholic wedding because he thought it would have made his grandparents proud. Most of his family had fallen away from the church after his grandfather’s death. I was unwilling to be Catholic. I thought that Catholics were stiff, unloving, unwelcoming and ant-women, anti-gay, anti-any-one-different-and-not-perfect. I thought the Vatican was corrupted and I thought that Catholicism was more of a culture and not about one’s relationship with Christ. I didn’t understand the obsession with Mary and mostly, I just had a bad impression. At the time, I thought I was too smart for God. I was an idiot and I had done some very awful things.
“Christ does not force our will, He takes only what we give Him. But He does not give himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him.” -St. Theresa of Avila
I got pregnant on our honeymoon while taking birth control. I prayed. I had to stop all medication immediately. I prayed. And prayed and prayed. For nine months, I could hardly function. I barely ate. I rarely left the room. I stayed in bed and my joints and bones ached with the lack of movement. I had to wait for the storm to pass. I had no choice. I read the bible. I begged God to help me. I told Him that I was sorry. I wanted to be less alone. I was just so sorry. I could not parent this child without help. I did not know how or if I could do it.
“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” -John 7:47
I sat in the bedroom, kneeling in prayer. My newborn baby was asleep. I folded down onto my knees and I felt my back begin to warm up. A soft sensation ran through me. I cannot describe what happened exactly except to say simply that heaven opened up to me. In an instant, Christ became real, God the Father, Mary and the saints, all of heaven. I could sense it and feel it and I knew it in the depths of my being. For so long, I had fought with the part of me that longed for my Lord and tried to stifle the desire with other things. Before, I didn’t know if Jesus was real or not, I had heard of Him but He might has well have been someone’s uncle. I didn’t have a relationship. All of that disappeared in that instant. I didn’t want to move a muscle. The haze of my illness disappeared and I felt myself return completely. I knew that this was some sort of healing experience. I begged the Blessed Virgin to be patient with me. To help me with all of this. I didn’t know her. Yet.
“Oh Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” – St. Augustine
My relationship with the Holy Trinity began with the Holy Spirit. He became my medication. The idea was to nurse my new baby for a month and then I would return to medication. After that moment on the floor of my bedroom, I had no need for it and as the weeks passed without any problems, I praised God and swore I would do whatever I could for Him. I don’t go a day without realizing that I owe Him my life. I ended up nursing my son until he weened himself at 15 months and have continued on, medication-free.
I prayed for spiritual guidance. When we wanted to baptize our son and my husband insisted it be a Catholic baptism. We met with a deacon and he quickly scoped us up and placed us in RCIA and Catholic marriage preparation. I knew this was the person I had prayed for. I owed my life to Christ, I was going to go where He led.
I devoured the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was like a puzzle with pieces that fit all together, each piece fitting perfectly. I read St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and other Catholic saints. I believe that the Church is divine but it is made up of mortals. I am heartbroken for those who have misconceptions due to human error because they have no idea what they were missing out on.
Whenever I struggled with a Catholic idea or doctrine, the Lord quickly showed me what it was I needed. I had come to transubstantiation (that the bread actually becomes the body of Christ, the wine His blood) and I decided that I would have to have faith. If He led me here, and this is what they say, I would believe it. He rewarded my faith with a text message. My dear friend’s mother-in-law witnessed a Eucharistic miracle. A host (bread that had become Christ) had fallen on the floor during Mass. Because it IS Christ, rather than throwing it away, it was put into a dish with water to dissolve and later, the water would be put into the garden. The next morning, the dish contained watered-down blood. Father simply said “Well, it is Christ. Put it in the garden.” She took a photo and did as Father asked. My friend sent me the picture with no knowledge of my recent thoughts. I don’t blame a fallen-away Catholic because I know that if only they knew what was available to them, they would go to Mass every chance they could get.
“The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.” -Saint Anthony of Padua
For a long time, I did not wanted to share my healing with anyone because it was so real, so unbelievable and it was MY experience. I think that I was too fragile, too new and I was scared that I would be doubted, disliked and judged. Few people know me in all of my entirety. I understand I can be awkward, and that I will never be any sort of social butterfly because people overwhelm me. I also understand that I will experience what I call “ordinary persecution” for the rest of my life. Many people have little understanding of mental illness. Schizophrenia is topic of jokes and insults. It is the most feared of mental disorders. I once was open about my condition and someone worried that I might “snap.” Some people think that I have depression and when I smile and act cheerful, they question my “disability.” When I am nervous or tired or overwhelmed, my mind has a hard time discerning things and I can have a difficult time reading hints and subtle cues during interactions. God has allowed me this ordinary persecution among my own family. I am not alone. In some ways, everyone experiences ordinary persecution from time to time. There are subtleties in every interaction and every time we think someone is “odd,” don’t give a person our full attention, or when we gossip or vent, we are persecuting. When we embrace persecution against ourselves, we increase in humility. I have finally come to the point where I want God to have His rightful glory. I am nothing without Him. I know I would not have had the strength to have a strong faith if I wasn’t snatched up at the last minute and healed of my afflictions. I am weak, impatient and insecure. If I hadn’t been healed, I doubt I would be adamant about doing God’s will. I understand that I do not deserve any of my current health. At all. I will never be able to repay Him but I can try. I can try every second in my own little ways. I am ready now to tell the story. I am ready to minimize myself so that the only thing that others can see, if they really look, is Him.
I have not had an issue with my illness for over four years. Most people don’t even know that anything is wrong with me at all. I might be a little strange, but I figure people go with “socially awkward”, not “schizophrenic.” After my second little boy, I suffered two miscarriages. Then, another boy. When I am pregnant, I am reminded of my illness and things are difficult. The heavy air weighs me down and it is hard to move around. My mind can haunt me again but only for short, manageable moments. I am okay with that, though. It helps me to know just how thankful I am and it reminds me of how hard I must work. I remind myself that I don’t deserve any of this. His grace is astounding.
Being a Catholic has not made my life easier, but it has made it far richer. I can’t help but feel swelled up with gratitude and a desire to offer everything I have to the one who saved me in this life and the next.
“Oh Jesus, my love. At last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.” – St. Therese
I don’t think everyone should be Catholic. I believe that God calls each of us to a community that will help us and that we can help in return. That may not be a Catholic community. I do not believe that Catholicism is the only way to heaven. I believe strongly in “baptism of desire” and that the epitome of the faith is love. When one loves, one knows God. Love is the way we obtain eternal life and when we chose love over all else and do everything with love, we are united with God.
Love, I have learned, is not always what it seems. I’ve realized that true love is a great paradox. For one thing, its power lies in the smallest of actions. Love requires surrender but does not require passivity. It requires constant attention and discernment. I cannot see the path ahead, and to this I have to surrender, but it is up to me to put one foot in front of another with deliberate love.
True love is strong and noble and fierce. It is not glamorous and it is not always popular but it has the ultimate power to transform. The truth, when said with abundant love, is hard to resist.
I’ve realized that what looks like love isn’t always the most loving. Love is sacrifice of self. How many times had I given what I wanted to give and not what was needed? How easy it is to give in order to feel wanted or appreciated! To love purely is the most difficult thing that I have ever done. To love is to know God and to know God is to love. Knowing God, then, has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. Being known by God is the most amazing thing I have experienced.
“For you see, in the end it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” -Blessed Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Theresa)
People. We are all inherently selfish. It is part of our human condition. Why on earth would anyone love another person? Real love asks us to see beyond ourselves. It asks us to put aside our false sense of security and allow another person to be fully themselves. Broken and desperate. It asks us to see all of the imperfections and to love anyway.
“You cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.” -Saint John Vianney
Love in the form of servitude is something I find particularly difficult. To serve those who may not notice, who may not appreciate, and who may not even care. To serve honestly, and without an agenda is tricky and requires constant evaluation. Serving is exhausting and giving can deplete one’s resolve. I have served in the wrong way and I have not served enough. I have been overzealous and prideful and I have desired praise, or maybe even admiration. This is not to serve with love. To serve with love is to serve through Christ and to desire nothing out of it. I must learn to serve for the sake of Christ and to not look too carefully at it. I must serve others first and then myself. This is what is difficult about love and what is difficult about knowing God.
“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” – St. Augustine
I have told this one story about my husband to a few people: I had baked some oatmeal cookies with steel cut oats rather than the usual rolled oats. I packed them in a bag with some other stuff for my husband to take to a doctor’s appointment in New Orleans. When he got home, I asked him what he thought of the cookies. “Huh?” he said. I told him I packed him cookies in the lunch sack. “Oh, I didn’t try them. I gave the lunch to this lady on the corner. I’m sorry, babe. I’m sure they were good.” I feel like that story summarizes him completely. Had I not asked him about the cookies, I would have never known that he often gives his lunch away. My husband is full of good and humble deeds that he never shares. He accepts others for who they are completely and has never felt “too good” for anyone. Few people know him in his entirety. He is Superman and I’m glad I know that especially when so many others see Clark. He is my model for true humility.
“The saints did not all begin well. But they all ended well.” -St. John Vianney