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The Darkness That May or May Not Be an Aspect of Mental Illness

b2ap3_thumbnail_web3_sm.jpgI’ve spent the last 13 years living in some level of crisis. Not the “my life is in danger” kind of crisis, but more of an ongoing state of being triggered and having to attempt to reframe. I have many spiritual tools I’ve used to survive this. I have a black cup into which I channel dark thoughts. I have a strong connection with deity when I feel in despair, a connection fostered with meditation and time in nature, and with animals. I have made strands of prayer beads, and when my brain was spinning when I was trying to get some sleep, working my way along that strand was a life line. And I’ve spend time tending my ancestor’s graves.

But the source of my distress has now moved out of my house – how I made that happen is a story for another day – and I can catch a breath. Literally. The day she moved out was very long. I was up and out at 7:30 and got home 12 hours later. The house was empty and I had the sensation of bracing myself for a blow that didn’t come when I came home. I took a breath. Then I took another. She has always taken up a lot of psychic space. She would spread herself out and occupy space, always choosing the best spot for any activity, most often the spot her father liked. Then she resisted being moved. As I write this, I could compile a list of petty offenses, and if that were the only issue, then it would have been a more simple matter. No doubt she would have done what adults do and gotten a job and moved herself out. She has a degree in engineering after all. But she also has serious mental health issues. She has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, autism - which would have been really helpful to know when she was growing up, and most recently OCD has been added to the list. But beyond all that, she was just not a nice person.

I find I do believe in the existence of evil. Not everyone does, I understand this. I don’t want to, but I find my life experience leads in that direction. The strict definition eludes me however, and I really, really don’t want to see it in the people around me. To the point that when something evil did happen, I refused to see it for what it was.

At what point does inner darkness go beyond confused/messed up/distressed into something less redeemable? My step-daughter’s very Christian mother used to tell her she was evil before she moved in with us at age 13. She described herself that way. We didn’t try to actively counter it since that just made her dig her heels in on the matter. We found ways to redirect her, and in our care – stressful as it was – she managed to have what was certainly a better high school experience than she would have otherwise had. She did marching band, she attended the local aquaculture school, and she did other activities. She had some friends. But that darkness was always there. She stole things from us. She would “take revenge” for any consequences that we might apply for bad behavior. There was no requirement or limitation from us that did not generate resistance if not an outright fight. If she had no prodding from us – primarily me – she would have been happy to play video games all day, and eat and sleep. She was angry almost all the time.

She did get into college for engineering, and her first two years were a huge improvement. She tutored math and had friends. She socialized and her confidence went up. Then she started to slide. She failed a class or two and there were problems with roommates. These were – unbeknownst to any of us – the first signs of her schizophrenia. She became violent and broke things when she was home. She threatened one of my cats, which got her thrown out of the house. My sister in law put her up at a property she was renovating and while she was there, the paranoia kicked in hard, along with other bizarre behaviors, too numerous to list here. It took a few years to figure out the problem and get her diagnosed and treated. But she didn’t like the treatment. Many schizophrenics don’t.

Thomas Szasz was a psychiatrist who wrote extensively about mental health. His primary contention was that there was no such thing as “mental illness.” He believed in total self determination no matter how socially unacceptable the behavior. And his views have affected the way we do mental health care in this country. The closing of many mental hospitals can be directly attributed to his influence. In general I think this is a good thing. Learning to deal with one’s failings is part of the human condition. I struggled for years with PTSD, depression and crippling anxiety. I found ways to cope, and my spiritual and religious life was key in that effort. And people do even find ways to deal with the collection of behaviors and experiences that are named schizophrenia. The movie A Beautiful Mind describes one such person, and there are others that have done TED talks that can be seen here and here, and here.

But this is not common knowledge. And while I don’t know how most other people with this collection of behaviors handles their issues, I do know that my step daughter only wants to do the same things she wanted when she was a teen. I have no desire for such a roommate. I do not like having a lock on my bedroom door, or a lock on the food/liquor cabinet in the basement. I do not like having my possessions damaged, and I don’t like worrying about the safety of my self and my beloved cats. And I don’t think being a spiritual person requires me to tolerate such things.

Szasz also believed in total responsibility. He did not think that there should be such a thing as an insanity defense. He believed that if one committed a crime against another person, that one was responsible no matter what. I do believe there can be atonement, and I am still considering his opinions. But there has been no atonement for the evil committed. And I do not forgive it.

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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