Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion

Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Moderate read, short book but reads longer, but too much ‘philosophizing’

Summary
The best summary of this book comes from the subtitle – A Christian Response to Mental Illness. However, even that is quite all encompassing enough, the book is part autobiography, part pastoral guidance, and part education on what mental health can actually look like. Greene-McCreight’s insights do not come from counseling or academic study of psychology, but her own struggles and personal mental health issues. Because of this, you’ll get invaluable insights into a first hand account of mental health problems, but not a great deal of help in understanding how to respond or counsel people.

She breaks the book into three sections, first, what she calls ‘facing mental illness’, which is her personal story; second ‘faith and mental illness’, which is still mostly her personal story, but with a focus of how mental illness interacted with roll in the church; third, ‘living with mental illness’ which has two chapters, ‘how clergy, friends, and family can help’, which sadly is only seven pages, and ‘choosing therapy’, in which she discusses the churches fears and rejection of psychotherapy. The book finishes with her conclusion and two appendices, one on her use of scripture and a checklist for symptoms and resources.

The title of the book comes from Pslam 88, where verse 18 in her translation reads –

My friend and my neighbor have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion.

She says she is using NRSV, but nothing I found online matched (I’ve linked the NIV). It must be an older translation, I do not know if it is closer to the original Hebrew or not, but her translation certainly captures the feeling of depression and despair that one feels while struggling with mental illness.

My Thoughts
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I appreciate and have immense respect for her honesty and candor in this book. I was blown away by her personal story. The book is fairly educational, she goes into different medications (as in the levels and types from a pharmacology standpoint), and discuses her experience with Electroconvulsive Therapy, which you might know as ‘shock’ therapy.

Where the book falls short is anything outside of her. It doesn’t appear she has counseled people with mental illness, and as mentioned above, the outside response is only seven pages. I was somewhat annoyed by one of her chapters regarding faith centered around her ordination and her IQ test, that while her score was well above average, she felt didn’t reflect her due to her struggles with depression. I think this partly comes from the Mainline denomination and their clergy’s obsession with where they were educated. She tells us multi times throughout the book that she attended Yale. I support the requirement that pastors be seminary educated, and I think Evangelicals have gone too far with the, ‘we don’t need no education’ stance, but Mainliners have a tendency to view pastoral education too academically, and her book suffers from this.

Greene-McCreight gives us many great quotes from philosophers and Christian’s from the past, but there is very little in the way of pastoral counseling or response to mental illness from those not suffering. I find the especially odd coming from the Mainline, that doesn’t suffer the same strength of rejection to counseling and psychotherapy that Evangelicals do.

One final note to any Evangelical considering reading this book, don’t be turned away because the author is a ‘liberal Christian’, for the most part she holds to a very conservative view of Scriptures. Maybe not seeing outside of her liberal, academic viewpoint, she opens the book defending her use of the Trinitarian view of ‘Father, Son..’, over and against the feminist view that calls for inclusive language for God. For Evangelicals whom haven’t read much outside of their own viewpoint, this can seem strange. For anyone wanting to pass on this book because you don’t believe in female ordination, relax. This book is about her deep struggle with mental illness and anyone who is interested in what the looks like, who hasn’t experienced themselves, I’m not sure you’ll find a more open and honest book. The book falls flat in a few ways, but if you looking for something to learn from a personal story of mental illness, this book is for you.

Texas Church Shooting

As always, we wonder if there was any way to prevent this.

Once again, we have a mass shooting in this country. Unsurprisingly, Trump calls this a mental health issue.  Of course, earlier this year, he signed a bill into law that rolled back Obama-era regulations that made it harder for people with mental health issues to purchase guns. If we needed extreme vetting after the NYC attack, does this mean we will have extreme focus on mental health care in this country now? Some sort of ‘extreme’ funding for social services.

I don’t really know what to say. I saw on the news this morning that there was a memorial in Atl yesterday for the Las Vegas shooting. So, we didn’t even have time between the largest mass shooting in modern history and the memorial before another mass shooting. I’m not a very emotional guy, but I feel like crying watching the news stories. Mostly because nothing will happen. Some think that if we can’t talk about gun control now, we never will; but I’m not convinced. I think the ultimate nail in the coffin was 20 first graders being murdered, along with seven others (and the shooter). Just think about that over and over again. There were 20 first graders shot one morning. As a country we did absolutely nothing. If anything, by some accounts, gun control was weakened since then.

It was only 10 years ago that we thought we’d hit an unsurpassable number of 33 at Virginia Tech. We easily passed that just a year ago in Orlando, then set a new record just last month in Vegas. So, two of the five deadliest in modern history have happened over the past 35 days. I was in high school when Columbine happened, and that was a big deal then. I’m sure people thought the same thing, that if we couldn’t talk about it now…. Of course now, Columbine doesn’t even rank in the top 10 deadliest shootings anymore. If you sort that table by year, you’ll see that 12 double digit body count mass shootings have occurred since then.

I have no hope that anything will change. The NRA has an inexplicable amount of power over congress. If you wanted to be very generous and say that some of the congress members who blame mental health aren’t lying through there teeth, still nothing will change, because none of them are proposing to fund mental health counseling in this country or even adequate social services. As always, Christians remain silent and useless. We don’t want to step on anyone’s ‘rights’ regardless of the body count. I guess every couple of months they’ll be a mass shooting with 20 plus dead and we all sit around with our thumbs up our asses and wonder how we could prevent this.

 

Christians and Mental Health

Mental.Physical Illness

 

I just listened to a great podcast from the Whitehorse Inn at the gym and it reminded of this comic. This is from a secular perspective, but unfortunately, I think Christians are even worse. Go listen to the podcast, there is not much more I can say that she doesn’t, but I’ll hit a few points. She mentions most Christian think of mental illness as schizophrenia or other more dramatic illness that are actually quite rare (about 6%). She says that 26.2% of Christian have a mental illness, mostly anxiety based (general anxiety, OCD, etc.). Autism spectrum and ADHD are also discussed. Interestingly, when discussing anxiety, she left out my affliction, social anxiety.

They go on to discuss the failure of the church to properly address this issues as well as what churches and Christian communities can do to help and support people who are suffering from issues. I want to talk a little about the former as it is something I have experienced myself. Actually, just listen to podcast, there really isn’t much I can add to it. They get in how the church views it as a lack of faith or that as Christians we just shouldn’t be depressed. They refer to this as prosperity gospel light, have faith and think positive and you’ll be alright. I prefer the Smileyface Christianity, where we are all just a bunch of happy people walking around smiling like idiots and if we truly believe, we should feel no sadness. She makes a great point and lack of knowledge in the theology of suffering.  It really is a good listen, go now, there are even other resources and documents on that page.