Delicate Strength: Exploring Mental Illness Through Faith

By Ilana Blattner

There are things that you learn as a child diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses. Growing up with them is a blessing and a curse, and something I always saw as a source of weakness in myself. There is nothing sweet or romantic about depression, not when it binds you to your bed and buries you in the sheets. I find little joy in anxieties that eat at my mind all hours of the day and night, causing me to worry about details others would hardly notice. My bipolarity drags me back and forth between bouts of manic happiness and existential dread and leaves me questioning how truly happy or sad I am at any given moment. I thought these illnesses only wrought hardship and despair; however, as I’ve grown as a person and in my faith,  I’ve come to see them differently.

St. Therese de Lisieux once said, “It’s true, I suffer a great deal–but do I suffer well? That is the question.” Saint Therese was afflicted with chronic pain and illness at such a young age; she was highly sensitive, emotional, and allegedly bipolar, but she still found God in her pain and suffering. I draw great strength and inspiration from her. The depth of her emotions allowed her to interact with God in such a profound way. Her love for Jesus and the world around her is something I strive to experience one day.

While here at DePaul, I have also become familiar with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and particularly its pillar of dignity of the human person. This can be reflected in the words of Saint Pope John Paul II: “Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in themselves, as does every human being. In addition, they always have the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such.”

Where, in my own weakness, is God? I would dare to say in all of it. The bipolar episodes of manic joy, while sometimes fleeting, abound with a beautiful, warm, love of life that I don’t experience on a normal day. My anxiety, though it may cause me to worry about little things, also keeps me hyper aware of my surroundings. I always know what’s going on, and I count that as a blessing.

The word “strength” no longer means to me what it did before. Being open and vulnerable with other people and with God takes an incredible amount of trust and strength. And what of weakness? Is there something truly so wrong with being delicate? I find great beauty in tenderness, and sensitivity is something unspeakably beautiful to me now. It is not a handicap, or an imperfection, or a flaw. It is an incredible gift. To be fully in tune with my emotions and to be able to read those of others really is a blessing. Feeling my emotions more deeply is something to be cherished, and I thank God every day for it.

I would like to leave you with a passage from scripture that I hold quite close to my heart: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

Find God in your weaknesses, and you will find peace.