Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is my Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.
The death of Robin Williams recently caused some discussion on mental illness. There are many myths that circulate about mental illness and those who suffer from it. For example, much reference was made to that popular saying, "Know Christ, Know Peace; No Christ, No Peace." I find that the implication that people who suffer from mental illness is because they do not know Christ is completely false. Even devout Christians suffer from mental illness. Another false idea is that if these people pray more and read their Bible, the problem will go away. I find these simplistic answers increases the suffering of those who struggle with mental illness. Mental illness has physical causes which these myths seem to ignore.
An alternative source that seeks to educate those who suffer from mental illness and those who love and care from them is an excellent book by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is my Only Companion. McCreight has a Ph.D from Yale University, is assistant priest at St. John's Episcopal Church and teaches at Albertus Magnus College. Not long after the birth of her second child, the author experienced severe depression that was on and off for several years. After five years, she was diagnosed as manic, and therefore, bipolar. In other words, sometimes she was manic, other times she was clinically depressed. After several years, she and her doctor "finally stumbled upon the right 'cocktail'" for her brain and she has "steadily improved." By both her experience and knowledge, the author speaks authoritatively on the subject of mental illness. She is also a trained theologian who can speak as a Christian on the topic.
McCreight states that after her diagnosis she tried to find books to answer the questions she had, but she was unsuccessful. Some of her questions were: "Does God send this suffering? If so, why? And why this particular kind of suffering? Why, if I am a Christian, can I not rejoice? What is happening to my soul?" Since she was unable to find a book which answered her questions, she decided to write one herself. This reader is glad she did. She notes: "Most of the books answered scientific questions, which were in themselves not uninteresting to me. However, I wanted a book that would ask not purely scientific questions about these illnesses and sets of symptoms but religious questions, and not just any religious questions but a specifically Christian set of questions. What is the problem of of suffering and evil viewed from the Christian gospel? How therefore might a Christian respond in the face of mental illness? How is the soul affected by the disease of the mind, indeed of the brain? Does the Christian tradition offer resources for coping with mental illness and for explaining its origin and healing? (12). The author addresses these questions throughout the book. Even people not suffering from mental illness but experiencing trials and difficulties will benefit from this book. There are some similarities between physical and mental illness. It is hoped that sometime soon people will see that severe mental illness is a serious disease with serious consequences. It is hoped that we will try to better understand the disease and provide the support people need who struggle with this illness.
Darkness is my Only Companion is divided into three parts and thirteen chapters. In the first part (chapters 1-6) the author describes her struggle with the illness. She discusses mental illness in a general way and how it affected her personally. She includes theological reflections on the illness and her experience. In part two (chapters 7-11) McCreight explores more thoroughly the theological questions she had. She discusses how prayer and scripture assisted her struggles. The author analysis of the relationship of faith and emotions was quite helpful and interesting. In part three (chapters 12-13) the author provides helpful instruction for family, friends, and clergy. The last chapter discusses methods of choosing the right therapy and treatment.
This excellent book provided much help in this reviewer's own question. How was this author suffered from manic-depression able to work a job? What are some the major types of treatment for those who suffer from severe mental illness? Should patients take medicine? What happens when the individual must be hospitalized? Should Electroconvulsive treatment ever be done? How to prevent suicide in the patient? These and many other questions I had was addressed and answered by this book.
One important point to make is that there is no generic case of mental illness. Some individuals might not be able to work a regular job. Different individuals will experience mental illness differently. We should never judge one person based on the experience of another person. I am always worried when I write about mental illness it will cause someone to suffer more.
Darkness is My Only Companion is a reference to Psalm 88: "My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion." The author refers to Scripture often in this book. The book clearly shows that as an Episcopalian, she has been helped by prayer, tradition, community, and written prayers. This is an excellent book to learn more about mental illness and how to support others who suffer from this illness.