Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s Darkness Is My Only Companion is an astounding account of her battle with mental illness (severe depression and bi-polar disorder), with the final chapters filled with resources for those who are suffering from mental illness/depression, and suggestions for those who have friends, loved ones, clergy, and parishoners who suffer from mental illness/depression.
Greene-McCreight’s ability to verbalize–with amazing acumen–her experiences, offers the reader the chance to engage with that very tumultuous and almost-despairing existence. Almost-despairing. Darkness brims with the expectant hope in the power of the Triune God. While the reader is cast upon the undulating sea of depression and mania that is coursing through this one woman, this one woman is consistently returning to the hope in the One, Almighty, Powerful God, the Source of comfort for the afflicted, the Hidden in our Suffering Abba Father. The author does not leave the reader only in her experiences; thus, this is not a book only about experience. The author is a continual beacon pointing to Jesus Christ and the Cross; thus, the book is about Jesus and His love.
Kathryn Greene-McCreight has her finger on two points of sensitivity about mental illness within the church. First, generally, Christians view mental illness as a direct result of bad-actions/lack of actions. As an ordained minister and a PhD in theology, one would naturally expect that she would be the least likely candidate to suffer, especially from mental illness. She knows her Bible, she knows her Doctrine, and she loves–evident through every page–Jesus and knows that He loves her. In spite of all this knowledge and love, she still suffers; thus, she asks the necessary question: Why am I still suffering? To this question, the church, in general, has failed to provide an adequate answer. The common, Christian advice given to those Christians who suffer from Mental Illness/Depression is: read your Bible more, be joyful, repent of your sins, evaluate the effectiveness of your quiet time (or start a quiet time). Mental Illness/Depression is seen as the result of one’s own actions; thus, correct the action and rid oneself of nasty result. The stage is now set for the overwhelming introduction of guilt on top of one’s illness.
Second, admitting and seeking clinical help for mental illness/depression is a source of shame. I’m left questioning: Why? Using Greene-McCreight’s words to answer,
“…we are ashamed to admit that we can’t handle illness, especially mental illness, on our own. It can be devastating blow to one’s sense of self, after all, to admit to mental unrest. But when we have a bad cough we are usually not similarly ashamed. Why, when we are mentally ill, should we not react with the same dispatch in calling the doctor as we would when we find a lump in the breast….But what makes us think the Christian can or should be able to handle such difficulties alone, much less any other difficulty? The assumption that one can go it alone is at heart Pelagianism….Pelagianism shrank the grace of God” (146).
Kathryn is a sufferer, and points other sufferers to the One Who Suffered and is present in our suffering.
Darkness Is My Only Companion should be on everyone’s bookshelf from pastor to layperson.
–Lauren R. E. Larkin, Postpartum Depression sufferer.