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

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Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond in the face of mental illness? In Darkness Is My Only Companion, Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bi-polar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as s Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond in the face of mental illness? In Darkness Is My Only Companion, Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bi-polar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as suicide, mental hospitals, and shock therapy. Greene-McCreight offers the reader everything from poignant and raw glimpses into the mind of a mentally ill person to practical and forthright advice for their friends, family, and clergy. Her voice is a comfort to those who suffer from mental illness and an invaluable resource for those who love and support them.


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Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond in the face of mental illness? In Darkness Is My Only Companion, Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bi-polar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as s Where is God in the suffering of a mentally ill person? What happens to the soul when the mind is ill? How are Christians to respond in the face of mental illness? In Darkness Is My Only Companion, Kathryn Greene-McCreight confronts these difficult questions raised by her own mental illness--bi-polar disorder. With brutal honesty, she tackles often avoided topics such as suicide, mental hospitals, and shock therapy. Greene-McCreight offers the reader everything from poignant and raw glimpses into the mind of a mentally ill person to practical and forthright advice for their friends, family, and clergy. Her voice is a comfort to those who suffer from mental illness and an invaluable resource for those who love and support them.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    John Anders

    A theology professor recommended this to me after I lost my sister to bipolar disorder. It took me a few weeks to come to a place where I felt it would be helpful to read anything on the subject. This was definitely the right book for me, both in facing my own health issues and in dealing with the loss. The author herself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and this allows her to provide readers with invaluable insight into the mind of the mentally ill. Organized into three parts, the first may A theology professor recommended this to me after I lost my sister to bipolar disorder. It took me a few weeks to come to a place where I felt it would be helpful to read anything on the subject. This was definitely the right book for me, both in facing my own health issues and in dealing with the loss. The author herself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and this allows her to provide readers with invaluable insight into the mind of the mentally ill. Organized into three parts, the first may be thought of as a memoir on the author's journey, including vivid retellings of her depression, mania, and (most insightfully) hospital admission. The non-mentally Ill will find stunning insight into the world of the ill. The ill will find solace and understanding. Part 2 focuses on the hard questions brought on by the presence of such dark and deceitful sicknesses. It asks questions "about the specific kind of suffering of mental illness in light of faith in a merciful God" (p. 174). The most technical (though still highly accessible) of the three sections, Greene-McCreight here approaches this suffering from multiple angles, all the while maintaining a brutally honest tone. Particularly of help to me is the chapter on the role of feelings in the life of the Christian. The author notes, "These claims [that feelings are central to the life of the Christian] locate the truth of the gospel in our inferiority, in our subjectivity. This is dangerous. People struggling with poor mental health simply cannot feel pleasure. . . The fact that we may not be able to feel pleasure doesn't mean that God doesn't love us, or that we are damned, or that if we pray harder everything will be better. Yes, feeling pleasure is wonderful, feeling that God loves us is beyond measure, and yes, prayer is crucial for the Christian life. But these are not indicators of our quality of life before God. . . God is not a matter of our subjectivity" (p. 177). Part 3 covers living with mental illness. I see this section being particularly helpful and timely for the church in America right now. Here the author provides wisdom in knowing the best practices for handling mental health issues. Those most interested in helping others, start here. If understanding is your aim, do yourself and those you love a great help: read and digest this wonderful work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I'm not a big fan of this book (the author purposely uses masculine language for God and generally feels more theologically conservative than I am; and it didn't teach me much I didn't already know about dealing with mental illness) but I do really appreciate the bits about stigma (because my mentally ill best friend and I have had conversations recently about how we live in a culture of shame). [WARNINGS for problematic theology, discussions of suicide, self-injury, mental illness, and stigma th I'm not a big fan of this book (the author purposely uses masculine language for God and generally feels more theologically conservative than I am; and it didn't teach me much I didn't already know about dealing with mental illness) but I do really appreciate the bits about stigma (because my mentally ill best friend and I have had conversations recently about how we live in a culture of shame). [WARNINGS for problematic theology, discussions of suicide, self-injury, mental illness, and stigma there-around:] (That first paragraph was the brief review I wrote the night I finished the book. Below is an addendum longer review written the next day. The colons before the end-brackets are a GoodReads glitch.) In the Preface, the author explains why she uses the language she does for God, and yes, as Ari points out, "inclusive language" is a problematic terminology to use when we are discussing not using male-default language for God, but there are so many other arguments for not using male-default language that the author doesn't deal with at all. In her Introduction, she explains that what she wants to do with this book "is to offer theological resources for interpreting and surviving mental illness" (12). Probably my biggest problem with this book is that I don't agree with her theology. It made me want to reread Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us (though I did also go onto Amazon and add to my GR To Read list some of the "Customers Who Bought This Item [Darkness Is My Only Companion:] Also Bought" books). Yes, pain and suffering can make us appreciate the good so much more, and I recognize that she is trying to balance "God uses all things to work toward the good" without wholly saying that all suffering is caused/willed by God or your own fault, but I felt like there wasn't any space for, "God doesn't want you to suffer." One page 111, for example, she writes:      Sin, suffering, and despair are thus linked in mental illness, yet not in a straightforward one-to-one correspondence. The mentally ill, just like anyone else, may be suffering on account of the power of sin in the world; indeed all suffering can be seen in this way. When I was sick I needed to see God's presence even in this way, even in my suffering, even because of the power of sin. If I hadn't seen God in this way, as punishing my sin, as eradicating the force of sin in the world, then my suspicions would have been confirmed: that darkness was in fact my only companion and that God had indeed abandoned me.If that gets you through, okay (I am reminded of the fact that self-injury, for example, is a coping mechanism, and sometimes the mere fact of coping is what's most important) but why is God zero-sum? Why is the only option that God has abandoned you (which the author recognizes as a non-option) or that God is punishing you? What if God is weeping alongside you? What if God cannot relieve your suffering? What if your suffering is not the result of God's will at all? (Also, if suffering is so awesome for all the good it works in us and for the glory of God what's the deal with Heaven where there will be no more weeping and etc.? Which brings up another issue I have, though this is arguably a more minor one in relation to the book -- that I don't think our purpose is to praise God; I don't think God is a petty human like that; I love my best friend's analogy that all we offer to God is like small children offering macaroni necklaces to beloved adults -- we adults appreciate those gifts because we recognize the love out of which they are borne, but we don't "need" them in any sense, and neither does God; God rejoices when we love [ourselves, each other, God, any and all of God's Creation:], when we demonstrate that love.) I'm glad that the author is a proponent of both psychotherapy and psychiatry (I don't know enough about ECT to have a stance on her support of that), but I was uncomfortable with her repeated talk about how therapists and other secular members of her care team were uncomfortable with her religiosity and often saw it as either symptomatic of her mental illness or not conducive to her recovery. Admittedly, there are parts of her theology that I would vehemently NOT recommend to a friend (one who is suffering with mental illness or not), but I was primarily uncomfortable because I don't think all mental health professionals are that way and I don't think that's something you should have to put up with in your mental health professionals, especially since it's gonna be detrimental to the process in many ways. It isn't until the end of the book that she even mentions that Christian therapists etc. even exist, and then she says that's not even necessarily what you want, that secular folk can give really good care (including being respectful of your religious faith) and just because someone's Christian doesn't mean their theology is gonna match yours anyway. I don't disagree with any of that, but the vibe I got throughout the book would have made me really resistant to therapy (even though I agreed with a lot of the secular resistance to the author's theology), so placing that at the end is really problematic (she does state repeatedly throughout the book that psychotherapy and psychiatry are good and useful and important tools and that the mentally ill should utilize them). I'm also uncomfortable with the way the author talks about feeling suicidal. On pages 48-49, for example, she writes:      I do think a Christian's suicide, especially that of a Christian teacher or pastor, is the final act of disobedience, of betrayal of the Creator. Of course, I know this is often not consciously chosen, or when it is conscious, it is a choice born of tremendous unbearable pain. A friend's pastor [committed suicide...:]. This was a man who had offered the gospel, who had preached words of hope. Yet he committed the ultimate act of hopelessness.       It does seem that the stakes are very high: the Christian's suicide in effect contradicts every good work about God one could ever have preached, undoes every good work dedicated to God and neighbor that one could ever have accomplished.Nowhere else does she say anything THAT egregious, though throughout the book I worried that suicidal people reading the book would get the sense of "God would be upset with me if I killed myself" in a way that wouldn't be life-giving for them -- that it would strengthen their feeling of guilt and distress over feeling suicidal in the first place in a way that would be detrimental to the healing process. But that blockquote just sticks in my craw so much. I'm willing to grant that it's really difficult to believe a message of hope if the deliverer of that message commits an act of such hopelessness, but it certainly doesn't UNDO all the other good words and good works that person preached. I am forever making claims about how God calls us to be in the world and in the same breath caveating that I am not at all good about living into that Call. That is the human condition. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. (I have now started rereading Proverbs of Ashes, and it occurs to me that in many theologies of the Crucifixion, Jesus was suicidal -- okay, okay, proponents of those theologies would probably use the term "martyr" instead, but that's a blurry line isn't it?) I said in my mini-review that I appreciated the stuff the author said about stigma, so I'm quoting that here:Last night someone made a crack at karate class that the brown belts doing their pinyans looked like medication time at the state hospital. They were making a joke at the expense of people not unlike me. There but for the face of God go I. No, even despite the grace of God go I. And, of course, all of us, but those blokes with their sanity somewhat intact can pretend that it has nothing to do with the grace of God, that fundamentally they are better than the sedated stooges at the state hospital. (p. 53)       The very worst thing about mental illness, besides the pain, is this very stigma. The taking pleasure from others' pain. The jokes. Stigma creates a fear on the part of the mentally ill and cycles the fear of those who are healthy against those who are ill. I was so ill that at times I couldn't move and yet didn't want to tell my boss why I couldn't come in to work. I had supervisors and colleagues, then, whom I never told. I realize now that I should have done so, but at the time I didn't trust them with the news that I had a mental illness---one that would plague me for life. How could I go back to work after revealing that news? (p. 62)And there are other things she said that I liked. Among them:Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . . Ephesians 4:26Angry, yes, that is my life's song these days. To know that scripture recognizes the expression of anger is a great comfort. And how psychologically healing that it would say to express anger but not to let it spend the night with us. (pp. 60-61) When one is depressed, memory fills in the gaps that feeling has left vacant. One can't feel God's grace, but one can remember it. There is profound wisdom in the biblical injunction to write the narrative of God's redemption on the doorposts, to talk of it when you sit and when you walk and when you lie down and when your rise; in other words, remind yourself always (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; cf. 11:18-21). In all of the details of life remind yourself of God's redemption, and that memory will be so strong that it will carry you through the times when you can't feel.       This is why it it so important to worship in community, to ask your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for you, and to pray with them. Sometimes you literally cannot make it on your own, and you need to borrow from the faith of those around you. [...:]       It is like in the story of the paralytic in Mark 2: His friends are determined to have Jesus heal him, so they rip apart the roof and let him in on his pallet down to Jesus. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" The faith of the friends is crucial for the paralytic's healing. I have borrowed from the faithfulness of the community, the body of Christ, and I believe that the faith of my own community has been crucial for my own healing. One blessing that we can hope to wrestle out of God in this Jacob-like struggle is that we may at daybreak finally learn what grace really is. (p. 88) To the depressed, the disease seems to take over; until one is entirely an illness. Jesus knows this is not true, and he can cast out the demons without destroying us. Only he can cast out of us our impurity, our uncleanness. Demons from the host among the tombs into the pigs, then into the sea. Impurity dwelling among the impure is case into the impure and then herded into the chaos.       The thing is that the man's demons don't want to go away, don't want to be cast out. It is easier to dwell where you are than to allow Jesus to rout you out, even if where you are is the cemetery, living among the walking dead. (p.106)I've articulated my discomfort with her discussion of suffering as a result of sin, but I'm not entirely opposed to everything she says on the matter. For example: "Maybe my doctors would look at the question this way: to what extent do your desires and fears and activities trip you up so as to let mental illness gain a foothold?" (p. 108). I like the framing of seeking understanding of that which helps strengthen your illness' hold over you (and I would add as a corollary -- converse? inverse? -- seeking that which gives you life, that which gives you freedom from your illness). I appreciate that she acknowledges that the journey is difficult -- I love the evocativeness of, "At times the medicine felt less like weapons against depression and mania and more like Saul's heavy armor on the young David" (p. 69). I don't have a closing thought, so I leave you with: "The soul is loved into existence by God" (p. 100).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erin *Help I’m Reading and I Can’t Get Up*

    Absolutely fantastic. A must-read for all clergy, and a must-recommend for all parishioners/congregations dealing with mental illness or the fallout from suicide. Really, really wonderful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    Truly an excellent book on the nature of suffering with a mental illness in the context of faith. It can be more broadly applied to the conversation of faith and suffering in general. I found it to be an extended prayer to, or conversation with, the Lord. Greene-McCreight has written a work that shows how the Lord truly can work redemption in our stories. As she states on page 129, "Luther said we suffer because of the grace of God. I have a hard time believing this. I think we suffer because of Truly an excellent book on the nature of suffering with a mental illness in the context of faith. It can be more broadly applied to the conversation of faith and suffering in general. I found it to be an extended prayer to, or conversation with, the Lord. Greene-McCreight has written a work that shows how the Lord truly can work redemption in our stories. As she states on page 129, "Luther said we suffer because of the grace of God. I have a hard time believing this. I think we suffer because of evil, the deprivation of good, but even still God can work his grace out of our suffering."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Dubuc

    For Christians who struggle with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia this book will be a godsend. The author is a trained theologian and Anglican priest who has experienced these forms of mental illness and anguish first-hand. The title comes from a translation of the last verse of Psalm 88. Subtitled, "A Christian Response to Mental Illness", the book is not so much a chronicle of her experience as it is one of her effort to find meaning in that experience through her Christ For Christians who struggle with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia this book will be a godsend. The author is a trained theologian and Anglican priest who has experienced these forms of mental illness and anguish first-hand. The title comes from a translation of the last verse of Psalm 88. Subtitled, "A Christian Response to Mental Illness", the book is not so much a chronicle of her experience as it is one of her effort to find meaning in that experience through her Christian faith. Christians have often experienced suffering in one form or another, but mental illness bears a stigma that makes it a form of suffering that is often borne in secret. In sharing her struggle, the author reveals remarkable insight and courage with a touch of humor. She bravely confronts those who do not understand her experience-from fellow Christians with less than helpful advice to secular psychiatrists who show bafflement or even distain for her religion-even while accepting from them whatever is true or helpful. The only true enemy she has is her illness and its symptoms. She comes through her struggle wounded but transformed by the experience, a whole person, able to find meaning in it in the light of her faith in Christ. The author's experience made my own struggle with depression look like a picnic but I was very encouraged to find some strong similarities in the way each of us found help and strength in times of great need. I could relate very well to her struggles in prayer and use of Scripture (especially the Psalms) and their vital importance in the process. Greene-McCreight's reflections upon relevant portions of Scripture and the prayers of others throughout the book are of tremendous value. She takes a holistic view of God's provision for those who suffer from mental illness. Her faith is the foundation, but psychotherapy, counseling, medication and the love of friends and family are all part of the help God gives us. It's hard to know if faith is genuine until it is tested in some way. Does it hold up when stressed beyond our own ability to sustain or comprehend it? Too often among Christians is a sound faith equated with happy feelings. Real joy is an altogether different thing. For Greene-McCreight, the most important lesson learned is that "despair can live with Christian faith. Indeed, having despair while knowing in your heart that God has conquered even that is a great form of faith, for it is tried by fire." She seems to find herself a better stronger person for having been through such a trial, less fearful of any future recurrence of symptoms and more imbued with God's grace. I'm glad she chose not to keep quiet about her sufferings since this book will be a great help to others who either need the help for themselves or want to help others who do.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katy Sammons

    As a "bookish" follower of Jesus Christ who has struggled with depression for years, this book was a blessing to me. The author provides a candid testimony of her illness and recovery, the spiritual lessons she has learned from her experience, guidance for seeking treatment, and suggestions for ministering to those with mental illness. I appreciated her emphasis on the Psalms as well as the poetry and hymns she shared that speak to depression. If you are complementation, do not let the fact that As a "bookish" follower of Jesus Christ who has struggled with depression for years, this book was a blessing to me. The author provides a candid testimony of her illness and recovery, the spiritual lessons she has learned from her experience, guidance for seeking treatment, and suggestions for ministering to those with mental illness. I appreciated her emphasis on the Psalms as well as the poetry and hymns she shared that speak to depression. If you are complementation, do not let the fact that the author is an Episcopal priest discourage you from reading this book. She is conservative and sound in her theology. I did not agree 100% with her therapy recommendations, but I have not traveled the same road she has either. I found out about this book through an interview with the author on a White Horse Inn podcast, which can be accessed here: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/201...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Desiree Woodland

    This is one of the best books on taboo subjects... especially in the church. Mental illness affects one in five people at some point in their lives and we don't offer any support except to say... read your Bible more, pray in faith, try harder. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are only two of many brain disorders that happen to Christians and non Christians alike. They are illnesses, not weaknesses. This book gives the Christian response because the author herself has struggled with This is one of the best books on taboo subjects... especially in the church. Mental illness affects one in five people at some point in their lives and we don't offer any support except to say... read your Bible more, pray in faith, try harder. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are only two of many brain disorders that happen to Christians and non Christians alike. They are illnesses, not weaknesses. This book gives the Christian response because the author herself has struggled with severe depression. She references David and Psalm 88 where he says.. darkness is my only companion. The understanding of this illness , the treatment available, and the help of scripture and support of people can help those with mental illness learn to manage this often debilitating illness. There is no fault, and we can make such a difference by not stigmatizing people and bringing it out from the shadows to talk openly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    A powerful, moving, and very insightful book- one of a kind, really. This is the book I encourage anyone to read who wants to understand mental illness better from a Christian faith perspective. The author herself an Episcopal priest, theologian, wife and mother, shares poignantly of her own struggle with bipolar illness and of the resources available from the Christian faith.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily Wellham

    Trigger warning: mental illness, suicidality I loved this book. I related to it so, so very much. Even though the source of my struggles is different, I could see myself in so many of her experiences, especially during the part of the book where she focused on her story, her experience of depression and suicidality, her hospitalization, and how she related to God and people in the midst of all of it. Like her, I struggled with wondering how I could claim to believe in the Giver of Life while reje Trigger warning: mental illness, suicidality I loved this book. I related to it so, so very much. Even though the source of my struggles is different, I could see myself in so many of her experiences, especially during the part of the book where she focused on her story, her experience of depression and suicidality, her hospitalization, and how she related to God and people in the midst of all of it. Like her, I struggled with wondering how I could claim to believe in the Giver of Life while rejecting the life he gave. Yet, as she reminds us, my feelings cannot move a whit the position of my soul before God, who chose me and saved me. When she moved more to talking about theology, I was initially unsure whether I agreed with her conclusions (particularly on the role of sin and the selfishness of suicidality), but I came to see that it was just as much her wrestling through different elements of Scripture and figuring out which ones apply. I still think calling suicide selfish is incredibly unhelpful, but the section in which she gives advice to churches and friends fit very well with the help that I have received from my church community, which played a huge role in my path towards healing. I did not have her experience with therapists or doctors being suspicious of religion, but that could be due to my living in the Bible Belt. I certainly agree with her that medicines and doctors and therapists are conduits of God's grace and should be encouraged by the church.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carter West

    I finally quit reading this three-quarters of the way through. Partly this was due to theological differences; partly to literary style; partly out the sense that I could get more out of other reading. Mostly, though, it comes down to a stand of mine as a man living with depression: Any author with a mental illness who cannot forthrightly give an account of their experience *on no other terms than her/his own as an individual*, without leaning on outside authorities theological, medical, or soci I finally quit reading this three-quarters of the way through. Partly this was due to theological differences; partly to literary style; partly out the sense that I could get more out of other reading. Mostly, though, it comes down to a stand of mine as a man living with depression: Any author with a mental illness who cannot forthrightly give an account of their experience *on no other terms than her/his own as an individual*, without leaning on outside authorities theological, medical, or societal, is not a trustworthy guide to this most intimate terrain. It comes down to our vulnerability as sufferers. To me, the only way into recovery from mental illness is through. (I use the term "recovery" in its common contemporary sense, denoting an ongoing journey into a state of greater wellness rather than a cure.) Only through accepting the ruin of one's life and the challenges it presents can one come into an authentic stance toward that illness, a stance that enables love of one's whole person undergoing the crisis and the love of others afflicted as well. Anything more is a false consciousness informed by a false spirituality, forestalling the development of a true one that can emerge in the encounter with a God who allows suffering. That "more," I fear, is what Greene-McCreight, even with all the density and fervor of her piety, has to offer. Yes, this is a harsh view, but it is not uninformed. I served for many years as a support group facilitator for the local chapter of our Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, a national consumers' organization. I am also a United Church of Christ clergyman. So this is no atheistic or anti-psychiatry screed. My experience is that recovery in the most whole sense comes to those who have the courage to enact God rather than merely believe in God, those who are willing to live "the truth [that] will set you free." I don't challenge the sources and patterns of Greene-McCreight's recovery in the sense of their being true for her – clearly her faith and its practical application have been instrumental in preserving her mental health. It's simply that I fear that Greene-McCreight's witness will be heard only by those who stand within her religious circle. Those for whom mental illness initiates a religious crisis will be left out in the cold. These days, anyone who dares to lift a Bible without opening the book of Job, anyone who fails to give voice to suffering on its own terms, challenging God's, will ultimately fail to reach any number of these outcasts. That's the crux of my complaint. The tight web of Biblical references, religious judgments, and pietistic longings that Greene-McCreight weaves serves not only as a balm for her anxiety but as a filter to screen out anything that might interrupt her spirituality's seamlessness, open her to a riskier but ultimately more authentic mode of life. Nowhere in these pages does she admit of the fact that mental illness can cause a faith crisis of immense proportions; she is too busy invoking an automatic vending-machine God, one who meets all her needs in every crisis, to consider that for many of us the machine is broken. And I submit that the experience of a broken God is much more common in today's world than is often admitted. This seamless denial (there is no milder term for it) is evident in the structure of her book. Just when we anticipate a deeper witness to her experience, she veers off into quoting prayer or psalm or to pronouncing defensively on the fate of a Christian in a secular world. Her theology sets up an either/or between secular and sacred, removing any creative cross-fertilization between the two. Indeed, it often seems that to her Christians can live in a secular context only by going forward well-armored with a language all their own. If you'll permit me a theological statement, such a stance is inimical to the way of Jesus, who came to burst all boundaries based on purity codes of this sort. He proclaimed and lived instead the availability of God's word in any corner of creation that God chooses. Armoring ourselves against human words not only keeps us from grasping truth, but leaves us liable to casting any given group of humanity as strange, inferior, dangerous, what have you. Jesus met all comers, without distinction. Should we do less? I gave this book two stars, though, because Greene-McCreight's practical wisdom concerning the navigation of the mental health care system and other networks can be helpful (if often quirky). Her assessment of treatment modes is free of ideology; she tries a wide spectrum. She is fearless in confronting therapists who discriminate against Christians, and thereby offers a model for anyone experiencing stigma against believers. Even though Greene-McCreight too readily connects spiritual states with psychological ones (claiming that depression "can be transformed by the dark night"), she affirms that that connection is possible. Overall, though, these points of light are overwhelmed by the lack of credence she offers to common human experience and its free expression. I would ask her, as I would ask any believer whose heart and senses have become permeated by a religious mind, Where does your trust lie? Can you accept that human being as it stands on its own worthy of attention? Or does all need to be passed through the filter of your overweening spirit in order to be affirmed? With Greene-McCreight, I am not at all sure.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Hodson

    This is a really helpful book to give a personal and in-depth perspective on depression. Full of very valuable insights alongside the discussion of what it means to struggle with your Christian faith in the midst of mental illness. A book I would recommend to those struggling with depression and those working alongside them. I didn't find the appendixes v helpful, expecting them to be more practical. Written from a Catholic perspective. This is a really helpful book to give a personal and in-depth perspective on depression. Full of very valuable insights alongside the discussion of what it means to struggle with your Christian faith in the midst of mental illness. A book I would recommend to those struggling with depression and those working alongside them. I didn't find the appendixes v helpful, expecting them to be more practical. Written from a Catholic perspective.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    I read this book quite some time ago and remember it quite excellently expressed the author's own challenges with mental illness and powerfully spoke to how the church ought to help such persons. She comes from the Episcopalian tradition, if memory serves. A good resource for Christians trying to work through mental illness or helping those with mental illness. I read this book quite some time ago and remember it quite excellently expressed the author's own challenges with mental illness and powerfully spoke to how the church ought to help such persons. She comes from the Episcopalian tradition, if memory serves. A good resource for Christians trying to work through mental illness or helping those with mental illness.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Micah

    In "Darkness Is My Only Companion", Kathryn Greene-McCreight shares insights from living with mental illness as a person of faith. In the afterward, she writes that it is not a memoir, nor a manual on pastoral care. Rather, she classifies it as a Theodicy. Indeed, some parts read like Augustine's Confessions. For me, it provided a helpful framework for beginning to understand mental illness from a Christian perspective. In "Darkness Is My Only Companion", Kathryn Greene-McCreight shares insights from living with mental illness as a person of faith. In the afterward, she writes that it is not a memoir, nor a manual on pastoral care. Rather, she classifies it as a Theodicy. Indeed, some parts read like Augustine's Confessions. For me, it provided a helpful framework for beginning to understand mental illness from a Christian perspective.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Read this years ago and remember that it helped me a lot at the time. YMMV!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Raully

    This is by far the best book I have read about spirituality and bipolar disorder. The genre is fluid: memoir, theology, medical, exegesis, prayer. Anyone who reads it will have some notion of what is like to have a mental illness as a person of faith. And anyone who reads it and already knows that - intimately - will have a model for how to allow their mental illness to inform their faith. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michele Morin

    In putting forth “A Christian Response to Mental Illness” (the book’s sub-title), Kathryn Greene-McCreight has skillfully woven theological reflections on mental illness with the account of her own struggle with bipolar disorder. The result is a seamless consideration of everything from diagnosis and medication to vivid recollections of how it feels to be the body that houses a manic brain. McCreight faced very real challenges during her years of intense struggle. Chapter 12 (How Clergy, Friends In putting forth “A Christian Response to Mental Illness” (the book’s sub-title), Kathryn Greene-McCreight has skillfully woven theological reflections on mental illness with the account of her own struggle with bipolar disorder. The result is a seamless consideration of everything from diagnosis and medication to vivid recollections of how it feels to be the body that houses a manic brain. McCreight faced very real challenges during her years of intense struggle. Chapter 12 (How Clergy, Friends and Family Can Help) and the conclusion with the author’s seven lessons learned from her affliction could be stand-alones for anyone struggling with mental illness or endeavoring to be of help to someone else. The harvest of wisdom presented in DIMOC might best be summarized using some of the Scripture references that served as hand-holds on her climb toward healing: Isaiah 45:15 — During a depression, when God seemed distant (or non-existent), the author followed Isaiah’s lead in addressing God directly, “even in God’s apparent absence.” Raw examples of her prayers during deep depression reveal her struggle. Her use of biblical and historical prayers, such as this by Samuel Johnson, gave words to her longing for stability and productivity: Grant, I beg you, merciful Lord, that the designs of a new and better life, which by your grace I have now formed, may not pass away without effect. Incite and enable me, by your Holy Spirit, to improve the time which you shall grant me; to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and actions . . . Isaiah 42:3 — Feeling like a “bruised reed” and a “dimly burning wick”, Greene-McCreight found that worship was indispensable. “Borrow from the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ,” is her advice. She begged God for strength not to commit suicide, for the sake of her husband and children, and for the sake of her ministry: “I cannot allow myself so to undermine my very life’s work.” I Peter 5:8-9a — Swinging between mania and depression, the author continually felt the need to “keep alert,” but references to “the devil” or anything pertaining to her Christian faith occasionally caused tension with her care-givers. In her book, she shares wisdom gained in navigating the path of mental illness with both Christian and unbelieving professionals. Psalm 71:3 — Fighting the stigma of hospitalization, Greene-McCreight eventually realized that even this was God’s provision for her safety. He was her “strong rock,” and she clung to Him in the structure of the Book of Common Prayer; in the initially unthinkable provision of electroconvulsive therapy; and in the simple grace of molding a clay vase that turned out well. II Corinthians 12:7 — The “sufficient” grace of God gave the author vision to meet mental illness as a test, to be “met like all other tests: with prayer that God will see us through it faithfully.” Hymns were spot lights on the grace of God, often just a phrase such as, “the soul that to Jesus has fled for repose / I will not, I will not desert to its foes . . .” When she referred to the overwhelming assortment of medications prescribed to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder, the author compared them to Saul’s armor, weighing David down, and ultimately cast off. She longed to do the same, but persevered. Another verse comes to mind as confirmation that Kathryn Greene-McCreight has earned the right to speak into the emotionally charged issue of mental illness and Christian faith: “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.” I Kings 20.11 Greene-McCreight has worn the armor, she has fought the fight, and at the book’s conclusion was still in the battle. Thus follows her exhortation, that in all our afflictions, physical, mental, and otherwise, we look to the encouraging truth of Revelation 7:16-17: They will hunger no more and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Christ, the Lamb, enters our affliction and becomes the Companion in all our darkness. Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksb... program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa....

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shelly Hart

    Candid, transparent, gritty, yet somehow hopeful, McCreight allows readers an inside look into the struggles of fighting mental illness. Her bravery in sharing her story will help others with mental illness, the friends and family members who love them, and clinicians who want to provide the best care possible.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn Beaty

    Recommended to me by a coworker, Darkness Is My Only Companion is the first book I've come across that offers a thoughtful and truthful interpretation of mental illness from an orthodox theological framework. It avoids both extremes of the two standard approaches that rely on a neo-platonic understanding of personhood: That people are either completely spiritual beings and thus need to pray harder to make their depression go away; Or that people suffering from mental illness are biochemical fact Recommended to me by a coworker, Darkness Is My Only Companion is the first book I've come across that offers a thoughtful and truthful interpretation of mental illness from an orthodox theological framework. It avoids both extremes of the two standard approaches that rely on a neo-platonic understanding of personhood: That people are either completely spiritual beings and thus need to pray harder to make their depression go away; Or that people suffering from mental illness are biochemical factories gone awry, and simply need more small, white pills to start working again. Kathryn Greene-McCreight is in the right place to avoid both extremes because she has lived through bipolar disorder for a decade, and is also a devout Christian (an Episcopal priest, to be exact). She emphasizes the importance of spiritual practices, even when, and especially when, someone who's depressed feels like curling up in a ball. But she also emphasizes the necessity of professional guidance and medical assistance in times of great despair. At the least, what this book has to offer is consolation for Christians who are suffering from depression; they are not alone, not spiritually weak, not (necessarily) being oppressed by evil, and not beyond the reality of the Resurrection. Why this book did not receive more stars from me is Greene-McCreight's repetitive tone. I also did not agree with her on one seemingly minute but important theological statement. Kathryn claims that in the depths of depression, she felt she was experiencing the wrath of God as a reality. Though she may have perceived wrath, I don't think her experience of wrath was real. Not only is the claim that a Christian would experience God's wrath unorthodox--this kind of statement could leave disastrous impressions on anyone in the depths of depression, already beleaguered by feelings of self-loathing and despair. Aside from these minute points, sobering and yet profoundly hopeful reading. Recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Darkness Is My Only Companion is a a short book divided into three parts and thirteen chapters. In part one (chapters 1-6) Greene-McCreight recounts some of what she went through during the worst days of her illness including her experiences with mania and depression, thoughts of suicide, and her time as an inpatient at Yale Psychiatric Institute, which included undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. Though the entire narrative is sprinkled with theological reflections, part two (chapters 7-11) e Darkness Is My Only Companion is a a short book divided into three parts and thirteen chapters. In part one (chapters 1-6) Greene-McCreight recounts some of what she went through during the worst days of her illness including her experiences with mania and depression, thoughts of suicide, and her time as an inpatient at Yale Psychiatric Institute, which included undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. Though the entire narrative is sprinkled with theological reflections, part two (chapters 7-11) explores more thoroughly the theological questions raised about mental illness. In this section Kathryn discusses, among other thing, the importance of memory in surviving depression, the role of feelings in faith, the relationship of sin and mental illness, and the usefulness of prayer in healing from mental illness. Part three (chapters 12-13) provides practical advice to friends, family, and clergy for supporting the mentally ill and guidance for choosing a therapist who is both competent and tolerant of the religious patient. Finally, in two appendixes, Greene-McCreight explains how she uses Scripture to help her through tough times, provides symptom checklists for depression, mania, and schizophrenia, and contact information for various mental health organizations. Continue reading this review here: http://parchmentgirl.com/2011/03/04/d...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dwight Penas

    I know the author slightly, so this may not be fair. But this book is profound in its own way. Kathryn writes beautifully, and that in itself, given the issue in the book, would make it worthy. But what makes the book powerful for me -- and will turn off a lot of people who are looking for something else -- is the natural way she integrates her orthodox Christian faith (you can't say that of all priests!) and the practices of that faith (daily prayer, reading of the Psalms, integrating the stori I know the author slightly, so this may not be fair. But this book is profound in its own way. Kathryn writes beautifully, and that in itself, given the issue in the book, would make it worthy. But what makes the book powerful for me -- and will turn off a lot of people who are looking for something else -- is the natural way she integrates her orthodox Christian faith (you can't say that of all priests!) and the practices of that faith (daily prayer, reading of the Psalms, integrating the stories of the Bible into her own story). It is a study in the ways being enculturated into the Church and her story can guide, comfort, protect, and -- yes -- save one. I have almost finished the book, and another value in the book rests in the collection of prayers scattered throughout. They come from a variety of people and sources, and could constitute a small personal prayerbook for oneself. I'll treasure this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Loraena

    This book is phenomenal. It’s genre-defying. The author is a professor, episcopal priest, and sufferer of bi-polar disorder. The book is part memoir, part educational, part theology of suffering, but mostly devotional. I was deeply moved and spiritually encouraged reading it, particularly by the way she interweaves scripture throughout the entire book, breaking into song, literarily speaking, in the midst of her narrative. It’s absolutely beautiful. Theologically, there was one small place I dif This book is phenomenal. It’s genre-defying. The author is a professor, episcopal priest, and sufferer of bi-polar disorder. The book is part memoir, part educational, part theology of suffering, but mostly devotional. I was deeply moved and spiritually encouraged reading it, particularly by the way she interweaves scripture throughout the entire book, breaking into song, literarily speaking, in the midst of her narrative. It’s absolutely beautiful. Theologically, there was one small place I differed from her. I imagine there would be other differences if she were writing more broadly, but on this topic specifically, she is about as solid as I’ve come across.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shari

    This book is very good for working with someone with bi-polar. This book is written by a theologian who also experiences the manic/depressive mood cycles and she writes about what faith looks like in the midst of that cycle. She writes realistically and with tremendous faith.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rachael Smith

    Refreshingly real perspective on a Christian struggling with mental health. This book offered insights that I wasn't able to find anywhere else. The book was organized really well so it made for an easy-read. Refreshingly real perspective on a Christian struggling with mental health. This book offered insights that I wasn't able to find anywhere else. The book was organized really well so it made for an easy-read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Debora Smith

    This is a powerful and honest look at mental illness--a great book for anyone suffering from depression or other mental illness or who loves someone who is.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Todd Hains

    A helpful introduction to the difficult topic of mental illness. I enjoyed her use of Scripture and the tradition, especially her appendix on how and why she uses Scripture.

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Turner

    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 o 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. More reviews at MondayMorningTheologian.com

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave Courtney

    I get why and how this book could be divisive. Anytime you marry theology to mental illness, the conversation will tread a fine line being misappropriation and helpful insight. For those, through varying degrees of association, living with or dealing with Bipolar Disorder (or any mental illness really), her theology might be freeing, or it could be a strong deterant to ones ongoing ability to navigate it well, particularly when it comes to marrying God to the suffering. She doesn't leave quite e I get why and how this book could be divisive. Anytime you marry theology to mental illness, the conversation will tread a fine line being misappropriation and helpful insight. For those, through varying degrees of association, living with or dealing with Bipolar Disorder (or any mental illness really), her theology might be freeing, or it could be a strong deterant to ones ongoing ability to navigate it well, particularly when it comes to marrying God to the suffering. She doesn't leave quite enough space for the wrestling, but I also tend to be someone who is able to give a lot of grace to any theological conversation. This might be better read as "one Christian's response to a shared struggle with mental illness. I might agree with some of what she sees, definitely don't agree with more, but thankfully good portions of the book do deal well with the common ground- the struggle with the illness. To that end she brings wisdom, relatability and comfort.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Ogden

    McCreight writes, “[This book] is not a roadmap. [...] It simply asks questions about the specific kind of suffering of mental illness in light of faith in a merciful God. This book is not about me, you, the church, the world, or even mental illness. This book is about the triune God and how we are to live faithfully in the light of his presence even as we suffer.” As a Christian living with a mental illness, this book made me feel understood like nothing else I have ever read. The author gracef McCreight writes, “[This book] is not a roadmap. [...] It simply asks questions about the specific kind of suffering of mental illness in light of faith in a merciful God. This book is not about me, you, the church, the world, or even mental illness. This book is about the triune God and how we are to live faithfully in the light of his presence even as we suffer.” As a Christian living with a mental illness, this book made me feel understood like nothing else I have ever read. The author gracefully weaves both the personal and the spiritual. She does not give trite answers but rather guides you to the right questions. Without offering closure, she offers hope.

  29. 5 out of 5

    ben adam

    This was a disappointing book. While there is a lot to be learned from it, the author is very beholden to prescription medication, psychiatry, and the medical model of mental health. She has found hope in this, which is nice for her, but she is either unaware of or unwilling to recognize that people have had their lives ruined by psychiatry, ECT, and all the ridiculous absurdity of psychiatry which is based on nothing more than the opinions of "authorities" rather than real science. She states s This was a disappointing book. While there is a lot to be learned from it, the author is very beholden to prescription medication, psychiatry, and the medical model of mental health. She has found hope in this, which is nice for her, but she is either unaware of or unwilling to recognize that people have had their lives ruined by psychiatry, ECT, and all the ridiculous absurdity of psychiatry which is based on nothing more than the opinions of "authorities" rather than real science. She states she learned compassion through the process of mental health treatment, but apparently, she never learned compassion for psychiatry's victims.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I was assigned to this book to read. It was interesting. The biggest issue is that it’s not really clear what the function of the book is or what is its identity. The author actually addresses this in a helpful afterward to the second edition. It’s not really a memoir, although it kind of is. It’s not really a pastoral guide, although it touches on that. And it is definitely not a robust theology of mental illness, although it provides some interesting ideas there as well. I think it would be part I was assigned to this book to read. It was interesting. The biggest issue is that it’s not really clear what the function of the book is or what is its identity. The author actually addresses this in a helpful afterward to the second edition. It’s not really a memoir, although it kind of is. It’s not really a pastoral guide, although it touches on that. And it is definitely not a robust theology of mental illness, although it provides some interesting ideas there as well. I think it would be particularly interesting for the Christian who has suffered or is suffering from depression or other mental illness. Also potentially useful for pastors in helping them to take care of their people.

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