In his bestselling book, “Strong at the Broken Places,” Richard Cohen profiles, among five persons living with chronic illness, mental health advocate Larry Fricks. He writes:

In his bestselling book, “Strong at the Broken Places,” Richard Cohen profiles, among five persons living with chronic illness, mental health advocate Larry Fricks. He writes:

Larry had been to hell and back and now his spirit soared. “Religion is for people who fear hell,” Larry told me. “Spirituality is for those who have been there.” Life to Larry is not about a church but belief in the human spirit. “Richard, that spirit is why I get up each day.” For him, doctors did not understand this dimension.

“Psychiatry tried to beat it out of me, to convince me this was just a symptom of my disease, a psychiatric disorder”

“And that was not the whole story?”

“No. Even in sickness, I see a spiritual realm that to me is real.”

 Earlier Cohen writes, “Doctors force patients into non-psychotic behavior with such zealotry that they dismiss too many possibly positive and healthy dimensions of the patient’s mind and soul. They do not tolerate eccentricity or unconventional views. Sometimes a fine line separates psychosis and off-center belief.”

A very fine line, indeed.

Especially for a religious person like me who derives 85 percent of her will power and strength from a tight bond with the grandfatherly-type dude in the sky, aka God.

Am I psychotic or spiritual?

One of the first psychiatrists I saw would vote psychotic. As I rattled off a few of my thoughts–most of which pertained to God’s unique calling for me, and the ways he had revealed his message through signs and symbols throughout my day–she told me I was making connections where none existed and much of my spiritual jabber was a symptom of hypomania.

It may have been.

I mean, I recall thinking almost everything that happened to me in my day was a sign from God. The fortune cookie I got (Since when did those things turn negative??? I’m so not going to that Chinese place again) during this psychic phase read: “You are in over your head. It’s time to seek professional help.”

So I went a little give-me-a-sign-and-please-create-my-destiny-because-I-haven’t-a-clue-as-to-where-I’m-going crazy. But I’m not about to throw out Baby Jesus with the holy bath water, either, because I do believe, as loony as this sounds, that God has commissioned me with a purpose that He communicates through people, places, things and randomly mean fortune cookies. I try to be as receptive as possible to picking up on those clues.

“It’s beyond conceited that you would think God would care about your small decisions throughout the day,” a friend argued the other day.

Fine. Call me arrogant. But how do I explain all the times everything happened in perfect synchronicity and I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace, tinged with a sacredness I couldn’t explain?

When blogger Kevin Williams asked his psychologist what the difference was between being mentally ill and being prophetic, the head expert said: “People who hear voices and see things that aren’t there can be classified into two groups. The first group are people who cannot cope with these voices and are called mentally ill. The second group are people who can cope with the voices and are called psychic. It is my personal belief that being psychic and being psychotic are the same thing depending upon how you cope with it. Society in general regards people who talk to God as holy. But society in general regards people whom God talks to as insane.”

Kevin goes on to explain the gift of our madness:

Manic depression has been called a brilliant madness because of the expansive ideas that psychosis can create. In days of old, people recognized how mental illness can even be a gift. Socrates once declared, “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift.” Plato referred to insanity as: “a divine gift and the source of the chief blessings granted to men.”

Native American Indians believed that their voice hearers revealed messages that had great spiritual significance. The idea of the mad scientist can probably be traced to the grandiose thoughts that intelligent mentally ill people can have. John Nash, a lifetime schizophrenic, received the Nobel Laureate in Economics and his life was portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Other famous mentally ill people are: Beethoven, Tolstoy, Van Gogh, Keats, Hemingway, Dickens, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Emerson, and Woolf, to name just a few.

Frankly, I’m for anything that gives a person hope. If a mentally-ill mom thinks the Creator is communicating with her through the shape of her daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, then I say, “Go for it. Stock up on the Thin Mints, Trefoils, Samoas, and Tagalongs and decode the sweet messages.”

Because, as Larry Frick tells Richard at the end of the interview: “Hope is to the soul what oxygen is to the body.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. I understand one side of this
    I understand one side of this as these days anyone can be labelled psychotic or mentally ill.

    I felt that this article was discreditting and naive however, to the millions of people that are plagued by hallucinations, false beliefs and delusions that compromise and destroy their peace of mind, their relationships with others and their very lives. These people, due to the voices they hear slash their wrists in obedience to or to escape those voices, live inthe hell of false reality, fear and mistrust, and often destroy their very lives, their loved ones heartbroken and wounded as they stand by in helplessnessness as they experience and witness the destruction taht mental illness causes. Perhpas if you spent some time talking to these people, you would have an appreciation for the immense suffering mental illness causes By the way, John Nash would have likley given anything to be freed of the bondage of those people he saw. Yes the movie gives hope on the abilty to overcome but it certainly wasnt meant to minimize the tragedy that menatal illness is for milliosn of people and their loved ones.

  2. I was diagnosed as mentally
    I was diagnosed as mentally ill for most of my 58 years.

    I totally agree with the above blog.

    I also know just hundreds personally and many would agree. i hope you are willing to listen to my reasons

    I can not speak for Nash. I feel fortunate that I know better than to being up religious or spiritual themes with those who are charged with helping keep me on the sane side of things. The very fact that i know this tells us that i am sane.

    After 20 years as a bipolar i was re diagnosed as Asperger’s Syndrome. so were the Psychiatrists hallucinating my illness, No they had someone who didn’t quite fit any hole so they put me in the best fitting one in their opinion so i would be treated. I still do have depression and anxiety both of which qualify me as mentally ill.

    The people i know who hear voices are sad and some of them do hallucinate on religious themes. I think the author does not do a good job of explaining that one can have spiritual hallucination with destructive results but tI like her point that these urges are positive in nature. How they get so twisted is important but if you know people with mental illness i think you will notice that most of them are better people than most people Some have become incredibly bitter but much of that is how people react to their symptoms more than the mental illness itself.

    Do we call beautiful feelings bad because we can not explain them? I hope not. There are other explanations for voices than an evil disease.

    I also think that you wrote what you did for good reasons. If i can not agree with you, I can still see the compassion and the wish for the wellbeing of others in your words. I think it is that way with mental illness I can see it in more than one perspective.

  3. It is a sign of hope and Love
    It is a sign of hope and Love that a nuanced examination of spirituality and psychosis appears in this forum. Truthfully, the author recognizes it is foolishness to assume one can occur without the other. A Scottish psychiatrist named R.D. Laing explored this territory better than any one to date and would be pleased to read this analysis of the topic. As Laing put it: “Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death”

    Laing emphasized that a subgroup of people were more inclined to experience the world in ways that diverge from the prevailing norm:: “Creative people who can’t help but explore other mental territories are at greater risk, just as someone who climbs a mountain is more at risk than someone who just walks along a village lane”.

    He identified social forces take erode an awareness that our experience of the world is significant. For some it is a simple fact of life that Heaven and Hell and Eternity are experiences accessible to human beings. American Indian speak of this aspect of reality as “walking the Red Road”

    He observed that “Alienation as our present destiny is achieved only by outrageous violence perpetrated by human beings on human beings He refined his analysis by observing “.We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love”.

    The world of spirit exists independent of our opinions on the matter. It’s not a good sign that we believe we are the only form of intelligence in the universe and that it is intellectually fashionable to deny the life of spirit. Truthfully, denial of what is called a spiritual life which by another name is called “experience” is a form of psychosis—being cut off from reality…..which exists independent of our opinions. The author stands with a long and distinguished list of people who take as a given the existence of the life of the spirit. Better sacred that sorry is a smart default setting.

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  5. Don’t try to change this
    Don’t try to change this world or peoples lives according to your own. I live my life according to natures rules and follow them which we are taught this makes so easy to live in this competitive world. There are some people who deny from natures durability and its portability so these people suffer from some obstacles. When i earned my Work Experience Degree in year 2011 i joined a organization who were researching on spiritual and psychotic things where i often conflict with some professors.

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