Darkness Is My Only Companion, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

4176KD4R47L._SL160_.jpgFor devoted 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.

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