This piece was written by Nicole Mosqueda, a member of the Contributors Circle at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The post was submitted in observance of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The views expressed in this post do not represent those of the Hogg Foundation.
When I wonder, “Why … Why did this happen to me? This is the worst bane of my existence, to go through mental morbidity. I do not deserve this….” Faith gives me the consolation that suffering is not in vain. My faith sustains me in my mental health journey in a myriad of ways. For starters, it gives me a concept of my identity, and it gives me an understanding of why I suffer.
Faith and Identity
My faith has given me a very strong concept of my identity. We all need a stable sense of self. Especially when I’m racked with the feeling that my mental illness has warped or stolen so much of who I am. When I am living and surviving through mental health strife and feel consumed by it, I lose the knowledge of who I am at times.
My sense of my identity has been so deeply (and in many ways negatively) influenced by the mental health labels that are placed on me by myself and others. I internalize them. As if “I’m bipolar” can label my identity. I need to see myself as more than just a mentally ill person. That is not all I am.
My faith gives me the most precious of my identities. I am a child of God, His beloved daughter. He makes me wonderful and is wonderfully making me. He looks at what He makes and He says, “It is good. You are good.” He knows all of me – every hair on my head — everything I think, and say, and do. He loves me – all of me – so passionately and intimately. I am a Catholic, a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, a citizen of the saints.
Faith and Community
In addition, my faith community has given me the gift of another of my identities–my Hispanic identity. I didn’t get knowledge of my Hispanic identity the traditional way – from my family, in other words. My mother and father did not learn the culture of their people. My parents and many of my ancestors had been faced with outright racist persecution from people and systems they met in their lives.
My mother did what she could. She entrusted me to the faith community to teach me and bestow upon me the treasured identity, culture, language, traditions, food, etc. of mi gente. I am so thoroughly proud of my Hispanic identity and heritage.
My Hispanic community at my church embodies what I want to be in my faith and in my mental health. I am privileged to witness our deep immersion in faith, family and community. “¡Mi casa es su casa! (my house is your house)”; convivios (get together); Las Posadas ; Guadalupanas; sociedades (society); devocionales (devotional). The most hospitable and generous, most embracing, affectionate friendships. Living my faith in community, as a community. God made me Hispanic. ¡Viva La Raza! ¡Viva Cristo Rey! I am who God says I am.
Faith and Rebirth
And my faith sustains my mental health in an even more direct way: it gives me a framework for understanding why I suffer. There is a reason for my suffering. Mental illness and suffering are not all there is. Life is not a never-ending series of crises. I look, remember, and see all the blessings and miracles in my life – so many. He will turn the crises and suffering – the crosses – all into good. He will turn it into my salvation.
When these periods of anguish, of suffering, feel like so much death, it is through faith I know the suffering is leading to my resurrection. I will come through it made so much more united with God. For in those times, I desperately cling to Him. He not only strengthens me to persevere and heal, He walks with me in the suffering. Suffering with me as Jesus did on the cross.
This is consistent with all of the evidence that mental health can be strengthened by a sense of the transcendent – a connection to something greater than ourselves. Any faith tradition can deliver this. For me, it comes from a God who not only delivers me from that Hell of the worst period of my life; He brings me to Heaven through it – to be so much a phoenix rising from the ashes, born into a resurrection of a life so full of freedom and serenity, to Heaven in this life and the next.
My connection to faith births the promise that this deathly suffering is full of purpose. Purpose to remake me, thus making the glorious victory of that resurrection birth all the sweeter and more glorious because of the immense suffering that delivered me to it. From mental illness to mental health recovery, in this life and into eternity.
For the month of July, the Hogg Foundation is celebrating Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. We are highlighting stories that explore the efforts of diverse communities to improve community conditions that impact mental health, and what we all can do to make that happen.