Faith and Illness

I consider myself a spiritual person; I have always believed in a higher power and was raised in and around religion. My mother was Irish-Catholic and my father was raised Hindu, and my extended family still participates in Hindu rituals. Since, I was a child I felt a strong spiritual connection to something, whether you call that something “God” or “Brahma” or “Mother Earth”, I knew there was more than just me.

Like most people, I have struggled with my faith – defining and reconciling it with what I see in myself and in the world around me. The first time I remember struggling with my belief in a higher power was when I overheard my parents talking about the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s. I caught glimpses on TV of bombings and injured or dead people. I remember being distinctly aware that this was in opposition to everything I had heard about “God”. God was supposed to protect us. This is what I had heard at school, in church and at prayers (practitioners of Hinduism hold prayers a few times a year and for special occasions). I wondered why God would let so many people die. I was a child, so the thought went quickly out of my head.

My next crisis of faith came when I was in my early teens. I was suffering through Anorexia, my family went from middle-class and comfortable to quite poor. I wouldn’t say I stopped believing in God, but I was very angry and wanted nothing to do with any higher power. Through my teen years, I was too focused on my eating disorder to really question what was happening with my body and mind spiritually.

I looked for spiritual connection through the Catholic Church and attended services on campus. This was a great comfort in my first two years of university; the priest was kind and the congregation offered the support I needed at the time. I could not reconcile my political and social beliefs with the Church, particularly under the conservative leadership of Pope Benedict. I stopped attending church, but learned a lot about my own spiritual beliefs and needs.

The next spiritual challenge I faced, and still struggle with today, was dealing with chronic illness and still being spiritual. Again, I began to question what kind of God allows this, or does God (or any higher power) have any say in what happens to us? I have not believed in an omnipotent God in many years, not since I was a child. I still angry though. I think I am a pretty decent person, I haven’t done anything so horrible to “deserve” illness. And since I was still born human and privileged, I probably didn’t do anything in my past lives either.

Every few months or weeks, I get very ill. I know when it’s happening and try to deal with it best I can, but my illness interferes with every part of my life. My illness challenges my faith, particularly when I am experiencing severe symptoms. Just yesterday, I was lying in bed and wondering why this is happening to me? I don’t have an answer, and as of now, no one else does either. I have stopped thinking that God is punishing me or that God can even control this.

I believe in something. Some kind of higher power. I don’t believe that this higher power has control over our lives or chooses how we live or die. I do think things happen for a reason. Living with chronic illness has taught me a lot about myself and my faith. I have found that I am stronger than I thought I was and a big part of that strength comes from faith. I have met amazing people because of my illness. Every time I am in treatment or the hospital, I meet someone or learn something that helps me. I hate being there, but I am learning to find the good in being ill.

I still get angry over all the time I have lost and how shitty I feel most days, I struggle with reconciling hardship with my faith. Faith is not about things running smoothly all the time or about something/someone else being in charge of your life. It is about finding that strength in yourself, in those around you and in whatever higher power you believe in.

I am trying to find a balance in my spirituality and in my health. I often feel a disconnection between body and soul. My soul wants to do so much and my body does not always cooperate. There are many things in life I cannot control and this is what I struggle with the most and it also where I find having faith to be the most helpful. If you know me, you know I like to be in control, I like things a certain way and I hate when I can’t achieve that. It is in these moments, I find my faith to be saving grace. It is in the moments where I at my lowest physically and mentally, that I rely on my faith. In my first year at Acadia, someone I knew told me they were shocked that I believed in God/a higher power since I seemed so logical. I cannot prove there is any higher power beside my own feeling that there is. But that is not the point of faith. Faith is personal and is not based on logic. It may not be logical to believe in a higher power, but it is part of what keeps me alive, what keeps me fighting for recovery and looking for treatment options.

I was in the hospital one time and as usually was younger than everything there by about 50 years. An older woman was encouraging me not to give up and she mentioned she would be praying for me. I gathered from our conversation that she was Christian and while I do not consider myself Christian, I appreciated that she would be praying to her incarnation of a higher power for me. I told her I would pray for her too. My prayer does not involve clasped hands or kneeling in pews. Sometimes, my spirituality comes out of a walk through the woods or during yoga practice.

I struggle with being ill and keeping my faith, but I know there is a reason for all of this, even if I can’t see it now.