“I’m not doing well.” is different from being “unwell.”

Mary went to where Jesus was. As soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

John 11:32,33

When I was regaining my footing and beginning to manage my mental health, I explored spirituality by attending church, praying, reading spiritual resources, and meditating.  A problem arose when I was reminded of the numerous times I was manic and entertained delusions of spiritual grandeur. Almost every time I entered psychosis, I believed things that were beyond the scope of reality. When I was 17, I hallucinated my deceased grandfather’s voice speaking to me from heaven. At age 25, I thought I had messianic powers. Locked in a psychiatric ward at age 28, I began meditating and Tibetan-style throat singing in my hospital room in an effort to heal my mind. I do not consider those spiritual or emotional experiences. These experiences were not spiritual or emotional; I was unwell.

Having been stable for over two years, at the age of 32, I sat in my psychiatrist’s office and explained how I was talking to God, meditating daily, and feeling led to make decisions in my life through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I presented these aspects of my life as if they were problematic. My very gentle and gracious psychiatrist extinguished any concerns I had about my current healthy spiritual practices. He said: “Be careful not to pathologize everything in your life, especially your spiritual experiences.”

When Jesus finally arrives at his friend Lazarus’ crypt, a scene ensues. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, is upset. Christ himself is also said to be “greatly disturbed and deeply moved.” I’ve always imagined the folks at Lazarus’ crypt to be in a rough emotional state. Intense and extreme emotions, like the ones experienced at a burial ceremony, need not be pathologized.

It is okay to cry. It is okay to raise your voice. It is okay to be so upset that saliva bubbles around the edges of your mouth, your cheeks flush, and your nose runs. My addiction counselor called this “getting messy.” You might want to call it, “Not doing well.”

“Being unwell” is a completely different scenario. When I am unwell, I believe things that are not true. When I am unwell, I can stay up for eight days straight. When I am unwell, I am on track for a hospital stay in a psych ward.

For individuals dealing with a mental health condition, it’s not uncommon for intense emotions to be either suppressed or subjected to societal stigma. I often worry if I become “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” people will think that I am becoming unhinged. Instead, I choose to speak to the validity of safe, genuine, and heightened emotional expression.

Sacred guide, spirit of our emotions, draw us away from our mortal state of self-judgment and into a place of comfort with the divine.

Seth Perry

Seth Perry

ELCA Pastor -Devotional Blogger- Mental Health Recovery Educator-Living Well with Bipolar Type 1


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A devotion. In my journey to manage my mental health and explore spirituality, I encountered moments of intense emotion. Early recovery was difficult because I couldn't distinguish emotion and spirituality from the symptoms of my mental health condition. My psychiatrist advised against pathologizing spiritual experiences. We will do this while reflecting on the scene at Lazarus' crypt.