“A mental health diagnosis isn’t spiritual. I’m not going to take medication; and besides, what does a diagnosis have to do with spirituality? Shouldn’t I just pray and meditate more?”
As a licensed clinical therapist and spiritual counselor for over a decade, I have been asked these questions frequently, and understandably so. There is still a lot of stigma on mental health issues, not only because of ignorance or the fear of being judged as “crazy”; but also among the more spiritually-minded folks who don’t want to identify with labels. Some people feel that having a mental health diagnosis will somehow become a block to wholeness.
Ironically, every once in a while, I will hear “I am a [such-and-such number] on the Enneagram”, or “I am a [four letters] on the Myers-Briggs scale” as a reason why they are unable to change themselves or how they manage their lives. But just as these personality-type labels can serve as a self-awareness tool, a diagnosis can bring light to areas where we need to push a little harder, or accept and have self-compassion a little more, in order to support our daily functioning and our spiritual growth.
Spirituality does not mean the absence of issues—including diagnoses—but the working with and through them. Instead of seeing a diagnosis by your doctor or therapist as a lifetime sentence, try using it as a tool for understanding those limitations you are here to overcome.
Any diagnosis can show us our strengths and limitations. Our job is to use those measurements to understand ourselves, and move forward where we have been limited, using the strengths that we have accumulated!
For example, if you have anxiety, what tools can you use to support your own peace of mind? How can you use meditation (mindfulness or otherwise) or yoga to help you ground yourself and strengthen your mind-body communication? What tools are you using to help you take charge of the faulty, racing thoughts when they are keeping you up at night? Everyone needs these skills; anxiety makes us have to work a little harder to strengthen them than someone without a diagnosis that includes some form of anxiety.
If depression is a problem, how can you stretch beyond your comfort zone? What tools in your toolbox do you have to support yourself on the more difficult days? Self-compassion is always, always, always first. If that’s hard for you, then that’s what to start practicing. Keep a list or a vision board of what makes you feel good, your strengths, and what you are grateful for. If you need help coming up with what your strengths are, ask someone you trust. But even then, you have to grow your own self-acceptance of your diagnosis and how it makes you feel some days, or every day. No one will convince you but you; and you have to work a little harder at it than someone who isn’t diagnosed with depression.
Attention deficit issues? What a great opportunity to learn focus and presence! Make a two-column list of what your strengths are and what your limitations are. How can you apply your strengths more widely and build compensation strategies for your difficult areas?
And we could go on with every diagnosis. Whatever diagnosis you may have, look at your strengths as well as the areas where you need inner and outer support more than the next person. Part of self-compassion is to refrain as much as possible from comparing yourself to the next person who may not be dealing with what you are. I guarantee you that they are dealing with something that might seem very easy to you. We are all working on something!
As spiritual beings, we all have our challenges to work through. Some people are systemically discriminated against, some people grow up in abusive households, some are financially unstable, some have difficulties maintaining relationships, some have a combination of challenges. Our spiritual growth is supplemented through compassion for and moving with the challenges we have in our lives, diagnosis or otherwise.
Is it easy? Nope. But who ever told us it was easy? No spiritual tradition that I have ever heard of! Your solution will be as unique to you as the challenges that you are dealing with. Get support. You don’t have to do anything alone!
And by all means, if medication will support you best, go for it! It is sad to me when a client won’t allow themselves to benefit from medication, and continues to struggle with a brain make-up that is overwhelming them in spite of their best efforts! Years ago, I had to get off my judgments and fears regarding Western medicine. It was the Universe telling me, “Let go of your hang-ups, lady! You have to learn to trust Me in whatever way I direct you!” Self-acceptance also means being open to the support that is available to us!
Be open to your soul’s messages. This will benefit your spiritual development the most. Turn within in whatever way you pray and meditate for strength, support, and intuitive answers. Take the outer signs within you, and ask your inner guidance, “How can this benefit my soul growth?”
Don’t be too spiritual for a diagnosis. Be too spiritual to stay stuck.