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Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness Paperback – Apr 1 2006

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Shortly after the birth of her second child, Greene-McCreight fell into a deep depression that lasted on and off for several years. Five years later she was diagnosed as bipolar, "a disease that scuttles between depression and mania." With mental illness so severe that she was hospitalized five times, she nevertheless continued to work as an Episcopal priest and theologian, wrestling with questions that therapists rarely broach but that Christian sufferers can't help asking: If all of God's intentions for us are good, why do we suffer? What is the relationship between mental illness and sin? Is the "dark night of the soul" different from depression? Will God forgive suicide? By means of personal story, theological reflection and practical suggestions for caregivers, Greene-McCreight takes readers into her mind as she plunges from frantic ecstasy ("Gorgeous exotic turbulent swirls of snow. Magic. The world tingles. My brain sparkles, all things connect") to profound despair ("the absence—so present you can feel it, taste it, sometimes even heaven forbid, see it and hear it—of the good"). With firm but never facile faith, she offers hope to Christians with mental illness and understanding to those who live and work with them. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Ph.D., Yale University) is an advising pastor in the seminarian intern program at Yale Divinity School and assistant rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Her previous books include Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin, and Barth Read the Plain Sense of Genesis 1-3 and Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine.

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Amazon.com: 39 reviews
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Intellectually puzzling, emotionally disturbing, spiritually uplifting. March 22 2006
By Andrea R. Nagy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book looks at mental illness from every angle: the emotional, the psychological, the medical, and especially the spiritual. Sometimes we are plunged into the interior life of the severely depressed patient, at other times we are presented with a theological discussion of demon possession or suicide, and at other times we are introduced to the advantages and disadvantages of various drugs and therapies. The book is filled with scriptures, hymns, prayers, practical advice, website addresses, and frightening descriptions of the feelings and hallucinations experienced by a person with bipolar disorder. It is a short book with not a wasted word. In fact, at times I wished for a little more. I wondered most of all if the author was able to discern why she developed bipolar disorder. Was it a delayed reaction to traumatic events of her teenage years? Were there experiences in her earlier childhood that might have contributed? And is there any hope for a cure? The book does not try to draw these kind of conclusions but instead focuses on ministering to the emotional and spiritual needs of the mentally ill. It will be an encouraging guide for the patient, friends, and family, especially those who are devoutly Christian, because in the end the most impressive thing about this book is the author's resolute faith in the midst of deep suffering.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Possibly a New Classic May 15 2006
By R. Pennoyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My hope is that this book will become a little classic. What Greene-McCreight has produced is a compelling work about mental illness (especially depression and bipolar disorder) that is personal but never self indulgent. For the first two thirds of the book she very naturally interweaves episodes of her personal struggle with mental illness with prayer, practical insight, and profound theological reflection. The final third of the work is devoted to sage advice on how clergy and loved ones can help those touched by this affliction, and how to find and evaluate professional help.

The reflections presented here stand firmly within the great historic Christian tradition and thus the work is positioned to have broad and lasting appeal. It is a thoroughly hopeful book, yet unflinchingly realistic about the struggles the mentally ill face and the impact it has on those around them. The book may have been improved still further by occasional light editing for clarity - for example, there is a sentence on p. 113 that I think says the opposite of what was really intended. Also it would have been helpful to mention somewhere that those who suffer from schizophrenia are less often helped by traditional psychotherapy (see, for example, the works of E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.). But this is nitpicking. I am so happy to have found this book!
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
brutal honesty, compassion, hope Jan. 17 2007
By Daniel B. Clendenin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When Kathryn Greene-McCreight was in grad school (she earned her PhD at Yale) and gave birth to her second child, she experienced her first major episode of clinical depression. Five years later doctors diagnosed her as bipolar. After five hospitalizations, two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, and constantly changing drug regimens, for the past two years she has experienced genuine improvement and stabilization. In this sensitive and sensible book, she grapples with what she calls the "apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life," offering theological and pastoral reflections forged in the fires of her experience.

The title for her book comes from the last verse of Psalm 88: "My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion" (KJV). Greene-McCreight addresses most of the questions you might expect. Why does God allow such suffering? Why does He seem to abandon someone who is in such pain, and not answer prayer? Is there a connection between sin and suffering? Just what is personality? What is the relationship between the brain, the mind, and the soul? These are not academic questions, but intensely practical ones for somebody trying to make some sense of profound darkness and disorientation in the light of the Gospel.

I found her chapters on mania, what it is like to stay in the hospital, and how she did and did not "connect" with her various therapists and doctors especially moving. In keeping with her Christian tradition as an Episcopal priest, Greene-McCreight does a fine job at incorporating Scripture, tradition (especially a wonderful selection of hymns, poems and prayers), reason (in this case scientific or medical knowledge), and human experience. She concludes that major mental illness results from a combination of both nature and nurture. As for treatment, she does an excellent job of commending the wisdom of the secular medical community, but also cautioning about times and places "where the chasm between the religious patient and the non-religious therapist simply cannot be bridged." A chapter at the end of the book offers practical advice on how clergy, friends, and family can help a person who struggles with major mental illness. I recommended this book to a friend and also a family member before I had even finished it.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Helpful Companion Sept. 6 2007
By Paul M. Dubuc - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For 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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
If Only There Were More Aug. 4 2006
By P. J. AGNER - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book provides a deeply moving account of the author's own struggle with mental illness. Indeed, any reader who has known such a struggle will find great resonance in the author's description of the pain that made her echo the Psalmist's cry: "Darkness is my only companion." One can add that those who have fought such battles for themselves owe the author a great debt of gratitude for baring her soul in such a misunderstood and stigmatized area. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write. The quotations, especially from Scripture, sprinkled throughout the book are consistently apt and moving, and the practical advice provided at the end, though in some respects already outdated, is probably the best now available.

Yet one wishes, in the end, that there were more here. This is a ground-breaking foray into an important and neglected area of Christian thought. The author, by virtue of her theological training and her personal experience, is uniquely qualified to explore it. If only she had gone deeper into her subject. In particular, her second section, "Faith and Mental Illness" cries out for elaboration and explanation, while her tantalizingly brief (6pp.) discussion of "Why and How I Read Scripture" could be expanded into a fascinating exposition of her own methodology, and why other, more popular approaches are less suited to her purpose.

This book is so good, and its subject so important, it seems inevitable that there will be another edition. One can only hope that the author will take the opportunity to give us more of the insight she has displayed so well thus far.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a parishioner of St. John's Episcopal Church in New Haven, where the author serves as Assistant Rector.

P.J. Agner