Personal Account: Sally Clay
From Spiritual Emergency Blog. Jan 10, 2006
Sally Clay is an advocate and consultant for the Portland Coalition for the Psychiatrically labeled, a group run by and for ex-psychiatric patients. She has written: For me, becoming "mentally ill" was always a spiritual crisis, and finding a spiritual model of recovery was a question of life or death.
She describes the role that religion played in her recovery following two years of hospitalization while diagnosed with schizophrenia at the Hartford Institute of Living (IOL): My recovery had nothing to do with the talk therapy, the drugs, or the electroshock treatments I had received; more likely, it happened in spite of these things. My recovery did have something to do with the devotional services I had been attending. At the IOL I attended both Protestant and Catholic services, and if Jewish or Buddhist services had been available, I would have gone to them, too. I was cured instantly-healed if you will-as a direct result of a spiritual experience.
While hospitalized, she had a powerful religious experience which led her to attend religious services. Many years later she went back to the IOL to review her case records and found herself described as having "decompensated with grandiose delusions with spiritual preoccupations." She complains that, "Not a single aspect of my spiritual experience at the IOL was recognized as legitimate; neither the spiritual difficulties nor the healing that occurred at the end".
Even once back in the community, Sally Clay found that the spiritual dimensions of her experience were discounted by members of the religious community: After I was hospitalized and drugged, I tried at times to talk to friends, priests, or other religious persons about the spiritual aspects of my experience. And with very few exceptions, I was told that my spiritual experiences were only symptoms, merely a part of my 'sickness.' As a result of this rational advice from people who were supposed to know, I tried for 20 years to convince myself that these experiences were, indeed, sick and that I should just forget about them. But the fact that my extreme mental states were based on spirituality was so evident to me that no amount of therapy or drugs could eradicate my unspoken conviction.
Clay is not denying that she had a psychotic disorder at the time, but makes the case that, in addition to the disabling effects she experienced as part of her illness, there was also a profound spiritual component that was ignored. She highlights how the lack of sensitivity to the spiritual dimensions of her experience on the part of mental health and religious professionals was detrimental to her recovery. Nevertheless she has integrated her experiences into her personal mythology as a spiritual journey.
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