A Kind of Purgatory

“And of that second kingdom will I sing
Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,
And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy.”

~Dante, The Divine Comedy

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Recently, I’ve been describing my state of recovery from mental illness as being in a type of purgatory. The idea being that I am not as sick as I once was, yet not fully well. This middle-state has been frustrating, to say the least, due to my wanting to “get going,” but lacking the wherewithal do it. Purgatory. I’m not sick, but I’m not well either. Thus, I’ve been in a state of floating and waiting. Floating and waiting. Floating and waiting.

Not being an especially religious man, I decided, last night, to read up on the exact meaning of purgatory, from the Catholic perspective. To my surprise, maybe even delight, I found a meaning that provided me with a cautious sense of optimism. What I learned was that purgatory is a place that is for souls who have already been saved. However, those souls are not yet ready to live in harmony with God, so they must go to purgatory where they will be purified. Sounds nice, but according to my readings, it isn’t an easy process. It’s comparable to the process of forging gold in the hottest oven. Similar to gold, the souls of the departed, are forged into purity through the fires of contrition and penance. As I said, I’m not a religious man, so if my description is inaccurate, please take no offense.

Now, how does this relate to recovery from mental illness? It relates wonderfully. You see, until now, I regarded the state of inertia, midway between sickness and health, in a purely negative fashion. However, this new (for me) conception of purgatory creates a level of optimism I hadn’t previously considered. In other words, I’m already saved ( not necessarily in a religious, but definitely in a spiritual sense.). But I need to spend some time in mental health purgatory to be refined like gold into a finished product. Thus, this is not, or should not be, a time of inertia and pessimism, but a time of celebration and effort toward becoming whole.

I am getting better. My medications are working. I go regularly to a therapist and a psychiatrist. I’m exercising and eating better than I used to. I am learning new skills that I wouldn’t have were it not for the time I have taken off work to heal. None of this has been easy. Some days, just getting up and putting my feet on the floor is an immense challenge. But I’ve done it. I’m reading, thinking, writing and speaking about the challenges I face as a person living with Bipolar 2 disorder. I’m being honest with myself and with others. And this is hard. But it feels good to know ( or at least to strongly believe) that I am already saved, that it will all work out. I am being refined in the forge of recovery and will soon be ready to face the world in a new way.

Purgatory. What was once a terrifying picture of inertia, meaninglessness, and deep frustration, has become the positive symbol of my recovery. Who would have thought?

Stay the course. Keep the faith. You’re a hero.

J.

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