This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.

In these two verses, Christ sums up the law, not so much in the sense that these are the conditions for salvation, but rather that they are in fact the state of it – for what else can heaven be except being deeply and madly in love with God and others? In reality, the other of the commandments are simply clarifications of what such love looks like.

And it is from these – or at least any sensible perception of them – that mental illness shuts us out. Love your neighbour as yourself. Perhaps not even a mandate so much as a statement. Perhaps we love our neighbours as we love ourselves as a matter of course – but that is damning when you so much despise yourself you can’t see the point of crossing the road and trying to revive that body of yours beaten and bruised and dying. Can one save others who cannot save himself?

One can leave the ache and fear alone and try to love – if not ourselves, then at least God, at least those around us. But the thing inside us hunts us doggedly so that what we wish to be love for others and God turns to dust – despair overwhelms and anxiety makes us more of a complication than a blessing to others. And so we are sent defeated back into ourselves, fearing to help or love lest our love come out as hatred.

Yet going inside ourselves is no comfort either. For a more optimistic person, I suppose this would be an opportunity of “dealing with” things, whatever that might mean. If you deal with pain once or twice or three times, perhaps this might seem viable, that life itself is generally triumphant or at least tolerable, and “dealing with” things can restore that general state. Chronic suffering is different. Who will save me from this body of death?

Yes, Christ. But the promise is not always an experiential one – it is a promise in the dark. I hardly know how much of my own state I am culpable for, how much I can change, and how much not. And though well-meaning people would suggest that I shouldn’t worry about culpability, such people would rob me of one of the few things I have left – the capacity for choice and action. Not that I am able to choose in many circumstances – I certainly did not and cannot choose away mental illness. But there must be some crevice of my life left where I can choose, and a way of choosing in this crevice love for God and others – perhaps even love for myself – if only I can find it. Yes, there must be some way that I am my beloved’s and He is mine. But His body next to mine in the lilies feels cold as a corpse. Night is in the garden – and this is the hour when darkness reigns.

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