Book Reviews

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 176pp.Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 176pp.

            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.