National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI

One Word at a Time: A Writer’s Spiritual Journey to Recovery

By Kevin Coyle, NAMI Frederick (Md.)

Ten years ago, back when I was 18, I planned to go to college and live a normal life as a deaf man. But at age 19, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The psychotic world in my mind, which seemed so real at times, threatened to imprison me in a world of delusions. In class, my passion for words kept me motivated, but once I graduated from college I plunged into a pit of despair. I wrote and slept, but struggled to produce anything. Writing was my drug and it was my boyhood dream to be a writer, but a writer cannot live on words alone. 

I looked for God, but He could not be found. Psalm 13 captured my yearnings: “How long, O Lord, will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” My enemy was my mental illness and like a prisoner in a cell, I saw no way out or nowhere to go. I was scared of the world. Medications and therapy helped some, but the best medicine was love. Even as I lost faith in myself, my family and friends never lost faith in me.

Ironically, it was a tragic event that lifted me out of my own sadness. In 2007, my college advisor of four years unexpectedly died. For a long time I wanted to write something in honor of him, but the words would not come. Then one morning beautiful, graceful lines came to me without struggle. God answered my silent prayer.

I soon sent the article to the alumni publication of my alma mater, which published it a few months later. This article commemorated him and turned my sorrow into joy. Since his burial, I have kept his funeral pamphlet on my desk. Every time I look at it, I am inspired and comforted. His spirit is with me and gives me strength.

Living at home after college was difficult, so I moved into a group home for deaf individuals. That too was a challenge, but there I found new companions who gave me the strength not only to endure my illness, but to think positively. The monthly SSI checks didn’t provide us much, but what we lacked in wealth, we made up with good spirits and humor. Not a day goes by that my roommates or fellow members don’t crack a good-hearted joke. Just being with them is a joy—they are the reason I get up each morning and live each day.

Then I became involved with a wellness and recovery center. Soon after, I got involved with the center’s informal writing group and literary publication, The Fellow Traveler. I felt accepted and comforted. Looking back, I believe that God sent these special earthly angels to uplift me and give me hope.

Now I feel blessed with what I have. Not only has God sent me friends during my darkest hours, He has given me the capacity to reach out and touch others through the written word. I continue to write short articles and biographical sketches about the people I know and love. Recently, I found solace in contributing prayers and essays to my local church for its newsletters and services. In my life, writing has opened a door to friendship and has given me spiritual strength to rise above the anguish of my illness. For me, the real reward is making a difference in the lives of other people that I care about. Like anyone, I have my down days—but I feel that I am winning the battle one word at a time.