THE number of books written by Christians about their experiences of mental illness continues to grow; this is a worthy addition.
Sharon Hastings is a qualified doctor, but she has never been able to practise medicine because of her illness. This is a very personal book, written with honesty and without shying away from the expression of raw emotion. I found myself unable to read more than a chapter or two at any one time; there was a limit to how much of her pain and wrestling I could manage in one sitting.
But this book is not only about emotion. There is a rational underpinning to her story, and explanatory boxes explaining medical terms and diagnoses are particularly helpful at appropriate points in the narrative.
The story begins while the author is at medical school and looking towards her final exams. It charts her progress through hospital stays, treatment programmes, diagnoses, and setbacks. Much of it is told through dialogue, which, with the use of the present tense, makes the story zip along at a fast pace. Hastings acknowledges in the introduction to her book that there is some creative licence in these conversational passages, and for me that was both a gift and a frustration: a gift in the sense that they convey her story so well, but a frustration in that I was constantly aware as I read that these were not exact records of what had passed. Had they been, it would probably have made the book much less readable, but I couldn’t completely let go of the fact that the detailed conversations that she includes are not transcripts, but memories.
There is no happy ending in the sense of a cure, but a growing realisation that living with her illness is a lifetime’s work that will involve future struggles as well as those of the past. But this does not leave her or the reader with a sense of despair. The final chapter lays out three important truths that she has learned about God’s grace as she has persevered through good times and bad ones. It is a fitting ending to a book that marries despair with a sense of ultimate hope.
The Revd Sarah Hillman is the Vicar of Puddletown, Tolpuddle, and Milborne with Dewlish, in Dorset.
Wrestling With My Thoughts: A doctor with severe mental illness discovers strength
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