Monday, October 6, 2014

The church, the psych ward, and me: a #BlessedAreTheCrazy synchroblog-ama-watzit

So, this is something I've never done before -- a 'synchroblog' -- when a group of folks generate conversation by posting blogs around a common topic. This coming week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and it's also the release of a new book called Blessed Are The Crazy by a UCC clergyperson named Sarah Lund.

So, folks are synchroblogging about mental illness in order to challenge silence and stigma around this important topic.

Of course, if you're someone who reads my blog on occasion, you've probably heard me talk about mental illness before. Like a lot. So I guess what I wanted to say to those who might never have been on this site before is just to offer kind of a short little blurb about my journey with mental illness and the church:

I was diagnosed with a mental illness three years ago (wow, that's hard to believe), after a really awful breakdown and quite a bit of time in a variety of psychiatric health facilities. I had to drop out of my seminary program for a year, and it was a really awful time. I recently rediscovered some of my journals from that time period. There were a lot of f-bombs. It wasn't pretty.

But what I really want to share with any new reader here is that people--including a lot, a lot, a lot of church people--really showed up for me during that time. There are probably more profound ways to say this. But pastors, lay people, one of the deans and several of the professors at my seminary, friends, family -- just a whole lot of people -- were supportive, visited with me, listened to me, sat silently with me, offered help but not stupid faux-advice, and were just generally amazing and beautiful and Christ-like for me.

The thing is that it was still a truly terrible time. I hated everything, myself in particular, and it felt like it was never going to get better. And with mental illness, there is always the possibility that it will get bad again. Healing is not really a linear, predictable, inevitable sort of process.

But a lot of people loved me and prayed for me and supported me, and I have a diagnosis and a treatment plan of medication and therapy, and I'm back in seminary, and working in a ministry I love, and I'm engaged to be married to a wonderful person who encouraged me to write this blog, and I have a very strong support system, and I am very, very grateful.

There's more to the story than that, and I don't want to offer some sort of facile "it just gets better," 'cuz this mental illness shit sucks. But I just want to say to you, if you are reading this, and if you or someone you love is suffering: there is help, and there are people who will be with you in this. And though the church has definitely been the source of a lot of the stigma and mistreatment that people with mental illnesses have faced over the years, a different way of being church isn't only possible, it's already happening, in more places than you might realize. We really can do this.

So that's the really simple version. I'll just share this last thing, a re-post of something I wrote in the hospital more than three years ago now. If you're suffering, please know that there are people who will bear along with you through it all. Hang in there, ok?:

from July 2011:

Hebrews 1:3 says that “[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things–bears along all things–by his powerful word.”

Christ bears along. These words are giving me some comfort. The Human One who is the imprint among us of God’s very being is the same One who bears all things with us, who sustains us and holds us in being. 

Christ is on the psych ward, bearing along. Suffering along. Sustaining the woman who can’t sleep can’t sleep can’t sleep. Bearing along the scared young person with the addiction who wants to stop hating herself, wants to stop being disgusted with herself. Suffering with all those who feel they break relationship, hurt people, want to hurt themselves. 

This Jesus knows a thing or two about broken relationships, about people hurting, about a body tearing itself apart. “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2:18). 

So here is Christ on the psych ward, just like Christ at the checkpoint or the food line or the refugee camp–bearing along, sustaining, holding together the jagged bits that cut, that bleed, to hold onto.

“I’m not going to lie to you. I feel really awkward, but I’m glad I’m here,” said one visitor. “I might be a mess, but I’ll be there,” said another. “Solidarity is salvation,” said a third. Here are people who, whether they know it or not, are bearers of the Christ who bears along all things, sustains all things. The one who sits with, the one who listens, who bears up, who holds your hand or your arm when you thought all it could hold was the knife of self-injury–they merge, somehow, mysteriously, sacramentally, into the One who ultimately holds us together at the most broken place of all. 

Life. Death. Resurrection. 

Christ is here on the psych ward as surely as in any book or any church. “What matters is you getting better,” the social workers say. “What matters is your healing.” But they also say, “Some of the best insights come from each other,” or, “does anyone else in the group resonate with what _____ just said?” 

The chorus responds. “I feel so fragile.” “I just wish I could sleep.” “I’m embarrassed, ashamed.” 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, be gracious to us. We are your broken ones.


Check out all the other entries from the synchroblog event!

Sarah Griffith Lund - Stronger Together -
Glenn Hager - When Mental Illness Strikes Home -
Cara Strickland - Making Peace With My Mental Illness -
Jeremy Myers - A True Foot Washing Service -
David Hosey - The church, the psych ward, and me: a #BlessedAreTheCrazy synchroblog-ama-watzit -
Ona Marie - Mental Illness, Family, and Church: A Synchroblog -
Susan Herman - 3 Self Care Rituals for Managing Tough Transitions -
Joan Peacock - “Alice in Wonderland”, a Bipolar BookGroup Discussion Guide -
Justin Steckbauer - Mental Illness, Awareness, and Jesus -
Kathy Escobar - Mental Illness: 3 Sets of 3 Things -
Leah Sophia - Synchroblog: Mental Illness/Health Awareness -
Josh Morgan - Peace Between Spirituality and Mental Health -
Sarah Renfro - #BlessedAreTheCrazy -
Steve Hayes - Blessed are the crazy: Mental illness and the Christian faith -
Mindi Welton-Mitchell - Breaking the Silence: Disability, Mental Illness and the Church -
Michelle Torigian - A Life of Baby Steps -