Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A few scattered Wild Goose reflections

This past weekend, Leigh and I and a bunch of other folks hung out in Hot Springs, NC for the Wild Goose Festival, which is like this big raucous mashup of a progressive Christian conference, a rock concert, a support group for recovering evangelicals (and disgruntled mainliners), a meditation retreat, and a RenFaire. (There are no massive turkey legs, I am assuming out of respect for wild geese. There are kilts, though. And beer.)

I had the incredible privilege to share a stage at the Goose with Rev. Sarah Lund, a UCC pastor who is doing great work to break the silence around mental illness, particularly in churches. We spoke of our experiences with mental illness, mental health, and faith. A had a number of people ask me for resources afterwards, so I'm going to put a few things down at the bottom of this relatively brief post.

I had meant to record my talk so I could post it on here, but I got so nervous beforehand that it totally fell out of my mind -- and anyway, the content of it pretty much shows up in bits and pieces on other places on this blog.

But I will just share a few quick reflections.

Sarah and I, I think it's fair to say, are both new to the Wild Goose world. We weren't exactly the headline names of the festival. We spoke in one of the festival tents while at the same time, on the main stage, people like Brian McLaren and Rudy Rasmus and Sara Miles spoke. So we weren't quite sure how many people would come to our talk.

We packed the tent. My guess would be 250-300 people were in there, though I'm bad at estimating numbers.

I don't say this to brag. Just the opposite: to me, the fact that so many people showed up to hear relatively unknown folks talk about mental illness reveals just how desperately people want to talk about this. Mental illness and mental health struggle are such a part of our shared human experience, but so rarely are people given permission to share their stories of it. And so we gave people some time to talk to each other, and the tent filled with the sounds of honest and painful stories, and tears just streamed down my cheeks.

Afterwards, people asked me a number of powerful questions, most of which I didn't have answers to. I'm going to be pondering some of them and maybe writing short reflections over the next couple of days, but for now I just want to say "thank you" to everyone who came, to everyone who has supported me, and to everyone who takes the risk of sharing their own story.

And for any of you out there who are struggling, or who feel unable to share: hang in there. Try to practice self-compassion, as hard as it is. Know that you are not alone.

I will also just say that, if what I say whenever I talk about is true -- that the first step to healing for people struggling with mental illness is to reduce isolation -- then the fact that Leigh and my parents were both in the tent while I shared my story is a testament to the kind of incredible support and love that I hope everyone will be able to receive.

One final thought. The day after our talk, I helped my friends Alicia and Morgan facilitate an intergenerational conversation about leadership. I believe the youngest person in the circle was 12; the oldest was 76. It was, for me, the most important thing that I participated in during the Festival. Youth shared their experiences of being affirmed in, and being discouraged from, their leadership. Adults asked questions about how they could be more supportive, how they could listen better. And some older folks shared their own frustrations with not being heard or trusted by society.

It is my opinion that without this kind of conversation, happening everywhere, in as many different types of venues as possible, all of the other important conversations at a place like Wild Goose -- about LGBTQ lives and the spirituality of authenticity, about racial and economic justice, about mental illness and mental health -- all of these conversations will sputter for lack of intergenerational oxygen.

And I believe that we can be the people to ensure that these conversations happen.

All of which is to say: Thank you. Thank you. Wow.

A few resources on mental health and mental illness:
-- first, I'll reiterate that the most important resource for folks struggling with mental illness is people and communities who are willing to just show up -- to listen non-judgmentally and to reduce isolation
-- second, if you're in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. You can find out more about the Lifeline at their website or the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Lifeline was just exactly that for me on a number of occasions when I was in crisis. 
-- many denominations have begun developing mental health resources for use in churches, such as the UCC's Mental Health Network and the UMC's Caring Community Program
-- I recently completed a Mental Health First Aid training, which I highly recommend for anyone, but particularly people -- from pastors to from security guards to church front desk volunteers to parents -- who often end up being the 'first on the scene' during mental health crises. I found a free training, and it was about six hours. Totally worth it.
-- A number of organizations like NAMI and Recovery International have peer-to-peer support groups. I don't have personal experience with these groups -- most of my group work has happened in psychiatric hospitals -- but they're worth checking out. 

-- Sarah Lund's book, Blessed are the Crazy, has a number of helpful resources in an appendix. Other books that have been helpful to me in my journey have been Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression; Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness; and Jean Vanier's very short and easy to read Seeing Beyond Depression.

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