A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench . . .
I was trying to put on the brake yesterday. To rest, to refill after a silly, cutie-pie weekend of kids and water balloons and dripping ice cream cones and this house bulging with miracles. I really tried to put the brakes on yesterday. I did. I stayed in my bath robe and let Jack take the kids to run errands. Then, I turned on the tv.
I didn’t know Robin Williams and I’m not going to pretend to, like I’m not going to pretend to know the Christians being slaughtered in Iraq by Isis. Any time we reduce a person to victimhood, anytime we define and remember an entire life by the way it tragically ended, we’ve betrayed Life. We’ve betrayed a million good decisions, a thousands breaths of kindness and health and wisdom and bravery. We also betray each of our own humanity when we elevate people above or denigrate them below the quirky, complicated, gray lives we all live, even if we are stretching into glory and giving way to the Cross. We all remain in need of salvation, even to our dying breaths. We all sin and choose death in tiny ways that no one sees and in big ways we are judged for. Grace for all. Grace for all.
I remember black depression so deep I was convinced that there was no way out. I remember giving way to death, a laying down and accepting that this illness would devour me completely, leave me picked over like a rack of bones in the desert. If I could have mustered the energy, I would have fulfilled my fantasy of climbing onto my parent’s roof and jumping. I imagined 100 times a day what it would be to drown myself in their toilet.
I woke up mornings with a seated presence bearing down on my head. I couldn’t stand erect the presence was so overwhelming. I hunched in the back yard smoking because I couldn’t stand up straight. I saw demons and angels in my peripheral vision, perched, waiting, as if to see what would be decided for me. This from a church girl? This from the child who first lay in God’s presence at the mere age of nine, who spoke in tongues at 13, who lived to work and serve on Campus Ministry retreats, who majored in Religious Studies for the sheer love of the Lord? This girl? This girl, really? Shattered and forgotten even as she begged God to help her?
The truth about Serious Mental Illness is this: it respects no religion, no cultural group, no church, nor any level of education, no gender, no race. The occurrence of SMI’s are the same within the church as they are without (see Mental Health Grace Alliance Webinar below). We would like to think that Christians, at least, would be less likely to suffer from Bipolar 1 Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Major Depression . . . especially in this era of Prosperity Theology, especially when Suicide is a sin, especially when we have–you know–the Ten Commandments, and Doctrine, and the Catholics have the Hierarchy! We all agree down deep that suicide is a sin of despair, right? Suicide is a straight ticket to hell, right?
Bull shit. There, I said it, and I’m going to keep saying it. It’s time Christians who suffer with mental illnesses are given the same help and mercy and love that is shown to the cancer patient and the diabetic and the alcoholic. I am a daughter of the Church. I have loved God all of my life. I didn’t open some door into some demon possession. I tithed on every pay check since my first job in high school. I didn’t even sleep with my husband before we got married. I did everything exactly how I was told to do it so that I could live a good and long life and earn God’s blessing, live in the Promised Land.
But the lie of it all is that we can’t earn blessing and we can’t prevent evil as long as we live here on earth. Illness befalls us all eventually, and it breaks my heart to see so many Christians defend the idea that somehow these Serious Mental Illnesses are diseases of the Spirit. Everyday, more and more scientific truths are being unearthed to help us better understand the diseases of the mind. Epilepsy, for instance, for centuries was considered demon possession. Now? We have drugs and treatments and UNDERSTANDING!
Someday, I believe, that Bipolar and Schizophrenia and Depression will find their places among diseases such as Epilepsy and cancer.
But, for now, Church, it’s time for us to love this disenfranchised group who not only must suffer the horrifying realities of our illnesses, but must do so alone. It is time for us to see suicide as a morbid symptom of terrifying illness, and work to both prevent and understand it.
We, the church, can change the world with love. May we not also be able to change the way people with mental illnesses are understood and treated?
God speed, Robin. My heart breaks for you in those final moments. I pray now you are free from the terror that haunted you. My prayers are with your family.
Heartbroken, and revved up, and infuriated that 800,000 people are still dying annually from this horrible disease!,
P.S. I have been working on a series for this fall on SMI’s, and will be writing a lot about the topics I brought up today. If you would like to learn along with me, here are two awesome webinars through the International Bipolar Foundation that are so amazingly spot on concerning the church’s needed involvement in the Mental Illness arena.