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“They said I wasn’t praying hard enough.”
“She told me my mental illness was my fault, that I must have unconfessed sin I wouldn’t deal with.”
“He told me to just smile, and maybe take some vitamins, as if that would help my depression.”
“Once our son had his psychotic break, people at church stopped asking us about him, they just didn’t talk about it. I know they just didn’t want to make it worse, but it hurt to feel alone.”
It happens every time. Every time I begin to share my story with a group of people connected to the Church, I begin a bit afraid, afraid my story of walking alongside my nieces who live with mental illness won’t connect with them, that they’ll look like they wish I hadn’t shared or that I wasn’t talking about such a topic.
Then I start to share, and their stories start. Stories of their friends, their family members, their own stories, about experiences with mental illness, and how the members of the Church either dropped the ball, hurt them with thoughtless words, or just…..said….nothing.
When it comes to mental illness, the Church doesn’t have it figured out yet, anymore than the rest of society. Because of the particular culture and beliefs of the Church, if we aren’t careful, if we aren’t intentionally loving and thoughtful, we may drive people away from the Church, away from the one place they should be sure they can find love, understanding and support.
Sure, not everyone has a terrible experience. I didn’t. My small group prayed me through 7 straight years of crisis and fear and psych hospitalizations. The church meals group brought meals, and people always asked how the girls were doing. More importantly, they listened when I told them it was hard, and I was scared, and I didn’t know if they’d get better.
But because I’ve been relatively open, I know that my experience is rare. As a whole, the Church needs to do a better job of equipping its members to feel just as comfortable walking alongside a family with a mental health crisis as they are walking alongside a family going through a big surgery, or a job loss, or a death in the family.
How do we get there? I believe it starts with listening to each others’ stories, hearing from each other what it’s like to live with mental illness, or to have a family member who does.
Be willing to seek the divine in others whose experiences are very different than yours.
We must be willing to bear witness to these difficult, beautiful stories, and then we can begin to imagine ways in which we can each help – ways in which we are uniquely qualified to help.
Start next Saturday with us, at the next Shattering Stigma event at New Hope Community Church in Happy Valley. You can get more info and register here. Hear about living with bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and more.
Over the next several days I’ll be sharing a little bit about the folks you will hear speak.
If you live with a mental health challenge or you love someone who does, come! Be encouraged, and get equipped.
If you know someone who lives with a mental health challenge, or if you have never had the opportunity to learn, come!
That intriguing question will be the central focus of this weekend’s Shattering Stigma event at Montavilla United Methodist Church, hosted by that church, Folktime and Shattering Stigma. I am really looking forward to hearing from representatives of the Jewish faith, Catholics, Native American traditions, the Muslim community and others all sharing what their faith tradition brings to the conversation on mental health and mental illness.
Saturday, May 16th, 2-8 pm
Montavilla United Methodist Church
There will be workshops on great topics like working with and resourcing congregations around mental health, substance abuse and the faith community, mental health and spiritual emergence (I’m definitely going to that one, I don’t even know what that means and I’ve been on the planning committee!), and the workshop with my favorite title, “Recovery is possible!”
There will also be powerful keynote talks from Ron Unger, who talks about recovery from psychosis and the interaction between psychosis, creativity and spirituality; and Debbie Sanders, wife of Lake Grove Presbyterian Senior Pastor Bob Sanders, who will share how her faith has helped her navigate her life with bipolar disorder.
There’s even dinner! You can register for this event, which is sure to be jam-packed with fascinating discussion, at folktime.org/all_events.
I hope to see you there!
New Hope Community Church will present Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church on Saturday, May 30 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Experience powerful stories of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. This will be a full day of inspiration that will change you, educate you and encourage you. We’ll be sharing the program and info on all of our speakers as it gets closer, so stay tuned!
Registration is only $10, including lunch, and tickets can be purchased here. The program is open to the public. It will be an amazing day of learning and hope, so reserve your tickets now to join us!