a view from the margins: respecting mental illness

 to respect something is to “show regard or consideration for.” giving our respect to things we hate is a very tricky thing to do.  we don’t mind respecting and honoring things and people we appreciate, but when it’s something that makes us mad, well that’s a different story.  there is such a wide spectrum when we say “mental illness”, ranging from depression to bipolar to anxiety disorder to schizophrenia to a wide range of other diagnoses that get tossed around.  some struggle with it more than others.  some hide it better than others. some have it under control and more manageable than others.  but no matter how you slice it up, we can’t ignore that a lot of people in this world, in our communities, our schools, our families, our churches are battling some form of mental illness. i hate mental illness.  i am not afraid to say that i really can’t stand the way it can create such a sense of shame and despair and confusion and loneliness in different ways for so many people i know. and at the same time, i am learning to respect it.  to show regard for how real and difficult it is for some.  to consider its power & implications.  to not think that somehow the perfect pill will make it magically go away.  to learn to understand that when we see someone who is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, we probably wouldn’t say to them “get up and walk”, yet we subtly and directly expect people with mental health issues to be able to do just that.  just because we can’t visibly see the disability doesn’t mean it’s not there.  i personally do not struggle with mental illness. i have had short seasons of depression, but that’s about it.  but i do know a lot of folks who do.  and even though i am angry at its ravages and wish it didn’t exist, i am learning to respect it, to accept the reality it brings to people’s lives.  when something is real, out on the table, acknowledged, tended to, it has a much greater chance of healing. and healing related to mental illness looks a lot different than making sure people start acting the way they think they should act.

one of my friends, “kate”, has done an amazing job owning her mental illness.  that doesn’t mean leaning into it and letting it rule her.  it means acknowledging that it is part of her life, her story.  and that as her friends, we do, too.  since i have known her she has and continues to work her tail off on her recovery & healing, to bring what’s in the darkness into the light & embrace her reality without staying stuck.  listen to her story.  if you don’t struggle with mental illness, try to enter into to an understanding that because we don’t know what it’s like, we don’t know what it’s like.  and if you do, i hope that you feel a little less alone.

share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, what some of your mental health issues are and how they affect your life?

My twin sister and I were born to a single young mother.  My father was not in the picture.  My family are blue collar workers, none are college educated, low to middle class.  There is a strong presence of white supremacy.   My mother married a man much older than her when I was about 18 months old. He was a Vietnam Vet, and seemed quite negatively affected by it.  He was extremely physically abusive to my sister and me as well as my mother and was sexually abusive to my sister and me as well.  There were guns all over the place, and he carried one wherever he went.  I remember just always, ALWAYS feeling petrified.  It was best not to talk or attract attention in any way.  My kindergarten records say I was very uncooperative, clung to my sister, and would not participate even though I was fully capable.  My sister started several fires, one in our apartment.  She wanted to die.  My mother eventually got away from this man, but continued dating and marrying abusive men until I left home when I was 17.  I’m dealing with PTSD and dissociative disorder now.  I often feel the downward pull of depression.  I have good days, I have bad days.  I’ve been in and out of the psych ward many times.  Doctors have diagnosed me with everything under the sun and I’ve been on loads of medications, enough to make me drool.  PTSD and dissociative disorders are treatable, but the reality is that the medical profession-on the whole–would rather put me on tranquilizers and other horrible meds instead of guiding me to proper therapy to make me better.  Good therapy is hard to find and most people I know can’t afford it anyway.  Some would say “well just go to community mental health”, but in reality most community mental health agencies i have gone to don’t provide counseling for PTSD and dissociative disorders.  Because of the dissociation, I have a really hard time with the concept of time.  I can’t tell how long things are going to take, how long has passed, so planning is a chore for me.  I’m learning…  I have panic attacks in new situations, places where there are a lot of people in a small space, stuff like that.  I’m terrified that I’ll have a flashback in public and be unable to control my emotions and actions, and everyone will think I have really lost it. From the outside, people do not see this part of me.  But they don’t live in my head.

describe a little what it feels like in your head sometimes?

Mostly it’s loud–different voices, often fighting to be heard.  Sometimes it gets out and I say something off-color or unrelated to what’s going on around me on the outside.  I’ve been evaluated and told that my mind thinks very quickly as well, so my cognitions get WAY ahead of the people I’m talking to, which causes a lot of relational weirdness.  If I’m nervous, it gets worse.  Words escape me and I sound like an idiot because I’m trying to censor, tone down, and be normal to the point that communication just breaks down completely.  I’m told this often happens to kids who grow up in an environment where they had to sort of always figure out what would happen next.  The more intelligent they are, the further ahead they get, and the more unhealthy the “mindreading” of other people can become because they’re always trying to avoid negative consequences of making a wrong move.  I have to consciously slow down and really hear what people are saying with their body and their words.  Mostly I feel like a total stranger to this world, like everyone knows I don’t belong and there is something wrong with me.

what does depression sometimes do to you?

Depression just takes hold…It’s so hard to describe. I don’t eat because it feels like I’m feeding a useless body with a useless, worthless life.  I can only sleep during the day because nightmares get absolutely intolerable at night.  I don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere— I just can’t… move…  my…  body.  My mind doesn’t care either, because it forgets everything.

what are some of the ways that “the system” provides for you? what services do you get? how does it feel, getting those services?

I get a small amount of disability, and Medicare with that.  The money is enough to help pay a couple bills to help the family.  Medicare is helpful as well, but most doctors won’t take it.  Definitely the good doctors won’t.  I feel like I am expendable; some doctors are actually negligent and don’t care at all, because I am a medicare recipient–not worth saving.  The attitude is, “it sucks to be you.”  There are always exceptions, and in my case it’s a BIG one.  My therapist is a Christian therapist and willing to work with Medicare to pay for my therapy.  That is unheard of.  If it weren’t for this, I would not be getting better!  I’m a lucky one.  Most people like me are forced to go to their community mental health agency.  The turnaround there is hideous, the care is usually nominal at best, and most take a lot of medication to keep them sedated so they stop “causing a problem.”  I also am involved with Vocational Rehabilitation.  They’ve been wonderful as far as paying for my college classes.  Before my husband had a decent job, our family was receiving food stamps, daycare assistance (since I was in the hospital a lot and heavily medicated), and our kids had medicaid.  It was all very helpful for us, but the cost personally is HUGE.  Workers at social services are among the worst abusers of the poor and needy…  There is nobody to tell about this poor treatment, and the general public generally feel beggars can’t be choosers.  I personally feel that if social services would employ only those who have received services before, it would be a much better and efficiently-run program.   Even better, wouldn’t it be grand if the church put social services out of business?

what is the hardest part about your battle with mental illness, what do people need to know?

I may look like I only need you, but you need me, too.  I’m a very capable, competent person.  I need people who will push me to dream and reach.  I have a future.  I cannot get better without your encouragement and acknowledgement that I can do this, just as you have needed it too.

in the middle of the night, what are some of the things you cry out to God?

I need some sleep!!  🙂 Please, please change me;  make me normal; if i’m not gonna get better, and my dreams are gonna go to waste, if you can’t use me—  just strike me dead.  I beg of you…  and I’m really thankful, He hasn’t struck me dead yet.

what keeps you going, battling, fighting for healing?

I have always felt there is something special I must be here for, something only I can do…  And I don’t want to miss it.

 how has God given you new eyes to see your struggle?

He has shown me that he made me a certain way in the beginning, that my heart is very soft for good reasons.  Evil got to me when I was young and defenseless, but it’s not a bad thing to be tender and sensitive.  Nobody is allowed to beat me or abuse me now, so it’s ok to carry on the way he made me.  It’s taking a TON of healing, but in this moment I feel like I’m worth it.

what are some of the crazy ways God provides for you and strengthens and sustains you?

My therapist is quite a long way from where I live.  Vocational Rehab has a mileage reimbersement program that saved my butt when gas prices were so high.  Because I don’t bring in much financially right now, God seems to find a way to meet our basic needs.  God also saw fit to find me a dad…a man I’ve known a long time has sort of adopted me as his daughter and loves me just the way I am.  It has helped in a BIG way in therapy.  I have a dad, so I don’t have as much trouble wanting my counselor to take over that role.  I get more done in therapy because of it.  He even pays my copay for counseling; He must think it’s worth it.  Another thing that I now have are friends who don’t let me stay stuck.  Kathy kicks my ass and tells me to keep fighting because I have certain abilities and gifts that are needed!  She reminds me that I am not wasted breath and am valuable to this world, and that she is holding my place for when I am able.  I have a community of safe people who will NOT give up on me.  I have a feeling that even if this was the best I could ever do, they would still love me and be cheering for me.  I also have a service dog that provides tactile stimulation to stay grounded, and that great constant, unconditional love only dogs can give.  My dog is truly a Refuge icon!

what pisses you off the most about mental illness?

That this is not my fault, though “the system” treats me badly as if it is.  No wonder it gets perpetuated in most families…

what brings you the most relief?

Talking.  Being held.  Hugs.  Eventually getting busy again.

are there any really stupid things christians have said to you along the way that made you want to punch them?

We don’t need you anymore.”

“After all our help, you’re still not all better…”

“There comes a point that is beyond our grace.”

“You are too damaged to (insert ministry of choice here–  be in the praise band, talk about your story in front of people, clean the church toilets).”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Well why in the world are going to counseling if it brings the past up and makes you feel WORSE?  Leave the past behind and follow Jesus.”

what are some of the ways people have helped you the most?

Watching the kids when I was unable,  making sure I got to therapy, asking if I’m taking my medication properly.  NEVER giving up on me, seeing the best in me, meeting with me regularly to check in.

have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes?  how?

I feel like I’ve been labeled “Christian flunkie.”   Trust me when I say I KNOW exactly what to say to get favor with most Christians– I lived that way for a looong time:  “well, I was a little down today, but I know God is renewing my mind and I am new every morning!  I am so thankful for all he has blessed me with.”   Nothing wrong with all that, unless you’re faking it.  I get the feeling that if I just talked a little more in “Bible”, and hit all the right positive phrases, I would be more widely accepted by my evangelical friends.

how does shame fit into the church equation?

In my experience, the Church have been the worst offenders of everyone at heaping shame.  Rarely do I come across Christians who want to be examples of grace, hope, love…

what does it feel like to be part of a faith community like the refuge? what are you learning about yourself and people and God through it?

This the craziest bunch of sane people I have ever seen.  People strive to be healthy, safe, loving people without exception or condition.  We are like family. And that causes so much questioning and messiness, and struggle…and real growth and beauty and change.

any other thoughts you’d like to add?

Don’t diss any of Kathy’s friends–she will kick your ass.

okay, kate, thanks for making me cry (i know that makes you happy).  my favorite line:  “wouldn’t it be grand if the church put social services out of business?” for some, like kate, mental illness developed from trauma.  for others, it stems from chemical wackiness & a wide variety of other things.  regardless of how it got there, here’s my hope:  we learn to better respect mental illness. i know there are some out there that say “we can’t give in to it, we can’t accept it.  if we do, then we’re giving the enemy a foothold” respecting does not mean giving into it.  i think we need to be praying our hearts out  &  fighting our tails off against the damage that it can do.  but i believe we, the church, as brothers and sisters on the journey, must learn to quit being so afraid of it and stop expecting that people who struggle with depression & anxiety & a whole myriad of  mental health issues should “somehow figure it out and get better soon so we can feel less uncomfortable.”   i’d love to hear some of your thoughts & perspectives (hey, let’s all be careful to not give advice!).

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

28 Comments

  • “Kate,” I just want to thank you for sharing so beautifully with us. I was horrified to read what some Christians have said to you. Oh. Man. I just could not believe what I was reading (but I do believe it). I think comments like those show how deeply entrenched we can get in our thinking that if someone isn’t getting “better” according to our timetable, then it’s their fault. It seems to be the ultimate in blame shifting.

    I’ve often wondered if it’s a sick way of keeping terror at bay: We think everything can be controlled, patched up, fixed, and that gives us some twisted sense of security, you know: It couldn’t happen to us.

    Thanks again for sharing. I’m so happy you have Kathy and The Refuge and your counselor and so many more people in your life right now so that you aren’t alone on the journey.

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  • kathy: some of my favorite people are the mentally ill and they are some of the most beautiful. people might read that and think i am crazy, but i have a bunch of them that i have fallen in love with Father’s heart for them.

    For some reason i am thinking of the book “the shack” and how papa that is what Father is called in the book says of everyone He is especially fond of them. our mentally ill neighbors and brother’s and sisters really need to see through us that Father is especially fond of them.

    “wouldn’t it be grand if the church put social services out of business?” A RESOUNDING YES!

    kathy i know you use the word church i hope you will not hold the following against me. However I personally use the word ecclesia. i personally define both church and religion as a obligation management system that is driven by shame and fear. So I personally believe that is why our sister has had many of the negative experiences she has in church as well as that all of us that have been part of institutional church.

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  • Thanks so much for posting this. After having lived through some very difficult times with a loved one struggling with mental illness, I have come to hate what it can do to those who suffer from it and those around them as well. I’m so glad to hear a story of someone who has been able to fight against their illness and be able to move on the path towards healing. I hope that someday the person I love will find that same path.

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  • Kathy,
    I am so glad you did this post. I am really enjoying these interviews you have done. Ah…so much Truth, insight and substance here.

    *Kate* I just want to thank you for being so open and honest here, pouring out your thoughts, feelings and experiences. I, too, have dealt with my own “issues,” as well, my brother suffered from Schizophrenia.

    Indeed, the world, and unfortuantely, the institutional Christian System does not understand mental illnesses. It is a taboo subject and far too often, they are treated so horribly poorly.

    Everyone is valuable and worthy to be loved. Period.

    Feel free to visit my blogpage and read “My Life Story” I posted on 8/11/08. I also have written a book that is also posted on my page which describes my whole story. (Blogpage below my name).

    Again, thank you both Kathy and Kate for this wonderful post. I hope many, many people read it and bring it into their hearts and minds to both ponder, and live out love, respect and grace to all the mentally ill.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    Walking In The Spirit
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • oh kate, you are so right on. and oh how you’ve changed in the last few years. i’m so proud of you for hanging in and fighting, like hell, to see some redemption in such a brutal story. love you sweetie!!

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  • i’ve walked with a good friend of mine named “james” for years through his mental illness, depression, ocd, voices in his head, being institutionalized, threats of suicide, and on and on…one of the hardest thing about it all was watching people leave james one by one, they just got tired, they abandoned him…but the hardest thing of all was my sense of abandonment by god, the feeling like even he left the building…I remember telling my wife after a suicide scare, that if james took his life, I would be done with god..that was my deal breaker. at one point i felt hopeless, pissed, abandonded; all the things that james had felt for years. was that god’s plan??? i don’t know…i do know that if i gave up, then what hope would james have that jesus never quits.

    rock on kate, my heart both breaks for you and cheers for you. i have a feeling that you can teach us all a lot about grace, hope and love.

    and wouldn’t it be grand if we put the church out of business. (that was just for you kath!)

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  • Sometimes I wonder if any of us are mentally healthy. Maybe grasping that, understanding that, and being real about it would help us understand and relate to people. Seems like one of the biggest hurdles to accepting peoples condition is trying very hard to empathize with them. I’ve run into alot of people who just believe or put out there, “I’m totally healthy, so you should be too”.

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  • tracy – yes, i am so with you. in fact, i have decided that after this series is over i am going to wrap with a list of all these stupid and hurtful and just plain mean statements that christians have made to so many. ugh, argh, makes me mad!!! and yes, i do believe that our tendency to want things to “get better the way we want them to get better” is what makes so many unable to be safe, encouraging companions on the journey.

    tom – i got you. i understand and i drive a few other people crazy using the word “church”, too, but you know i am just praying for many to keep trying to redeem the word! and the word ecclesia, so many don’t even know what it means or how to pronounce (including me for a while, hahah!) it’s this tricky dance for us because we are technically ‘a church’, a community of believers who do gather intentionally and spread Christ’s love in any way we can, and at the same time we have so many elements that don’t look at all like the ones most are used to. i am so done with the institution and the damage it continues to do, intentionally and unintentionally. thanks for sharing your heart for those cast and tossed aside. it’s beautiful.

    mimosa – yeah, me either. i am definitely going to put that list together at the end of this!

    livesimplylivestrongly – then you know what it is like firsthand, being up close and personal in the trenches…i am glad that this story brought you some hope…thanks for stopping by!

    amy – as always, thanks for all the kind words you always share.

    mike – yeah, it is a beautiful one unfolding, isn’t it, my friend? such a privilege to get to see and makes me believe….

    john – 2nd best quote of the day!! hahaha. thanks for that. and yes, the whole God thing in all of this is pretty hard to reconcile, but somehow, someway he manages to keep showing up in all kind of weird ways. but i am so with you, it’s hard sometimes to not just give into the hopelessness and despair of life never getting easier. it’s a tricky tricky dance…

    jim – yes, i am so with you. this is my big gripe with “church” – we have the “healthy, normal ones” and we have the “messed up, recovery ones.” that is such crap. we are all messed up, we are all mentally imbalanced in some way, and we all are in desperate need of God’s love and grace and hope. i think that’s why the 12 step groups are so successful at creating spaces for true and radical healing. everyone’s in the same beautiful boat and there’s an awareness of brokenness that is so not present in so many churches because “healthy, normal, strong, powerful” is what is valued. hey jim don’t get me started, i can feel a rant coming on! i am so with you!!!

    phyllis – yeah, i thought the same thing. now that’s powerful, eh?

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  • Kathy, if you run out phrases for your “list of all these stupid and hurtful and just plain mean statements that christians have made to so many” you just let me know. Boy, do I have a few doozies that have been said to me! That might actually make for a really beautiful post–to have everyone put those hurtful remarks in the comment section almost as a healing action–to really put them down and say we refuse to pick them up again. Hmmmm….I’m just thinking out loud here. I know, I know, I should start blogging again! I’m just not quite ready.

    Thankfully all those comments made to me in the past now make me laugh when I recall them now, but I sure didn’t always feel that way about them!

    It’s probably a never-ending list, isn’t it? Come, Lord Jesus! 🙂

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  • Kathy – Kate, thank you. This is powerful. Hmm… I had to get out of church in order to get therapy. And God led me to a wonderful therapist that “wasn’t taking any new clients” and doesn’t advertise. And took me because a friend of hers asked. And has specialized in treating victims of sexual abuse for a long time.

    My ex-pastor used to say these thing (among others) from the pulpit:
    “Depression is a sin. Christians have no business being depressed!”
    “Don’t be angry at the abuser. Hurting people hurt people. He’s on;y doing it because he is hurting.”
    “You may not have had a choice in whether or not you were abused. But you have a choice in whether you let it hold you down. Get over it and move on.”

    There were many, spoken form the mouth of a man were is an abuser himself.

    The thing so many don’t want to look at is that all the things that happened to me growing up happened while growing up in a Pentecostal (AofG, to be precise) church where parents & grandparents were deacons and Sunday school teachers, etc. And the many of the pastors were shopping the pews, sometimes for the younger members… And nobody did anything….

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  • Hmm… there is also the social services aspect. The PTSD and depression and suicidal thoughts and all have been a part of my life since I was 12 or so. And it was incredibly difficult this last summer to allow my therapist to “label” me “mentally ill” and “disabled” due to this. But it opened doors. Getting Food stamps was some wonderful this time. 20 years ago, I was on them for about a year and they were so suspicious that I was scamming and treated me like scum. this time, I got respect and treated like a person. That was unexpected. At Voc Rehab, though, my first interview was with a counselor who was condescending and abusive and did not seem to think the depression was a valid disability. I was sitting in her office shaking and crying while filling out the paperwork and she is verbally grilling me about why I am depressed and what kind of abuse was it. Stuff that is not even any of her business – she’s a JOB counselor. Her attitude was abusive. Then through the grilling, she discovered that she used to work with my dad and suddenly I am having to comfort her because she is devastated that this person she knew could treat their child that way. It was surreal.

    Anyway, there is an immense amount of fear involved for someone to state that they are not well and need help. The is compounded exponentially when those available to seek help from treat them like they are to blame for their problems.

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  • Hey there, everyone–
    It’s very cool to read all your responses! There’s so much more I want to say about the power of real community– I’ll write again for sure.
    Specifically to Katherine– hang in there! The messages you heard from church folks smell like smoke to me (ya know, like lies from hell, lol). I wanted stand up and yell it out with ya! :0)
    I’m totally encouraged and invigorated knowing that there really ARE you all out there who get it! :0) Keep the passion coming!
    “Kate”

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  • Kate ~ thank you. It’s been a wild year. A wild life, 🙂
    I’m glad you have found someone like Kathy and her group. Real help – real community. Yeah. I’m hanging in.

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  • Another blog that blew me away…”wouldn’t it be great if the church put social services out of business.” Um….yeah….and wow…thank you, Kate, for your bravery…and Kathy…for this.

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  • Oh kathy & kate thank you so much for this!!!! I have heard those phrases amd so many more in the church, just pains me to hear it happens so often. I really think the more you share kate and the more kathy and many more who *get it* speak out openly then a tide of change will start moving more strongly. I think I will share this entire post with my sunday school class thank you both so much!!!

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  • tracy – i so love your idea. let’s do it at the end (and yes, my first thought was when are you going to post it, tracy, we miss you out here!)

    katherine – oh when i hear those statements it makes me want to scream. i am so glad that you are out..that no longer are you in a place where those kinds of abusive and damaging words are heard. thank you for sharing about some of your experiences too with services. this is why i am so passionate about the whole advocates thing, even just someone to go along for the ride. my motto: no one should have to go to social services or county mental health alone, especially not the first few times when it’s just so hard to even walk through the door and ask for what you need. thinking of you from afar…i am glad you are “here”

    kate – thanks again for sharing. you are awesome and it is a beautiful, messy, wild story unfolding and i am just thankful to get to be a part of seeing it in front of my very eyes…

    amy – nice to hear from you here. of course, i love your new blog title 🙂

    robert – hey, it’s been a while! nice to hear from you and i would love to hear what our sunday school’s response was…

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  • Kathy and Kate – thanks for sharing this post. I’ve sort of dropped random thoughts into this post – there really is a common thread.

    I’ve not had any official relationship with diagnosed mental illness. When I was growing up, my mother was just given tranquilizers. I now realize my mother had her periods of mental illness, plus her everyday passive aggressive behavior. Even at 60, I find the wounds can still take me by surprise. I now have more compassion for her.

    Here is a definition of respect I was taught in a workshop (though I confess I do not always live up to its potential)

    Respect is “unconditional” high regard. I was taught respect had to be earned. I’ve had to unlearn that one. If I truly believe we are all made in the image of God – who am i to put conditions on respecting you – God’s creation?

    Recently, I saw Lily Tomlin (she is soooo funny) – I was reminded of her wonderful one women show, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”. If you have not seen the video or read the book (by Jane Wagner), I encourage you to seek it out.

    It is narrated by Trudy – the bag lady. The words of wisdom and truth from all the wonderful “dysfunctional” characters is more than worth the price of admission. I saw myself in more than a few of the characters. 🙂

    I loved the truth of this statement:

    Trudy: I know what you’re thinkin’; you’re thinkin’ I’m crazy. You think I give a hoot? You people look at my shopping bags, call me crazy ’cause I save this junk.

    What should we call the ones who buy it?

    I guess it all depends on your perspective…

    More love, more compassion.

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  • Kathy…here is my sort of complete story that you requested:
    This article touched me and confirmed in my heart…what I already believe to be true; people who struggle with mental illness offer us 2 things…the opportunity to ‘be Jesus’ and also the opportunity to see and love Jesus in their brokeness.
    This past summer our family had the privilage of opening our home to a young woman we barely knew…
    We invited her in at the rquest of my brother to whom she was engaged at the time…Although my brother was aware of her diagnosis(bipolar, border-line personality disorder, multiple personality disorder and alcohol addiction) he was totally unprepared for how to deal with it all…and so…not long after she completed her move 40 miles across town to be with him and get a job…her mental illness quickly became unmanageble for him…and he broke off the engagement.
    At that moment…we were faced with a delemma. We had a mentally ill woman…living in our home…whom we barely knew…She was marginally employed…and had moved 40 miles from the only other people in AZ she knew…to get a job…and was now barely coping with the loss of her relationship with MY brother.
    Both of my parents, along with my brother were adamant that we needed to get her out of our house…as she was clearly “bad news” and an obvious liability…maybe dangerous. My brother wanted nothing to do with her…my other brother said we were nuts to let her stay!
    Further, to our absolute shock…even our Christian friends admonished us to get her out of the house…as she may “polute our 4 daughers”…or “bring spiritual oppression/demonic influences” etc on our household…or worse..”SHE MIGHT EVEN SCREW US…TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUR KINDNESS…AND USE US”! God forbid.
    We had literally no support or encouragement to keep her in our home…from anyone…yet…that is exactly what we felt called to do.
    I can’t say the entire 6 weeks was smooth sailing…because it was NOT…But…I can say that my husband and I sat up with her at night and talked to her…listened to her retell her stories of horrifying sexual and physical abuses committed by her father…of an indifferent mother who was never there…of the liscivious lifestyle she lived for years after running away from home…and countless abuses by men while living on the streets…So much pain.
    We prayed for her…cried with her…laughed with her( she has an AMAZING sense of humor!!!)
    We commited to let her remain in our home while fully supporting her for 6 weeks…ecouraging her work and save her money. She really wanted to go back home to KS…so we removed all the obstacles that could prevent that. At the end of the 6 weeks…we commited to driving she and her 15 year old son back “home”. Because her vehicle was having problems…and her license was suspended for DUI…I dorve her in her car…and my husband followed in ours. We took care of all the expenses on the way…
    The distain and warnings of our family and friends was suffocating…and emotionally draining by the time we left on our trip to KS.
    BUT…what I kept hearing was what profits a man to love those who love or appreciates them first…or gives love back….or can repay generosity or kindness done?
    I truly took to heart…a worst case scenario painted by so many…”This girl could be our enemy”…Okay…so then what?…Well at the very very least…according to Jesus…that still made her worthy of and deserving of being treated with LOVE> My husband and I felt called to LOVE.
    I cannot even express to you the reaction “Jenna” had as a result of us doing this with and for her. She was stunned…and so incredibly touched…beyond comprehension. I’d like to think a little slice of health and healing came to her thru this experience/encounter with Jesus.
    I can say that living this amazing opportunity tought me(/us) so much. It helped both my husband and I and also our KIDS (who LOVED Jenna dearly) learn what it means to have the “poor” with us always( poor in economy, poor in spirit, and poor emotionally/mentally) It confirmed in me that kingdom living truly is counter-cultural especially to most Christians. It tought me to live in the tension of trusting God…and having NO idea how things would ultimately end up…And it helped me put into action those pesky admonitions of Jesus from His sermon on the mount.
    I doubt if any of us will ever be literally asked to “go one mile” with someone or “give up a ‘cloak or tunic'” in a court of law…Everyone is safe from getting involved or acting on Jesus ideologies…if we are waiting for those ‘literal’ manifestations of scripture to present themselves!
    In REAL life…in our life living Jesus manifesto looked like being asked to initially let my brothers ‘fiance’ live in our home…and resulted in us going 1000 miles with her…and Jesus…to help Jenna get home…

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  • I am someone who knows what it feels like to be labelled as mentally ill. God has done tremendous things for me. I accept that I am bipolar but I am getting better everyday. My current church is awesome in that they love me and let me serve just the way I am. Full of flaws but capable of serving Jesus with all of my heart. I also use to work with homeless people in New Orleans. I saw so many examples of mental care workers taking advantage of the indigent mentally ill. It amazed me that some church people and professional social workers treated mentally ill, especially poor ones, with contempt. But … God is good, and He finds a way to reach even the unreachable with His grace.

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  • God bless you, Kathy…God bless you, Kate. Wish I had a dime for every time it seemed as if friends…CHRISTIAN friends gave the answer, “get up and walk”!

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  • God, Kate— I’m so angry (but trying not to be) at whoever said “we don’t need you here anymore.” I’m so sorry. What an awful, horrible thing to hear.
    Thank you for being full of grace for us, and sharing your story with us.

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  • elaine – thanks for sharing a piece of your family’s story. and such great thoughts to consider on respect. yeah, more love, more compassion. more love, more compassion.

    joy – oh what a story. thanks so much for taking the time to share. what i find most interesting is that is the typical response in many of these situations when they become so “up close and personal”–so many have been taught protective boundaries of what’s “acceptable” and what’s not, what’s safe and what’s not. and sure, i am all for good boundaries, but sometimes i am wondering if we don’t just use it as a good protection so hands don’t have to get so messy. yes, loving each other is risky. yes, there’s always the potential to get burned. yes, we can give and never ‘receive’. yes, we can help and it can all go awry. so should that stop us from loving, trying, risking, opening our hearts and homes? i am so glad you didn’t let all of the obstacles get in the way…i will remember this story!

    laurie – thanks for your honesty & i am so glad you are in a safe, loving, unconditional community! it makes me so happy to hear and it sounds like it’s a true healing place for you in this stage of the journey. beautiful.

    tammy – “get up and walk” is such an easy thing to say when we’ve never been paralyzed!

    ryan – yeah, what dummies. that is what i say. what dummies for missing out on all that my dear friend kate contributes. their loss, that is for sure.

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  • Hmm… I wanted to share another thing on this topic. It has to do with dealing with ‘services.’ A year and a half ago, when I first decided it was time to get professional help, I called the local women’s resource center that specializes in helping women who are being abused. I told them I was looking for counseling – that I was an ‘Adult survivor of Child Sexual Abuse.’ (There are labels for everything). There – even now, that was not easy to type. When I made that call, I had to go in my bedroom and hide and could barely talk above a whisper. And they were so nice and gave me the numbers for a couple of places. Understand, these people were nice – pleasant – compassionate – helpful. And I was still shaking and cried after.

    Then I go to a local non-profit counseling center that they recommended, that deals with some of these issues. And I had to fill out some paperwork. Which included explaining why I wanted to see a counselor. Again, these people were very nice and compassionate. And I sat there shaking uncontrollably while I filled out the paperwork.

    My point is, I guess, that is takes an incredible amount of effort and emotional energy to just reach out and say that you need help. And to say why. And even when the people you are dealing with are nice and well trained and compassionate and helpful, it is incredibly difficult – and frightening. Suddenly, the dirty little secret you have kept your whole life – you have to tell. You have to say it. You have to write it. And that, all y itself, is one of the hardest things I’ve done.

    Add to that the possibility of the people you’re seeking help from being condescending or even vicious, and it is a recipe for emotional meltdown. And the worst dismissals I received were from fellow ‘leaders’ in the church I was in. Amazing, really, that in the condition I was in, I was in the position of leadership in a church.

    A final thought for anyone who thinks the past should be left alone…
    Looking and, digging in, and dealing with the past is not about wallowing in the past or the pain. It is about getting honest with what happened, facing it, unlocking what it did to you so that the past lets go of you – quits affecting your present and your future. And there is no more difficult work that anyone can do that to honestly dig into there past and face the evil there.

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  • katherine – thanks for sharing…i think this point is so important: “that is takes an incredible amount of effort and emotional energy to just reach out and say that you need help. And to say why.” and that is even when people are NICE (which isn’t super often in a lot of these situations). i think this is why i get so worked up when people go “why don’t ‘they’ just go figure it out?” and then steam starts coming out of my ears and i want to jump up on the table and say “do you have any $*!!^@(#)!* idea how hard it is to get what you need in this moment???” anyway, this is why i believe the church should cultivate advocates and not buildings…and i’d start with saying that every christian should take a field trip to social services and give it a try and see what it feels like. okay enough of my soap box for the day. yes, i have heard the same thing kate has heard many a time about the past, and i am with you, the reason to look back is so that we can move forward. it needs reckoning with so that we can live in the present & as much as everyone hopes it’s linear and 1-2-3, presto, the past is all put in its proper place! that’s not how healing seems to be…anyway, as always thanks for sharing, katherine….lots of love from denver

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