Responding to Suicide

This post was originally published August 11, 2014.    Robin Williams is dead, apparently of suicide after a lengthy battle with depression. My heart is heavy. What a terrible tragedy. How could a man who seemed so full of exuberant life somehow lack the will to live? I respect the family’s desire to keep details of his death private. There will likely be a feeding frenzy in the press — speculation over his mental state, drug use, relationships with others, every jot and tittle to try to explain the unexplainable — some people (and it can be anyone) simply lose the desire to see another day. Whenever I encounter suicide in the news or in the lives of people I know, my mind flashes back to one Saturday night in March of 2008. I was feeling flu-like symptoms and had called to get someone to preach for me. I went to [...]

Responding to Suicide 2017-07-24T18:35:17+00:00

A Beautiful, Brilliant, Unquiet Mind

         When I first received my bipolar diagnosis, the picture painted for me of my future was rather bleak.  The staff at the psychiatric hospital explained that I would likely not be able to continue in ministry.  I would go on disability, have repeated hospitalizations and the chances of remaining in my marriage were slim to none.           My psychiatrist, however, offered a ray of hope.  He recommended a memoir that had just been published by one of the most world-renowned expert on bipolar disorder - Kay Redfield Jamison.  In Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Jamison beautifully describes her own life-long struggle and brilliantly depicts the love-hate relationship many folks with Bipolar have with their illness.  She defines what she prefers to call "Manic-depression" ...a disease that both kills and gives life.  Fire, by its nature, both creates and destroys.  "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower," [...]

A Beautiful, Brilliant, Unquiet Mind 2017-06-12T17:29:05+00:00

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle

Our guest today is Eric Riddle. Eric and I first met in March, 2014, a week before the release of my spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. We went on to form a faithful friendship that, well, I’ll let Eric tell you about it.. (My words are in italics.) Thanks for joining us, Eric. We’re here to talk about faith and mental illness, two subjects I know you are passionate about. First tell me how you came to faith. I was raised in the church. As many who grow up in the church, I was following in my parent's tradition. I became more serious about my faith after my daughter was born. Going on a "Walk to Emmaus" retreat was a turning point in getting much more serious. I’ve heard those can be very transformational. Yes. The retreat was for men only and about 40 guys representing many [...]

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle 2017-05-30T15:00:51+00:00

Far From Alone

As I write this, I am on the heels of a depressive episode that has threatened to kick my legs out from under me. For almost a week, I've been holed up my apartment; sleeping, watching television, staring at the computer screen. Menacing voices scream inside my head even as I hit the letters on my keyboard, yelling that I am an impostor, that I have nothing to say that people would want to hear. At times like these, the fact that God delights in me is far removed from my thoughts and feelings. Instead my thoughts are filled with things I've done wrong, my feelings are dominated by regret and shame. I sleep and sleep and sleep some more, but even my dreams are distorted by fears that I am unlovable, that I am alone in a pit of despair, far from delight. But I'm not alone. I know [...]

Far From Alone 2017-05-30T14:04:47+00:00

Scorn-full

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. (Psalm 123:3-4) While modern medicine has come a long way in helping us understand and explain mental illness, people’s perspectives can lag far behind. Many people still think that with more faith, a stronger will, and a better attitude, such things as depression, bipolar disorder, even schizophrenia can just go away. This outlook often leads to pinning the blame for the illness on the person struggling to overcome it. It can also lead to contempt and scorn on the part of the accuser that the accused may internalized. “If you only had more faith.” “If you weren’t so lazy.” “If you just kept a positive attitude.” Like the [...]

Scorn-full 2017-05-30T14:04:21+00:00

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:1-4) When I am in the grip of depression, the last thing I want to hear is that I’ve done nothing to deserve it. My mind busily rehashes old regrets. I am convinced of my guilt over many things. I see my depression, no matter how severe, as but a small price to pay for my sin. The good news that saves us from the darkest corners of depression is not that we are “good enough” on our own. It is that in spite of how horribly we mess up, God has a word of grace to speak to us. [...]

Out of the Depths 2017-05-30T14:03:10+00:00

Escaping the Pain

In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain”? (Psalm 11:1) When I first began to experience the symptoms of bipolar, I tried to escape them with drugs and alcohol, what some call self-medicating. As you might expect, this only made things worse. Treating a mood disorder with non-prescribed mind-altering drugs is not something I would now recommend. I then tried to treat my symptoms with only talk therapy and self-help techniques. While it was good to get off un-prescribed drugs, talk therapy alone was ultimately ineffective. It wound up being another form of escapism from my full problem. It was bipolar disorder causing a chemical reaction in my brain, and I needed something more than encouraging words to re-establish balance. One thing I’ve discovered in my journey through bipolar is that faith and medicine can, and often do, [...]

Escaping the Pain 2017-05-30T14:02:54+00:00

The Healing Power of the Psalms

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. (Psalm 30:2) People like to display their family Bibles when the pastor comes to visit. On one such visit in my first pastorate, my hosts opened up their Bible and showed me a unique treasure I’d not seen before or found since. Written in the margins of the Psalms were folk remedies detailing how one could find healing. The instructions were very specific – “Say this Psalm five times for sore throat.” “Good for gout.” “Heals dizziness.” At first I smiled at the gross superstition of those who applied Scripture in such an ignorant manner. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate, instead, how simply profound their faith may well have been. It takes courage to trust that the God who created heaven and earth takes pains even to heal my headaches. Healing happens. Can you believe [...]

The Healing Power of the Psalms 2017-05-30T14:02:42+00:00

Even Me

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14) I learned growing up the importance of being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was taught to maintain this relationship with daily prayer and Bible reading, weekly worship, and regular fellowship with Christians. In spite of this, I often pulled away, turning inward in times of trouble, becoming reclusive when my feelings and beliefs didn’t line up. I believed I was made to praise God with my whole heart, mind, and being. Yet, my feelings were far from God, and I instead obsessed about all that was wrong with me and with the world. Over the past several years now, I’ve often wondered how I could be in a personal relationship with the LORD and [...]

Even Me 2017-05-30T14:02:24+00:00

Sin and Sickness

Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. (Psalm 25:18) Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to the relationship between sin and sickness. The Bible clearly connects the two, but it is not always clear exactly what the relationship is. There are times when sickness is caused by what someone does or fails to do – as when the foolish Nabal’s inhospitable demeanor leads to a heart attack (1 Samuel 25). Other times, sickness is not caused by a person’s sin but rather is a test of righteousness, such as when Satan tests Job. Sickness can result from - the transmission of sin (generational sin or a genetic flaw). - the commission of sin (rebelling against God’s commands or making unhealthy choices). The relationship between sin and sickness can become particularly controversial when it comes to mental illness. Over the years, people [...]

Sin and Sickness 2017-05-30T14:01:49+00:00