Mental Illness: Explanation or Excuse

This is not something I want to write. It's something I feel compelled to write. First, an explanation. Mental illness is a serious problem, both for those of us who have it and for our loved ones impacted by it. It is a also a major societal issue. How we care for those who are most vulnerable is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. If we let "the least of these" fall through the cracks, we will be judged by our consciences and by our faith convictions. God does not look lightly at those abusing His children. Mental illness is a medical condition stemming from faulty brain chemistry which current medical science can treat, but not cure. My own bipolar disorder is considered a serious mental illness (SMI). SMIs are disabling conditions that are chronic. You can't just take a pill and make them go [...]

Mental Illness: Explanation or Excuse 2017-10-19T14:49:19+00:00

How We Talk When We Talk About Faith and Mental Illness

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984 "... speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4.13) Language can build up. It can also tear down. Language can reveal truth or it can perpetuate lies. An inspired Word creates the world. A death-dealing sentence can go a long way to destroying it. When I studied for ministry, I became keenly aware of how language impacts people.  It was 1989, the year the  New Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out. This version, among other things, changed the male pronouns referring to humanity to more gender-neutral ones. It was quite awkward for me at first, but I got used to it and the more I studied the original languages and the evolution of the English language, I could appreciate why the changes were made. Yet, there are other [...]

How We Talk When We Talk About Faith and Mental Illness 2017-10-10T12:37:27+00:00

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence?

I read a news story today about the mass killings in Las Vegas. The report said the killer had no known political or religious affiliation, and there was "no history of a psychological diagnosis." On the one hand, I can appreciate why such a point be made. There have been many high-profile cases of violent events involving persons with mental illness who were not under proper treatment. I know first hand how psychotic episodes can escalate to aggressive behavior. This is one crucial factor contributing to the need for better mental health care. On the other hand, reporting on a condition that has not been confirmed is a misleading, irresponsible practice that perpetuates social stigma toward those who do have a diagnosis. Can you imagine an article that read, "the killer is not known to have diabetes," or "leukemia," or "herpes." Mental illness is a medical condition, not a [...]

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence? 2017-10-06T14:59:30+00:00

Christians Under Treatment

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a group of nursing students about my life with faith and mental illness. I shared stories about having episodes, working through mental disorder, receiving support from friends and family. At the end of the session, one student asked a very thoughtful question: "Has your faith influenced your choice of mental health care providers?" I thought, what a great question! One I have given much thought to and never been able to talk about it in a group of this kind. When I talk to many of my Christian friends who are in need of professional mental health care, they are often reluctant to pursue it. In large part, because they want to find providers who share their faith, their worldview. I can appreciate their hesitation. When it comes to something as crucial to our identity as our minds, we don't want [...]

Christians Under Treatment 2017-10-02T20:27:44+00:00

Nurse Ratched Now

{from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest} [Nurse Ratched] reached in the basket for the log book. "Must we go over past history?" That triggered something, some acoustic device in the walls, rigged to turn on at just the sound of those words coming from her mouth. The Acutes stiffened. Their mouths opened in unison. Her sweeping eyes stopped on the first man along the wall. His mouth worked. "I robbed a cash register in a service station." She moved to the next man. "I tried to take my little sister to bed." Her eyes clicked to the next man; each one jumped like a shooting-gallery target. "I—one time—wanted to take my brother to bed." "I killed my cat when I was six. Oh, God forgive me, I stoned her to death and said my neighbor did it." "I lied about trying. I did take my sister!" [...]

Nurse Ratched Now 2017-09-25T17:22:35+00:00

Good Boundaries

{excerpt from Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission} "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;  surely I have a delightful inheritance." (Psalm 16.6) One thing I have experienced in the time I've spent at psychiatric hospitals is that there are many rules. Rules about toiletries, belt buckles, shoes with strings, and other personal effects. Rules about visits and contact with others. Rules about schedules -- time to sleep and meet and eat and rest. Since I am one who generally functions best with good, clear boundaries, these rules haven't bothered me so much. I've benefited quite well from them and have come to appreciate their value. There's a part of us all, though, that constantly tries to get around the rules. Like the man who found a staff person willing to bring him Starbuck's coffee (for a steep tip, no doubt) to replace the lukewarm dishwater [...]

Good Boundaries 2017-09-18T13:15:51+00:00

Mad Intensities: What Makes Us Laugh

“It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” ― Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot Fry here captures the truth that demonic mental spirits can be redeemed and turn into angels. Self-consciousness turns us yet leads us to activities of the mind.. language, literature. Apartness, an inability to join in, leads us to appreciate the absurdity of what is deemed "normal." Shame and self-loathing turn to laughter and mad intensities when we are blessed to not take ourselves so seriously. Many of the best comics who have ever been, are touched with a sort of genius notched up to mad proportions. Robin Williams was the best of my generation. He was never [...]

Mad Intensities: What Makes Us Laugh 2017-09-13T22:07:12+00:00

To Be or Not to Be: Thoughts on Suicide

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.” ― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide   When I was in training to become a student counselor in college, we were taught how to respond to persons who seemed to be suicidal. Some things we should look for included: 1) Sleeping an inordinate amount of time or not sleeping at all; 2) Showing no concern for hygiene; 3) Skipping meals; 4) Excessive drinking or using other drugs.  To an extent, these behaviors can be exhibited in any college student, in any one [...]

To Be or Not to Be: Thoughts on Suicide 2017-09-11T12:49:14+00:00

Balance

When I am most imbalanced, I have taken many dangerous and foolish risks. Like driving 90 mph on the Interstate while reading a book and writing a review. Like dodging traffic as I walked through city streets recording what I considered brilliant thoughts. Like stuffing dozens of candy corn into my mouth until I couldn't swallow or breathe. Why would I do these things? When I am manic, I reply, "Why not?" When I am manic, I take on special powers; I can topple towers, read minds, and save souls. I have a direct line to God. I am God's special child. God has ordained me to create peace, provide help for the helpless, hope for those in despair. When I am manic, I am on top of the world. Better yet, I am the top of the world. But what goes up, must come down. And often the higher [...]

Balance 2017-08-31T23:54:54+00:00

The Highs and Lows of Homecoming

It's been over 35 years now since I graduated from high school. For the first time, I'm going to the class reunion. Why am I going now? Why haven't I come before? I didn't go for years because I believed there were certain expectations on my life and until I fulfilled them, I would be too ashamed to go back. I'm not sure what these expectations were, but they were more likely self-imposed and largely unattainable. Nothing so easily calculable as monetary success, world travel, beautiful family. I measured my worth by affecting a life-changing difference. Saving the world one hurting soul at a time. It took me 32 years and one "nervous breakdown" before I let this dream die. But, by God's grace, I didn't die with it. My life story doesn't end there. But I wasn't ready to reconcile who I was in high school with who [...]

The Highs and Lows of Homecoming 2017-08-31T23:50:10+00:00