Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Things I am thinking about...

Well, I finally did get a call back from CMH yesterday, inviting me to participate in the second phase of the interview process. So, this Friday, I will be spending part of the morning at their clubhouse program, meeting some of the participants, and seeing how they do things. I am sure it will be very different from my experiences at my former workplace, and that is something I am looking forward to.

If I do end up getting the job, that is wonderful. If I don't, that is okay, too. I was thinking that it might be nice to have a break from the field, and try something new. So, either way...whether I get the job or not, I'm happy.

A few of us from Oasis went bowling last night, and that was a lot of fun. At some point during the evening, Herbie asked me about the CMH job, and that lead into a brief discussion about my own mental health history, after which he asked me when I was going to start a recovery group at church.

I'm not planning on running out and starting a group anytime soon, but it did make me think...I do have something to offer. When he first mentioned it, I told him I couldn't do that, because I don't have a degree or anything. He just looked at me for a moment, a bit puzzled by my response, and said, "Do you need one? I don't think you do."

I guess, due to my four year gig at CMH, I am used to being told that, without a degree, there is nothing I can offer. Furthermore, that I have even less than nothing to offer because of my diagnosis. I am very used to being treated as though, because I have a diagnosis, nothing I say could possibly have anything but a negative impact on anyone listening. It is the sad truth...the CMH I worked for really did, and does, treat people that way. So, after four years of listening to that, it is very difficult to conceive of the notion that my experiences, and the grace God gave me to walk through them, do not negate my testimony or my abilities, but enhance them. Quite different from what I am used to hearing.

I really do think the church is missing it when it comes to helping people struggling with mental illness. I have believed that for a very long time, since my own experiences with how the church handles mental illness have been far from pleasant.

Back in October of 1999, I was hospitalized for major depression, after spending an evening getting acquainted with the sharp edge of a razor. I remained in the hospital for five days...a pretty standard length of time...and had a few visitors. One of the visitors was my pastor, who, after making small talk for a moment, said to me, "What sin is there in your life that brought this on?"

Even today, that memory makes me cringe. Mentally ill indivduals are stigmatized in literally every aspect of society (think of how often you hear the terms "psycho", "maniac", "nut", etc...tossed around ever so casually...think of the movie "Anger Management"), and when the church steps in to "help" these individuals, not only are they stigmatized further, but they are shamed. When the church is dealing with someone with a mental illness, it is not only looked at as a matter of the person's failure to handle their emotions, but it is also considered some sort of spiritual shortcoming...a reflection of their failings not only in life, but in their relationship with Christ. This saddens me in ways I can't explain. The church is the one place that should be safe for anyone, regardless of their circumstances...and the church is the one institution that feels it has the right to further shame an already broken individual.

I do think that some churches have made strides in extending compassion and understanding to those struggling with mental illness. My church recently had a guest speaker come in and talk about how a person could help a loved one struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse. I thought this was a wonderful indicator of better things to come, and allowed those at least living in this community to know that there is hope beyond what they are being offered right now, and there is no shame in it.

Overall, though, my experiences have told me that the church is still very archaic in how they view mental illness, and is a long way from understanding the reality of mental illness. That it is real, it is not something a person can just "snap out of", that while there are most definitely spiritual elements, to blame it entirely on spiritual activity is irresponsible and, honestly, a bit lazy. And, not very helpful.

So, all of this is to say, if God would use me in ministering to those who are struggling with the things I have struggled with, I would be honored. Nothing is in vain, nothing is wasted, and if my pain can help heal someone else's, it's all for God's glory.

Bravo, Marlo. Herbie is wise to question your underestimation of your ministry potential.

It's sad that the same escapest mentality that has produced an isolated rapture obsessed culture in some of our Christian churches also tends to dismiss mental illness as sin related. We want our redemption choice cut, well done and served up quick. But Jesus is patient.

I'll pray for you as you consider the appropriate time for you to pursue ministry.
Thank you, Pat!

All of this is leading up to something. I think the events of the last few weeks of my life are all tied together, and are leading to God's greater purpose for my life. I am beginning to believe that I absolutely had to leave that job, not only for my own health, but because it was keeping me from reaching for the greater things God intends for me. It seemed that God allowed things to get as they did at my job for the purpose of having me leave so He could move me forward.

Even the conversation about recovery groups...It may have never happened had I not left my job and been discussing with Herbie the other job possibilities I was looking into.

None of this is in vain. Things are difficult right now, but there is purpose in it. I know that will my whole being.

Thank you for your prayers.
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