Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Church's Big Pink Elephant

I went public with my C-PTSD diagnosis almost eight months ago--you can read that post here. In that time, I've learned a whole lot about the Christian perspective of mental illness. Some people have been incredibly supportive, and some… well… not so much. I've had discussions with people who think I can get past this by praying it {or even just willing it} away. Rick Warren's son recently took his life by suicide, and most of the church is just now waking up to the reality that faith and mental illness can {and often do} coexist. I am so sad that it took something so horrible to revive the conversation, but I'm glad it's starting to happen. 

One person dies by their own hands every 40 seconds around the world. One American dies from suicide every 12.3 minutes. Reading a bible, praying, or attending church is not a vaccine to prevent it. For all those people who commit suicide, someone is left trying to make sense of it. The pain doesn't stop at suicide, it just gets transferred onto someone else who is left behind.

Mental illness is the big pink elephant in the room in churches. People don't want to talk about it. They'd rather just throw a tarp over the elephant and call it a day. These diseases stay invisible because people are discouraged from talking about it in church circles. And yet, they're just as rampant within church congregations as they are outside them. If you have not personally struggled with some form of clinical mental illness you know someone who does. If you can't think of anyone, I can almost guarantee that you do know someone who is suffering, they are just suffering alone because of the stigma. THIS. IS. WRONG! Not only are these people suffering, but the isolation only magnifies the suffering. I don't know who said that mental illness is a conscious decision for Christians, but it HAS. GOT. TO. STOP! Mental illness is not a choice, and not everyone who suffers from mental illness is in a white hospital gown tucked away in some facility for crazy, scary people. 

Due to my C-PTSD, I deal with overwhelming depression and self-hatred that is so intense it often makes me wish for death. So it can look like this:

But it can also look like this:

It can look like this:

But it can also look like this:

Just because you don't see someone with a limp or a physical struggle doesn't mean they aren't mentally limping through life. Also, just like people who pray for healing for physical ailments can find themselves not healed, the same goes for people who struggle with mental illness. They can hope, pray, cry, beg and wish for healing, but sometimes the healing just won't come. So saying things like they "aren't praying hard enough" is just adding shame to a situation that already feels like insurmountable shame. It makes them feel excluded and "less than" a "better" class of Christian that doesn't struggle this way. Maybe the church doesn't shame people on purpose, but WE ARE shaming hurting people. This has to end. No more. Not on my watch. 

I remember being asked not to volunteer my time because someone read my blog and said I was not "mentally stable" enough to do it. What do you think that felt like? At first, because I already assume everyone hates me, it made me turn that hate inward on myself. I felt accused. Accosted. Broken. Damaged. Worthless. I almost threw up in the parking lot from the self loathing that followed. Later, after I had processed the fact that I was probably not the only person who has been told things like this, it made me feel the need to keep speaking out. Most people that struggle with mental illness look just like someone who doesn't. They are also capable of doing great things. They can be funny, encouraging, smart, and surprisingly NORMAL. God has done his best work through people with broken hearts, so they can be the greatest and most gifted healers.

It's high time we stopped treating the mentally ill like they are outsiders or like they pose a threat. We have to show up and help these people fight what they are facing. We need to keep the discussion going. I will only stop speaking about mental illness when society stops asking me why I need to. 

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