At the age of 54 my mom put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead.
Mom tried to kill herself many times before.
One time my dad had to call for an emergency squad. Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs.They pumped her stomach at the emergency room and she survived to die another day.
When I was 11 my mom slit her wrists. When I came home from school I found her unconscious, lying in a pool of blood. Once again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.
My mom had mental problems her entire life. She was a bright, witty , well-read woman who could, in a moment, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. She spent significant time in the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy many times.
During my mom’s last stay in the Toledo State Mental Hospital, my dad got wind that my siblings and I were living alone, so he packed up his 1960 Dodge truck and drove from Arizona to Ohio to get us. When my mom got out of the hospital she came home to an empty house. I can only imagine what effect this had on her. (my dad had taken all her food stamps too)
In the early 1960’s my parents found Jesus. Jesus may have healed the mentally ill in the Bible, but he didn’t heal my mom. Now she was a saved lunatic.
Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she passed on to me. She was active in politics, working for the Ohio George Wallace campaign in the 1970’s.
My parents divorced when I was 14 . Not long after the divorce, my mother married her first cousin. He later died of a drug overdose. She would marry two more times before she died. Mom was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind on, a trait that, for good or ill, I share. In the early 1970’s mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home. Winebrenner’s paid men more than they paid women for the same work. She sued Winebrenner’s under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor. My mom, the crusader.
We moved quite often and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to my mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home.Our family lived in one rental after another. My parents never owned their own home. I lived in 16 different houses by the time I left home for college at the age of 19.
I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. My mom married my dad in 1957. She was 18 and pregnant. (there is some doubt about whether my Dad is my biological father) My parents were well-meaning, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and I great harm. Dad thought moving all the time was a great experience. Little did he know I hated him for moving us around. New schools. New friends. New bullies.
From the time I was 6 until I was 14 my parents were faithful members of a Baptist Church in whatever community we lived in. We went to Church 3 times a week. My mom would play the piano from time to time, though this stressed her out, and I remember her, more than once, having a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. For a time my Dad was a deacon, but after a while he felt guilty about being a deacon while still smoking, so he quit the diaconate.
No matter where we lived, no matter what church we went to, one thing was certain, my Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness did not exist. Churches have their fair share of people with mental illness, but , for the most part, people who are sick in the head are ignored or marginalized.
I pastored a church in Elmendorf, Texas in 1994. One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed women of the church say to her daughter, “ you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded.” That girl was our 4-year-old Down Syndrome daughter. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sums up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them.
There are Christians in every church who think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. Any quick search of the internet will find plenty of God-fearing, God-loving Christians who believe this. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible says God gives his people a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I have suffered with depression most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality and being a consummate work-a-holic often drove me to despair. Work. Work. Work. Go. Go. Go. Do. Do. Do. I have no doubt the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that have reduced me to a mere shadow of the physical specimen I once was. While I was busy burning the candle on both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. No time for family, no time for rest, no time for pleasure. Work for the night is coming. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.
I hid my depression from the church and the outside world. My wife and children saw my depression first hand. Several years ago, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get the victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think like this (former) pastor friend of mine. Depression is a sign of weakness and God wants warriors and winners.
Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I’ve done in the last 10 years. It took me leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Over the years, I made appointments with counselors several times, only to cancel the appointments at the last-minute. I feared someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.
It took leaving the church , the pastorate, and God, to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but, for me, there was indeed a connection.
Depression still haunts me, but with regular counseling and a slower pace of life, I am confident that I can live a meaningful life. As many of you know, I suffer from a painful neurological and muscle problem that is quite debilitating. I have not had a pain-free day in over a decade. The constant pain and debility leads to depression from time to time. My counselor says he would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time. It is a normal human response. Embracing my depression and coming to grips with my pain and debility is essential to my mental well-being. My life is what it is. There is no God that is going to deliver me. No miracle drugs or treatments. This is my life. I am who I am.
Christian readers…sitting near you in Church this Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to them. Embrace them in the midst of their psychosis and debility. I don’t think Jesus is going to heal them, but I do think that loving, understanding, and accepting humans can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.
It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. When I am in the midst of a period of depression I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. When coupled with the physical pain I endure, I can be unbearable to be around. Far too often, when I need help the most, people pull away from me. I understand why they do so, I really do. I tend to do the same when confronted with people who are mentally ill.
How do you respond to those who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed? Perhaps you suffer with mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by the Church and your pastor?
reposted, updated, revised