Monthly Archives: December 2012

One view of mental illness…

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I feel sad..about a lot of things.

I feel sad about those darling children and brave adults who were killed last week. I feel sad that people are responding with so much anger instead of trying to figure out how to have a peaceful discourse. I feel sad for the parents of children with mental disorders who are terrified that their children might do something like the young men in Newtown or Aurora. I feel sad for the generations of children who have been desensitized to violence through video games, movies, etc. and who have been robbed of a good education system and access to excellent health care. And I feel sad as I listen to the vitriol on all sides of this debate and the lack of understanding of mental illness that feels so pervasive in our culture at the end of this long day.

Look…I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I’m a Christian, a liberal, a feminist, and so many other labels..some that I use and some that others like to attach to me. I’m also someone that would be classified as “mentally ill” if we started some sort of national registry to track mental illness.

I have PTSD and in 1980 the American Psychiatric Association added this disorder to the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I am also a fully functional citizen. I pay my taxes. Donate time and money to good causes. I try to do good in my community and attempt to be a leader in both my professional and person lives. I don’t want to own a gun. I have no intention of owning one. (And lest you get distracted…I also don’t want to take away your right to own one.) I do not pose a threat to you or your children. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel angry, hyper-vigilant, or anxious when my PTSD is acting up.

I tell you all of this because some of the comments about mentally ill people thrown around today hurt me. They never had before. I guess I haven’t thought of myself as sick in quite a while…but it’s a very different story when you start to imagine a world where you would be labeled or recorded or tracked as a mentally ill person. That feels VERY different than just being a person who is dealing with her trauma and attempting to live a life that leaves society better than she found it.

So…a couple of comments:

  • You can’t talk about how we need better mental health care, screening or monitoring and then in the next breath bitch about the Affordable Care Act or the evils universal health care. You cannot have it both ways. Not everyone…make that hardly anyone…has the kind of amazing health care I have from my employer and even they are limited in how much mental health they will cover.
  • Stop talking about people with mental illness like they are OTHER, outside of your sphere, or as if you don’t know them. You know them. They are in your family and might be your children, parents, siblings, or best friends.
  • Mental illness is not always genetic. More genetic research should be done and will be helpful…but some of us got our mental illness when our minds found ways to protect us from trauma and tragedy that we otherwise could not handle. That does not mean we are weak. It means we’ve seen things or experienced things that you can’t even begin to imagine happening to you. PTSD, some forms of schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, etc…these are ways that the human brain will protect people so that they can function on some level…some better…some worse. If you need a reality check, I’d willingly describe what it feels like to turn inward in an attempt to block out things that are too frightening for a 5 year old little girl to be mentally present for even if she can’t escape physically. But buckle up…it’s not a story for the faint of heart.
  • In a conversation about arming teachers, I asked what happens if the teachers have mental illness. One person responded that not only should they not be armed but that maybe they shouldn’t be teachers. OUCH. Yes…there are some mental disorders that cause a person to be non-functioning. And then there are people like me and others (including many former service men and women) that are fully functioning participants in society. If we want to teach should we be banned? If so, will someone please make a list of the jobs we can have? Mental illness is not that simple. Just sayin’
  • Mental illness is not “one size fits all”…not even at the individual level. I am not a threat. But at one point I was. I remember a time, about 10 years ago, when I was scared enough that I would hurt myself or others that I sought help. I was fortunate. I had a best friend that I could tell my darkest thoughts to and she rallied around me to help me get what I needed. Not everyone has that. So whatever solution we come up with..and we do need one when it comes to the availability of healthcare and the creation of some regulation about acquiring weaponry…has to involve people who really understand mental illness in its many forms. Furthermore we should all be willing to submit without shame to whatever testing necessary for “THEM”…meaning the mentally ill…in order to assure safety for all.

I’m not delusional (well at least not anymore! KIDDING!). I know this conversation is not cut and dry. It isn’t going to end today or tomorrow or even next year. We are nation that loves our guns…and I get that…even though I don’t entirely GET that.

I’m asking that we stop and think. That we change the social discourse to one of collaboration and finding a middle ground. That we give up our need to be right and are more interested in relationship and community.

I don’t have all the answers. But I can do one small thing and give you a face to see in your minds eye the next time you start to be flippant about mental illness. There are people…dear ones…behind those words. People you love. People you respect. People who have sacrificed for you. People who would take a bullet for you and do anything to protect one of your beloved children.

Let’s keep talking!!

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War on what?

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Romans 14: 5-6   One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (PS–I recommend you go read Chapter 14 in its entirety) 

Let me start by saying…I celebrate Christmas. I enjoy celebrating Christmas. Furthermore I love Jesus and I am Christian.

But that being said…I have to say something about this so-called “War on Christmas”. Those who believe in the “war on Christmas” would have you believe that if you use the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” that somehow you do not love Jesus or are denying his existence. So try this perspective on for size…

My parents are Christians. My dad is a preacher. They’ve devoted large portions of their lives to ministry, sent their kids to Christian colleges, and led many people into a relationship with Jesus. But guess what they DON’T do…that’s right…they don’t celebrate Christmas.

I could rattle off scores of facts as to why but I’ll break it down simply. They don’t believe that December 25th is actually Jesus’ birthday. They believe that celebrating his death, burial, & resurrection is more important than anything else.  And they do not like all the pagan symbols (Christmas trees, the giving of gifts, the colors green and red, holly, mistletoe, yule logs, etc.) that have been adopted by celebrants over the years. They don’t put up a tree. They don’t exchange gifts. My dad doesn’t preach a “Christmas sermon” one Sunday a year. And either of my parents would be happy to explain to you how silly it is that we’ve made “Joy to the World” a Christmas Carol when Issac Watts was writing it about the 2nd advent rather than the first.

And yet…try to wrap your brain around this one…they still love Jesus.

As I said…I do celebrate Christmas. I love to put up a tree and give gifts. I love to talk about the birth of Jesus and am grateful for one day a year that honors that incarnation of God as a baby who would become the man who I would one day call Messiah and friend. I’m not afraid to say Merry Christmas…nor do any of my friends of different faith practices and NO faith practices find me offensive when I talk about Christmas or the celebration of it.

However…I am under no misguided belief that these traditions are necessary for my belief in God, my relationship with Jesus, or my claim to Christian faith. Furthermore last year when I “skipped Christmas” because it was too difficult to participate in the celebration, I didn’t turn in my Christian card or have my baptismal certificate rescinded.

For the love of Oh Holy Night…calm down people!

Last week I asked a co-worker if she was going home for Christmas. She calmly and appropriately said “Well, I don’t celebrate Christmas but I’ll go home for a few days to celebrate Hanukkah with my family.” And you know what…neither of us burst into flames. I didn’t feel bad about my question and she didn’t feel bad for correcting me. Instead I was grateful that she shared her belief system with me because it now means I know more about her as we continue to build our friendship.

I have friends from all walks of life. And I love them. I love their sweet spirits, their senses of humor, and often I love their darling families. And whenever possible I want to enrich these relationships. If I can do that by not excluding them from my joy and well-wishes by saying the words “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” then that is what I’m going to do. Whenever possible I’m even going to wish them a blessing for their beloved holidays including Diwali, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, etc. Because it doesn’t hurt me one bit…and more importantly it blesses them and makes them feel favored.

Some of you will say I’m “damaging my witness” and I’ll simply say that you don’t know what you are talking about. First of all that language “damaging my witness” is tricked out church language that doesn’t resonate with anyone but “us”…but that’s a blog for another day. Second of all, if you think my loving on my friends, right where they are in their lives, does damage then you don’t know the first thing about me, my tendency towards the relational, or my faith walk.

Finally I would say this…

Just like everything else…I think God’s got this covered. Let me remind you that God sent the Son for the “SO LOVED” of the world (John 3:16). That son…born in a manger sometime between January 1st and December 31st over 2000 years ago SO LOVED people that he touched the leper, spoke to the adulterous woman, called the tax collector, called his betrayer a friend, and offered forgiveness to another of his friends who denied him.

Oh…and he forgave me.

I’ll not worry today about the words Merry Christmas. Instead I think I’ll be merry and try to show Christ to the masses. 

And just in case you need a laugh here’s what my favorite Jewish man besides Jesus & Moses had to say about it at http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-december-3-2012/the-war-on-christmas–friendly-fire-edition