I was asleep when my thoughts rudely awakened me. In my sleep I had remembered that yesterday morning, cancer stole another life. Our little, quaint town lost its mayor. I did not know him well personally. I knew him more by reputation and through the loving words of his wife. Through those things, I know he was a man who loved his family and God fiercely.
My sleepy, barely lucid thoughts wandered from thoughts of his passing on to the level of emotional grief his wife and daughters must be experiencing. My heart ached for them. In half a second I was thinking of him not getting to see his youngest daughter graduate high school. Then, I remembered. I remembered my own personal emotional scars from losing my father to cancer. I was now fully awake. I remembered the things my father was not getting to experience because cancer stole them from him. I began to think of how much my oldest daughters have changed in the past seven years, how they have grown up to become such amazing women. I began to weep. I wept for the things my father is not getting to experience, the milestones he is not here to witness. I wept for the absence of him in our lives. I wept for my mom. Dad would be so proud of her, how strong she is. I wept for the parents who have lost a child to cancer. I wept for the McCullough family who now has to walk this path. I looked over at the clock. It read somewhere in the 4 o’clock hour of the night. I couldn’t really make out the last numbers. My tears were falling in hot drops of grief by this point. I tried to keep my breathing steady as to not wake my husband. I was unsuccessful. Out of the darkness I heard him ask, “What’s wrong?”
I could not answer for a moment. Then I replied, “I hate cancer.” He placed his hand across me. I thought of the things he and I are getting to experience together: the tough things, the beautiful things, the ordinary things we take for granted. I thought of how we often do not see the preciousness of the moments we live because we are just trying to get through life and do it somewhat well. We try to do this together with four daughters. We muddle through, somehow. I am grateful that I get to do this life-thing with him. I am grateful to be the mother of each one of my daughters. I think they have beautiful souls. Life can sometimes try me to my wit’s end, but I am glad I get to have experiences with these people.
Two days ago via Twitter I heard the news that Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son had taken his own life. Rick Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life. His book made a huge impact on me during some of my darkest days when I was holding strong to the belief that I was nothing. His book influenced me to think that maybe, just maybe I was created for a purpose and was worth something–that I mattered and could make a difference.
I am not alone in being heavily influenced by this book and I grieve that their son Mathew did not believe there was more purpose to his life and chose to end it short. I am angry that the illness won.
Depression is a master of lies about one’s self. Just goes to prove how someone who is suffering can not seem to believe beyond the silent whispers, “you are worthless,” that depression breathes into your head. It is a relentless onslaught to your mental faculties.
I speak from experience. This hits home with me on a most personal level. Even though I do not know the Warren family, I grieve with them. I grieve for all of us who suffer from mental illness that brings us to the point of suicide. I am one of the lucky ones. I survived my attempt. But I have both physical and mental scars which remain. God spoke to me that day. For this first time I understood He knew my name. It was a turning point. But there were still days, months, maybe even a year of a desire to exit from this reality. It was an every day struggle of survival. The meds were not working. Med after med failed me. It took close on a year before I found the correct combination. Every day that I was still here went down as a success at survival.
Saddleback Valley Community Church is a mega-church in Southern CA. Despite being surrounded by thousands of people who knew and admired the Warren family, Rick said, “But only those closest knew that he [his son] struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”
I grieve that only those closest to the Warrens knew of their son’s struggle. I am in no way slamming their decision, I am grieving with them. At the same time, I want to be an advocate for change. In a society where it is okay to accept and sympathize with others’ differences, there is still a stigma regarding mental illness. I think this is true especially in the church, where we are all supposed to be striving toward ultimate fulfillment and full of praise for the one who gave us life. But the truth is that we are a bunch of broken people trying to find grace and peace.
My own experience with being bipolar and in the church has been similar. I can recall quite a few sermons where those who went on meds to treat their symptoms of mental illness were called “having weak faith” or “to think about what Jesus had to suffer.” We were shamed for our illness and the desire to treat it. So we tried to fake it and we kept silent. And we suffered needlessly for years because of ignorance.
This is not true for the church I attend currently. They have never shamed me. Although, when I was at my worst, I don’t believe they were equipped to handle me. They simply did not have the resources, and I was a full five gallon bucket of crazy with a splash of psychosis. I was more than a handful. — And no one knew what to do with me.
With as prominent as mental illness is, and considering how debilitating or fatal it can be, I would like to challenge churches to begin a resource program for those who may come to you in need. We need to know GOOD Christian therapist and psychiatrist for our area. We need a list of treatment facilities for different things. We need a way to know about the drugs we are taking to treat our symptoms. We need someone who will hold us accountable: similar to a sponsor in an A.A. program. Speaking of A.A. programs, churches should have a list of those, because those of us who are suffering often try to self-medicate in order to subdue the extreme symptoms of the illness. It is time to step up and help those who need it–before it kills them.