Another day passed, another life lost to mental illness

Since coming back from the Edel conference, I have been contemplating returning to the world of blogging for many reasons. I explained briefly in my last post of my love for writing and its powerful healing in my own life. I also spoke briefly of how writing came to be an avenue for healing with my mental illness, a terrible beast of a cross that many write of but few seem to understand its gravity. I felt immense peace the other night after writing my “coming back” post, and I even wrote down a list of topics that I was excited to write about; some serious, some silly, but all of which I knew I would enjoy writing.

And then yesterday happened, and the world lost another beautiful soul to a terrible disease. There’s no need to break the news that Robin Williams died yesterday from suicide. There’s no need to go into the terrible details of his death or even the remarkable details of his extraordinary life. There are others who are far better equipped to write such stories. I even hesitated in writing about it at all; what words could possibly describe the sadness of a life lost to such a bastard of a disease? But Ryan is out of town, and after hours of being unable to sleep, I decided to try and write through all of the emotions of the day. I first read through article after article of those who knew him and the joy he brought to the world. I watched old clips from some of my favorite movies, there are far too many to even post. And I read through tweets from his fellow celebrities who were trying as best they could to articulate their sadness. I read through them all with a numbness, unable to even cry as I thought about the tragedy, that is, until, I saw this picture:

View image on Twitter

“Genie, you are free.”

Now there was an uproar, and probably an understandable one. The idea that suicide should be sought after because it frees one of sufferings is a great lie of mental illness: we all are aware that there is nothing good or glamorous about suicide. And we should hesitate to share such images, for there are well-documented cases of people being swept up into a sort of suicide fervor because of its documented attentions. But if I’m being completely honest, I got it. I studied the image again and again and finally, after many hours, wept for Williams’ death. Because I’ve been there; mental illness is a horrible beast of a disease that imprisons its victims. It lies and manipulates the sufferer to believe not just that life has no purpose, but that they have no purpose, as if they were an accident of creation.  And in the depths of the darkness and on the brink of despair the sufferer believes–in spite of every attempt not to–that the only way out of the immense pain is death, and death at their own hand. I HAVE BEEN THERE. It is a terrible, terrible thing to not be able to control one own’s mind, to feel imprisoned in your own body. It is even far more horrible when the isolation sets in and the pain is not only unbearable but also indescribable; you begin to feel, as I’m assuming Robin Williams did, that no one could quite understand the depths of the despair, in spite of their attempts to try.

I have written of my own battle with mental illness before, and my central thesis remains the same as it always has: mental disorders are a medical affliction. I’m not sure exactly what else could possibly be said that hasn’t already been said, but the bottom line is this: when we (as Church and as a society) speak of mental illness as some sort of spiritual depravity or hyper-emotionalized state, we are not only doing a great disservice to the sufferer, but we could also potentially be causing them great harm. After my diagnosis as a young girl, I had many in my life try to overspiritualize my disease as a “cross that God wanted me to bear” that could simply be “prayed away.” Can you imagine how terrifying that was to me? You have no idea how long it took me to climb out of the whole others dug for me, however well-intentioned.** Let me be clear: ANY mention of a spiritual component to mental illness (even when mixed with a strange “medical condition” cocktail) could have devastating consequences for its victims. It is not worth it, so please stop doing it.

Now to be fair, most of the posts I have read these past 24 hours seem understand the gravity of this issue and respectfully write of the disorder for what it is: a medical condition. Some have done this REALLY WELL, but there are some articles that are JUST PLAIN STUPID, and other perhaps well-intentioned writers who chose to write a shock-value piece that is terribly immersed in ignorance.  Whenever I read articles like the latter, or for that matter when anyone in my life speaks of the “spiritual” side of mental illness that can be fixed with a rosary and The Good Book, my first reaction is always the same: What. total. bullshit.  Please do not misunderstand me; there is healing in the word of God, and there is a very terrifying reality of spiritual darkness that is frightening and chaotic: BUT IT IS NOT MENTAL ILLNESS.

So what are we to do? Well, in terms the Church, I laid out my beliefs pretty plainly here, feel free to reread if you so wish. But as a society, the only light to come from such a horrific death is the conversation which has yet again come to the surface. It is time, or perhaps I should say it is ABOUT TIME, for our world to approach mental health more seriously. One of my heroes and a fellow OCDer Howie Mandell has long advocated for “mental health” physicals. Once a year, free of pay, each of us should be able to see a therapist or licensed counselor to keep ourselves mentally healthy. This just makes sense. Imagine how different our world could be when the shame and stigma of mental illness is finally off the shoulders of its victims as we all bear the affects of the terrible beast together, one community living for the other. Now that would be truly freeing.

**A quick note: I am grateful that those closest to me, namely my parents and close friends, did NOT do this. I might not be here today had they not taken the course of action which they did.

Thoughts after a long absence

There have been so many wonderful and indeed rather crazy happenings around the Miles household these past eight months, so much so that I have completely neglected (intentionally and unintentionally) this blog and keeping those in my life up to date with all the happenings. To recap all the things in one post is frankly rather silly, and some of the things I have no desire to relive at all (sleepless newborns and travelling husbands being the most significant). What I can say was this: it was a time of beautiful reflection on many aspects of my life, including (for our purposes) why I write in the first place.

Many years ago, in the midst of terrifying suffering, I had a wonderful epiphany: I am a damn good writer. I remember the day so vividly. I was sixteen years old and my daily existence was a shell of my former, joyful self. Mental illness encompassed my every movement and each day proved to be more and more exhausting. On this particular day, however, God offered me a brief relief. I was sitting in English class when my teacher began to hand back our tests from the previous week. Before she handed me mine, she asked for the class’ attention and, much to my surprise, began to read my essay aloud. She informed the class that my writing was above and beyond what she had asked, and that I was now the new standard for the entire class. Now, I should have been terrified; who on earth would want such a nerdy acclamation as a sixteen year old? So I attempted to brush off her compliments (especially later when I found out from other friends that she read my essay to each of her classes), but secretly I was thrilled. God had given me a gift: I was a writer. I went home that evening and attempted, as best I could, to journal my thoughts of the chaos of my mind. It wasn’t always easy; there were many times when even writing proved to be too painful, but writing was a kickstart to my healing, and I am forever grateful for it.

Fast forward many years later, when blogging seemed to be the only acceptable form of communication for the young writer, and frankly I thought it was a wonderful thing. In the midst of the craziness of motherhood and having a husband who frequently travels for work, I had long lost my daily journaling habits.  I figured blogging provided a unique opportunity to do something I love while at the same time keeping our loved ones across the country informed on our happenings. There was also the added benefit of having others hold me accountable to my writing, or at least that was the theory. The problem, however, is in the process I found myself trying to blog as others do rather than how I wanted to. Seeking the approval of others was always a particularly painful cross of mine, and blogging only intensified this nastiness in my heart. This of course never seemed to be an issue with journaling, for no one (God-willing) would ever see the private writings of my heart. But blogging was different; soon there were followers and critics and, dare I say, the possibility to even make a little money? All of the sudden I forgot why I started blogging in the first place: peace, healing, and joy. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter how many people visit my page or even if my relatives see every single picture possible of my little guys. I have realized these past few months that God gave me a love for writing, writing about what I want to write about and how I want to write about it. The few posts that I enjoyed the most (where I found the most peace) I have read numerous times over and each time I smile, because I find that I am reading my true self.

God has shown me other things in this process, things that are mine (and my husband’s) alone, but I will end with this: blogging is a terrifying and beautiful thing, for it forces me to not only examine my intention (something we should be doing with or without blogging) but it also forces me into the ever uncomfortable realm of vulnerability, which is why I will continue to blog in the first place.

So I will begin again writing about things I want to write about, and when I want to write about them without carrying with me the burden of feeling that I am doing it all incorrectly. I am so thrilled for this! In doing so, I probably won’t be sharing many of these posts on facebook. Some, perhaps, but not many. I am mainly looking forward to just enjoying writing again, free from all its worries and critics.

Christianity and Mental Illness: Part II

Since my last post on this topic, I’ve had many, many beautiful conversations concerning the Christian community and how it addresses the issue of mental illness.  As this month of May comes to a close (also known as Mental Health Awareness Month), I decided to write a follow-up post circling around a central theme in these discussions: “What do we do now?”

I think there are a couple of different answers to this question, depending frankly on who’s asking the question. I’m going to address three: the Christian community (all faithful–lay and clergy), mental health professionals, and those struggling with mental illness.

The Christian Community:

I’ve had a lot of friends ask me how to address this topic within our community. The first response is simple: PRAY. We must, must, must pray for those in our communities who are suffering the devastating cross of mental illness.  But the next step is a little more difficult: we must change the way we talk about mental illness.

This was the primary point of my previous article. We must change the rhetoric concerning mental disorders, recognizing and addressing them as we would any other medical condition. For example, if a friend told you about their recent health decline, maybe it’s frequent headaches, dizziness, lump in their breast, etc, your immediate response would be “we need to get you to a specialist!” We must have this same reaction concerning mental illness. If a friend confides in you about recent depression, not sleeping, or unsettling thoughts, our first response must be “let’s get you to a specialist!” (ie therapist, licensed counselor, professional psychologist, etc).

Now this will take some training in our communities. As lay people, in our everyday conversations with our close friends and families, we need to have certain “radars” on when discussing these sensitive issues. We need to recognize behaviors, emotions or feelings that simply don’t sound healthy.  We need to insist that there are certain emotions or behaviors that are beyond the capabilities of close friends with “listening ears,” but rather need to be addressed in a professional arena. When we do this–when we address the issue of mental illness as any other medical condition–shame is removed from the rhetoric, and the person carrying this cross can move forward with courage and confidence.

On a side note, priests/clergy in particular have an important role to play in this. I was pleased to find out recently that many priests receive at least a foundational understanding of mental illness in seminary in the hopes of being able to recognize certain concerns that are outside of their guidance and counsel.  While priests can (and do) help their faithful navigate the spiritual complexities of the crosses they may bare, there are certain behaviors that they are simply not trained to handle.

Mental Health Professionals

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this next group. I suppose it all stemmed from a comment posted on my last article that said–I’m loosely quoting here–that professionals must be “competent” in matters of religious faith. I thought the phrase “competent” was particularly relevant here, but I might even take it a step further. Mental health professionals–whether they claim a religious faith or not–must be competent, articulate and respectful when addressing issues of  spirituality and faith. This means if an atheist therapist is attempting to treat the depression of a Christian patient, they must not attempt to change their patient’s worldview or argue over the validity of their beliefs. I’ve told many of my friends if they EVER encounter a therapist like this to RUN RUN RUN. It’s just not worth your time (or money) to argue your worldview when your efforts should focus on you GETTING BETTER.

While in a perfect world Christian patients would have access to many well-trained, holy Christian therapists, it simply is not the case. I was so extremely blessed to find a woman who was incredibly well-qualified in treating mental illness but who also happened to have the prayer life of a saint (with six kids no less). But not everyone has these resources available, so mental health professionals carry the extraordinary burden of being able to effectively treat a patient’s mental disorder without shaming them away from their faith (or seeing their faith as a barrier to their healing).

(The only exception to this, of course, is if the mental health professional has the wisdom to recognize the patient’s own understanding of their faith is misguided or harmful. Our discussion on Christian suffering in popular rhetoric from the last post is a good example of this).

Men and Women Carrying the Burden of Mental Illness

To this group, of course, goes my utmost sympathy and prayers. Your journey ahead is a difficult–VERY DIFFICULT–one.

When I was first diagnosed with OCD and depression, I realized I could take two routes: 1. Tell ABSOLUTELY NO ONE and hide away from all civilization until I could make sense of what was happening or 2. Tell EVERYONE I COULD POSSIBLY THINK OF in the hopes of receiving some reassurance that perhaps I wasn’t crazy.

Now I was a sixteen year old girl who liked to chatter, so I chose option 2. And what I found shouldn’t surprise anyone: people had NO IDEA what to do with the information. My parents did their best to research the disorder, come with me to my therapy sessions and talk to our family members (they really were amazing through the process), and my friends reassured me of their love and support, but really no one knew what to say to make it all feel better. And honestly, that’s what I was looking for: someone to say that magical phrase that would make me feel like less of a crazy person and more of a human being. But no one could, because healing wasn’t (and perhaps isn’t supposed to be) this instantaneous thing. It’s a long, hard journey that had ME as the captain.

After confiding in about half dozen friends I couldn’t believe the lie that diagnosis meant “problem solved!” No, diagnosis was only the beginning, and the road to “recovery” was very very difficult (I say recovery with hesitation, as you’re never REALLY healed from your mental illness, the burden only lessens).

And so what to do? Well first, we must PRAY. Pray that God will provide you with comfort and peace in the midst of the pain. Pray that you will accept with patience the cross you’re carrying. Pray that God will lead you to the mental health professional who will best help you heal. Just PRAY. And know that God is here with you in the midst of the suffering.

But we must also train our own brains to believe that we are not BROKEN. We must work to remove the SHAME from our disorders and proceed with treatment with the same courage and conviction that we would any other medical condition (think I’ve reiterated that point enough?!?)

And finally, we must see our cross as a way not simply to draw closer to our suffering Lord (and his sorrowful Mom for that matter), but as a means to help others heal as well. I remember so vividly the day I realized mental disorder could be OFFERED UP (the dreaded Catholic phrase) for others suffering with this same pain. When I realized that, my heart was filled with an incredible sense of purpose. I now had a MISSION in the midst of my suffering, and it made my healing all the more beautiful.

 

Servant of the Bride

So I didn’t want just my wife to have all the fun with this blog, so I’m writing a post.  Hope I’m half as interesting as she is, I love to read her writing and am so glad to finally try writing one.

Today I was blessed to attend a Denver Mass of Holy Orders where 7 men were ordained as transitional Deacons.  This also solidifies their vow to celibacy and in about a year they will be ordained priests.  Witnessing this Mass was truly a blessing for me and somehow brought me back to my own wedding day.  And really this is their wedding day, or maybe more like a betrothal, as their bride is the Church.  So there they are in a standing room only Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  While Denver outside is a beautiful day and the city is beginning to fill for the annual St. Patrick’s Day, that all paled in comparison to the beauty inside the church.  I will not delve into the details of this Mass, but I highly recommend attending an ordination Mass if you never have.

So fast forward to the middle of the ceremony, the 7 are now lying prostrate in front of the altar while 2 seminarians are leading the entire Church in a Litany of the Saints.  The power of this prayer could be felt as the choir of angels and the communion of Saints were singing along in celebration.  And I could only imagine what was going through their minds until I realized that the feeling had to be similar to my wedding.  Our wedding was at a beautiful little country church in Waynesboro, VA on a gorgeous day in September 2010.  I remember after professing our vows we did a Marian offering, which resulted in a walk down the aisle as this church was so small, her statue would only fit near the entry in the back of the church.  This allowed me to see everyone in attendance celebrating with us, then Julianne and I prayed together a Hail Mary.

During this prayer I felt a cloud envelop me with comfort that now I will serve my bride with all my heart.  That only through the grace of God could I love her as a servant.  This is when the tears of joy finally hit me, even though she had been sobbing since she arrived, this is when it hit me.  And it was pure joy.

So returning to the ordination, right after these guys get vested and hands laid on them ordaining them Deacons I figured they would just go back to their seat in the pew.  Nope, they started preparing the altar for communion, getting right to work.  They are servants of the Church their bride, and that didn’t begin after the reception it began right away!  And there was pure joy on their faces.  This brought it home to me that I must be joyful in my marriage, especially in the small things.  Not to pout or grumble when I’m asked to do something, but to take the initiative to do it before being asked as a gift instead of a chore.  I’m so grateful that this day brought me back to my wedding day after receiving communion.  I glanced at Christ crucified on the cross and he said you will love your bride as I loved the Church.  Incredible act of love!

This also has been on my mind this week watching Pope Francis be ordained and the humble small ways he has been serving the Church.  What an example for men to step up and serve as we have been called.  And look how joyful he was on accepting the servant of the entire Church!

Pope-Francis-waving-crowd

We love you Papa Ben!!!

On the day of our Holy Father’s last General Audience, I am remembering so fondly this:

Image

Yep, that’s me and Ryan honeymooning in Rome…did I mention just minutes before this picture we got our marriage blessed by this guy?

Image

Yep, that’s Papa, look how close we were to him!!!

What an incredibly humble man we’ve had to shepherd us these past 8 years. Let us pray for a peaceful retirement for an extraordinary fellow, and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the cardinals over the next few weeks. I’ll close with this beautiful quote from today’s final general audience:

‎”I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her. . . .”

My Talkative Toddler

I’ve been meaning to keep a journal of all the words our sweet boy has been saying recently…it seems everyday something new is added to his vocabulary!! For the most part only Ryan and I can understand his vernacular, most people around us look at us as if to say “huh? What did he say?” Anyway, I figured this blog would be a good way to record all of his sweet new language developments, especially for our families who don’t get to see him everyday. So here we go!

“Mama” and “Dada” (the best words in the whole world out of our sweet boy’s mouth)

“YES”

“Newman” (which sounds like “Meemin”) This, by the way, is the name of our dog 🙂

“Juice” (his all time favorite word)

“hi!”

“Bless!” (After someone sneezes, so cute)

“cheese” (another favorite word)

“crack!” (for cracker, this one is too funny)

“bus” (For any car)

“Night night”

“more!” (which comes out sounding like Mama, so I’m never really sure if he wants more or mama, or more mama)

I think that’s all I’m remembering so far, it’s been such a blessing watching him grow right before our eyes, everyday is a new adventure! 🙂 Happy Wednesday!!

SONY DSC

Blogging Accountability

Image

We are trying this again!

After a failed attempt at blogging right after Leo was born, we are venturing into the blogging world for a final time. (deep breath)

It may seem contrary to the approach of many bloggers, but I realized that Lent was the perfect time to develop this discipline. While many people attempt to remove media outlets from their lives in the hopes of filling that time, space, energy with our Lord, I was discovering something different.

Ryan’s been gone for three weeks on another international business trip, which means he’s been gone for almost the entire month of February.  Let’s face it, February is bad enough without having to go at it alone. (My mom says “February is like a month of all Tuesdays.” Ugh, preach it!) But even during the difficulties (remodeled kitchen, snowstorms, sick kiddo), there have been some beautiful, happy moments. My son is becoming this little person right before my eyes, giggling at our crazy doggy and crying whenever mommy gets a little sad or lonely (he’s incredibly empathetic). Ryan keeps begging me to post pictures, videos, or SOMETHING while he’s gone, but I always come up with an excuse (I can’t tonight, sweetie! I’m painting the closet ceiling!) But it isn’t just Ryan.  We aren’t blessed to live close to either of our families.  If a special moment happens, I have to describe it via skype to the incredibly loving grandparents, who I know ache thinking I am experiencing these things alone.

So this blog is for them. For all of them (you) who wish to see updates on our lives.  But it’s for me, too. During those moments of sadness, loneliness, indescribable joy, irritation, or exhaustion (a common emotion around here), I need to share these feelings with someone. Even if it’s just cyberspace, it helps just to get it out.  Plus–as many of you know–Ryan and I poured a LOT of blood, sweat, tears, money, money, money into our beautiful home, and we figured we should actually share some of our successes (and terrible failures) with others.

So here it goes! As with all Lenten journeys, I begin with a plea of accountability (especially from our family across the country). We want to put a consistent effort into sharing our lives with others, and I’m praying this will be our avenue for that!

Many blessings for you during this beautiful season of Lent! Here’s a happy face to make you smile 🙂

Image