Sunday, October 5, 2014


I pull open the pharmacy envelope from my grocery bag, crack open the new bottle of pills, and peer inside.  I see 30 little capsules, each one capable of making me nauseous and dizzy, each one capable of altering my otherwise enthusiastic appetites, and each one capable of producing any other number of effects on my body.

I don't take these pills because I want to, or because I suffer from addiction to them.

I take the pills because I have to.  I take them because I would, in every sense of the term, be dead without them.

I take these nausea-inducing, appetite-altering pills because each and every one of them contains the promise of life.

Ever since being diagnosed with major clinical depression and general anxiety at the age of 14, I have gone through multiple suicide plans, countless occasions of considering suicide, and numerous panicked calls to my psychiatrist at the time to beg them for their next available appointment.

The odd thing is, you wouldn't know it to look at me.  I'm not, at least at a glance, noticeably or visibly mentally ill.  I don't converse with invisible people, I don't move in and out of different personalities, and I don't suffer from hallucinations (all of which describe a relatively narrow spectrum of mental illness).

Instead, I serve an amazing congregation as their pastor, I am married to a loving wife, and I am, by every outward measure, living the American dream.

And really, most days, I would probably agree with you.  I live a blessed existence.  Many days, I still cannot believe how good I've got it.  The reasons I have to love life are both many and meaningful.

But here's the thing about my mental illness: it does not respect the power of reason.  It remains firmly unmoved by debate or discussion.  It cares not for the language of logic.  It strikes when it wants, and the most I can do is manage it to minimize that frequency, and to mitigate it when it does anyways.

It has been in those fleeting moments when my depression was always most likely to kill me--not always physically, but almost always spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.  Stripped of my faith in a God who loves me and redeems me, I would stare, alone, for hours and days on end at a blank screen that waited expectantly for that week's sermon.  Torn bare of my desire to be present in the lives of others, I would shake as I would try to dial the phone numbers of people I needed to call on, sometimes hanging up multiple times before finally stirring up the gumption to call AND stay on the line.  And ripped apart from the joy I might otherwise feel in a coffee or beer with a friend, I would hole myself up in my room, avoiding any but the most cursory of interactions with other people, even people who had known me for years and who loved me and who, I would find out long after the fact, I had worried terribly.

Paralyzed and terrified, I would, in a very real sense, be dead to the world.  Behind closed doors of both physical and emotional dimensions, I was alive only in the most literal of senses: I breathed, my body metabolized food into energy, I would fall asleep and wake back up, but the heart that would beat within my chest would do so purely out of biological necessity, nothing more.

And so I take the pills, one every day, to give me life again.  To keep me from dying to myself again.  To keep me from shutting myself off in my own stone tomb again.

And so I take the pills, no matter the stigma and no matter the side effects, because it would be far worse for me not to.  Because without them, I would not be much of a member of my faith community, or my work community, or any community, really.  I would be my own damaged, broken community.  Just me.

How have I been impacted by my own mental illness?  It made me feel alone more than I could have ever thought was possible.

It is an awful thing to feel that alone in the world.  And so I write about it to you once more.

I have been very vocal over the past year or two here for the need for a greater understanding of mental health in the church, especially when we still have churches that preach against medical practices like psychiatry that have helped me and millions of other people, or that endorse the use of pseudo-scientific counseling techniques like reparative therapy for gay and lesbian persons.

And so Chalice Press, the publishing house of my denomination, decided to host a SynchroBlog event where bloggers like me share their stories of their mental illness (which I have done elsewhere here, most recently on the news of the suicide of Robin Williams) with the hashtag #BlessedAreTheCrazy, in part to honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs October 5-11, with Tuesday the 7th acting as a national day of prayer for mental illness recovery.

Blessed are the crazy, indeed.  And blessed are the sane.  Blessed are we all by the God who made us with fear and with wonder.

If you need immediate help, the national (in the US) suicide prevention hotline is 1.800.273.8255.  It is staffed 24/7.  Those of us who have been there that depression also knows no internal clock.

Fortunately, though, God knows no internal clock as well.  And my own prayer is would be that may God's love and regard for you one day be met with your own love and regard for yourself, that you might live and be alive in every sense of the word...for, as the early church father St. Irenaeus famously said, the glory of God is a person fully alive.

Yours in Christ,

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