Monthly Archives: August 2014

Robin Williams Lived

Robin Williams lived a life that brought laughter and joy to millions through his comedy and acting.

He died at his home from suicide on Monday, August 11, 2014, at the age 63. He battled a brain disease that included severe depression. Even with treatment, support from loved ones, and a successful career, mental illness still can be a deadly disease, especially when paired with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I remember when I first learned that Robin Williams had a mental illness and I was encouraged by his openness. I loved his work in Aladdin, Happy Feet, Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and his role as Mork from Mork and Mindy. My favorite work of his was stand-up comedy.

He had a brilliant brain. And he had a brain with a disease. He richly blessed us with his life.

May all of us find ways today to reach out and offer hope to one another. We need each other in order to live. No one needs to suffer alone.

There is hope for people who are suicidal. Depression can be treated and symptoms managed. The National Suicide Hotline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 90% of the time the primary cause of suicide is an untreated or under-treated mood disorder.

Here are five things we can do to prevent suicide:

1. Break the silence about mental illness. Tell someone you trust if you are feeling depressed and get help.

2. Help spread the word about mental health support resources in your community. If there aren’t any, then get to work and look into starting a support group. Learn mental health first aid.

3. Organize mental health educational events at your school, house of worship, workplace and neighborhood. Become a mental health care advocate.

4. Decrease the stigma and shame of mental illness by celebrating the many gifts of people with brain diseases. Acknowledge that people with mental illness are not defined by their illness.

5. Treat everyone with kindness. We all are fighting battles. Mental Illness is an invisible battle. Be gentle with yourself and others.

Update:
Suicide in particular causes some to pause and wonder about religious teachings that claim that death by suicide is an unforgiveable sin. Just as our scientific understanding of evolution influences the way we interpret the sacred story of creation, now our understandings of the human brain must change the way we interpret suicide.

It is intolerable for me to believe in a God that would punish a person who already suffered unbearable pain because of a brain disease. Instead, I believe in a God of compassion who weeps with those who weep, and mourns with those who mourn. No longer can we say that people who commit suicide go to hell. It is inhumane and defames God’s loving nature.

Now is the time to respond with love.

Crazy Casserole

The casserole dish represents compassion in some circles. It says we know things are hard, eat something.

One of the most important things I did as a pastor was to call Marilyn who would make sure the church gave casseroles to families going through difficult times.

We show our love for our neighbors when we feed them.

When I learned of an upcoming surgery or birth, I called Marilyn. She knew who had the time to whip up a hot dish that night. The church is blessed with deep apron pockets of casserole-making spiritual gifts.

But what Marilyn didn’t know was that I never called her when the hospitalization involved a psych hospital. These hard times in the church were not spoken about, allowing no opportunity for comforting casseroles stuffed with Jesus’ love.

Why is it that when the heart is diseased we send a casserole, but when the brain is diseased we send silence?

In my book I tell the story about my family’s decades of silence about mental illness. It was not polite to talk about crazy things in church. So I didn’t. Until now.

So what is the casserole?

David asked me this question after sharing that the last church he served did not know how to respond to his wife’s severe mental illness. One woman came up to his wife after church and said,

I’m sorry you are so sick.

This made his wife feel like never coming back to church.

So what casserole do we give to people who have mental illness as a way to express compassion and comfort?

Is it okay to make casseroles for people who are coming home from the psychiatric hospital?

There is something wrong with our hesitation in this matter.

I think it’s because of our discomfort in talking about mental illness. Often the church does not feel like a safe space to talk about difficult things.

We do not send crazy casseroles because we do not know how to even begin asking for them.

There is this fear that if knowledge of a church member’s psychiatric hospitalization became known, then her reputation and leadership role in the church would be called into question.

David left that church because it was not a safe place for his wife. He didn’t have the energy to manage all the questions, comments and criticisms about his wife’s mental illness. She didn’t have the energy or desire to go to a church and be judged.

He’s now serving a church that is supportive and understanding about her brain disease. The church leaders know David and his wife go to marriage counseling every Friday. It is not a secret.

And this makes all the difference.

Having a mental disorder doesn’t have to be a secret.

According to NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) one out of four people in the general population has a diagnosable mental illness.

If we are going to get serious about breaking the silence about mental illness, then we better get some casserole dishes ready.

As Christians we are called to respond to all God’s people with compassion, offering homemade love served up in a deep dish and on the front doorstep.

Crazy for the First Time

The first time I saw my dad acting crazy it was in the kitchen. He stood in his white, v-neck undershirt and black slacks in front of the open refrigerator door. With his head tilted all the way back, his hand lifted an entire gallon of milk up to his mouth. And he guzzled it down like a frat-boy. The whole dang thing. Chug! Chug! Chug!!

As a freckled face little girl I stood there beside him in the kitchen. I was transfixed by his behavior, my dry mouth gaping open. I was thirsty, too. It was impossible to keep any milk in the house, between five kids under age 13 and a Dad like this one. The milk was always gone.

Dad’s untreated bipolar caused him to cycle through highs of mania (where he acted impulsively and excessively) and lows of depression (where he turned inward and lived in his bed).

Dad’s mania was fun for us as kids. He deconstructed our lawn mower one day and turned it into a go-kart. He turned over the wheel of a car or small airplane to us to drive.

His mood swing coming down from mania was not crazy fun, but crazy scary.

It was crazy scary when I saw Dad pour all of his chalky white milk onto my mother. I don’t remember what he was shouting as he did this to her. The scene in my mind is silent. I see the milk dripping off of her lavender floral dress and onto the green carpet.

Today I celebrate that crazy doesn’t have to define who I am even though it is part of my family’s crazy fun and crazy scary past.

I celebrate that there is no turning back. My book went to the printers yesterday. The release date is September 30 and on that day I’ll be freaking out feeling all the feels.

I remember the first time I saw crazy. And as a child I had never heard the word bipolar. Nobody talked about it.

I just knew crazy because it lived in my house.

And to this day I can smell crazy from a mile away. It smells like milk.

I celebrate that today people are starting to talk about mental illness and that we have access to more mental health support services and resources now than ever before.

Like the milk in my childhood home, it’s never enough. We need more. More people telling their stories to break the silence about mental illness, more research, more support services that are accessible and affordable, more understanding and inclusion of people with mental illness.

We need more because there are thousands of families out there that need help.