Monthly Archives: May 2018

When It’s Time for “The Talk” About Mental Illness

Today my eight year old son heard a different story. All along we’ve told our child the story of how his grandpa Griffith was a great animal doctor who loved taking care of people’s pets. This is true. We told our son that his grandpa died before he was born, and that grandpa was a good person and would be very proud of his grandson. This is also true.

It is important for me as a mother that my child first hears the story of the blessing of his genetic inheritance from his maternal grandfather: love of creation, love of learning, love of healing, love of life.

Today it was time for my son to hear a different story. Today, just as causally as you’d talk about what happened at school, I told the story of his grandpa’s illness. I told the story of when grandpa’s brain got a sickness and how it changed all of our lives.

It was time because my son began to tell himself and us a story that I knew wasn’t true. Projecting his own life story onto me, he innocently said something about how much I must have enjoyed spending time with my dad. And that’s when I knew it was time to tell a different story.

I didn’t use the technical term “bipolar disorder.” I decided to just talk in a clear and simple way.

“I actually didn’t spend that much time with my dad. He was a great animal doctor. But when his brain got sick, we didn’t spend much time with him. My mom got a divorce and we moved away to live with grandma. I was about your age.”

He looked up at me silently. Then I said, “In our family we need to take special care of our brains because so many people in our family have a brain illness.”

He went onto play with our dog who this whole time was laying right beside him. He said, “I love you sweet girl” to the dog.

A little bit later I added, “You know, today I am going to yoga, then to meet with my counselor and then my personal trainer. I do all of this as a way to help keep my brain healthy.”

I knew the day would come when I would start telling my son a different story. Today was the day.

He is ready to know this story. As he begins to face his own mental health challenges with worrisome thoughts, he is ready to learn coping skills. He is ready to know that it’s not his fault that he has worry.

It is a bittersweet day. As I reflect on this experience of telling a different story, it feels a little bit like peeling off the cover layer of our family crest, and underneath the pretty pictures, finding something less organized, less shiny, less perfect.

It feels vulnerable and it feels right. My hope is that by telling these different stories we can let him know that he comes from a loving and creative family that is blessed with beautiful minds that need attentive nurturing and care. The gift in breaking the silence about mental illness with the next generation is that it equips us with awareness of warning signs of symptoms and motivates us to focus on prevention.

I am grateful for today and the gift of telling the different stories with care, compassion and without fear.

Where Was God?

By Linda Pelfrey, guest blogger

In a conference on mental health in faith communities, author Sarah Griffith Lund asked “where was God?” in a mental health or family crisis.

Here is my personal answer:

God was in the puppy who snuggled with me when voices got loud and scary.

God was in the kind sisters of the church who brought dinner when Mama or Daddy were in hospital. (Even when we said we liked Daddy’s cooking better.)

God was in the music that lifted the spirits of a little girl who felt lonely even in a crowd of people. God spoke beauty and hope through all those songs.

God was in the books and characters that provided a safe place for a child who possessed limitless imagination.

God was in the Grandmother who prayed unceasingly for all of her family.

God was in the beauty of springtime and birdsong.

God was in the silly laughter of a child who found humor in the darkest of circumstances.

God was in Mama’s hands when she brushed “rat’s nests,” out of a little girl’s head who didn’t know yet how to “act like a lady.”

God was in the delicious food Daddy cooked because it was his way of saying what he could not speak into words.

God guided Daddy’s heart when he had to answer the question: “what does blind mean?”

God was in the moments when being a blind kid meant being ignored or teased.

God was in my New York Grandma and aunties who protected me while teaching me how strong I was.

God was there to touch my face and dry my tears when I learned any child I might have could be blind or sick in some other way.

God is in all the children God sends into my life: showing me that family isn’t always defined by blood.

God is in the people who say they don’t know if they believe; yet, God is in them any way as they show up as friends.

God is in all the people who cross my path, and sometimes pick me up and carry me when I fall.

Thank you God for puppies, music, sisters in the church, Grandmothers and every way you show up in my world.

A little background about me:

My brother and I were both born blind. We later learned that it was probably the result of my mother’s exposure to dangerous chemicals as a child. (She grew up in the Love Canal area of Niagara Falls where toxic waste was buried under homes and a school.)

As an adult, I see the courage it took for my mother Sandra to battle a mental illness along with numerous illnesses. She passed away at age 45.

Me today:

I am Team Leader at church, and rotate as Liturgist.

I work as a Receptionist at Goodwill/Easter Seals.

My passion is a radio show my brother and I co-host where we review film with a focus on how disability and race are portrayed.

Follow my blog.

From Sarah Griffith Lund:

I’m happy to host Linda Pelfrey’s blog as my guest. We met in Dayton, OH and she is a person with a powerful story to share.

Jesus’ Disability

Would Jesus with his disability be welcomed, included, supported and engaged as a member of your church?

According to theologian and sociologist Nancy Eiesland, in Luke 24:36-39, when Jesus returns to his disciples after the resurrection and appears to them, he shows them his body that had been changed by the crucifixion.

Jesus’ hands and side were so terribly injured that he still bore the scars from his wounds. He invites the disciples to touch his wounds. Jesus’ body was disabled by the cross.

Eiesland wrote in The Disabled God, “In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God.”

So when we think about the people the church is created to serve, we cannot forget who it is the church is created to follow: a Savior with a disability.

What does this mean, then, that the United Methodist Church has announced that amendments have failed to get 2/3 votes needed for approval that would add language to ensure greater equality and inclusion as part of the life of the church?

Amendment #2 did not pass and it stated that members not be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and government of the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, martial status, or economic condition.” This change was not supported by a majority of the UMC. There are many groups included in the requested change, including people based on “ability.”

This raises important questions.

Does this mean that the UMC does not protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the church?

Does this mean that the UMC can deny access to the life, worship and governance of the church because of a person’s disability?

And why were mental health conditions not included in the proposed amendment?

Can the UMC discriminate and deny access to the life, worship and governance of the church based on a person’s mental health?

According to Eiesland and the witness of the gospel, it seems like the church is in danger of denying Jesus access to the life, worship and governance of the church.

And if Jesus is denied access to the church, then we’ve got a big problem.

The UMC Council of Bishops reported their dismay over these results and pledged to research why these amendments didn’t get the support they needed. One reason could be the stigma that exists in churches towards people with disabilities and mental health challenges. The stigma is what keeps us from talking about disabilities and mental health as justice issues.

Breaking the silence, sharing personal stories and educating ourselves about disabilities and mental health in the church are powerful ways to reduce stigma. The United Church of Christ has developed tools for churches to use and certification programs that help congregations increase their awareness and deepen their commitment to being communities of radical hospitality, accessibility and belonging. The Accessible-2-All and the WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged) curriculums are free and available for use at A2A and WISE.

To welcome Jesus is to welcome people with disabilities and mental health challenges. For the UMC and for all of the expressions of the church, now is the time to strengthen our commitment to work on making our churches more accessible and more welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged for people with disabilities and mental health challenges.

What we will find is that Jesus will show up with his disability and show us his wounds. Jesus will tell us about God’s love and how nothing in all creation can separate us from it…not disabilities or mental health challenges.