Small Bird (Photo credit: e_monk)
Some people have letters after their name; I have numbers. This is so that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a ridiculously over-priced book) if I sneeze sideways, someone, somewhere, will be able to diagnose and treat me for it. It insures that they will get paid to do so; hence the word ‘insurance.’
Sincere and well-meaning people have tried to convince me that my problem is a chemical imbalance, and that taking a pill will fix this. (i.e. make life easier for everyone else.) Having not been stuck with the requisite needle so that the evidence of my low serotonin could be dropped into a test tube and measured (against what?) I wasn’t buying it.
“Depression is just like diabetes, and you would take your treatment for that, wouldn’t you?” Depression is not at all like diabetes; this isn’t rocket science, and doesn’t require a specialist to connect the dots. If you’ve ever been depressed and suicidal, you know that it is not like having cancer, or diabetes, or anything else for that matter. My brain is working just fine, thank you. But I’m sad, and could say why, if anyone cared to ask. Grief is not mental illness.
Our pastor sat down with me a few years ago and tried a different approach. (He had already tried the ‘depression is the same as diabetes’ one). “We read in the Bible that God delivers us out of everything we’re going through.”
I looked at him thinking: “Shipwrecked, imprisoned, sawn-asunder, beheaded, and burned at the stake. So don’t give me that crap.” Sorry, but that really is what I was thinking at the time. Still do, come to think of it.
There is a reality here, but that is not it. We don’t see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane saying “This isn’t happening, and I’m really not here.” To say any less is to make a mockery of the cross. Christ was in so much mental and emotional anguish that his blood cells burst their boundaries and poured out.
When I saw the movie the Passion, I was in such deep grief and emotional numbness that the thought that Christ, and Christ alone, knows how badly I feel, was immensely comforting.
This is not to say that God never delivers us, but that he does not always deliver us, especially from consequences, whether our own, or the fact that we live, most of the time, with the consequences of others’ choices, like it or not. There is a Heaven, but we’re not there yet.
Sometime after that meeting with the pastor, it got back to me that one of the elders was telling people they shouldn’t be friends with me. As juvenile as this sounds (and was) she admitted, when asked, that yes, that was exactly what she had been up to. (This did not at all have anything to do with the pastor, who in all likelihood has little knowledge of any of what has transpired under his watch. It’s a big church, and no man in his right mind wants to get caught up in witch hunts and cat-fighting. This is what delegating authority is for.)
So I said to this woman “In all the years that our daughters have been friends, you and I have never had a five-minute conversation. You have never sat down with me over coffee, or made any attempt to get to know me.” (A Biblical mandate, by the way, for the elder [spiritually mature] women in the church.) “So what in the world are you basing this on?”
She blinked several times before admitting that yes, she had been telling people to stay away from me. She had “heard that I had problems with people at my old church, and she also heard…..and…” and proceeded to tell me with blond certainty that she had been doing this out of the goodness of her heart, to protect the innocent and unsuspecting, who might choose to befriend me, or actually get to know me. All because of “what she had heard”. Nor would she tell me where and from whom she was gathering all these ‘facts’.
My counselor had also asked me once, in a session in which we were discussing this mess a couple of years ago, why she (my counselor) should believe me over “other people who are more credible.” Another head-scratching moment, and those people also remain unnamed, presumably to protect the innocent.
I said (to the elder): “That would be gossip. And you should know better.”
And she proceeded to tell me that she had heard that, too; that I had a problem submitting to authority.
That would also be gossip. My problem at the Chapel wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to submit to authority, it was that I would not participate in a lie, and was stupid enough to say so.
She left me alone at the altar and went up the aisle to leave the sanctuary (there’s irony here, but I don’t want to stop for it) but then suddenly turned on her little pointed heels and hurried back down the aisle, coming right up close to me. Squinting, she hissed fervently: “I pray for you, Stacey. And do you know why I pray for you?”
No, actually, I hadn’t figured prayer was at all a factor in any of her shenanigans.
“Because I ALWAYS pray for the underdog.” And with that final thrust, she tottered back up the aisle and out the back of the church.
I still to this day have not figured out what an appropriate response on my part would have been. Well, gosh, golly, gee; thank you. Where in the world would I be without all those heart-felt prayers?
A pill is not going to fix this. It may make me numb to the fact that I am sad, but it definitely won’t do what a simple re-training of the staff would do. This particular nut wouldn’t have to be re-trained, as she is now practicing her dramatic talents elsewhere, and the other part of this equation won’t talk to me without a ‘third party present’. (What in the world for, I don’t know. It’s not necessary; we’re big girls, and should be able to sit down and talk. Without an interested but uninvolved bystander.)
Mental illness is largely a social construct; part of what we do in therapy is to de-construct the cage society builds around us and hopefully, become fully alive to who we are, and in so doing, become free to be who we really are. It’s not a biological disease; you can’t “catch” mental illness. If you were to take one person from each of the thirteen committees that made up the team presiding over the current revision of the DSM, and put each of them in a room, alone, and asked them to write on an index card their own definition of the term mental illness, you would end up with thirteen different (albeit possibly similar) definitions. Put them all together and charge $199.00 for it, and you would have our current Bible for diagnosing the realities of everyday life in our culture. Or, you could ignore the labels so judiciously provided by these self-proclaimed experts, and get on with the business of living your life. If you have one, that is.
In all honesty, this is what is supposed to happen when we become disciples of Christ. As we read the Word, we become aware of who we are in Christ (meaning we learn to see ourselves as God sees us) and as a result, our lives become fully authenticated, and we become less susceptible to the rants and petty grievances of blond elders and pastors.
Lest you think I have something against blond hair, I can assure you that my own hair color comes straight from a bottle. As long as my behavior doesn’t, I figure it’s all good.
And this is where elders, and pastors and counselors come in. To open the Word, and show us that, in spite of all of our flaws, and failures, and outright wrong behavior (sin) God does indeed still love us. And we come to know this as the people who represent Him treat us with respect, and grace, and mercy.
Anything less, according to Scripture, is to disqualify yourself as a minister.
“I warn and counsel the elders among you (the pastors and spiritual guides of the church) as a fellow elder and as an eyewitness [called to testify] of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a sharer in the glory (the honor and splendor) that is to be revealed (disclosed, unfolded);
Tend (nurture, guard, guide, and fold) the flock of God that is [your responsibility], not by coercion or constraint, but willingly; not dishonorably motivated by the advantages and profits [belonging to the office], but eagerly and cheerfully;
Not domineering [as arrogant, dictatorial, and overbearing persons] over those in your charge, but being examples (patterns and models of Christian living) to the flock (the congregation).” – I Peter 5:1-3 (Amplified)