Five Minute Friday: Path

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Didn’t make it home on time for the Twitter party or the prompt on Thursday as I was too busy dealing with my car, which decided to not start when it was time for me to leave work. It’s last bit of energy was expended on automatically locking the doors once the key hit the ignition, resulting in a panic-fueled five or so minutes. I finally slammed on the driver’s side door lock, probably breaking it in the process, in order to exit my surprise prison.

Kate says: talk about your path.

Go.

More than once I have been accused of being melodramatic and self-centered. The strange thing about such accusations is that I genuinely strive to be the opposite. Like Mia Thermopolis of Princess Diaries fame, many days, even most days, my goal in life is to remain invisible. I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to make people angry or upset. I don’t want to be a burden. And, also like the character brought to life by Anne Hathaway, I’m good at it. Perhaps you doubt my claim since I’ve obviously chosen to place my writing on a public platform, but you might be surprised at how much one can say without truly revealing anything at all.

The car refusing to start was the final thing in a long, hard week full of physical exhaustion and mental taxation. It sent me over the edge. I became engulfed in a white-hot fury. I lost my temper, and it has been raging ever since.

I don’t throw things. I don’t yell. I haven’t even cried. In fact, I told myself, out loud, “Don’t you dare cry. It won’t fix anything.” In fact, the only real sign that rage swirls around me is my expression: From default blank (“resting b____ face”) to death stare.

All this anger? I turn it inward.

That’s my path.

I suffer from textbook definition hyper-responsibility. Some would call this arrogance, thinking I have more control over things than I do, but what it really comes down to is fear. Somehow it must be my fault. I don’t know how or when I picked this up. I do know that some of my earliest memories are tinged with it.

I learned in therapy that this is directly related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This sense of constant failure and need to please sometimes manifests itself in rituals and routines. More often for me, it shows in an inability to speak. To say “no” or “stop” or “you’re/that’s wrong” or “it’s really not my fault that you feel that way/did that thing.” Because I possess a strategic way of thinking, I apply observed patterns of behavior and responses, playing out conversations. If I say this, then he is likely to say that and this will be the outcome and it’s not worth it.

So I went to a dark place in my mind. A very dark place. I said things to myself that I would never say to another person and would never stand hearing another person say to herself. At the root of this self-abuse was the constant echo, I deserve it.

It’s been something of an out-of-body experience, these last two days. Not literally. Just a sense of being disconnected from myself. Times like these are when a theological education can really bite you in the butt. The logical part of my brain knows that I have descended into irrationality. I’m aware that there is a pitched spiritual battle clamoring inside my heart. I know that I have stepped, however timidly, more fully into my calling this summer and I know Satan doesn’t like that. I know that he seeks to hit me where I’m weakest. I know the right answers, yet struggle to apply them.

How does one change her path? How does one move from hyper-responsibility to knowing where she ends and others begin?

I don’t have the answer. It would be a blatant lie if I told you that I did.

It’s not as simple as a single prayer or knowing the Bible better. There is a deep and lasting wound that only God truly understands. Bit by bit across the years I am confronted again and again with it, learning something new each time.

For now, all I can do is hope that the tiny seed of faith buried deep in my soul is enough.

Stop.

September is is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On the 19th I will pass a milestone, the five-year anniversary of my own brush with self-inflicted death. Please know that those of us who battle our minds really aren’t self-absorbed or selfish. We love. We care. We want to be useful. We long to help others. We simply struggle. Try to understand. And please, whatever you do, don’t use our struggles against us.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Jake Melara

Five Minute Friday: Tell

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Gentle Reader,

Partying with the Five Minute Friday crowd tonight. The gracious Kate invites us to: tell.

Go.

“Sharper Edge”

My heart with sharper edge does beat

Soothed no longer with medicine’s treat;

I bleed these aches onto the page,

Hoping for the end of –

Something.

Undefined and ever-present longing.

Joy and despair, despair and joy,

Treating my mind as plaything, toy.

Stretching, burning, turning,

Depths and heights and all between.

Needing help for every step.

My Lord, my God, be by my side,

Catch each tear – shed and uncried

I don’t often share my poetry. For some reason, I find it a more vulnerable form of writing. Rawer, somehow. But given all the discussion about mental illness this week, this is what I have to tell. Brightness and darkness exist in the same day – in the same person. It hurts. It’s confusing. It feels like walking through thick molasses.

Yet God is there. He gives me exactly what I need, often before I even know I need it. He collects my tears (Psalm 56:8). He teaches me how to live (John 10:10). He is the steady, sure and unchanging One.

That is enough.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Speaking with Compassion

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Gentle Reader,

Along with unnumbered scores of others, I was saddened by yesterday’s news of Robin Williams suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy, but this particular death has people talking. It is shocking to think that someone who brought us so much laughter experienced the kind of despair that leads to such a decision. Such a thing drives home the point that mental illness does not discriminate. Men, women, children, old, young, rich, poor. Anyone can find themselves in the midst of deep pain and confusion.

In this Internet age, anyone can post any opinion with the brush of a few keys, and I think that’s perfectly fine. Every one of us has the right to our own thoughts. I believe in free speech. But I also believe in compassion. Too many articles touching on this subject lack it, whether from the ignorance of “he’s free now,” something that belittles the entire topic of suicide and all those who have been impacted by it, to those who hone in only on the personal responsibility of Mr. Williams, to still others who speak of “just choos[ing] joy.” Mental illness is far too complex an issue to be reduced in such a way.

Honestly, I wish that the discussion of these things could be limited to those who have walked through the shadows and those who are trained to walk with them. But, again, anyone can say anything. So let me simply request this of you: Speak with compassion. Try to imagine the deep, tortuous pain and agonizing sorrow that would move someone to take his own life. Try to understand that this is not “just” a spiritual issue, nor is it “just” a physical issue. Mental illness takes over the totality of a person. The vision is clouded over – the vision of the eyes and the vision of the soul.

You would not speak to a cancer patient and tell her to “just get over it.” You would not tell an man with a broken leg to walk normally. No. You would come alongside and do what you could to help. This is exactly what the mentally ill need. We need your encouragement, your prayers, your friendship and your attempt at understanding. We need your grace and your hugs.

We do not need your condemnation, your attempts at neat classification or your ill-informed and lofty opinions spouted as fact.

Think about Jesus. Think about how He would speak to someone in despair.

Go and do likewise.

My journey to faith. (15)

On Counseling

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Gentle Reader,

One of my hobbies is perusing church websites, particularly the websites of churches in my area. I like to see what other members of the Body are doing in ministry. I like to check out different programs. And I really like to read statements of faith.

As I was scrolling through one of these statements recently, I found an interesting section dealing with the discipline of psychology and the use of counseling. I can’t recall this being addressed by any other church whose site I’ve visited. Here is the statement:

We believe that modern day psychology has had a detrimental effect on Biblical counseling. In fact, we believe that most “Biblical Counseling” has become little more than therapeutic, psychological counseling. Interestingly, there is not even a mention of modern day counseling practices in the Bible. The Bible has no gift of counseling, and the idea of a person or persons regularly going to another individual for repeated meetings is not a concept found in the Scriptures at all. We do see the occasional interaction between individuals with questions and an associated or corresponding response; but the idea of a believer resting on and finding support in a person holding the office of counselor is not named once.

My initial reaction was to laugh. The Bible doesn’t mention the gift of being good with money, but I don’t see any church telling its members to avoid accountants. There is no mention of iPads or Wal-Mart in the Bible, but plenty of Christians make use of both.

The amusement faded quickly, though. It is true that anyone who visits a counselor can become dependent on her, and that that’s not a good thing, but the counselor with a solid foundation of faith is going to do everything she can to point the patient to God. I attended therapy for a little over a year; every one of our sessions closed in prayer, I was encouraged repeatedly to memorize Scripture and all of the focus was on God and truth. My bill might be settled, but there is no way that I can ever repay my therapist. She cared about me, took the time to listen and prodded me to a deeper faith. I don’t have any words to explain how much I needed that.

The Church in general and this church in particular needs to come to a better understanding of mental illness and the nature of suffering. We are supposed to listen to, encourage and lift each other up, but there are times when that just flat out isn’t enough. Therapists are trained to understand things like the chemical make-up of the brain, how past trauma influences the present and how we can subconsciously block painful emotions. Sometimes life is just too big, too much, and we need the help of a professional. Sometimes marriages hit incredibly rocky patches and it takes a third party to help sort out the issues. Sometimes kids get really hurt and can’t talk to anyone else. What shame is there in this? Why can’t God work through these people who truly desire to help others?

I know the example has been used a million times, but go there with me: You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to cease seeing the doctor, to stop monitoring his diet or to throw out his medication. Why do we treat mental illness any differently?

My journey to faith. (15)