By Jill Riley
I thought I was good at loving “them”. I thought I had respectful regard for “them”. I felt like I advocated well for “them”. And then I found out I was one of them. Of the millions of people living with mental illness, I discovered that category included me too.
In planting a church in an urban setting it seemed as if I was more exposed to those with mental illness, due to the more frequent and intentional encounters with those in shelters or living on the streets. As a church we heavily supported and loved on those living in nearby shelters. We welcomed both those who were homed and those who were homeless. We worked hard to provide an environment where mutual submission to the Word, love of Jesus and desire to worship Christ became the campfire we gathered around, not categories like homeless, mentally ill, addicted, privileged, or ethnicity. We were a cacophony of praise, devoted to one another.
Outwardly I attempted to pastor these people with compassion for all. Inwardly, as much as I resisted it, I unconsciously divided the haves and have nots into unfair categories. However, if I’m to be honest, those with mental illness, depression, suicidality, anxiety and personality disorders were among the most challenging for me to serve. I had no answers for them and to be honest I wasn’t sure I had even the right questions. Of course, the correct and simplified answer is that we are all in need of Jesus. But the more complicated answers to the plight of those who’s illnesses were very real, permanent and hidden eluded me.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD, a major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and dissociative disorder. I was one of “them”. The questions came hard and fast. Would I be able to work in the “real” world? Should I hide my diseases? Would people treat me differently if they knew my diagnosis? Would my family be affected negatively? Could people tell I was ill?
What does one do when they find themselves on the inside of a circle where they previously felt they did not belong?
It has taken all of those three years and will probably take a couple dozen more for me to graciously accept that mental illness, “them”, includes me to. But I am on the way. I have found solidarity with others who struggle with mental illness. I attend meetings where people who shake from their meds, can barely lift their heads from the table due to depression, and who shift nervously in their seats describing the affects of their personality disorders share space together. And I find peace there. In being with people who the world often views with suspicion and pity I see myself reflected in each one of them because we are a community who, due to personal experiences, attempt to accept without judgment.
My prayer and hope is that as I speak of my illness, my pain and my needfulness for acceptance from others, the barriers of judgement will come down just a bit. The #metoo movement is teaching us that solidarity can be inclusive or exclusive. I want to be the former – inclusive of all who care to join hands with those who are colored differently than they are, act differently than they do, have more or less than they, or hurt in same or different ways.
- The women who have come forward have found strength in numbers in the #metoo movement. They have found solidarity and support. For this season we have asked each of our authors to write about the dark and uncomfortable places, not necessarily sexual assault, where they too wish for those same things; solidarity, support, love and hope for a better future. Thank you for joining our journey