When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, I never dreamed it would lead to using social media platforms to share my story of mental illness, chronic pain, the varying and far-reaching levels of “ick that come from both and how Jesus is in the middle of all of it. I signed up and quickly learned it offered a way to perpetuate the lie that I was “fine” (my tribe knows it’s the code word for “not fine”) and also learned that I could spew my “ick” but not have to see the faces of people who read it; I saw the faces of My Fave and kids every day – my guilt was heavy enough, I didn’t need the guilt from other people, too.
In early 2012, my heart took a huge turn in a different direction; our boys were the drivers. J was getting ready to turn 9, C turned 7 a few months earlier and in the past year finally got the chance to live a life that matched the energy and personality God gave him but that his health limited. (That boy of ours is my daily reminder that God can do anything He wants.) After lots of “church shopping”, we had finally checked out, at the urging of our friend TS, a church he attended. My Fave and I enjoyed the first service but weren’t blown away. The boys however did not want leave; Jesus wanted kiddos to come to Him and ours went running toward Him at full speed! As they grew to know a God that wasn’t rooted in judgement, but had mercy, grace and forgiveness that He threw around like confetti, so did I. I wasn’t letting Jesus break down the wall I’d built so the world couldn’t see my broken parts so He used my kids.
When they asked in 2012 if they could be baptized, we said “yes”. When they asked if I’d been baptized, I explained I had at birth, as had their dad. Respectfully, those were decisions made by our parents and we were thrilled that the boys had made this decision for themselves. Their question to me got me wondering about being baptized as an adult and I found out many people who were baptized as infants chose to be baptized again when the decision was theirs to make.
On my 40th birthday, I “got dunked”. While in that pool, I shared in public some of the broken parts of me. I knew some of the 50 or so people gathered around the baptismal pool behind our church but many were strangers. Coming out of that water was an experience I can’t explain and was only topped by what happened next. We believe the baptized can then in turn baptize others; our boys each stepped down in the water and I got the gift of finishing the work they had started on that first day in our new church. (I am crying ugly writing about it almost 7 years later!)
I share the backstory because it’s the epicenter, the “why” that makes it possible for me to boldly share my story. It’s why empathy is what I try to approach everything with first. It’s been the eraser I need daily to rid the picture of “ick” I’d believed to be true for as long as I can remember. It’s why I speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. It’s why I can comfort and carry the “ick” of others. Someone did that all for me 2,000 years ago and made a way for me to do it for others – how could I not pay all of that forward? I’ve tried more than once to end my story; He’s said it’s not over – I have to believe it’s because He knows my story can lighten the burden of someone else trying to survive theirs.
My heart shattered into a billion pieces when Robin Williams died. I’d shared some of my story on social media platforms but when we lost someone who spent a lifetime entertaining is while silently fighting the demons that were trying to kill him, the same ones that had tried to kill me more than once, I threw fear of shame out the window and laid it all out. I was angry and sad and tired of feeling like mental illness was never going to get the attention it needed; the stigmas were going to outlive every Warrior doing all they could to stay alive for the next 60 seconds in front of them. So I held nothing back and it was scary but also very freeing. There were some that thanked me and others that weren’t so sure being so honest was the best idea. Someone I love dearly asked, “You’re getting really active in the kid’s schools. Aren’t you worried people might think less of you because of that stuff? What if you want to run for school board some day? They might use this against you.” That sounds a whole lot like a “them” problem, not a “me” problem. I don’t answer to them; I answer to Jesus and He’s already made it clear that He and I are good!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Mental health, especially in kiddos, is the “mountain” I will die on. It’s a non-negotiable thing for me. Stigma and ignorance are not valid excuses for watching the rates of young people dying from suicide in this country increase year after year. Discomfort from hearing my story isn’t going to make me be quiet and neither will someone’s judgement; our kids are dying and no one should be resting until we get proactive in recognizing they need our help and look at every aspect of how we can help them. When I think about getting tired or giving up, I think back to my kiddos and that they showed me who I can seek refuge in when my heart hurts more than I think I can handle.
While I know I can’t save everybody I will try to save every body, soul, heart and mind I can. “What about the people who judge you or don’t want to hear you?” It’s hard and frustrating and I wonder if I am making any real impact on the issue. But I have two things that allow me to tell my story, support others in theirs and collapse when I’m exhausted from fighting: 1) a God that comforts my hurt and frustration and never fails to remind me that He made me for a purpose and 2) a Tribe He gave me that carries and comforts me so I can find Jesus in the midst of the chaos. I don’t have to carry my weight because Someone carries that for me. So in turn, I carry, comfort, speak for others. It doesn’t make me a hero, it makes me a Follower of a Savior who did all that, and then some, for me.
He’s done that for you, too. And because He will carry us, He needs us to check on our people and comfort and carry them; extend them empathy and grace and mercy; teach our kids to check on their people and how to ask for help when they or a friend need it and to keep asking for help until someone listens. I’m not cynical; I’m a realist and not expecting that someone is going to stand up in the Rose Garden or in the chambers of the U.S. Capitol and declare mental illness as the epidemic it is. It will take communities of ordinary people deciding they’ve had enough and refuse to bury another person that dies by their own hand because the most complex organ in their body doesn’t work like everyone else’s.
Please. Please. Check on your people. Our kids are quitting life before they ever give it a real chance. Adults are quitting life because they can’t handle the weight of the chaos they’ve been carrying for a lifetime. I promise you when you reach out and offer to help someone carry their troubles or comfort the hurting or tell your story it will change you both. And when you don’t know what to do with your hurt and the burdens you’ve picked up for someone else, give it to Him – He is ready and waiting when you are. ♥