My name is Mary _____ and I am a parishioner at Christ Church in the small town of _____, New York.
I grew up as a Roman Catholic, but started attending Christ Church after a visit by the priest while I was a patient in the hospital. This was no “ordinary” visit; I was a patient in the locked psychiatric unit of the hospital; the unit that most people are too afraid to even speak of. Fr. Nick was definitely different from my “so called” friends; he was not afraid to give me a hug. He prayed over me and warmly invited me to “come to Christ church” and see if it would help me. There was no pressure to attend mass there, and there never has been. Since my second marriage, I had been searching for a church I felt “at home” in. All the parishioners at Christ Church were very welcoming, but they were also not aware of my mental disabilities.
I need to tell you why I was in the psychiatric unit of the hospital. It is hard for me to remember a time in my life when I did not struggle with my disabilities; major depression and Severe Anxiety Disorder – SAD. And, yes, I have, at the lowest points in my life attempted suicide; not just once but several times. I realize this is the main reason I can not work outside of my home. As soon as any of my employers discovered I had a mental illness, I was let go. There are also times when I feel too anxious to leave my home.
While other “normal” people could work and enjoy the outside world, I was held prisoner; not by iron bars or locked doors, but by severe anxiety, depression, and a broken heart. My life was controlled by my disabilities, as I have discovered, many are.
Years passed and I lived through my “highs and lows”. No, I am not bi-polar, that is another form of mental illness.
My mom died on September 16, 2008 from a courageous battle with colon cancer and I had stopped attending church, except for an occasional healing service. I was lonely without my mom, although she lived with her physical disability for three years, after being told by all doctors. she would only live for six months.
Well this year, I decided I needed to change my life. I made a commitment to God that I would attend mass every Sunday through Lent and maybe even attend the Bible study. I made a promise to God that he would be the #1 priority in my life and in everything I do. This I knew would be most difficult because of my panic attacks outside my home. I did attend mass on Ash Wednesday, and with a little bit of medication prescribed by my doctor and help from the Holy Spirit, I made it through. I had taken the first step toward my goal.
The next day, I felt drawn to know more about the Episcopal Church if I was going to worship there. I turned on my computer and not being real computer savvy, I whispered a little prayer to God to show me what I was searching for.
Much to my surprise and delight, I discovered The Episcopal Disability Network website: www.disability99.org. This is an organization that works for the inclusion of people with handicaps and disabilities into the life of the church and society. It was through this site that I discovered the Episcopal Mental Illness Network. It is my goal, that through my writing, I can share some of my personal struggles and blessings of living with my disabilities.
Some days I feel totally isolated and worthless as a person. I want to go and hide and keep to myself. Yet, inside, my soul is screaming for someone to come and know me and love me. The beautiful thing about this is Jesus knows me and he knows what it feels like inside me. Yes, there were times when I gave up too easily and sought the wrong way out by attempting to take my own life. PLEASE do not judge me if you have never been in such immeasurable pain.
Though I did not recognize them at the time, God was blessing me in many ways. He put people in my life to love and support me. I give thanks to God for my family and friends who are not afraid to be near me and hold my hand or wipe away a tear.
It is not easy to know and then to admit to yourself and others that I am “different.” Now I am willing to finally face reality and establish a way of life that includes daily prayer, reflection, and regular worship with my church family.
There is a stigma attached to mental illness by a society that is too ignorant to seek answers and try to find a cure. Some people are literally afraid of someone who suffers from mental illness. One of the greatest gifts God has given me through my depression is the fact that my four children have grown into loving, knowledgeable adults who are not intimidated by a person’s disability. They “see” the person, not the disability.
With all this knowledge I had discovered, I thought that NOW – surely I would “get better.” Days passed and I was attempting to establish the changes that would heal me. I attended Sunday mass – panic attacks and all. I spent time each day reading my Bible, and even attended weekly Bible study – and I was still depressed and anxious.
One morning I read the story of the crippled man who had lain beside the healing pool for 38 years because he had no one to help him in. I could relate to his hopelessness. Then, Jesus came to him and asked him, “Do you want to get well?”. I had heard this story many times, but this time something was different.
As I read Jesus’ question, I almost resented his question. I thought to myself, “What kind of question is that?” I put myself in this man’s place. I have seen a doctor almost every week for the last 10 years and now Jesus asks ME, “Do I want to get well?”. God waited for me to answer. Of course I want to get well-you don’t have to be God to see the obvious; or was it?
Jesus was calling me to come closer and see what it was he saw in my life. For a minute, put yourselves in my shoes. Much of my life has been governed by my depression and anxiety. All this time I only wanted one thing; to be healed. So what was I afraid of ? When had I begun to lose hope? First a year went by; then two. There was no miracle for me. What about the next five years, ten years, and increasing depression and anxiety? How long could I continue to hope and not be discouraged? Was God testing my faith? Didn’t he see my tears that fell through the lonely days and sleepless nights?
Slowly and unknowingly, I resigned myself to a life of fear, resentment, and anger. I abandoned all desire to get well. That’s when Jesus took my hand and we stepped into the “secret place” of his own heart. When he asked me again, “What did I want?”, Jesus infused into MY heart- HIS DESIRE to be made whole.
I had abandoned my desire to be made whole and replaced it with knowledge and facts about my disabilities as the key to my life. I was sure God was too busy for ME. I didn’t doubt God’s healing power – for others, but I doubted his love and care for me. Now Jesus had come into my life and was appealing to MY desire – the Creator of the universe was speaking to MY heart and offering me a new life in Him!
Is that what you are longing for? Jesus disperses desire, he awakens it within your heart. All my knowledge with no desire was fruitless. I knew something had gone really wrong in my heart. My life was not getting better. I had betrayed my desire and replaced it with knowledge. I’m not saying knowledge is wrong; I’m saying knowledge without desire can lead to depression, resentment, and hopelessness.
This Lenten Season I reflected on Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem. Did I walk beside him or leave him to walk the road alone? Was it ME that shouted “Hosanna” or did I cry, “Crucify Him?”. Did I, like Peter deny even knowing Jesus? This Easter, I peered into the tomb where Jesus had been lain, and found it dark and empty; like my life was before God called to me. Only God knows why I heard him the day I read about the crippled man. I said nothing to my family or friends. I didn’t know what to say or do.
Since I talked with God, my life is no longer under the control of darkness. It is slowly, but surely, showing signs of the healing and life giving presence of God’s light and love. I have placed my future in his hands. Courage, though still a bit cautious, now appears where fear and anxiety once dominated. I am ready to give my life to God. I desire to be a living testament to the victory Jesus has won in my soul. I yearn to be identified with my Savior, and if that requires being misunderstood, mocked, or even persecuted, I am willing.
How long has it been since you thanked God for the gift of His Son? What does your heart long for? Yes, our hearts DO matter to God. Take care of your heart. Do it so you may love better for the sake of those who need you – and they DO need you. I’ve been there and back. Yes there are still days I struggle with my illnesses. Now, when I feel like it’s too hard to go on, I am refreshed by submitting my burdens to Jesus to help me carry them. Finally, God has restored the desire in my heart, through His mercy and love.
There is healing for every brokenness. He will make you whole. Jesus can and wants to heal your heart and soul. All you have to do is ask – and BELIEVE!
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.