Lessons Learned at the Clinic: Part 2
Thanks so much to all of you who read, shared, commented on, and encouraged me about last week’s post. While mental illness isn’t the easiest thing in the world to talk about, it’s so important. For one thing, it’s more prevalent than you might think. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one out of every six adults in the United States lives with some form of mental illness (nimh.nih.gov). That number doesn’t even include the homeless or anyone who was non-responsive to their survey. One out of every six.
Let’s make that statistic even more personal. One out of every six of your friends. Of your coworkers. The people in line with you at the grocery store. One out of every six people in your church. We need to talk about this.
The problem with admitting you have a mental illness (as opposed to a physical one) is that you inherently feel it’s your fault that you have it. That you’re weak. That if you were a better person/more spiritual/less sinful, you’d be able to fight it off. I realize there are those with physical illnesses who feel the same way, but my point is that there is so much shameassociated with having mental disorders.
And like psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “shame is a soul-eating emotion.”
Shame ties you up and isolates you from your loved ones and community when you’re struggling. It makes you feel hopeless that change will ever come. And it makes it really, really hard to ask for help. The truth is, for me, if I hadn’t already experienced significant healing, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask my husband to find me a residential treatment center. Fighting off shame over the past couple of years enabled me to reach out and seek help to finally address the things I couldn’t shake.
And the amazing payoff for taking that big, scary leap of faith and checking myself into the clinic was bigger than I could have imagined. On top of the healing I received for my specific issues (or perhaps, as part of it), I learned these powerful lessons:
We love each other better when we mutually acknowledge our own brokenness.
- Because when we do, there can be no judgement. Everyone at the clinic knows they’re there because they have issues they can’t manage. They’re aware of the depth and severity of it. And so nobody judges anyone else’s brokenness. How can you? You know you might be doing OK one minute and falling apart the next, just like that girl over there curled up with her head on her knees. You’re keenly aware of the depths you’ve plunged yourself and how easy it is to get there. So there is a tremendous amount of grace for one another. Isn’t this what church should feel like? (p.s. shame disappears in this atmosphere)
- Because when you’re aware that everyone around you is hurting (they really are), you approach them with compassion, empathy, and support. The camaraderie among us patients was incredible. You had each other’s back. You offered your ears, your shoulder, your heart whenever someone needed it. And you knew, of course, that you’d need it–and get it–right back when you were struggling. You’re so aware that no one wants to (or should) struggle alone. So you’re there for one another, loving the way you’d like to be loved.
- Because you’re aware that, ultimately, your healing depends on God and your partnership in it. As much as we need to support one another, everyone has to do their own work. It’s primarily about your one-on-one relationship with God, and secondarily about your personal therapeutic journey. It’s an unspoken assumption at the clinic. Good boundaries are important and necessary for healing. If you’re focusing too much on someone else’s issues, you’re distracting yourself and the other person from doing the real work that is needed. The balance between #2 and #3 keeps us from being either over-involved or under-involved with people. And that balance creates an atmosphere of wholeness and health.
Mental illness stems from a combination of biological, psychological, and spiritual roots. Real healing comes from addressing them all.
- Heredity plays a significant role in mental illness–both genetically and spiritually. Traits are passed down from generation to generation, through no fault of our own. Shame, you have no place here.
- Trauma not only causes psychological damage, it physically changes the brain. Negative thoughts, experiences, and emotions carve out neural pathways that become well-worn highways for continuing unhealthy patterns. This is equally true of the powerful lies we believe. We can’t “just stop” believing them any more than we can unlearn the very real trauma we’ve experienced. But the unbelievably good news is that repeated positive thoughts (TRUTH), positive experiences, and healthy emotions (like JOY) can biologically, psychologically, and spiritually lay down new pathways in our brains. It seems that being “transformed by the renewal of our minds” is a very real thing! It works, and we, as the church, can be teaching and equipping one another on how to do this. Real freedom, real healing is both possible and available.
- Real help comes from educating people on these things, teaching them how to do it, and walking with them through it. What if our churches provided this kind of help–and partnered with local therapists? What if more churches were like healing clinics where the sick could go to get well?
Learning these things actually made me feel excited about my healing process at the clinic and about my journey of continuing healing once I got home. And I’m excited to be able to share all this with you, as it further dispels the stigma and the shame of struggling with mental illness.
But you know what? I’m not struggling right now. I’m soaring. And it’s not some post-clinic high, either (if there is such a thing). I feel free. Whole. Healthy. It’s pretty wonderful so far.
And when I do hit a snag…when I begin to struggle (and I will, at some point), I now have a real plan. Something I’ve never had before.
And THAT is what I’m writing about next week. Stay tuned for the final installment.
***JUST ADDED (see installment #3 for a complete explanation)***
I’ve created a Disaster Recovery Plan template here that you can download and use to make your own plan. Print as many pages you need to make it customized just for you. Again, I did not author the plan itself, it is the work of my wonderful therapist (thank you, Anita!) and her many years of skilled practice. I’m just sharing what I’ve gleaned, and putting it into a form that might make the process more clearcut for you. It certainly won’t replace the need for therapy, but it’s a huge asset nonetheless. I’m excited about my own plan, and that you might have one too.
Be sure to drop me a line and tell me if you have found it to be helpful!