When I started this blog I wanted to write about my journey to live an authentic life. I didn’t really have a plan except that it would be a place where I would write about my life and its evolution toward authenticity. I didn’t want it to be about right or wrong, left or right as much as I did about looking hard at something and finding my own truth about whatever it was. We had moved from Nebraska to Utah as a result of a major shift in how we perceived life. Our daughter’s journey to understand her life with an eating disorder and mental illness changed us. It took us away from so many illusory beliefs and practices into the heart of life and what it means to be more fully aware of its realities. We’re grateful.
It’s really no secret why psychologists, psychiatrists and those in mental health are often seen in a less than affirming light. These people get paid to ask the necessary questions that no one really wants to ask. They get paid to listen to the stories no one wants to tell and then they have to figure out how to help people deal with the answers to the questions they ask. To do that, they do something called mirroring back to the mentally ill and those involved in their lives. They take a good amount of time to collect data and observe their client’s situation. They often ask more questions to clarify if they have understood you correctly. They might present to you how that’s working for you or not and ask you to think about that. Getting real for me is the result of this process and that’s why nothing challenges me to get real like spending time alongside mentally ill people.
Last weekend I experienced some minor complications as the result of surgery I had two weeks ago that required that I see a doctor. The CareNow urgent care clinics close early on Saturday so there was nowhere else to go but the hospital ER. Because my situation involves my GI tract and is one that will almost always require a CT scan for a full assessment, I am always placed away from the main stream of ER visitors. This time I was put in a small square room with four beds, each bed surrounded by its own curtain with a large space in the middle for easy movement of beds etc. When I arrived, a sweet tempered, big burly security guard with an Eastern European accent was sitting by the entrance to the room from the hallway indicating that someone in one of the beds has the potential to be violent. On this particular night three out of the four beds in this room were taken by mentally ill patients.
Bed 1 – Deaf man who had overdosed earlier in the day and fully planned on suicide if he were discharged. He was very checked out and only wanted to sleep. I found out about his situation when the nurse did an assessment and had to use a sign language interpreter via her phone.
Bed 2 – A 30 something man I happened to see because he was on the corner opposite. I realized later that the curtain had to be open for his safety and the safety of those working with him. He was sitting up on the bed asleep when arrived so I was none the wiser to his condition at first. It remained quiet for about 15 minutes and then suddenly I heard loud sobbing. He was hallucinating and experiencing someone threatening to hurt his dog. The security guard rose to his feet and went into the room. The CNA posted at the foot of his bed gently but assertively instructed him not to yell. He responded and stopped yelling but went off into a lengthy story about a text they should read. His moods went from up to down and all around accompanied by a lot of vocalization within minutes. His ability to be present and engage with others followed those mood swings. Then as is typical with psychotic episodes, he would crash and sleep for awhile before the next one.
Bed 3 – A woman accompanied by her own law enforcement officer rested peacefully most of the time.
It was, for the most part, a typical visit to the ER for me but there was one exception. The guy in Bed 2 was visited by the doctor and told his mother would be coming in soon to see him. She arrived as planned and the little boy inside the man’s body melted into her arms and sobbed uncontrollably. His mom, like most of us with a mentally ill adult child, reminded him what to do. She had her son take deep breaths as she held him and listened to the extremes coming out of his mouth. Also like most of us, she was able to see the person behind the psychosis, the brain’s misfiring for any number of reasons and in that recognition was able to bring him to the ground for a few minutes. She wasn’t there more than five minutes but it was a vital five minutes for him and for her. As she left I looked up and saw the tears she’d held in while being there for her son begin rolling down her cheeks. The staff assisting her were so kind and there was such a sense of compassion for both patient and mother. It has been a long time since I’ve been in her shoes but in an instant I was right there with her.
It strikes me time and time again how so many who are mentally ill wrestle with the hard core paradigms they have stored inside of them from childhood and for this man and his mother, Evangelical Christianity was the third person in the room with them. When the man saw her face he immediately apologized for his sin, said he finally got what she was trying to tell him when he saw God in one of his psychotic episodes and that he always loved her. My heart broke.
We Evangelical mom’s have such a burden on our shoulders from the minute we’re pregnant we are aware that we have to make sure to train up our children in the way that they should go so that they won’t depart from it. We talk to them about Jesus as much as possible because that is the one thing we know that will keep them safe. Then, when at some point in their lives, Jesus seems incredibly absent and they are deviating from that way that they should go, we know it’s because we didn’t do it right. Our faith community knows it too and some of them flat out tell you to your face. In my case it was at the local mall where I was numbly walking around trying to breathe after taking my daughter back to the airport so she could get right back into treatment after relapsing almost the minute she walked into our front door. My woman of faith friend in her piety who saw me fake shopping thought I needed to hear and think about how it was likely that my daughter was just …” Somewhere I found the strength to tell her that she was wrong but it was an enormous emotional blow for me when I was already in dire pain. I wish I could look back and say how rare that was but it was just one of many during that year in hell.
We eventually realized that to ever heal and give our daughter any kind of chance at life, we would have to move. We moved over a thousand miles to get away. Away from the constant defense of our reality we began to find ourselves again and actually deal with what was before us. Mental illness is not rooted in Satanic possession and is not easily cured by Bible verses. The brain honestly doesn’t give a rats ass if you are saved or not. Traumatic pregnancies, premature births, fetal alcohol and drug exposure, early childhood and adult traumas all leave the brain broken and no amount of laying on of hands or exorcisms makes a bit of difference. Then there are the life is the direct result of your choices people who are 100% sure that if your mentally ill family member can learn to choose more wisely they can be cured. They are equally sure that you could have chosen better to make sure your kid didn’t end up in this state. There is truth in both but to imagine it’s possible to have a switch flipping moment in time that results in getting put back together is utterly ridiculous. Even after 22 years there are still those in my life – very much on the fringe – who still believe it was all about God and choices. They simply refuse to know.
I don’t think there is one thing that hits me harder than a mother with a child wrestling with mental illness and carrying the weight of it as her failure to train up her child. I’m so done with the religion that I once loved and the God I thought I knew. It’s fine if you never get thrown under the bus and have to deal with those who refuse to get what you’re going through apart from their rock solid paradigm. It’s why the Texas and so many Republican politicians trigger me so much. They literally refuse to know because to know means that they have to acknowledge the holes in the golden calf of modern day Evangelical/Christian Nationalism that they worship. Reality exists only in how they define it. For the most part the truth is irrelevant to them unless it fits within that paradigm and because it never does, they do so little to address the real issues behind real problems.
The God I know and believe in was sitting there with me beside these hurting people. This source of life was one full of love and mercy without any judgment. Throughout my 5 hours there various staff came by my bedside and asked if I was okay. They asked if I needed ear plugs and apologized for their other patients. I gave them back the most compassion I could muster and just said, I was fine.
Today I’m writing this because this is all part of my real life. It is also because I want those three people to know that I saw them and that I stayed with them for as long as I could. I couldn’t talk to them or make any difference except to be there and in the whole scheme of life, that is enough for me.
My personal issue is ongoing and I’ll see my surgeon tomorrow. I don’t think it’s anything serious but if it is, I will deal with it when I need to. It’s just often strange when life shows me mercy as a result of my journey. This was that and equally therapeutic.