May 19, 2019 – Mental Health Sunday
Last week I read an article about Borderline Personality Disorder. According to the DSM-V, in order to be diagnosed, a person must meet five of the following nine criteria:
Perceived or real fears of abandonment
Intense mood swings, brief periods of severe depression or anxiety
Unstable intense relationships
Self-injurious and suicidal behaviors
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger and rage
Unstable sense of self
Dissociation and feelings of detachment
I then recalled that when I was about 26 years old I had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I went into therapy after an engagement ended. The relationship brought up all the losses, the trauma, the loneliness, the emptiness of my childhood and adolescence, the issues of being an adult child of an alcoholic, and a lot of unresolved anger. I also started attending Al-Anon meetings and I began working with a spiritual director, an elderly Quaker woman who lived in Richmond, IN. Intervention was early, and combined with good community, this made all the difference.
Because it is called a personality disorder there is a great deal of stigma about BPD. Up until a few decades ago it was thought to be untreatable. But as was stated in the article I read, clinicians are now regarding it more as a complex response to trauma, much like chronic or complex PTSD. 16 million people, about 5% of the US population, are affected with BPD, many of them adolescents and young adults. When we think of this more as an emotion management disorder as a result of trauma, we can understand and have compassion for those affected.
After reading the article, I then reflected on all of those who have suffered trauma at the hands of the Church. I recalled that many clergy and other church leaders regard themselves as “wounded healers”: they themselves had experienced trauma, found a sense of healing in the church, and perceived a call to minister to others. How many clergy and other church leaders have experienced symptoms of instability of emotions, thinking, behavior, relationships, self-image and gone unchecked? How many church members have experienced these? How many churches perpetuate a broken system of leadership and congregation inflicting trauma on each other? How many churches still can’t talk openly about mental health and getting help when it is needed?
This church has its own history of trauma and conflict, having been created from leaving other communities of faith. You’ve had sources of conflict but you’ve also taken time to work on your issues. No congregation is free of conflict or difficult feelings but it is a sign of health when a church is willing to take a look in the mirror.
Ironically, the Church itself was born of trauma: the death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by war and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, a few centuries of persecution, and then committed trauma against others with schism, crusades, inquisitions and violence in the name of true belief. One interpretation of mental health could be described as to how to manage, express and process the full range of human emotions without doing harm to ourselves and to others. The spiritual journey adds that even in the midst of uncertainty and loss, pain and fear, in the presence of chaos and evil, we are capable of compassion, mercy, and gratitude.
John in his Revelation to the seven churches in Asia describes an apocalypse, a tribulation, an ordeal in which the people of God suffer a great deal of pain and trauma. God is in the midst of this as shepherd, as guide to the waters of life, as one who wipes away tears, who helps us come through. And when the forces of empire are no more, the fight against destruction and despair is over, wholeness and justice are restored and the earth and the heavens are made new.
What would a new earth look like? This isn’t a question for we who are privileged, we who have access to care and resources. What we would imagine would be very different from those who have been marginalized and criminalized just for being who they are, especially those who live with mental health challenges. From the website enfleshed.com in a reflection on this passage, “If young, radical, black queer activists imagined up a health care system - how different would it be? If seniors who immigrated to the U.S. with families got to dream about how public schools look in their community, how different would they be? If trans women, and single mothers, and rural women who farm, and young non-binary people were painting their ideal picture of a criminal legal system, how different would it be from what we have today?” God making all things new happens through the most vulnerable among us, along with our active participation in that love-filled liberation work.
Our mental health affects every system in which we are engaged. Every interaction, every behavior, how we think of ourselves—our abilities, our achievements, what we’re capable of doing—is impacted by the health of our body, mind, and spirit. Certainly no one has to be in perfect health in order to love one’s neighbor, in order to participate in this liberation work, but we do need to be able to be honest with ourselves and others when we need help from mental health professionals and from our community.
So once again I asked my Facebook community, you who are living with mental illness, a new heaven/a new earth would be: The most frequent answer was acceptance not judgment.
A new heaven/a new earth means the freedom to choose my feelings.
A new heaven/a new earth means no stigma; less fear; freedom; opportunities.
A new heaven/a new earth means insurance carriers have zero copay for mental health care.
A new heaven/a new earth means not being mistreated.
A new heaven/a new earth means learning how to feel discomfort, when it happens, without engaging in harmful behaviors in an attempt to numb it.
A new heaven/a new earth means education for the public so they can understand what people go through on a daily basis, because the struggle is real.
A new heaven/a new earth means more animals because they love us unconditionally.
A new heaven/a new earth means being able to show people, from the inside, exactly what it is we go through. That they could see what we see, and feel what we feel, just for a brief, safe moment.
A new heaven/a new earth means no one traumatizing another person, which would eliminate my Complex PTSD and make for a healthier society in general. As long as we’re dreaming, we need to dream big.
A new heaven/a new earth means workplaces being required to have good accommodations for those of us with mental health issues. Getting fired when going through a bad spell is a real kick in the teeth.
A new heaven/a new earth means understanding that mental health is no different from physical health. If you have cancer, you go to the doctor, and your friends can't do enough for you. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you get told to "get over it".
A new heaven/a new earth means a reprieve from it for just little while; a safe place from myself.
We need good mental health care, now more than ever. We live in a 24/7 news cycle; we can be aware of so many reasons for despair, multiple losses simultaneously. None of us can process it all by ourselves. We are more able to come through the ordeals of our lives when our community loves us, accepts us, advocates for us, and supports us as we are. We help build this new heaven, this new earth through our care for one another, through the choices we make, through our bodies, our lives, the work of our hands, how we express ourselves in relationships, when we speak up and tell the truth of who we are and we create safe spaces to do so, when we resist oppressive systems and fight for change, when we see each person as the dwelling place for God—for what is good, holy, and true.
Benediction – Mental Health Network of the UCC
May the grace that says “you are not alone” encourage you.
May the mercy that says “you are enough” comfort you.
May the love that says “you are loved” embrace you and bring you peace.