I was in my young twenties, and went swimming at a public pool. The lifeguard was cute. But I knew I had no chance with her. You see, I was part of a group for which the pool had been exclusively reserved. We were a group of…
When you’re a mental patient you can get locked up. But after you get out you can get locked out; locked out of people’s hearts. Sometimes once you reveal your mental illness, everything you do and say is interpreted by others through their lens of mental illness (they don’t see you anymore; they see every movie and newscast distortion of mental illness).
For example, you can’t get too upset about injustice, or they get worried about their safety around you. You can’t get too excited and animated, or they say you are agitated and worry about their safety around you. But the worst response is the most frequent: they simply dismiss your credibility; you become a non-person; and they just don’t stay around you. And this really happened to me in the late 1970’s when I was in Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital.
Some of you don’t know me but I’ve been a member here at KCC for thirty years, since 1987. A year later, I married Pastor Wayne’s Administrative Assistant, Judy. And 10 years after that, Judy and I walked in late to the evening worship service and watched Pastor Wayne dedicate two boys to God on behalf of their foster parents Carolyn and Bob Deppe. As we watched, God told Judy and me simultaneously to adopt those two boys. I said to God, “This is pretty big. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Then, I didn’t look, but Pastor Dave Egelkraut, who I knew was standing behind me and to the right, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “You know Jim, you and Judy really ought to adopt those two boys.”
I was shocked. He even used the same words that God did.
That convinced me.
We adopted those two boys.
(Adopting Jeremy and John is a story of miracles in itself).
But the story gets even better.
Years later, when I talked to Pastor Dave about this event to thank him for what he said to me he said he doesn’t remember doing that. Then I remembered that I didn’t see him lean over and whisper in my ear. And after he said to adopt those two boys I turned and looked at him and he wasn’t leaning towards me or even looking at me. He was looking straight ahead, watching the dedication of Jeremy and John.
So, you’re possibly thinking: I’m listening to an ex-mental patient, who thinks he hears God talk to him and experiences many “miracles.” You’ve got to be kidding. This is classic. Wake me up when it’s over.
Well, because of Jesus, this story isn’t classic. It is real.
It all started about 40 years ago…
After graduation from high school in the spring of 1976 I went to Western Michigan University in the fall of that same year. I got all A’s but my incessant studying, lack of friendships, and moral confusion left me desperate at the end of the semester. I called my mom, she thought I was losing it, and she took me home.
I studied at the local junior college in the winter of 1977. Many of my high school friends were there. But I was ashamed to be there having “failed” to complete Western and come home. Failure to be what I thought I should be at college had initiated a slow spiral of (undiagnosed) depression in me. I felt “guilty of sin” for the first time in my life. I couldn’t shake it.
One day, I felt like God wanted me to come into my bedroom to meet with him. I asked God to make me a Christian like they were in the Bible. And, I asked God to speak to me the way He did with Moses. To my shock my spirit was impressed by His Spirit. And instead of God congratulating me and telling me how lucky He was to have someone like me on His team, He said,
“You’re a sinner.”
Now He didn’t mean the regular-church-going-sinner that everyone was, He meant like a street walking prostitute. (And I apologize for saying that. That was the worst thing I could think of at that time. Now I do not look down on anyone, as I am the worst sinner I know. I also have great compassion for prostitutes now, as many are victims of childhood sexual abuse).
After God told me I was a sinner, I said, “No, I’m not.”
He said it again, “You’re a sinner.”
I said again, “No, I’m not.”
He became righteously indignant. He said, “I’m going to humble you for five years.”
I disrespectfully yelled, “FIVE YEARS?” He said, “Alright, ten.”
(That was my first lesson in learning to respect God.).
I sat down on my bed. My mom came through the door of our house and instantly I became paranoid of people finding out about my mental condition. I was afraid of everything, every moment of every day, asleep or awake, and I was especially afraid of getting locked up.
My condition worsened and eventually I was locked up. For the next few years I was in and out of mental hospitals, 5 times in all, my longest stay being 7 months in Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. And when you are mentally ill, life in or out of the hospitals is literally hell (but hell is hotter in the hospitals).
Over the years my diagnoses have changed. So now I define my illness by the meds I take. I now take meds for Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Anxiety.
Over the years I’ve learned a few lessons from being a mental patient. First, on a lighter note, I found out Psych wards of 40 years ago were invented because Mental Hospital staff thought watching grass grow would be too exciting for us ;>D
It is mind numbing boredom.
The TV blared WGN from the corner of the ceiling constantly. We played the card game Spades so many times that I could tell the outcome of playing that hand by the cards I was dealt. I played pool (pocket billiards) so much that I could grab the cue ball and another ball in one hand, roll the other ball down the middle of the table and shoot it with the cue ball while the first ball was still rolling and put the cue ball and the other ball in the far opposite corner pockets. I used to wonder why I never had gone white water rafting or hang gliding because I would have loved to have had those memories to relive in the locked ward. (When I got out I did learn to scuba dive).
Secondly, I noticed Sensory Changes. The schizophrenia affected my vision sensory system. In a large grocery store, when I looked down an aisle, what greatly stood out all at once were the lines made by the tile floor and shelving and the boxes on the shelving. Then, when I walked down the aisle and looked at the boxes on the shelves I saw all the boxes at once and could not concentrate on just one box of toothpaste to read what it was. I gave up and walked out of the store without it.
The third lesson involved major depression and emotions. When I am driving and the light ahead turn’s red I have an emotional response that I didn’t know previously that I had. My foot lifts off the gas almost involuntarily and I step on the brake almost automatically. None of these responses occur with major depression. When I saw the light turn red it meant nothing at first. I had to consciously think, “Okay, the light’s turned red I need to lift my foot off the gas and press the brake.” I was continuously forcing my body to move, nothing was automatic like it was before.
Another lesson I learned was Non-Person Control. My perception as a patient, of hospital priorities in treating the person’s mental illness, was that they were first and foremost, above all things, wanting to establish their dominance over you. As long as you continued to believe you were a person with dignity and rights they sought to persuade you through their treatment of you that you had no rights, no dignity and you weren’t a person. They sought for you to believe they had absolute control over you. And the mental hospital was set up so they could do just that.
I developed a great respect for people treating other people with kindness and respect. Doctors could walk right past you, right next to you, with eyes straight ahead, never acknowledging that you existed. Nurses and attendants did this to a lesser extent, but always with the attitude that they were higher than you, that they were better than you.
One attendant and one doctor, out of the dozens I interacted with, treated me like I was a normal, respectable human being. I have a great deal of respect for those two. They didn’t have to treat me as a normal person and their work culture certainly didn’t support or reward decent behavior. They did it because they remained human in a situation that almost always distorted the humanness of both patient and care giver.
Next I learned a new definition of irony. The first time I was in Kent Oaks I didn’t associate with the patients. I was reasonably guarded and nervous and so they told me that I could just relax and just be myself. Well, I believed them and so since I had joked around a lot before being in the hospital, when I was “normal,” I decided to tell a joke and the punch line was a slow “chip off the block” routine to the female attendant’s shoulder.
The male nurse said, “Okay Jim let’s go,” and they put me in solitary aka the quiet room. Later I was asked why I had tried to hit the lady and that it had scared her to death. That’s when I realized everything I said or did was not going to be interpreted by who I was but rather by where I was and the label they were determining for me. I could not “act natural” in a mental hospital (which was what I was told was needed to get out). The chip off the old block routine was endearing on the outside, it was a scary threat on the inside. They said I needed to be my old self to get out. When I was my old self they locked me up further.
The next lesson was Who is afraid of Whom? What I never really understood at the time I was in the mental hospitals was how afraid some of the staff was of us patient/inmates. We were the ones with our minds not thinking effectively, we were the ones that were afraid of everything, including being afraid of them.
In Kalamazoo we had a male nurse that acted like he was General Patton or something. He was dictatorial and gruff. I had been on Thorazine, a tranquilizer, for months and I believed I was not getting any dream sleep because of it. I felt this was causing me to operate in a half dream world day and night. I decided to not swallow my liquid Thorazine when it was given to me and to spit it out later.
When I tried this, the male nurse ordered me to swallow and when I didn’t he became very agitated and I ran away (I immediately realized that I had nowhere to run in a locked ward). He kept yelling at me to swallow and when I got to the end of the locked hall I swallowed. He was enraged and when I stopped running he caught up to me. He held on to my head by a fistful of my hair and held my left arm with his other fist. He breathed threats of giving me a double shot of Thorazine. He put me in solitary and came in later with two other men, gave me a shot and left me there until the next morning.
Thorazine, a tranquilizer, did not help me think better (which is what I thought the goal of treatment was). It did make me more docile and easier to be managed by the hospital staff. For this reason I called it a “warehouse drug.” It seemed there wasn’t enough money to help us, the patients. Only enough to keep us alive and drug us so as not to cause any additional work for the staff. I later found out the hospital was getting $100,000 a year to warehouse me. If I would have known that I would have offered to take the money and leave.
Schizophrenia made logical thinking seem illogical and illogical thinking seem logical. For example, I felt the less meds I took the less crazy I was. This went on for almost ten years. Then, God gave me a gift (although I didn’t know it was God at the time). I had the thought: what would happen if I took the meds the way they were supposed to be taken? Maybe they would help. Amazingly this thought had never occurred to me as logical in the first ten years of my mental illness. I had always previously associated taking meds with shame and admitting I had a defective brain (which I saw as equivalent to saying I personally was defective).
One time a group of us from the ward was taken to the “ice cream shop” on the grounds. I was in the ice cream shop and I saw a drinking fountain across the street.
I had an idea.
I asked the attendant that had been nice to me if I could go get a drink. He said yes, and I walked over to the drinking fountain. I kept going right past it. I felt a rush of adrenaline. I walked down the street and towards the edge of the grounds and my mind was flooded with anxious thoughts. I walked into a neighborhood and told a lady my car had broken down and asked if I could I use her phone? I asked for a yellow pages and called a cab company. The lady questioned me as to where my car was. I told her the name of the only street I knew in Kalamazoo. She said with a tone that that street was quite a ways away for me to have walked over here.
I was getting nervous.
She was suspecting me of something so I thanked her for letting me use her phone and walked to the end of her driveway to wait for the cab. She was calling out to me from her house asking questions when the cab showed up.
I got in happy to leave that problem behind and asked the driver if he could take me to Grand Rapids? He said yes and that I would also need to pay him for half the way back to Kalamazoo. When I got to my mom and dad’s mobile home I got all of my money and paid the driver for the way there but I didn’t have the money to pay for his way back. I told him I would pay him later. He smiled and left.
I promptly forgot about paying him what I owed him and went inside the mobile home, got the keys to my mom and dad’s car and drove it an hour north to their lakefront home. I parked the car and climbed the long stairs to the house while my mother and aunt asked me what I was doing.
I didn’t say anything but went straight for my motorcycle keys. My mom grabbed the keys too and held onto them because she knew I wouldn’t hit her. She played my integrity against me. They called my dad in and he wrestled me to the ground. I swore at them and I knew it was over.
The sheriff’s department came and got me at the end of that same day and transported me back to Kalamazoo. I found out years later from my mom that the hospital officials were impressed I had made it nearly 100 miles in just a few hours and so they speeded up my release.
After I was released I applied for, got, and quickly lost, many jobs. Then I studied Computer Science at Grand Valley and got mostly A’s. Fearing an unfulfilled life in computer science I got a job at a newspaper as a Graphic Artist. Toward the end of the ten years, I told God, “You’d better hurry up and fulfill your prophecy, the ten years are almost up!”
Obviously, I had not learned much respect for God in ten years.
In mid-April of 1986 God sent Bonnie, a co-worker, who told me about Jesus. She told me about Jesus’ love for me.
I wasn’t interested.
Then she said as lovingly as possible, that if I reject God, the only place left for me is hell.
That got my attention.
Later when, I was reading the Bible, a verse of scripture seemed to jump off the page. It read, If you ask for anything, believe you have already received it, and it will be done for you.
God asked me to ask him for anything.
Moammar Gadhafi was wreaking havoc with the world, taunting President Reagan much like North Korea is taunting President Trump. So I asked God that Moammar Gadhafi not be in the public eye again. Shortly thereafter, President Reagan bombed Gadhafi’s home and though Gadhafi was not there he quickly left the world spotlight.
I was stunned that Gadhafi was gone in answer to my prayer.
I turned my attention closer to home.
A loved one was addicted to alcohol. I couldn’t ask God to force him to get saved because God told me he respects us too much to force us to love Him. Instead I asked God to help him find whatever he was looking for in the bottle. Shortly thereafter he gave up alcohol for a season.
I was stunned again.
I asked for a third thing for God to do. And I have tried, but I can’t remember what it was. But I know He did that too.
Then I got very scared.
God was real.
And He was in control.
After thinking it over I thought that if I surrender to Jesus I had absolutely nothing left to lose, I had no way of thinking right, no hope of being able to live the life I wanted, so I surrendered to Jesus, specifically because I had nothing left to lose.
I asked Jesus to come into my heart.
I wasn’t sure if I was surrendering right because I didn’t feel any different. After becoming frustrated I finally said to God, “I confessed my sins and asked you into my heart. I’ve done what you asked. If I’m not saved, it’s your fault.” And I went to sleep. I still wasn’t treating God right, but I took him at His word, obeyed Him and trusted Him enough to start my relationship with Him. That was 31 years ago and it was the beginning of my relationship with Jesus and the beginning of my recovery from mental illness
Patsy Clairmont, a Christian humorist, wrote a book entitled “God uses cracked pots.” And Matthew West has a song called “Broken Things.” The truth is, we are all broken, and God delights in using the weak and despised things of this world through which to reveal Himself.
And I count myself in that group of weak, despised and broken things.
Though mentally ill, and weak and despised, Jesus has given me the courage to stand up for the weak. I have risked losing my job because I wouldn’t make pornography advertisements. I knew pornography hurt those who make it and those who use it. For a week, or two, different managers at work talked to me trying to scare me, shame me, or bully me into changing my mind. I had the chance to share what Jesus is really like to upper management. My KCC small group supported and prayed for my wife and me. Not only did my mangers not fire me, but true to God’s style, five years later that same company paid me to write ads to draw people to Jesus.
Fast forward 20 years and I asked God if I would be able to finish college and have a job that uses my gifts and strengths instead of working outside of my strengths like I had been for the last 23 years at the newspaper. God fulfilled both requests and now I have my Bachelor’s degree and am a Certified Peer Support Specialist working with Severely Mentally Ill individuals at a local Assertive Community Treatment Mental Health Agency.
To me, the single biggest problem in getting mentally healthy, was stigma. Stigma is the lies people believe and tell each other about mental illness. And many helpless people will suffer without help because they fear the stigma of being labeled mentally ill. This is perhaps the single most important thought I will convey to you today. So please let me say it again.
Many people will suffer without help because they fear the stigma of being labeled mentally ill.
Because of stigma I was ashamed of my mental illness and for ten years that shame influenced me to not take meds the way I needed to. I didn’t realize that my brain and my “self” were different. I had not yet realized that “I as a person” was different from “my brain.”
And when God touched me I realized I wasn’t defective.
I realized I was loved and valued by God.
God did not leave me where I was when I met him. God gave me a hunger to grow. I started by studying the leadership books Pastor Wayne was supplying my wife (his administrative assistant). Then from Pastor Dave Egelkraut I studied over a hundred different John Maxwell InJoy pastors’ leadership tapes, one each week over a two-year period. I got counseling. I attended multiple Promise Keepers events. And I have attended almost all Global Leadership Summits since the late 1990’s. And over the years I’ve read dozens of leadership, psychology, and self-help books.
And out of that experience I organized the first cross cultural event between a nearly all white Kentwood Community Church and a nearly all black inner-city Church of God in Christ. And my wife and I led a small group for 10 years. And over the years I have poured into friends and family what I was learning as I learned it.
I signed up for Leadership Essentials, and later Pastor Kyle invited me to Cultivating Endurance. He said he invited me because I have a vision for serving the mentally ill at KCC. At least twice I tried to start a group about five years ago, but until Aaron Bailey and Wendy Cairns and Dan Hall came along I was not successful. They and the rest of the Celebrate Recovery leadership have been very accepting and supportive – of me personally – and of the “hope for mental health” initiative.
My motivation for starting hope for mental health was and is, to help people to be able to make better choices than I did. I want to use the pain I have gone through to reach others and reduce their pain. And I want them to know that Jesus is crazy in love with them just the way they are and loves them too much to leave them that way.
The following are two passages from the Bible that mean a lot to me. The first is (1 Corinthians 1:4)
Blessed be the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles,
that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble,
with the comfort God has comforted us.
Combined with: (Ephesians 2:10)
For we are his masterpiece,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared ahead of time
that we should walk in them..
Dr. Charles F. Stanley of In Touch says that if God does something that we think is “bad” but God uses it for good, isn’t it ultimately “good” for us? If you are going through something that is bad, God may be using it for your ultimate good and the ultimate good of many others. He will only keep you in a problem until you have learned what He knows you need to learn. And any pain you endure will not be wasted. You will be able to offer credible help to others in a similar situation and sometimes in a not-so-similar situation. And the joy you experience helping others will make the former pain more than worth it all.
But here’s the disclaimer: When I am in the pain I don’t care about helping others then or in the future, I just want the pain to end. I would never want to go through my mental illness again. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because God has turned it into gold that I can give away to others. That is, the experience has given me insight and compassion for others I could have gained no other way.
Through my experiences I have learned that Mental illness is not moral failure. It is not attention-seeking behavior. You can’t “make like a rubber band and snap out of it” (I was told this when I was in the depths of depression). Shame doesn’t motivate you out of it. And threats don’t work either. In many cases the cause of mental illness symptoms is chemicals in the brain not working right. In most cases, it can be treated, many times with the combination of Jesus, therapy and medication.
Friendships are essential to healthy recovery as well. Many mentally ill people have “burned their bridges” with family and friends because of behavior related to their illness. “hope for mental health” is a safe place to make new friends, especially friends who understand the pain and the challenges that you and your new friend both face.
“hope for mental health” is a ministry of small groups of people affected by mental illness who are working through a guided experience journal written by Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback church. Rick and Kay lost their son to suicide four years ago. Rick and Kay know the pain and stigma of mental illness (through their son’s lifelong suffering), and they have put “their hope” into the “hope for mental health” experience for us to share.
Rick and Kay help us find hope in God, hope in ourselves and hope in each other. In the “hope for mental health” group we laugh, cry and share each others’ burdens and victories. We at “hope” seek to impact as many as God gives us. And as our leadership ability and leadership capacity increases God will send more.
Right now, we are having important and significant healing conversations in the “hope” group with as many as eight at a time and as few as one. And I feel, every time just one person has the opportunity to be listened to, validated, and encouraged, it is more than worth the effort to make “hope for mental health” available to them.
Half of us in this room will suffer from some form of mental illness in our lifetime. Let me say that again. Half the people in the nation, half of us in this room, will suffer from some form of mental illness in our lifetime. If it is you or someone you know you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and your loved one, just the way you are. But he loves you too much to leave you that way. There is hope and help for you or someone you love.
Take the risk and reach out to us.
We have been there and we are here for you through “hope for mental health.” I know the pain of being locked out of someone’s heart, you and someone you love will never be locked out of our hearts.
The following is Matthew West singing “Broken Things.” Please read and listen to the words. I think Matthew sums up what God can do with each of us, if we let Him.
Thank you for letting me share my heart with you.
Link to Matthew West’s “Broken Things”: https://youtu.be/WdUu6ZsdVfM