“Quote”-able: Wintley Phipps

It is in the quiet crucible of your personal, private sufferings that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given.

During my “personal, private sufferings” I may not have wanted to read this.  All the courage that I imagine I have when not suffering abandons me in the face of real suffering.  All that I thought stood by me I realize can’t help me.  Sometimes even Jesus seems as though he has left me.

I am alone.  And I am afraid.

As I obey my best guess as to God’s will my soul aches and I search for God in my circumstance.

It is here that I decide that no one should have to go through what I am going through alone.  If I only had someone to talk to I could bear it.  I decide if I encounter anyone struggling as I am, I will help them.

And a dream is born.

My dream, forged in the late seventies and early eighties, when I had not yet decided to take meds regularly and  I had yet to welcome Christ into my heart, is being lived out now 35 years later (with Jesus and with meds).  As a Certified Peer Support Specialist I have the privilege to serve people dealing with mental illness every day.  I am doing, as Whitley Phipps says, HPLP: Helping People Live their Potential.  Or, as Jesus says, Loving others.

Am I a hero?  Not even close.  But I am privileged to serve the real Heroes;  people who fight horrific battles in their mind and in their life every day and keep on fighting.  Battling thoughts that no one should have to experience, making even the simplest daily tasks excruciatingly difficult.

Mental illness takes the most hospital beds in our country and receives the lowest per patient funding in our country of any disease.  It is projected that half of our population will experience mental illness in their lifetime.  If that is not you then it is most likely someone you love.  And it is much cheaper to pay for treatment for all who need it than to pay the costs that untreated mental illness cause: personal, family and friend suffering; lost productivity; prison cells and hospital beds.

What can we do?  Get treatment for yourself or your loved one, treat the mentally ill with the respect being a Hero deserves, and vote for funding of Mental Health in your area.

This will help stop the violence…

I think the real issue is not too many guns but a lack of mental health care.  Let me explain.  It shocked me to find out that, generally speaking, the cities with the strictest gun control laws have the most crime and the cities with the most guns have the lowest crime.  Internationally, when comparing countries, the same principle plays out.  Conclusion? When the people bear arms there is less crime.

So if gun control will not stop “crazy” (President Obama’s word) gunmen what do we do?

The mentally ill must be offered treatment.  And, as you consider paying for that last statement, realize that one of those receiving treatment just might eventually be you.

Half of the people in the United States will experience their own mental illness in their lifetime.  That is 150 million people.  Yet voting for funding to meet this challenge isn’t popular.  Ignorance, fear of the unknown, stigma, blame all contribute to distort the perception of the disease and its treatment.  Medication and behavior therapies can dramatically help a dramatic number of sufferers of mental illness.  And it costs much less than paying for the prison stays many, many sufferers of mental illness are forced to endure.  It costs less than hospitalization.  And, if you value human life, it costs less than suicide or homicide.

But that is just the start.  Because when you treat mental illness you rescue someone from a prison of intense psychological and sometimes physical suffering.  You release the person to be what God intended them to be.  They can even stop costing taxpayers and start becoming taxpayers and actually start paying back those who funded their rescue.

Since getting the correct meds and taking them starting in 1985 I have worked for 23 years as an Advertising Designer.  I have given back in taxes and charitable giving, roughly between $150,000 and $200,000 during that 23 year period (adjusted to 2008 dollars).

I have also had the privilege to marry my beautiful wife and adopt out of foster care the two boys I love.  So much beauty can happen when someone who is mentally ill gets the right treatment.  Financially it goes from negative to positive.  And, humanly, it goes from a living death, to the light of life.

 

It took going "crazy" to discover what real sanity was

I am grateful to God for the mental illness He gave me.  (But I would never want to repeat it).  Looking back I was “crazier” when I was “sane” and sane now that I’m mentally ill.

Let me unpack that.

Before mental illness I wanted to be a aerospace engineer.  I wanted to impress people with how smart I was.  I wanted fame, fortune, power and pleasure.  I had bought the whole commercial-driven American media world-view.

Most of the girls in my high school graduation class wanted to be social workers it seemed.  I thought they were crazy.  Helping people seemed like a colossal, boring, unrewarding waste of time.

It was at this point that God publicly invaded my private world.  God told me I was a sinner, but I didn’t believe Him.  What I didn’t know was that I was in love with myself, looked down on everyone else, and thought the world should serve me.   That’s when God gave me mental illness.  And my life and the lies I told myself, about myself, fell with a great crash.  God humbled me.  I couldn’t get much “lower” in superficial stereo-typed status than being intermittently locked up in mental hospitals.

For the next ten years I fought God and the meds.  At the end of ten years God gave me the wisdom to take the meds.  Then He sent Bonnie, who knew and loved Jesus, to tell me Jesus loved me.  I wasn’t interested.  Then Bonnie told me that if I rejected the love of Jesus, the only thing left for me was hell.

That got my attention.

I chose to turn around and follow Jesus.

He forgave me, loved me and gave me a heart that cared about other people.  Now I am a Certified Peer Support Specialist working with others who themselves deal with mental illness.  I encourage, give hope, and care.  And I love it.  It took most of my life to discover my life’s work.  And it took going “crazy” to discover what real sanity is.

Jesus and Psych Medication

Some television pastors that I highly respect believe that mental illness, including depression, can be best treated without medication.  While some depression can be treated by developing a better relationship with Jesus, and some can be treated by learning better thinking patterns, and still others can be treated by having a healthier body and lifestyle; I believe some mental illness requires medication, as well as these other treatments.

At the early onset of depression, medication (SSRIs) can arrest a downward spiral. This can give the person an opportunity to develop a better relationship with Jesus, to learn and apply more effective thinking patterns, and to gain the benefits of a healthier body and lifestyle.  By acquiring new skills a person may be able to manage their situation better, and may be able to get off the meds relatively soon.

By waiting to take meds, or not take them at all, as some pastors suggest, permanent damage to the brain can occur and the person can then need the medication for life.  (Not to mention that the person could become so ill without medication they could even take their own life).

The brain is a physical organ of the body.  It is the interface between our mind and the physical world.  As an organ of the body it is subject to disease just as the other organs of the body are subject to disease.  Just as bone marrow produces blood and the pancreas produces bile, the brain produces, among other things, thoughts.  Disease interferes with the correct production of these thoughts.  That is, many times these diseases interfere with the electro-chemical interactions of the brain that produce correct thinking.  These electro-chemical interactions can sometimes be corrected by medication.

Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that helps us to naturally “feel good”.  If the serotonin the brain is producing is insufficient, depression can result.  SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) are used to cause the brain to recycle its own limited supply of serotonin.  It is still your own serotonin; it is just reused over and over instead of being used up the first time.

Some may say, “God can heal depression.”  And to that I say, “Absolutely!”  God has the power to miraculously heal depression, all mental illness, and all illnesses – without the use of doctors or medicine.  But why does the Bible not condemn Luke for being a doctor?  And why did the Apostle Paul say to Timothy, “Have a little wine for your stomach’s sake?”  Is intervention – by people and medicine – to heal the body (and the brain is part of the body) universally condemned by all of Scripture?  As Jesus said, “Let’s judge by true standards!”  Do you use glasses to correct your vision?  Would you say, “My lack of vision is caused by a lack of faith in Jesus to heal me, I am going to have faith and drive without glasses now.”  Would you say to a person dealing with diabetes, “Your poor diet and lack of exercise has caused this, repent, stop taking your medication, and trust Jesus to heal you?”  Would you have surgery without anesthesia because anesthesia affects the brain?  Have you ever taken an aspirin?  Have you ever had a cup of coffee?

Mental illness is unimaginable suffering (as I know from experience).  When the religious people of Jesus’ day held that God did not want the man with the withered hand and the woman bent over in pain to be healed on the Sabbath; but rather to continue in their pain one more day; because they interpreted Scripture to forbid all work on the Sabbath; Jesus was indignant and angry at their lack of compassion.  I can see Jesus saying to them then: Which one of you would not pull your animal out of a pit if it had fallen into it on the Sabbath… (breaking your own man-made rule).  And I can see Jesus saying to them and us: …Yet you don’t care about a fellow person’s intense pain and suffering, (because of your man-made rule that “God doesn’t use medicine for the brain”?)  As Jesus said, “Use true standards!”

Jesus felt healing people’s suffering was more important than rules.  Jesus gave the example of David, on the run and hungry, asking the priests for the show bread; which only the priests could legally eat according to God’s Law.  The priests gave it to him and he and his men ate it, in direct violation of Scripture.  Jesus said that all “rules” must be derived from “Love God, love people.”  I believe God allows the use of meds to help the brain and so help people not to suffer, to reclaim their thinking, and to recover.

The real issue here, I believe, may not be medical intervention of brain disease.  The real issues may be fear; and perceived failure and its consequences.  Fear, in that the people who say not to use meds for brain disease may feel that if someone else’s brain can inexplicably not work correctly, then maybe the same thing could happen to them.  And they may be scared to death that they could “lose their mind” too.  They may not understand or trust medication and so be afraid of it.  They may be more comfortable “trusting God” and doing nothing, than trusting God and using the tools He has provided (developing a relationship with Jesus, developing thinking skills, developing a healthy body and lifestyle, and medication).

Perceived failure and its consequences may also be the real issue.  The person who does not believe God uses meds for the brain may feel that the person who is depressed has “failed” to have “faith”, or has “sinned” and so must not be “drugged” to insulate them from the pain they need to feel in order to be motivated to “get right with God.”  Job’s experience with his “friends” teaches us that our response to suffering needs to be compassion, and sharing the burden; not judgment based on our wrong assumptions of “God’s ways”.

If you know someone who is struggling, you can be a light in a very dark world.  You can offer compassion and hope to them by affirming to them that God is for them and so are you.  You can encourage them that one in five people will deal with a mental illness in their lifetime and that recovery is now the expectation instead of the exception.  And, if they are prescribed medication, (and that medication may have to be changed before the right one is found), you can assure them that Jesus uses medication to help the brain function just as he uses medication to help other parts of the body to function.

New Motivation

Think of a good day you have had.  Your work was challenging but through hard work you gained success.  You imagined another successful step down the path of your career and you made it happen.  You felt accomplishment and relaxed at the end of the day with friends and/or loved ones.  Imagine this day being visually represented as a white card.

Now think about the time when you REALLY didn’t feel like doing something.  Something very difficult, that you weren’t good at, had little chance of success, but were forced to do anyway.  And you felt doing it would not ultimately benefit you.  Now imagine you feel real mental pain as you do this.  And once you are done putting in the intense, exhausting effort to complete this task, you feel no sense of reward, no good feelings, no sense of accomplishment.  And, you feel no sense of completion of the day’s work.  Now imagine that this once-in-a-while-really-bad-day of yours is visually represented by a light gray card.

To some with mental illness it is much worse… every day is a black card day.

Before I had mental illness I had a normal suburban middle class life.  If you asked me if I ever had a really bad day I would be able to tell you with conviction that I had suffered bad days, days I didn’t want to do anything, days as bad as anyone’s.  But these bad days were qualitatively different from, and quantitatively of less intensity than, my average day of depression.

When someone has a broken leg you can see it, you hold the door for them, you are sympathetic.  But mental illness is invisible.  The person who struggles looks the same as a healthy person.  An analogy that comes to mind is someone who is swimming in a pool and someone who is swimming in transparent wet concrete.  The problem is not only the difficulty of swimming in concrete, but the invisible injustice that others are seeing you, and judging you, as if you were swimming in the same water they were.

What are some of the ways “we” experience transparent wet concrete while “you” experience water?  There is so much that a healthy functioning brain does that I was not aware of until I didn’t have it.  When I was depressed my emotions shut down but I didn’t know it.  When I drove my car and the light turned red, my foot did not automatically come off the gas and on to the brake.  I thought: “The light is red.  I have to stop.  Why isn’t my foot coming off the gas?”  I had to consciously force my foot to come up and then consciously force my foot to go down on the brake to stop.  Everything that used to be automatic was now consciously forced “drudgery”.  This is just one of many changes depression made in me; none of them for the better. 

Another example of “us” swimming in transparent wet concrete while “you” are swimming in water – is income.  Mental illness (many times) lowers income.  There is a big difference in how hard it is, how long it takes, how much of the elements you have to face, and how much you can get done in a day when you can only afford public transportation as compared to having your own car.  When I am asking someone to pick up their meds, I am thinking of the half hour round trip it takes me to drive-thru my neighborhood pharmacy.  Someone else using public transportation may have to wait half an hour in sub-zero wind chill, or rain, or blistering heat, just to catch the first leg of their bus journey to get to the pharmacy.  And they may do all of this without the benefit of a healthy brain.

I just do not know the difficulties faced by others, and I do not want to deceive myself into thinking I do.  In another analogy, until they experience sight, blind people have no ability to imagine light or color.  And, similarly, deaf people don’t know what is really meant by someone referring to sound until they have experienced it.  Like them, I have no idea what it is like to experience another’s mental illness.  For example, I don’t know what it is like to hear audible voices (that no one else hears).  I myself deal with malicious emotions that tell me I am worthless, to give up, it’s no use to try to do this job, etc.  But they are feelings notaudible voices.  And though I might think I know a little of what they are going through, I really need to talk to them and not assume their experience is similar to mine.  I suggest to you that until you experience severe depression you have no idea how deep that pit is, how black it is, and how steep the walls are.  And you may have no idea how hard it is to survive it, much less get out of it.

Yet even though you haven’t experienced it, you care.  And I wildly applaud you for spending your one and only precious life on this earth investing in our good.  You could be making more money, with better hours, and less unpaid overtime, doing much more pleasant activities.  But you choose to use your strength to lift us up – the struggling.  I know from experience how hard it is to be mentally ill, and yet some of you have more compassion and give more effort than I do to help heal those whose wounds you can’t even see.  Much of the time you work without the world’s applause, (which it reserves for those who have truly noteworthy contributions to make – like highly paid professionals who put a bouncy ball through a metal ring ;>).  For those who cannot or will not, let me sincerely say thank you for caring about us and for putting that caring into action.  You will never know this side of heaven what you have meant to those of us who desperately needed your help.

You care and you act on that caring so I am not asking you to cry boo hoo for those of us who have dealt with, or are dealing with, mental illness.  What I am asking though, is that you consider the possibility that others experience life intrinsically different than you.  An experience of life that makes some of the easiest tasks that others do each day – and take for granted – very, very difficult for us.  And if you feel this difficult life is possible, grant us patience in proportion to the difficulty you believe we face.

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The preceding was written originally for mental health clinicians to both provide a glimpse of what some of us mentally ill experience every day and to thank them for caring enough about us to do a difficult and sometimes thankless job.

I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted

Jesus said that even in abundance our life does not consist in what we have.  I just updated my Linked In account to reflect my new job.  For my job description I put that I serve the mentally ill of which I am one.  At one time I wanted to be a CEO or president or anything that at that time I thought commanded respect.  I despised my mental illness and the stigma and “shame” that came with it.  Now I thank God for the experience of mental illness though I would not want to go back to having no meds.  I get to meet some of the neatest people through my job.  And what used to hold me back now I use to join with others in moving forward.  Jesus’ kingdom truly is upside-down when compared with how this world thinks.  If God would have granted me a healthy brain and given me my desire to “be important”, I would be lonely, frustrated, and friendless.  Instead He gave me defective brain chemistry, pain and sorrow, and a new life that values other people instead of what I think other people think of me.

What do you value?  Are you happy?  The Bible says that Jesus, took the form of a servant, and for the joy set before Him, endured the cross to pay for our sins.  What did He value?  You and me, and His Father.  He was never elected to public office, never wrote a book, and didn’t travel the world.  He did however, humble himself and obey His Father.  And He is happy.  If you want to follow in His footsteps you can.  Just confess your sins to Him.  Tell Him you’re sorry for them and that you are turning from them with His help.  Tell Him you believe He died for your sins and rose to give you new life.  And then tell someone about the forgiveness and new life God has given you.  Read the Bible and pray.  And love and obey Him.  You will experience His peace, love and joy.