Mental Illness and the Church

How many lives will be lost before we change?
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I'm hidden under blankets in a bedroom of the parsonage next door to the church my husband pastors. My limbs are cinder blocks. My gut, a pool of quicksand. I hear a muffled voice. "Mom? It's time for dinner. Mom?"

I roll onto my back and squint my eyes up at Zoya, ten years old, the easiest baby for me, the one who still crawls up in my lap and rests her head on my breast like she'd nurse if she could. "Hi." I clear my voice. This is where it gets tricky. I don't want my Major Depressive Disorder to scare my kids. I glob together blips of energy in my body. My mind gathers them like worn-out pieces of leftover pie crust that won't stay together, even with a little flour and spit.

"Hi, honey. How was school?"

"OK." Zoya's voice is small, distant. I see fear in her eyes and work to remember if I've taken a shower today, or yesterday, or if I will, perhaps, take one tomorrow. "Um, Papa says it's time for dinner. Can you come down and eat with us?" My daughter's face is creamy and smooth, like white velvet.

I catch her sometimes, when I'm doing better, lying in her bed alone. "Whatchya doin?" I ask.

"Nothing, just resting."

"OK," I reply, and walk down our yellow hallway wondering if she's sad. Would she tell me if so? I worry she'll get whatever gene I seem to have inherited that makes life bad and hard for no apparent reason. I hope to God it isn't so.

"No, not tonight. I'm still not feeling great."

"Ok, do you want us to bring you up a plate?"

"Maybe a little later."

Zoya bends towards me and wraps her soft arms around my body. Her embrace stops the ache for a second. A tear slides down my cheek, and I wipe it away before she can see it. "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too, Zoya."

She leaves my bedroom, and I wriggle around on the mattress to find a way to ease the pain. The door closes. People like Joel Olsten say you can choose happy. Okay, I choose it. I choose it every day. But it doesn't choose me. I'm sinking. I don't want to sink. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Jesus, help. Help me. I ache. I need help.

About two months ago, Isaac Hunter, pastor and son of well-known megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, committed suicide. Although unconfirmed, people assumed mental health issues were involved. Nine months ago, Rick and Kay Warren's son Mathew also took his life after a life-long battle with mental illness. After tragic events like these, churches, Facebook feeds, Christian magazines, and radio shows stand up and take notice of mental illness…for a couple of weeks.

February13, 2014 at 8:56 AM

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