Last Saturday, a local church put on a Community Mental Health Day. Somehow I convinced myself to go. I went, however, with an attitude of suspicion and doubt rather than of curiosity and gratefulness. It is a good step, to even try to talk about mental health and illness, but I still expected Jesus-saves-talk, the bullshit that burns bridges between the suffering secular and the healthy holy, the crap that insinuates that our diseases are “secular” and curable only by “sacred” practices. The like assumes, of course, a rift between sacred and secular, black and white, etc. But there is no rift. It is all mixed up and right-side-down: the secular sparkles with holiness and the sacred is diluted with inseparable evil.
The church tells me to pray. To consult an ever-absent God and her/his son for healing; “Jesus cast out the demons from the man at the graves and sent them into the pigs—he can do the same for you.” I retort that it was the demons who had faith, not the man or the community. No one prayed about it. Besides, Jesus isn’t here and what would it matter? The man was still rejected by his community and Jesus run out for it all. We lose no matter what.
The church looks at my personal pharmacy with wary eyes, accusing eyes. And I don’t get it. The pain of cancer is largely invisible, yet the church does not write a prescription for prayer and supplication in place of chemo and radiation. Both cancer and mental illness kill from deep within. Perhaps it is because a bone-scan can reveal metastasizing cancer whereas a brain-scan won’t show fucked up dopamine and serotonin levels ebbing and flowing and flooding and evaporating in any way obvious to the common eye. They don’t scan us or draw our blood before prescribing Lamictal; they just listen.
But back to the Community Day. The church that hosted it is huge. They charged $15 to attend. $20 at the door. Which irked me. The search for mental health is expensive enough. But I guess they had to pay for the speaker they flew in from Texas somehow.
The best part, though, was after a panel of community leaders discussed movements and projects and what the church could do. (Which, by the way, was excellent.) They invited a young schizophrenic man to talk. Schizophrenia. That is a taboo illness anywhere besides the psych classroom. He was a picture of hope and heartache. People go through, every day, the torture that he has faced? But here he is, stable. Hearing voices, speaking, and reflecting on the past and present realities so openly in front of easily one hundred people.
Here, I thought, here is a person the church ignored, and yet, he is loving the church. What an example to the mentally ill in the audience, to me.
The question “what can the church do for the population of the anxiety-riddled, the schizos, the personality disorders, those with PTSD, the bipolars, the depressed, the borderline suicides,” is one which I do not yet know how to answer in a way that invites active participation. What I learned, though, is what I can do for the church. Even though the church may not welcome me, and, hell, I know they will hurt me, I can forgive them, and maybe, maybe, love them anyway. Then, I can only hope, they will learn to love me in the way which Simone Weil describes:
The love of our neighbor in all its fullness means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is the recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled “unfortunate,” but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in a certain way.
This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. (Waiting for God)