Reflecting on Mental Health

Every topic under the sun seems to have its own “Day”. This week there was one designated to mental health issues and I read with interest the many posts referencing it. I had thought about adding my own thoughts and experiences but found myself verklempt. It is too personal an issue to be ‘thrown’ out glibly.

I deal with people who struggle with mental health issues every moment of their lives. I have come to admire these folks as real heroes, people of inspiring courage and tenacity. My friends are lovely people and loving people even though they carry the extra weight of this burden they cannot set down!

My own brushes with mental health issues do not compare to those of my friends, yet they too are real. I have long suffered with PTSD. I have found tremendous relief through EMDR therapy and highly recommend it to others. While not quite at the drop of a hat, though certainly at the drop of a dish, I would be shot through with adrenaline. A primitive ‘fight or flight’ reflex would leap unbidden to the fore. Fight or flight has a proper place in human life but in ‘civilized’ society it is an infrequent place. I would have to struggle mightily to remain within the usual norms of behaviour when these surges came. I found myself removing myself from societal interactions in ‘uncontrolled’ situations. I became increasingly anxious in social settings. Where others could be at ease in social situations I rarely felt comfortable letting my guard down. I know such behaviour gets misinterpreted. Some thought I was aloof. Others thought I was angry or antisocial. My challenge then was doubled. I not only had to deal with the invisible battle within but also with feelings of being judged and misjudged.

Thank God most of the previous paragraph is in the past tense. Like the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ those experiences may rise today to haunt me, but I no longer live with them as constant unwelcome guests in my life. I do still live with the habits and ruts I created for myself during my years in the PTSD wilderness. Like the ancient Hebrews found it is easier to take the Hebrew out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the Hebrew. I have may behaviours I am trying to unlearn that were handy coping mechanisms in the past. I must still live with the judgements others formed about me in years past.

I do not write this so anyone will feel sorry for me but rather to point out the challenges those with mental health issues face and the complicity of society as whole in making it yet more painful.

Let us be slower to judge people! We have no idea what they are dealing with. Let us make space to really get to know our brothers and sisters so we can support and encourage them.

One of my ‘hobby horse’ issues is the financial support society provides to those with mental health issues much greater than mine. These folks often receive the minimum welfare payment though they might be among the least able to budget. They are too often forced to live in conditions that, rather than contributing to mental wellness, foster sickness.

I know that scripture says that if we do not contribute we should not eat, and I understand (though I do not agree with) conservatives who rail against a welfare state. The scripture also tells us to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. We have a societal obligation to care for those who suffer!

I admire my friend who survive society’s careless attitude and even find ways to thrive spiritually. We can all learn much from them. I am grateful that my ‘brush’ with mental illness has given me some insight into this. I am grateful to God for the measure of healing I have found. I long for the day when my friends and I will experience the fullness of the Kingdom when illness is banished and wrongs are made right!

All the World’s a Stage: This is a New One

It feels strange and awkward. We are in a new stage with our Threshold House project. Some of the major repairs have happened. We had a new roof put on and replaced the entire water supply system. The election in New Brunswick is over and the government people have left.

 Do not get the wrong idea though, things are far from normal. Covid 19 makes that impossible. We are sharing our space now with the Inner-city Youth Ministry where a great gang of volunteers prepares bag lunches for hungry school children. This group brings a lot of laughter and hustle and bustle to the building. It is nice! It is good to participate in helping this vital ministry continue when their usual venues are not available.

We are increasing our recovery centred meetings, as well. We currently host 4 weekly gatherings, three are noon hour and one is in the evening. We are planning to offer a Saturday workshop on Alcoholism later in the month.

I have begun to create a secondary office (in addition to my home office) to use at Threshold House.

We have a lot of dry wall patching and painting to do before we start our next stage of renovations which includes creating bedrooms out of former classrooms, creating a shower room (the plumbing was done during the water supply redo) and creating a laundry room. We are also planning a work day to groom some wild landscape to create better sight lines for the building.

A new logo is in production. It is being created free of charge by a talented and dear friend.

I just shot a video we hope to have edited and ready for distribution later this month.

We are also planning a Christmas Banquet in a Box (a kind of gourmet take out meal prepared by Chef Russel Dobblestyn. We hope the box will include a thumb drive with the banquet presentations and a special Christmas musical presentation.

These are quite different activities from our previous mode, but all are undertaken either because of or in spite of the pandemic.

One of the chief values of Threshold Ministries (formerly Church Army) is to never undertake more than can be covered in prayer. So, I invite you, dear reader, to pray for these things. In doing this you will be preforming a vital role in the trajectory of this ministry.  

Like so many I am getting weary of Covid and the strain it causes. We receive an ever-growing number of calls from people who are struggling mightily. I have to fight the temptation to be short with some of our frequent callers and texters. In these moments I need to remember how difficult I find the isolation and ‘greyness’ of the covid days which seem longer even as the days grow shorter. I am in a fortunate position with multiple resources to help me, but Linda and I might be one of the few resources our friends have.

Hardly a day goes by when I am not asked “When will we start Drop In again?” I have to sigh (a silent prayer I hope) and reply I do not see them returning in the foreseeable future. Even as I say this I know I will be asked this again and again often by the same people and I wonder “How does God ever deal with my prayers?!”

Mere Reality or Deep Reality ?

It was a morning like any other. The prophet’s servant got up and, like Jack and Jill, went to fetch a pail of water. As he was rubbing the sleep from his eyes he looked around and realized that this was no ordinary day. He and his master were in deep and immediate danger. They were surrounded by ‘the enemy’. All seemed very bleak, as he called Elisha out to see their approaching doom!

Elisha though saw things differently. Yes, he saw the enemy, but he saw beyond that to the Lord’s provision for him. He was not disquieted, but out of concern for his frantic companion he prayed that his eyes too might be opened to see a deeper reality beyond the mere reality.

It seems that it is all a matter of how you look at things.

For those who have citizenship in the Kingdom of God, there is a deeper reality that is truer than the mere reality we see around us! Too often, though we like Elisha’s servant are so alarmed at the mere reality, for it seems anything but mere to us, that we forget and neglect the truer deeper reality of the Kingdom.

Like Peter on the stormy sea we lower our gaze to the swelling waves and soon find ourselves engulfed. Like him we call out in dread for rescue and graciously our God responds.

How much better though if we could see past the mere to the deep reality. Rather than settling for human vision we can trust in God’s provision.

In my experience there is not a circumstance, no matter how terrible, through which God can not and does not work.

Every morning when I look in the mirror I see a face marred and scarred. I see the damage which seems so permanent, yet I know that in the deeper reality I became a humbler and more spiritual person as a result. The phrase we hear these days is “Build back better” and God does that! God does not build back in the mere reality so much as He does in the deep reality.

Paul speaks about being persecuted but not abandoned struck down but not destroyed … so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. He knows as Elisha knows that mere reality is nothing to compare with the deep reality of the glory of God the King and his Kingdom.

All this leads us to the place where we must confront the question of “which Kingdom captures my heart?” Will I fall (as I so easily can) into captivity of the mere kingdom of this temporal and temporary world, or will I allow myself to be enthralled by the glorious Kingdom God is fitting me for?

My prayer today is “Lord open my eyes.” I long to see the real reality not the mere.