This is what we ask ourselves when events like the recent crash of the German passenger plane happen. Or bombings at a marathon finish line. Or shootings at numerous schools. Or museums. Or places of worship.
We are faulty, we humans. But are we at fault? Can we help ourselves?
A pastor friend once remarked, the line between good and evil is drawn straight through every human heart. Yes, I feel this potential in me. Perhaps that’s why these atrocities hit “home.” Because I can see the possibility alive in me to do what I know I should not do, perhaps in a way that is permanently destructive. In this temptation toward evil, I must continuously choose good.
What if our mind is confused about which one is which? What if the truth is so veiled that all we see is evil and it is masquerading as good?
I am told — and the Bible says — that Jesus died to save me from my sin. That I can come near the One who is completely Good because the separation between us, the cleft of sin, has been banished. But what of my heart – the one I so very well know – that is part good and part evil? How can I turn from my own faulty choice to God’s will?
The truth is, anything that turns me away from the Absolute Good is evil for me. That turning is different for each of us, because different temptations beckon. Absent this awareness and I am the pilot. I am the bomber. I am the shooter.
While none of us alive today heard Jesus speak when He walked the earth, His death and risen life made way for the Spirit of Christ to open our ears to the divine command, “This is my Son whom I have chosen. Listen to Him!”
Lord, quiet the clamor which shouts you down and the internal chatter which drowns you out. Help me to listen closely and only to You. Amen.
We have a stigma against mental illness in this country. Have you noticed?
Oh, we like to joke about “emo” people and “he’s not right in the head” people. But those aren’t real issues. We’re kidding. Right? And kidding allows us to keep this issue at arm’s length.
I’d like to do that, but I can’t. Family’s got “mental health” history. Boom. Did you hear that big boom? That’s the sound of stigma landing on my family tree. I steer away from stigma. Makes me uncomfortable. Kind of like talking about magic, paranormal, supernatural…spiritual.
I’d much rather stick with the concrete, proveable, physical evidence. The stuff we can all look at and agree upon. But we can’t, so I won’t.
What I know today is, someone I love is having physical symptoms from an emotional hurt. In fact, several someones. ZZsst. Hear that? That was the sound of connection. Mind-body connection. What do I do with that? What do I do with them? Do I excuse them? forgive them? Can one be excused from work, from responsibility, from performance of one’s duties based on emotional issues? Mental issues?
Well no, not if they’re not real. But when you make them physical, that’s a whole new story. But tell that to the person who is accusing you, accuses them, of making this up. Oh, it’s all in your mind, they’ll say. Just get over it, they’ll advise you.
Thing is, when the mind and body are connected…when our internal senses give us physical responses…people are forced to admit, we suffer from illness. Mental illness. Mental dishealth.
I wonder where we’d be if we considered mental and emotional imbalances before they became physical burdens. If we didn’t treat them with contempt or distrust. If we believed in them. And then treated them as we do the rest of our body, with what they need to help them recover. To heal. To be whole again.
Truth is, I’m not sure where the line is between ability and disability, between healthy and ill. I imagine I jump between them regularly and, on any particular day, the diagnosis would change. And that may be the place of wholeness for me. The way I was created. To skirt the edge of things, having a look into both.
Keeping my balance is a tightrope act for sure. But God calls us to the mountaintop.
What a national conversation we’re now having. Around an issue very close to home. Illness of the mental variety. We’re afraid of it, because we can’t see it, can’t touch it, can’t manipulate it to see where it hurts – like the other illnesses we’re used to.
We are a nation of fixers. If something is broken, fix it. Patch it up, immobilize it and let it heal. But what if we can’t see what’s broken? What if we can only tell by the way someone acts or how they respond? What if there is no way to pinpoint the injury or measure the severity? What if the injury is not structural, but functional? Is there really injury…or are they just making this up?
What I am describing, actually, is brain injury. Something I am up to my elbows in working with youth athletes, and the NFL is up to its pockets in with inquiries and law suits. We are being forced to see that the brain can be injured, its function impaired, and we can only tell this by spending time with the injured person. Currently, science does not have good tests to determine the extent of the injury, but thankfully the national conversation is attending to it. We’ve stopped looking the other way and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Like we still do with mental illness. We fear mental illness because we don’t know what to do about it. We have been pretending it’s “all in their minds.” In our minds, if they were just better, stronger people they could just get this inconvenient maladaptive thinking under control and forge on. But mental illness is not just “wrong-thinking.” It is dis-health. A disease of the functioning of the brain.
The first step toward addressing it is learning a bit about how the brain functions. This is foreign to the average American, I’ve observed. We know there is “gray matter” and perhaps “white matter.” We know the brain’s approximate size and shape and folding characteristics. We know layman’s anatomy – from tv shows or books or perhaps a high school class. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the huge connection of nerve cells sending electrical signals hither and yon at amazing speed, with amazing accuracy, and amazing consistency. Until they aren’t.
This is what happens in concussion. And this is what happens in mental illness. The circuitry and chemistry is malfunctioning, or perhaps better put, functioning in a way that results in disruptions in behavior, sensation and thinking. This is, after all, what our brains are designed to do.
Once we can think of brain function as a biological, chemical, and cellular issue, we can address it. People would not choose concussion or illness of any type, but it chooses them. And the first step toward helping them is to understand what it feels like to them, how it orients or dis-orients, what hurts. Not at first to “fix” but to help. Then the healing can begin.
As for me, today I admit: mental illness scares me. But the more I understand it and the better acquainted with it I become, the less I fear it and the more I see I can do. Concussion is a disruption of brain function which needs to be recognized and treated. Mental illness is a pattern of brain function which needs to be recognized and treated.
We’re all in this together. It’s a national conversation. Let us heal.