In the space I use for my morning meditations, I have a painting by my sister Dorothy. It’s one she painted while living with schizophrenia. I’ve often wondered why she chose to use nothing but shades of brown for this traditional landscape of mountains, trees and water but I liked it the moment I saw it and still do. It’s one of many things we never discussed.
In hindsight, I realize what a remarkable woman she was. She refused to be defined by mental health matters as well as physical illness like the cancers which eventually claimed her life.
She learned to paint and sculpt and read biology textbooks for stimulation. She had a loyal employer and good friends who stuck by her. When our mother’s struggle with bi-polar disorder was particularly challenging, Dorothy was the one who championed her and defended her from unnecessary institutionalization. That was also something we did not talk about.
When I came close to complete burn-out because of stress, I sought and received professional help. The leadership in the congregation I was serving were affirming and encouraging. Even in my darkest moments, I knew I was loved and supported by a network of caring people. I gained a lot of valuable experience from that time and would have liked to talk about it but I was advised not to because it might have an undesirable effect on my ministry. So it also was something I seldom talked about.
I understand why so many have remained so silent about mental illness and not spoken about the bewilderment, pain, confusion and sense of helplessness when it touches you or those you care about. I understand the fear that even speaking about it might cause others to stigmatize and avoid you. It takes courage to break the silence.
I’m glad that we have begun to break that silence. This issue’s feature article is another step or two in the journey of learning about mental illness and mental wellness. These are things that we need to learn about and to speak about.
I’m still finding my voice about such matters, but as I do, I’m discovering a lot of other people who have been bound by silence for far too long. I hope that you will also learn how humbling and encouraging it is to share in their stories.
We’ve done some spring cleaning and are introducing a fresh look for Canada Lutheran.
You’ll notice we’ve added a new feature to this issue called In Mission. We are really excited about introducing you to ELCIC members from coast to coast to coast who inspire all of us to become a church In Mission for Others. Do you have a suggestion for someone you’d like to be featured here? Let us know. Your input for this feature (and the rest of the magazine) is always welcome.
Kenn Ward, Editor