telling the story: look beside you {day 8}

8 Oct

{This post, like others to follow, relates to mental illness and suicide. If these things are a trigger for you, please read with care.}

It is quiet on that Friday.

The room is blank, empty. A monk’s cell. There are no windows (jumping), no mirror (cutting). There is no metal. The shower curtain is held up by Velcro tabs.

There is no wood. Everything is made of hard plastic—the bed, the desk, the chair.  The only thing on the wall is a cheap painting of a parrot, its body all contorted, its big yellow eye looking at me.

I read through the book of “Patient Responsibilities.” Coming in, I am a Category 1. I will be checked every fifteen minutes for my safety. If I participate with my treatment, then I may move up to a Category 2 or 3 and have the privilege of 15 minutes outside accompanied by a nurse. I think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I think of Jesus Land.

I lie on my bed, and I realize that I have done it. There is no coming back from this. No church will want me now. If my seminary finds out, they will expel me. If my classmates find out, they will look at me with sad smiles and shuffle quickly away.

This fear grips you. The fear that this one moment, your worst, will be what defines you in everyone’s eyes, that it will cover you like a shroud. I will no longer be Christina who cooks Chinese dumplings and pumpkin bisque, who has memorized the foul shooting percentage of the Duke basketball team, who learns languages and idolizes Tina Fey and watches Harry Potter in the background when she needs to write papers, who laughs loud and loves fierce. Instead, I will be the psychiatric patient, the mentally ill.

I turn off the lights, I lie on my bed. In a class last semester, I filled out a workbook about how to pray. We edited prayers for superfluous words, analyzed the theology, wrote things tight and clean in active voice. But now, I just pray the first thing that comes to my mind.

“My God,” I whisper to the water-stained ceiling, and anger fills my lungs until it’s hard to breathe.  “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is a psalm, a psalm of hurt and rage. A psalm that says through clenched teeth, Is this how you treat your friends? It is the litany of the past few months. All I need is for you to help me. All I need is for something good to happen.

“Why are you so far from my groaning?” I say, angry. “I call out to you every day, but you do not answer.” I want to fight with these words. I want to show God that he is not the only one who can move away.

It is a psalm, an angry psalm. It is a psalm of pain. And as I stare up at the dark, I laugh at myself. It is a Good Friday psalm, the one Christ prayed from the cross.

“I just cannot get away from you,” I say. My lungs begin to feel with spirit, with breath.

I have been educated out of superstition and self-help religion. My people laugh at what we call “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” music, at touching email forwards and the poem “Footprints” and that song about the Christmas shoes.

But I have already done everything wrong today, and I don’t care. I drag the hard plastic chair beside the bed. I say, too soft to hear, “Sit here with me.”

And so, on a Friday, in the place of the skull, the place with the suicides not realized and the suicides gone wrong, the man of sorrows sits with me. In the dark, I can almost see him in the psych ward chair, keeping vigil.

Before I sleep, I look over at the chair, at what I can’t see but only feel.

I hear a knock on the door. “Safety checks,” says the white-haired aide, as he has eight times tonight. The door swings open. And light floods in.

This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader.

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3 Responses to “telling the story: look beside you {day 8}”

  1. Heather October 9, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    Christina – this is so beautiful. i am really moved by the image of the “man of sorrows” sitting vigil. may your words be a balm to the many in our churches who are suffering from depression and mental illness behind closed (and locked) doors.

    • Christina October 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Heather, humbled by your words! Jesus sitting beside me in that chair is one thing that got me through those few hard months. I’m praying that these words can help in some small way, too. Maybe if a few people keep talking about the things we’re “not supposed to talk about in church” (mental illness, eating disorders, addiction, sexual abuse), then these things will carry a little less shame and stigma.

      • Chris Thomas May 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

        Hi again. I am working my way through your blogs in between a flurry of spring time activities and such.

        First, I commend you for your beautiful writing style; it is quite refreshing to see on the internet these days!

        I have forwarded a link to this series to a number of people and I already sent you a response from one. Not sure how far she has read as her 9 year old son was just involved in a horrible accident and he suffered multiple fractures. Never say things cannot get any worse!

        As for your experiences affecting your qualifications for “ministry,” I recall a satirical piece which listed all the short comings and alleged failings, as well as true events, that had occurred in in Paul’s life, the sum of which constituted a letter of intention to apply for a pastoral position. Who would have hired that guy with all he had been through and had been accused of doing?! Remember that, he too, said that he despaired of life itself. We would rather focus on “Rejoice always,..”, that is only part of the story. Christianity consists of the full range of experiences, not the exaltation of one or the negation of another. It is, at times, keeping one hand to the plow while the other wipes the tears.

        Look forward to reading some more of your work!

        Blessings again! Never forget that when we are weak, He is strong. Let us therefore boast in our weaknesses!

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