There’s a great post brimming full of vulnerability at The Bipolar Writer Collaborative Mental Health Blog. I’ve chosen to use the same title in order to express my own thoughts regarding the topic. Megan has captured what I believe is the experience of many that struggle with mental illness and their religion.
I was a Protestant pastor for 18 years. I was highly educated and was awarded as one likely to excel in ministry. I have a BA in Biblical Studies and Ministry and a seminary (Master of Divinity) degree in ministry as well. For my MDiv I focused on Church history, crisis counseling and conflict management. For those that don’t know, an MDiv takes about 4 years to complete, if one works at it steadily. It’s a big degree.
It was discovered after 18 years that I have severe and generalized anxiety, clinical depression, and severe PTSD to the point that, if the trigger is right, I will dissociate.
One might think that if it was discovered that I was so disabled that the church would be the first place to show compassion and offer solace. Not so! As soon as it became clear that I could no longer perform pastoral ministry, I was left alone to struggle. Gratefully, my immediate family supported me through this crisis. I left that church.
I went to a church denomination that would not recognize my ministerial credentials, my degrees and my ordination. That was good for about ten years. Then, through a twist of history and culture, I turned to the Roman Catholic church. Here I spent a number of years teaching and serving as a lay person. I also was a sponsor for several people as they sought to join the church. One evening as we met with one of the “official” leaders of the church, I was sitting with the fellow I was sponsoring. My service dog, Hunter, was lying down behind me. The church leader looked up directly at me and said, “People who have enough faith do not have mental illness.”
I was struck down. I stopped attending this church immediately. I tried another Roman Catholic church but was met at the door and told, point blank, that my dog and I were not welcome. I was blown out of the water.
I have finally found a home in an affirming church. It is OK to attend precisely because I am mentally ill. Hunter is blessed by the priest every Sunday I attend. Furthermore, and I am coming out of the closet here, during this past year in therapy, I revealed that I am gender dysphoric and have been for as long as I can remember.
I feel better than I ever have — with Hunter and the proper med regimen and being hormonally more female than male thanks to hormone therapy AND in a church that affirms me as a human being in the image of God and loved by God.
Megan, you have inspired me to be more candid than ever before.