The conference “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” was so packed with meaningful content, we didn’t even break for lunch, but we were in fact nourished by both delicious food and delightful comedy. A troop of stand-up comics who have mental illnesses, including: Dave Mowry, Molly McNabb, Lorayne Dille, and Tara Rostad, shared true life experiences as well as quips that helped break down the stigma with laughter. An upcoming book No, We Really Want You to Laugh will tell more of their stories.
After the comedians performed, Pastor Jerry Beres of Meadow Springs Community Church shared his struggle with ADHD. He illustrated that mental illness is analogous to any other broken part of our body; it’s harder to accept, though, because there is no obvious cast to help people understand what’s wrong. When we have ACL surgery, we go on medication and go through therapy and wear a brace–the brace helps people understand and accept what’s wrong. Then he threw a leg brace over his head and said, “We can’t do that with a broken brain.”
Through it all, Kelcey has maintained hope. With an articulate voice full of strength, she showed a small painting of the word hope and said she was holding onto it like David held onto the smooth stone he used to defeat Goliath. Kelcey shares a marvelous reflection on her experience entitled, “From Roots and Lungs.”
The next speaker was one well known by those within the Lake Grove Presbyterian congregation. It was Debbie Sanders, the pastor’s wife. Debbie had worshiped and served the church faithfully for many years but had yet to come out in public with her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. With quiet humor, she explained she would speak on three subjects (a typical pastor’s outline): moving from the hell of mental illness to the hope of mental illness. As she described the hell, she spoke of seasons in her life where she had cycled rapidly, refused treatment, and had to be restrained. She endured years of living in a fog due to medication, as well as her illness. With both angst and perspective, she commented that her children had to deal with her inconsistency as a parent who sometimes made them clean the house spotlessly and on other occasions let it go.
As for the hope of mental illness, she mentioned the loving companionship of her husband Bob (who received a hearty applause), as well as the steadfast support of many who kept things going when she was falling apart. Meals were prepared. Errands were run. Children were scuttled back and forth. Debbie also mentioned the crucial role morning prayer and devotions have played in her maintaining a semblance of order and balance in her life. The crowd gathered felt so inspired by Debbie’s speech that they gave her a standing ovation.
After a break, we relocated to the Sanctuary for a Panel Discussion: “Ask the Professionals.” Panel Members included Ryan Hosley, Beth Schmidt, Luann Sohlberg, Joyce Brors, Robin Garvey, and Kelcey Rockhold. Topics addressed by the panel included: helping your children when they are dealing with depression and self medicating with alcohol with a child, when to have an intervention, and how to find the right professional mental health care provider.
As the event wrapped up, Angela Leet held out the hope of a future mental health ministry at Lake Grove Presbyterian and mentioned ways people might partipate in this. Bob Sanders then closed in prayer.
Several of the speakers hung around for conversations with conference participants. I was struck by the glowing remarks and the energetic response. I was also exhausted and hearing voices, so I made a relatively quick exit to my motel.