After I shared my story at “Shattering Stigma with Stories,” we were excused for a break. We were a little behind schedule, so the emcee Tara Ralstad (half) jokingly gave the 300 attendees 7 minutes for a restroom break.
I used the time to visit the prayer chapel where I prayed with four intercessors from the church that the voices inside my mind would subside such that I could focus on the stories for the rest of the day.
Back from break, a young man named Aaron Smith spoke eloquently about his fear of opening up in public about his mental illness. While a gifted writer who explores the impact of a troubled mind on his blog and in other social media outlets, this was the first he had dealt with it face-to-face, in front of nearly 300 strangers. Aaron’s step out of the darkness of fear into the light of self-disclosure was a huge leap of faith, but only for him, but for many who witnessed it who struggle in silence. (To read more about Aaron’s talk, see “Ten Minutes of Bravery“)
Next up was a woman named Carol, who talked about recovering from an addiction to prescription drugs. Carol served as a professional in the medical field and saw addicts abuse the system, but it took a long time for her to recognize she was just like them. It was only after she lost her job and was at risk of losing her license that she hit “rock bottom,” entered treatment, and joined a 12-step program for healing. Telling her story at this conference was part of her twelfth step of sharing the good news of her spiritual recovery to others.
Next on the agenda was a Panel Discussion. Parents of folks with mental illness shared how stigma had impacted them, as well as their deep concerns and often sense of helplessness not knowing what they could do to best help. Patrica and Tom Alston, Vincent and Sara Salvi, and Judy and Mike Rinkin all spoke from the heart — a heart that has been broken for those wounded and often feeling alone. One touching moment was when a parent shared how she had offered to buy a cell phone for her son and his response was, “Other than you and Dad, who would call me?”
The next speaker was one of the conference organizers — Leanne Sype, who talked about her battle with anorexia. Leanne shared how she had been warned she was on a path toward death and only grudgingly accepted treatment so her children wouldn’t be left without a mother. Ultimately, she would relapse and start the cycle downward, a cycle she continues to face to this day. Spiritually, she has come to realize that God “delights in her in spite of her disorder,” but practically she still carries an image of herself as overweight. One of the most wonderful moments of the day happened right after Leanne’s speech when her father, who admits to having been somewhat nonchalant about her illness, gave her a huge hug and almost refused to let go. Leanne describes this beautifully in “What God looks like at a mental health conference“
Having been filled with emotions from such powerful stories, before lunch we enjoyed an artistic interlude. Jennifer “Jen” Predoehl of Blue Plume Studio came on stage and, while a lovely original song she wrote and recorded played, she painted an image of a human figure arising out of the darkness. I found it to offer hope for those of us who have faced dark days, that we can discover our humanity in the midst of it.
It was time for lunch and I retreated for prayer, protein, and (prescribed) pills. I had been inspired by the day and wanted to persist to the end, with many wonderful speakers ahead, and knew I needed a break.