(September 15, 2007)

In their comments a couple of blogging pals say how they wish they could find a place of worship like mine. I’m hoping that this post will help you understand that this support has only grown gradually, over time. I had to educate members of the congregation and they needed to have time to get to know me and come to understand what my illness does to me.

When I first started going to this church, I too felt lonely. It took time to get to know people and start feeling comfortable. But there was one woman who took it on herself to talk to me Sunday mornings. She invited me to a ladies’ group she led and I came to know people there. Because of the heart-felt discussions we had, I ended up telling them about my mental health problems.

Soon after I started attending the church, I decided to visit the pastor. I wanted him to know of my problems. If anything were to go wrong with me I wanted him to be aware. I wanted him to understand. I gave him a copy of Riding the Roller Coaster, telling him how I wanted to help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Several months later I had a meeting with him and his wife and gave them a gift of a photograph I made, together with a story I wrote describing how I found God. We talked a little more about my disorder and the three of us prayed together. My pastor always asked God to help him learn more about mental illness through me.

Being a big letter writer, I ended up emailing my pastor often when I was going through my moods. I tend to be a spiritual person and have a great need to express my feelings about God and how I experience him. My pastor came to know me quite well. Many emails went to my ladies’ group leader as well. She ended up becoming my best friend, my best supporter, my sister, my mother, my mentor – all rolled into one. These two individuals have helped me grow in a huge way.

At church, occasional readings about my life followed. My struggles were now common knowledge. Yet I had lots of friends. I loved them and I felt loved in return. After one of my readings, a number of church members came up to me and shared some of their own problems with me. It felt good to connect in that way. I wanted people like these to have a place where they could freely share more of their pain with others who would understand. And so the plan for a Living Room support group was born.

Today, when someone in the church is known to have an emotional problem, they are introduced to me because it is believed that I will understand and be able to give support. (It happens very frequently.) I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do like supporting people, but somehow I wish that some of the healthier people would not be afraid to do the supporting as well.

The wonderful thing is this: with Living Room as an important part of our ministry, people in our church are less worried about being open about their mental health struggles. Living Room is often talked about. I don’t think people feel too much shame being connected with it. I know I don’t. And I think in turn, others don’t either. This is what true church support should look like.