Should You Be Ashamed Of Your Mental Illness?

Should you be ashamed of your mental illness? This chart should give you an answer.



waltons-arguingRemember those old westerns where there was a family living on a homestead, and the oldest son desperately wanted to get off the farm, but his parents wouldn’t let him go? He would always go storming out of the house, and the mother would always begin to pursue him, but the father would grab her and say something along the lines of “Just let him go. Give him some space.”

Personally, I am not a big fan of “space.” I’ve always believed that if you give a person in a bad state of mind more room to move, the more likely they are to do something rash or stupid. I usually prefer to stay and slug things out, even if it is a terribly uncomfortable and unfruitful process. There are obviously times when some space would be a good idea, but I am rather stubborn about this. I would probably grab that kid on the way out the door and not let him leave the house.

Sometimes when a person is depressed or sad or disturbed about something, the people around them want to give them space. “Just give him a little room to get over it.” I think one reason this occurs is because depression can look an awful lot like anger to the outside observer. You have someone who is not really talking to anyone, not making eye contact, and making virtually no effort whatsoever to be sociable. Mad people need space to cool down, right?

Many times, though, the person you thought was angry is really very, very depressed, which can make communicating with anyone a considerable chore. Symptoms that accompany depression can be extreme feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt, and, yes, even anger. Many people who suffer from it tend to isolate themselves, which creates an odd paradox within themselves: They don’t want anyone to bother them, but at the same time they feel dreadfully, painfully alone.

This is why I don’t believe granting space is always the best course of action. I know in my personal experiences of attempting to isolate myself, I have been screaming inside for someone, anyone to make an effort to reach out to me. I don’t have the strength to come get you; I want you to come get me. Granted, I don’t always like what people have to say to me in those moments they come after me, but I do appreciate on some level the fact that they at least tried to do something. Too often, though, I see people walking on eggshells around me, afraid to find out what’s really going on inside.

If you are more in the “space” camp, I totally respect your point of view. Sometimes hotheads need to get away from everyone before they can cool off and think rationally. Too many times, though, I have seen people fall though the cracks of “space,” and by the time anyone notices they’re gone, it is too late to help them. Think about it. What is one of the most common statements following a suicide? “I had no idea…” I don’t say this out of condemnation, but rather out of concern. Not everyone needs to be left alone.

So the next time you notice someone drifting way or being more quiet than usual, ask them a question or two. You may not get an honest answer, but you may let them know that someone cares about them. They may still want to leave the farm, but at least you tried to keep them around for one more crop first.

The Sacred And The Profane

I tried to be good. I really, really did. I white-knuckled the bar until I thought I would bend it in half. I looked around, formed an interpretation of the standard, and did my best to live by it.

And now I’m kind of tired.

rules-for-allBefore anyone gets alarmed, this is not one of those “Here’s Why I Left Christianity” posts. I am still very much a Christian. I still believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he died on a cross and was raised from the dead three days later. I believe his blood washed away my sins and that he has made me a new creation. I believe the Bible is the holy word of God and that it contains the words of wisdom needed to live a joyful and fulfilling life. As the late Rich Mullins once sang, “I believe what I believe.”

The older I get, though, I’m beginning to realize the very real danger of turning Christianity into such a rigid, unyielding, methodical set of rules that it somehow ceases to be transforming, redemptive, or powerful. Such an emphasis can be put on “doing the right thing” that we begin to run the risk of never know exactly what we should be doing. Following the script becomes the most important thing, and the specter of self-condemnation is ever at the door. It’s not so much a falling from grace as it is simply giving it up in favor of an impossible standard.

I lived a lot of years around people who abused the concept of grace. They basically turned it into a license to treat people however they wanted and then turn the other person’s hurt back on them by accusing them on not extending grace to them. It was messed up, but it made me rigid as far as the rules were concerned. I sure didn’t want to be like that, so I adopted the hard line. The only problem was, I still sinned, and since I was so bent on keeping the rules, I beat the crap out of myself every time I broke one. That’s what the serious Christians did, I told myself.

I have literally lost track of how many times I have cleaned out all my “secular” music, only to replenish all of it within a couple of years. I purged all my movies I deemed unacceptable, but, you know, Marvel’s The Avengers was pretty cool, so… I stopped cursing … well, except for when I got really mad or when I wanted to make a point or when I was alone in the car or…

And I felt very, very guilty about all this for a very, very long time. No, actually, I felt ashamed of all this. Guilt would describe how I felt about committing these heinous infractions; shame would describe the loathing of who I was as a person who couldn’t seem to get it right.

I still believe grace can be carried too far, but I’m also beginning to believe the leash may be a little longer than I thought it was. I let a word go ron burgundyhere and there, sometimes accidentally, sometimes not. I have the dialog from a large chunk of the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy memorized. “The Humpty Dance,” by Digital Underground, is on my iPod. Do all these items added up sound like a formula for biblical wisdom? Possibly not. Do I get a certain level of enjoyment out of them, though? Um, yeah. Yeah, I do. More joy than I got out of attempting to live like a pharisee, that’s for sure.

The question becomes, then, where to draw the line? Is this all a sign that I’m loosening up and living a little or am I gradually sliding toward oblivion? I’d like to think it’s the former more than the latter. One of the effects of depression is how it can paralyze your decision-making abilities, and two stone tablets carved full of rules on your shoulders doesn’t help this any. As someone recently said to me, whatever decision you make is yours. Whether it’s good or bad, you have to live with the consequences. But, in the end, it’s yours.

I am not a thrill-seeker. I’m not looking for danger. I’m generally a nice guy. I want to be a good Christian and a good parent and a good husband. I would like to do all that while I’m alive, though, and not some hollow shell that’s forgotten how to experience the joy of life. It’s a process I’m still walking out, trying to determine the line between the sacred and the profane. It’s probably a line more people are walking than would care to admit.

Oh, The Shame

As a result of my depression, I’ve been ashamed about a lot of things in my life that I didn’t really need to be. For instance, if I saw someone I knew at Walmart but decided I didn’t want to talk to them for some reason and ducked down an aisle to avoid them, I would feel waves of shame immediately rush over me. It wasn’t until fairly recently that someone told me I didn’t have to speak to everyone I saw, whether I knew them or not. The shame of not doing it was something I had placed on myself.

On the other hand, I’ve done a bunch of stuff that I definitely should be ashamed about. If you’re expecting some juicy dirt now, forget it; I ain’t coming clean on some blog. I can say, though, that in most instances I needed to be ashamed of what I had done. I had violated some rule or principle that had been established. Even if I didn’t necessarily agree with what was happening, nine times out of ten the order I was bucking turned out to have been set up for my own good. I just couldn’t see it at the time.

This week, though, I was introduced to two words that have convinced me more than ever that society is firmly in the process of losing its collective mind. Those words were slut shaming. Apparently, the term has been around for a while now, but I just caught wind of it this week. If I understand correctly, slut shaming means to make a woman feel guilty over certain sexualized behaviors. An example of how a woman might be “slut-shamed” is criticizing her for violating a dress code by wearing sexually provocative clothing.

That very example occurred at a Canadian high school last week when an 11th-grader at Beaconsfield High School in Quebec was slut shamingsent home by two vice principals because her jean shorts were deemed too short. Instead of going home immediately and changing, though, the girl decided to post a sign criticizing the school for “shaming girls for their bodies” and for not teaching “boys that girls are not sexual objects.” The girl went on to tell Global News that “There’s a huge rape culture that educational systems aren’t paying attention to.”

I’m just going to straight-up admit that I don’t get this story at all, for a number of reasons. Not to sound like an old fogey, but in my day, if you got sent home for wearing shorts that were too short you were kind of embarrassed about it. Even if you weren’t embarrassed, though, your getting sent home didn’t make worldwide news. The school set the rules, and the students either followed the rules or they suffered the consequences. The point of a “short shorts” rule was to encourage modesty and to not encourage the already hormone-fueled brains of teenage boys to hone in on exposed skin.

What bothers me more, though, is that the issue of a female dressing immodestly was somehow turned back upon the males. Just look at all the examples of males failing sexually in our society. Temptation is always at the door, and “an evil man is ensnared in his transgression.” As women are standing up and throwing off the rules of prudish dress codes, men are dropping like flies in the face of sexual temptation, and when we ask for a little help – “Could you maybe put some more clothes on?” – we’re branded as shaming women and encouraging a rape culture.

Calling a woman fat is body shaming; asking her to put on a skirt that falls below the knee is another matter entirely. That’s not what I want to focus on, though. What I’m concerned about is that we’re losing our ability to feel shame about anything. We don’t like being corrected, so we turn any shameful inclination on its head and play the victim card. In the process, we don’t learn anything and we don’t grow. We just keep feeling good about ourselves, no matter what havoc we may be causing around us.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul uses a term to make sure his audience remembers the rules: “I say this to your shame.” Of course, the only way a term such as this carries any resonance is if there is some shame there to begin with. The Corinthians still had enough of a moral base to feel the sting of Paul’s words, but as modern society moves further and further away from anything being deemed wrong or immoral, we may not understand them soon.

And that would be a real shame.