We don’t have cure for most of these illnesses, these diseases of the brain. But a full or measured recovery is possible for many, and for all healing is possible in their lives. Often, the community – friends, family and neighborhood – is the source where healing is found.
As I often am, I was in attendance at the 2013 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) annual convention held in Seattle that year. A presentation there has stayed with me as I reflect on living with a mental illness and the meaning of life.
This presentation was by UCC minister Chaplain Craig Rennebohm “Companionship and Caring Community: Resources for Recovery”. He spoke of a vocation as a companion to persons with mental illness on the streets and how that vocation can be a bridge to the path to a caring community. I may write more, in a future column, about his chaplaincy program which engages with the mentally ill homeless in a deep and profound way. For now, let me quote these passages from his book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets, about illness and the meaning of life:
“We are all vulnerable. All of us suffer. We may be suffering now; we may have suffered in the past or will suffer in the future—-not all of us from brain disorders, thankfully, but from one or many physical illnesses or maladies of the soul. Our illness self —the face and persona reflecting that which afflicts us —may predominate at any given moment, but is not absolute and does not determine finally who we are. An illness, no matter how grave, is but a part of our larger identity; our wholeness as persons encompasses the moments of illness and far more.”
“Healing is the ultimate frame in which we live. Healing does not merely treat the disturbances within and among us. Healing recognizes our strengths and gifts and seeks to include illness within a larger frame of personal growth and caring community. Healing honors the essential worth and dignity of us each. Healing holds us open to our greatest potential and proceeds from an infinite horizon of high purpose and eternal possibility. Healing flows from the ultimate tenderness that is at the heart of life.”
I listened to Chaplin Rennebohms thoughtful words and to the meaning reflected in passages like the above. I now think, although there is no cure for mental illness but there is recovery for many, that I am experiencing healing “…within a larger frame of personal growth and caring community” as the next stage in my recovery.
Let us be strong advocates for and companions to all who suffer from mental illness and their families.