Mental Health and Mental Illness

I have debated sharing this for a while now. A few people noticed but not enough to make a big deal out of it. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it at least. Everyone has their own problems and their own weight to carry. I told a few people, those that could help, but for the most part I kept silent. And it was okay to do so. I needed the time and the freedom.

But after reading this article talking about mental health and journalists I realize that I maybe I should bring it up now.

Despite our role as transmitters and amplifiers of information, when trauma hits home, journalists are hesitant to be honest if they are suffering, much less ask for help. “Journalism is one of the last careers to acknowledge the world of trauma,” Newman said. “The culture of the profession says, ‘We are observers; we aren’t the ones to be observed.’” A Mental-Health Epidemic In The Newsroom

Many of you know that I have been in and out of Africa for the last three years. It’s been a beautiful journey and a hard one. Many things were mended and many things were broken worse than they were before. Some days it’s the only place on earth I want to be. Other days I’d rather be anywhere but here. But this is normal. Everyone feels that way at one time or another.

The problem started early last year when I stopped leaving my apartment. And then stopped leaving my room. And then stopped leaving my bed. All of this was before a series of significant deaths marched through my door.

It was more than depression. It was rooted in a deep understanding that the world was flawed and I was flawed and a hopelessness that said it cannot change. I cannot change. The world is stuck on this trajectory of self-destruction and I am incapable of adding anything good to it. I have failed.

I started having panic attacks several times a month and then several times a week. Around January 2015 I had nearly, completely, shut down. You can always pull yourself together for an appearance, but the other side of that is wasteland.

It became more and more clear that I needed a break. And a good long one if I were going to survive much longer. No more refugee camps. No more death and dying. No more survivor stories. No more.

But where are you supposed to go? I dreamed of isolation as if this would cure me. If I could just be alone long enough, if I could just really feel these things strong enough, maybe there was hope.

I am blessed to have so many good people supporting me who pointed me in the direction of L’Abri. Some of you will know this name from the theologian Dr. Francis Schaeffer who founded it in the 1950’s.

I was given the opportunity to attend the branch in Canada outside Vancouver and it was here that things started to make sense again. For two months a group of six to 20 of us ate together, read together, worked together, and lived together. We all came with different questions, different life paths, different hopes and dreams. But it was through this process that I learned to slow down. To invest in others and myself. For most of 2014 I hardly spent more than a week in one place at a time. Here I spent two months with the same people, learning to love them and be loved by them. I laughed, fully and often. I played guitar again. Started learning to draw. Made crafts. I felt strongly and wept bitterly. Was held by those who had come to know my story and come to love me all the more for it.

I checked my emails a few times a week and Facebook on Sundays. A few sporadic phone calls to my family. But otherwise I was isolated in this little modern co-ed monastic life. I also didn’t take my camera, which was one of the wisest things I could have done. It was good to see photography as art again, even if it was only through my iphone. It was good to take the power away from photography. To see it as a tool, not a device with salvific strength.

There are many more things to be said of this time in my life. Of the brokenness that was there and still is. Of the letting go and receiving. But what I really want to say is, mental illness, whether one grows into it or one is born with it, is something to be cared for and listened to. Do not think yourself so strong.

When a fire burns our body, we go to the hospital and rest. When fire burns our minds we let it burn until we feel nothing.

“That culture needs to change… But it is up to those of us in the field to change the way we think and talk about mental illness.” – Gabriel Arana

All photos taken on an iphone4s: LAbri001 LAbri002 LAbri003 LAbri004 LAbri005 LAbri007 LAbri009 LAbri010 LAbri011 LAbri012 LAbri013 LAbri014 LAbri015 LAbri017 LAbri018 LAbri019 LAbri020 LAbri021 LAbri022 LAbri023 LAbri025 LAbri027 LAbri028 LAbri029 LAbri031 LAbri032 LAbri033 LAbri035 LAbri036 LAbri037 LAbri038 LAbri040 LAbri041 LAbri043 LAbri045 LAbri047 LAbri048 LAbri049 LAbri050 LAbri051 LAbri052 LAbri053 LAbri054 LAbri055

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Mental Health and Mental Illness

11 thoughts on “Mental Health and Mental Illness

  1. Denny says:

    I love this, Christena! Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability–so refreshing! This spoke to me of my need for that time away for my own mental health. Praying that you will continue to take that needed time for yourself. Your amazing work will reflect it! Love you much!

  2. Bev says:

    I see healing in your photos. May God’s beauty soothe your soul and heal the wounded areas. He never changes. Oh how easy it is to forget that in this world.Thank you for sharing.

  3. This is lovely, Christena. I love this line: “mental illness, whether one grows into it or one is born with it, is something to be cared for and listened to. Do not think yourself so strong.” That’s something I learned in a small way myself this past year. Thank you for writing this.

  4. gregschneiderdotcom says:

    Thanks for sharing the journey you’ve been on. I was reminded of the excellent book, “Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be,” by Cornelius Plantinga. He starts chapter one with a quotation of Simon from the movie, Grand Canyon: “Everything’s supposed to be different from what it is here.” Here’s an interview with the author https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npj86MPUCmQ

  5. Jon Wheeler says:

    I can’t seem to stop feeling about myself what you feel about the world. It’s the constant sense of failure and lack of self-respect and self-worth that just grinds me down and down. I feel like I am simply using up oxygen that could be better used elsewhere. And yes, the world situation is certainly deteriorating. Madmen at the seat of power in several countries, famine, war, drowning refugees, global warming…
    I probably need a holiday, but many people would look at me and say, “your whole life is a holiday!”.

  6. Rachel says:

    You have such a gift of expression, Christena, whether through words or photos. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. May you continue healing, growing, and blessing.

  7. Asiimwe Innocent says:

    Ndugu, thank for sharing this. You can count on my support and I believe you will and are already making good recovery. I am looking forward to seeing you soon.

  8. Hi Christena – you are an amazing photographer, word smith and person. Thank you for being who you are. See you next time, somewhere on the road, to our amazing adventures in life. Ax

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