I am not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV.
But I am openly and optimally bipolar. A mental health evangelist, I share first person stories on Unorthodox & Unhinged to create awareness, dispel stereotypes and encourage healing. You can quote statistics until you are blue in the face and make no difference. Stories, on the other hand, bring to life the challenge of living with a challenging brain.
The tragic events of just the last ten days raise important mental health issues, of course.
Bipolar Disorder is a medical diagnosis. You can find it in the DSM-V, the fifth version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. Approximately 1% of the population walks around with a bipolar brain. Likely I inherited mine; it is how my brain is wired. (Thanks, mom!)
Hate, on the other hand, is a sickness of the soul. It is an emotion 100% of us are capable of. No one is born hateful. Hate is learned behavior. Hate festers and grows like weeds in gardens where we least expect it. Left untended, hate crowds all that is good.
A disturbed mind fueled by hate is a potentially lethal combination. A combination that becomes all the more probable when that person is armed and loaded. A probability, we all pray does not become reality. But reality it is.
I write not just from a bipolar point of view but as a mom and a grandmother, as an Episcopal priest and a struggling minister of the gospel.
In these dark days, I will tell you my personal story, not that you may agree with me nor to tell you what to think. My hope is that my story will encourage you to share yours. I believe that our stories may align, intersect and connect more than we might think. Our stories can help us connect at a deeper level.
So, as you may likely know —
I am no Second Amendment Sister. I am a Million Mom Marcher from way back when. No toy guns were allowed at my house. Only water pistols and Super- Soakers. My kids were crack shots — gunning down dandelions and blowing away begonias in the backyard. No BB guns, not even cap guns crossed our threshold. At least until….
The dawn of Nintendo 64. One showed up under the tree on a Christmas morn with Zach’s name on it. I think Santa put it there. If Santa put it there, it was a really big deal. Mom and dad wrapped up books and board games. Santa gave you stuff that knocked your socks off.
So welcome Mario and Wario (his evil twin.) Welcome Kirby and Donkey Kong. Welcome Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Lots of fun and games. Lots of jumping over walls, catching stars, and grabbing gold coins. Lots of keys and magic codes to climb from level to level. Zach played for hours on end while his little brother watched in wonder — hoping against hope to take control of that controller. Just two and half years old, Jacob picked it up and has yet to put it down at the age of thirty-one.
Jacob mastered Mario. He crushed Kirby. He tackled Tetris. He whooped Wario. And “bang, bang, bang,” — arcade style — he bagged hundreds of ducks. The first “stick that made thunder” had made it into our house.
As Jacob matured so did the ratings on his video games. I never really censored the games he played but I would lean over the screen to see just how much blood and guts were on display. “Is that a peace and love game?” I would invariably ask him. “It’s just mummies, mom. It’s just zombies.” So, I bought him “Civilization”, peaceful and educational. “How’s that going, Jacob?” “Great, mom! Gandhi just conquered Genghis Khan!”
Jacob has grown up to be quite the indie gamer. And you will find no gentler or loving soul than Jacob. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project, he raised $20,000 for a Hobbit-Inspired game called Super Dwarf Madness.
Super Dwarf Madness is not exactly about peace and love. But it is not all that far removed from Elmer Fudd and his blunderbuss or Yosemite Sam and his six-shooter. “Sticks that make thunder” cartoon style.
Yosemite Sam was “the roughest, toughest, fastest gun-slinger west of the Pecos!” but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And every Saturday morning, Bugs Bunny got away with nary a scratch. It was a kinder and gentler time. Remember Sheriff Andy Taylor? No gun. Remember Deputy Barney Fife? One gun and no bullets except the one in his pocket.
These were the only guns my dad would allow in our house: celluloid guns; cartoon guns; sitcom guns; maybe a water pistol or two; maybe even a cap gun. But never, ever the real thing.
Guns were for my dad a very real and present moral dilemma. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in D.C.. A general surgeon, he took out gall bladders, repaired hernias, removed tumors. He loved his work. But extracting bullets from young men, my dad told us, he hated having to do. He said that he had lost way too many young men on his operating table. Tragic and traumatic, so young and full of life, never to go home again. Never.
NEVER have a gun in the home, my father taught us. NEVER. Guns in the home were anathema to him. In the heat of passion, it was best to err on the side of safety.
A lesson learned from my dad that I have taken to heart.
In my 64 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago when I visited the home of a sharpshooting friend. Law abiding in every way, she only shoots tin cans and paper tigers. Proud of her sport, she took out her collection and introduced me to her “sticks that make thunder”. She taught me the difference between a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a revolver. Patiently she explained cartridges, caliber, clips, millimeters and magazines. And she drove home the importance of safeties – the tiny little lever that keeps a gun from firing.
This tiny little lever between this life and the life to come — is called a safety.
Now there is a stereotype that people like me are not safe. Mall shooters and campus snipers are indeed disturbed and deranged. Of that, there is no doubt. But bipolar-me is no more likely to gun you down than anyone else. Regardless, the media often diagnoses the dangerous, as a soul likely off their meds. But it’s simply not true or at least very rarely true. Self-harm, rather than harming others, is much more likely with folks like me.
I have never had a plan to do away with myself. But I do know what it’s like to not want to wake up anymore. Depression can eat you alive just as surely as cancer can.
“Do you feel safe?”, the nurse at Dominion asked me. “No”, I replied. So, she took away my shoelaces and my belt and my cell phone. Dangerous weapons, I guess. First light every morning and last thing every night, we had to answer the same question: “Do you feel safe? Rate yourself on a scale from zero to ten.” Zero and you can go home. Ten – or anything close to ten – and you get to stay a little longer. To stay your hand from doing yourself in. To stay your hand from doing what cannot be undone.
Especially, if at home, you had a gun. God forbid, if I did. Thank God, I did not.
God has nothing specific to say about guns, of course. And biblically confusing, Yahweh vacillates about whether we should be beating those plowshares into swords or those swords into plowshares. But Jesus – he’s pretty clear on the subject. Clearer than Ghandi. Clearer than Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I say to all who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. The one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek…Love your foes and treat them well…. Be just and lenient as your Father. Be not a judge…Be not an executioner. Pardon and you will be pardoned” Luke 6 (trans. Garry Wills)
This is not faithless passivity. This same Jesus, a very angry Jesus, turns over the Temple’s tables. Not just a place of prayer, ‘the temple was the center of worship and music, the center of politics and society, a place of national celebration and mourning. It was the focal point of a nation and its way of life.” (N.T. Wright)
Righteous anger is the antithesis of hate. Angry for all the right reasons, Jesus threatens to tear the place down. Forty-six years it took to build, but Jesus says he will raise it again in just three days.
Not resurrected stones, but literally flesh and bone. Not a resurrected building but resurrected life.
In my tenure as Emmanuel’s Associate for Worship, we have prayed a prayer inspired by an America Magazine article written by Jesuit James Martin. We have had to pray it way too many times and I hope to God we never need pray it again, but sadly, I know we will.
Genuine prayer is more than pretty words. Prayer is the act of God stirring souls to rise up off our knees. Prayer is the daily doing of loving, speaking the truth in love, and the hard work of reconciliation. Real prayer makes a real difference.
So I pray this revised prayer once more.
Lord God, in the wake of tragic gun violence in Virginia Beach; Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio: we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends and to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who took these innocent lives. Cast out hatred from the human heart. Relieve the anguish of disturbed and troubled minds. Deliver us from demonizing and dehumanizing those different from ourselves.
We cry, Lord Christ, as you wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with the demons of his day. We are angry, God, angry at the corrupt powers of this world that prioritize principalities over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he upturned the tables in the temple. Grant us courage and strength to preserve and protect the lives of all God’s children. Turn our tears into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
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