Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Inked!!

Henna does not hurt.

Partying like it was 1999 – which it was – I spent a little sliver of my sabbatical at Venice Beach. I stayed with my new age, hipster, therapist friend Carey. We went rollerblading. We got our hair braided into a thousand little braids. We got our picture taken with a few outrageous costumed personalities. And we got “tattooed”.

I got a little tiny henna shamrock on my left shoulder.

It did not hurt.

Back home, I would slip my shoulder out of my sleeve and show it off. I showed it off to my kids. I showed it off to my coworkers. I showed it off at church.

“O my God!” people squealed, “Is it real?”

I’d smile slyly and then reveal the truth – the half truth.

“Yes, it’s real, at least for a little while until the shower washes it away.”

My shoulder did itch though. It itched for the real thing.

So on that same Sabbath break, on pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle, on the next to last day of my stay – I walked into a Dublin tattoo parlor. Cheered on by fellow pilgrims – both on my left and on my right – I bravely went forward to get the real deal.

“Could I please get a little green shamrock on my shoulder?”

“Sorry, mam, no appointments today. How about tomorrow?”

My shoulders slumped.

“Tomorrow? I’m leaving on a jet plane tomorrow. Don’t know when I will ever get back to Dublin again. Maybe I’ll get one when I get back home.”

Maybe.

Landed safely stateside, I told my friends this story. I told my coworkers this story. I told my kids this story – the story of the almost shamrock tattoo.

And I told it so many times over so many years, that my kids grew  sick and tired of hearing it. So sick and tired, they decided to put a stop to it once and for all.

Christmas, 2011, they gave me the real deal as a gift. And January of 2012 we all went together to JinksProof Tattoo. Zach and Colleen watched as the artist stitched a little four leaf clover on my left shoulder.

It hurt.

First they outlined it. Then they colored it in. Needle worked into my skin, my little shamrock is shorthand for who I am:

A Celtic soul.

Bipolar Boudica.

Druidic priestess.

Earth mother of four.

Rebel with a cause.

Squeamish of needles –

or something like that.

But this outward and visible sign is tattooed where I can discretely hide it away. I can cover it up with a sweater, a shawl, or a blouse – and choose to show it only to those I choose —  a game of peek-a-boo of sorts.

And this is our family rule when it comes to tattoos.

Just one, tasteful and discrete.

Rebecca, my earth mother eldest,raised under a different roof,  broke this rule, I believe.

Colleen, my social justice child has a little peace dove on her foot.

Zach, my film maker son, has Elvis’s TCB Lightning bolt branded on his arm.

Jacob, my youngest, has considered getting a falcon (maybe the Millennium Falcon?) on which part of his person I am not sure.

Just one and we are done. Well, not quite.

In my electronic inbox July 15, 2015, at 10:51 pm to be exact, my colleague Chuck MCoart sent me a link to a piece in the Huffington Post. No message, just “Possible blog post idea” in the subject line.

So I clicked on the link and up comes a  story about a tattoo. A very special tattoo. A semicolon. There is a picture of a young woman with one tattooed to her wrist. Her name is Amy Bluel and she founded The Semicolon Project.

inked-photos.jpg

A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.”

Amy got the first tattooed semicolon  when she lost her father to suicide in 2013. She was jut 18.  Amy in her young life has experienced far more than her share of pain. She is a survivor of the foster care system, sexual abuse and has lived with depression, darkness, and her own attempts at self harm.

But she says it was her father’s suicide “that brought more pain to my life than anything I have ever experienced.”

It could have been her end too.

Period.

But instead Amy chose the semicolon. She chose to go on and she founded the Semicolon Project “a faith based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

A great idea for a blog post! But in all honesty I couldn’t blog about it unless I honestly got one myself.

Because in all honesty, about a dozen year ago my own bipolar brain was clouded by such darkness. I know what it’s like to want to put a big black period at the end of my sentence. To go to sleep, say goodnight, hoping not to wake up anymore.

Joani Peaoock. The End. Period. Goodbye.

But alleluia, I did not. I paused before making a complete and final stop. I punctuated my life with a semicolon – so many semicolons – and I have gone on. By the grace of God and the blessings of meds and therapy, and the company of a hundred friends, and the love of my children, and valuable work, involvement with the community – I am still here. Marvelously, gratefully, jubilantly still here.

So I got one that very July 15, 2015 afternoon. I walked into Great Southern Tattoo and got a little black semicolon on my wrist, a little outward and visible sign of hope and healing. I got one so that I will always remember and never forget — the joy of waking up each and every day – no matter how lousy that day might be.

I got it to remember that every single day is a Holy Day.

And yes, it did hurt; to hurt is human; to hurt is essential to being fully alive.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Emmanuel is screening Ed Hardy:Tattoo the World, Sunday, January 28th at 6:00 PM. This 75 minute film explores the history of tattoos while telling the story of the filmmaker’s life — one of the most consequential contemporary tattoo artists. Come for popcorn, librations and a great discussion. 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA 22301.


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A Response to the Bishop of Georgia’s E-Crozier Post on the Death of Robin Williams from an Openly Bipolar Cleric

bishop's purple mitre

Introduction: After reading the Bishop of Georgia’s E-Crozier post on the death of Robin Williams (printed in its entirety below) I was dumbstruck. As a mental health evangelist I could not help but respond with the following words:
Bishop Benhase,

My name is the Rev. Joani Peacock. I have been 20 years ordained and 10 years bipolar and balanced. I consider myself a “mental health evangelist” and I advocate for mental health education for all. I serve at Emmanuel Russell Rd in Alexandria, VA. I also am on staff at the library at Virginia Seminary. I have sponsored mental health forums on campus and am working with the administration to bring Mental Health First Aid Training on campus in the spring for the VTS community. 20% of all of us live with a mental health issue. 50% of us will in the course of our lives. Mental illness is an organic illness. Untreated mental illness is a deadly disease. We would never blame someone for dying of cancer because our culture considers cancer a “real” disease. Blaming someone who succumbs to the darkness of depression for taking their own life is beyond belief. Your post about Robin William’s death I find deeply disturbing for a Bishop of the Church.

You say that you have compassion for those who live with clinical depression yet it is apparent you actually know very little about the nature of mental illness. You applaud Robin William’s gifts as an entertainer but you fail to understand that his genius was fueled by the manic brilliance of his bipolar disorder. The cost of such brilliance was the depths of depression that led him to take his own life. That you label his act of desperation as “selfish” I find abhorrent. It is also exceedingly irresponsible to send this out to your diocese. Because of entrenched stigma around mental illness in our country, it is exceedingly difficult for people who have a mental health issue to seek help. 60% of those with mental illness never receive any treatment at all. In your post you offered no words of encouragement to your clergy or to parishioners about how to seek help. Instead you chose to label the dying person as selfish. I find this unconscionable. I strongly encourage you to take the time to educate yourself and your diocese. There are excellent resources at NAMI.org<http://NAMI.org&gt; (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), DBSA.org<http://DBSA.org&gt; (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) and Mentalhealthfirstaid.org<http://Mentalhealthfirstaid.org&gt;.

To eradicate such stereotypes and ignorance in the church I have come out of this particular closet to tell “Tales of a Manic Christian” from the first person point of view. Bipolar disorder is the gift that keeps giving in my family. The tales are often humorous and disarming but they are also exceedingly honest and hopefully enlightening. Hopefully reaching others who have similar stories to tell. So as a “mental health evangelist” I share them with you as well.

I ask you too in the name of the compassionate Christ who set the Gerasene Demoniac free, to take down your post on E-Crozier. And I pray you may reach out in compassion in a future post to those who live with mental illness.

Respectfully,

The Rev. Joani Peacock

 

The Bishop of Georgia’s E-Crozier Post of August 29,2014

Robin Williams, My Friend, & The Selfishness of Suicide (eCrozier #229)
On August 29, 2014,  by bishopbenhase
A lot’s been written already about Robin Williams’ suicide. Here, I’m less concerned with a hagiography of Mr. Williams or any analysis of the all too real problem of clinical depression in our society. Of the former, let me just say that he was a brilliant performer who brought much joy to millions of people, including me. Of the latter, all I can say is that far too many people suffer alone with such soul-deep depression and the disease’s very nature often dissuades people from seeking the help they desperately need.

But I’m more concerned here in the reactions I read from many people after Mr. Williams’ suicide. My hunch is that most people’s reactions were an effort to be kind or maybe helpful or, as Monty Python might sing, they were trying to “always look on the bright side of life.” Their reactions, however, probably masked their own unease with death, and particularly, with suicide. Many of the comments made, however, were at best not helpful, or at worst, theologically problematic. Let me explain.

I heard many comments that basically said something like: “Well, now the pain he endured for so long is lifted and he’s at peace.” I know such statements were an effort by some people to make suicide theologically intelligible, but to a person presently suffering soul-deep depression and hearing such statements, it’s actually an invitation to imitate Mr. Williams’ act. Their thinking could well go: “If so many people think that’s the way he found peace, then maybe that’s the way I can find peace, too.” Like I said, it’s theologically problematic, for suicide doesn’t bring peace to the living.

I had a dear friend who committed suicide four years ago. Like Mr. Williams, he was brilliant. His brilliance, however, was in a different vocation. He was a palliative care physician. The irony of his life was that he could relieve everyone’s pain but his own (like Mr. Williams who brought so many people joy without finding joy himself). My friend knew he had many people who loved him dearly. I don’t know what was going through his mind and soul when he chose suicide. Clearly, he was in emotional and spiritual pain. Maybe he thought his suicide was an act of love and kindness to us who loved him? It was not. His act was neither loving nor was it kind. It was selfish. I know that sounds harsh, but I believe it to be true.

What my friend needed and still needs from me isn’t the cheap grace and absolution of the well-intended “well, I guess he’s at peace now.” No, what he still needs from me is my forgiveness for what he did to himself and to those who loved him. This in no way diminishes the deep pain he suffered or the pain anyone else suffers when they experience soul-deep depression. It’s merely to say that the solution they choose deeply hurts the people who love them. And such hurt, we must know, breaks God’s heart. Yet, with all I know to be true, God’s broken heart is strong enough to envelope the life of Robin Williams and my beloved friend. It’s strong enough for the entire hurting human race. And God’s broken heart is strong enough to hold our grief and anger when those we love take their own lives. After all, God isn’t a stranger to death. We worship the crucified, yet Living God.

+Scott

The Bishop very kindly responded but retracted nothing of what he said.  So dear friends, I leave it to my readers to decide.

Wednesday, September 3 is #Act4MentalHealth Day sponsored by NAMI. Its a day to donate, educate and advocate for the mentally ill. If you are so moved please write to the Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase at bishop@gaepiscopal.org.

And here is a bit of good news. An excerpt of E-Crozier was posted on TLC. After receiving my request to take it down, The Living Church has responded with compassion and posted my August 14 piece: “Lost in Space — Maybe, Lost to God — Never.”

The church of all places should be a haven of healing and hope. Let’s pray that it be so.

JoaniSign