I remember hearing “Amazing Grace” for the first time. I smiled, thought it was pretty, and wondered who the heck Grace was. Why was she so amazing? I remember being more and more confused because soon, Grace didn’t sound like a person anymore. My mind didn’t like that I couldn’t reconcile the fact that a person was being sung about in a way I didn’t understand. It wasn’t until maybe a year or two ago, yes I’m slow I know, that I realized grace is a gift, not a person. They were singing about the grace of God, the miraculous gift I never quite understood. Grace. What an amazing gift. When I finally understood it, I remember how much more meaningful the song became to me. When I finally wrapped my mind around the concept of grace, which I’ve had to do over and over, the song became even more moving. Grace is now the sweetest gift I’ve ever tasted in light of living with mental disorders. When I have a bad day or spout of anxiety, my reactions are not necessarily what you’d call “Christian”. In fact, they’re what I would call horrendous. I am not proud of them, I think they are disgusting. I can’t justify myself yet I have to excuse myself because I know it’s not my fault… yet it’s my chemicals.. my words… my body… you see how it gets complicated. How do I reconcile the fact that it’s not my fault yet it’s my body that produces the chemicals that make me spout anger and hatred? It’s so easy for the enemy to come in and attack me here but it’s also the greatest area God can step in and show me grace.
Grace in this context is received and often not received. When it’s received, it is the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted and I weep every time I take a bite. Forgiveness is the best aftertaste I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. When I have a spout and the person that is at the other end of the barrel loves me even more, my heart aches with the overwhelming glory that comes with grace and also pain that comes with knowing I hurt someone. Forgiveness comes and fills the rest of the open wound. Those people I applaud and love with all of my being. Thank you for being the shining example of grace. Thank you for allowing me to be loved for everything I am, not just the sunshine. Thank you for loving me even though you’ve seen the worst of me. Thank you for not holding anything against me. Thank you for seeing past the ugly and turning the other cheek. Thank you for not making me feel worse. You truly are a shining example of Christ whether or not you know it.
Now for the instances where grace was not received.
Sometimes anger is reciprocated which doesn’t surprise me. I don’t blame you one bit for biting back. It’s hard to stand and bite your tongue when both cheeks are being slapped at the same time. Self-defense is our first natural response. It’s completely normal. You’d be surprised at how much grace people living with mental disorders have. I forgive you. If you use the mental disorders against me as a weapon, the forgiveness will take much longer, but it will come.
Sometimes grace appears to have been given but it comes with a tight smile and a mental decision inside the other person’s mind that you are a messed up person, bad person, someone to never associate with, the list continues. Basically they are cordial around you, will give you that tight smile where their lips kind of curve up but not all the way and their eyes kind of smile with the lips but it looks more like a glare tucked in. As soon as you enter the room, the backs are straightened and the tension can be cut with a knife. You know they’re replaying your worst moment and holding it over your head. You know they’re eyeing you wondering when you’ll snap again. You know they want you gone but have to be polite because that’s America’s standard. You know you’re not welcome and will never be welcome again because their grace was never really yours. Sometimes it’s understandable if they don’t know about your mental disorders but when they do, the blows come even harder. Every stare cuts you to the core, every whisper makes you nervous, being relaxed is nearly impossible and you are on the verge of having an anxiety attack every moment. The trouble is, you have to be nothing but perfect because the second you are less than perfect, you know the weapons will come out and they’ll drop everything they were holding over you and bury you alive, watching you suffocate. These people break my heart. Even now as I type there are several people who come to mind and I can feel the anger rising quickly. It makes me angry that they treat me like I’m a broken chair about to topple. It makes me mad that they smile at me like I’m a wounded puppy learning to walk again. It makes me angry when they ignore me or avoid me after one bad day and don’t talk to me. It makes me mad that they forget who I am because I was less than perfect for but a moment. The thing that hurts the most is that everything we had built up together is erased and forgotten the moment something bad happens. It’s like anxiety and depression somehow got magic powers to over ride everything in my life. It’s like that’s all people see. As soon as mental disorders are seen, nothing else matters; that’s all these people see in you. Don’t tell me you forgive me then treat me like a convict. I hate to say it, but these are the people I have to avoid. It’s not because I don’t love them even though right now it’s nearly impossible, but because these people are putting back into my arms what I’ve already laid down at the cross: shame and guilt.
I can promise you that the shame and guilt you’re sending my way has already been wrestled with, dealt with, cried over and I’m probably still doing all three right now as you’re sending your daggers my way. Asking for help is nearly impossible with mental disorders because of the horrible stigma around it. The fact that I can own up and ask for help and forgiveness is huge. I know it’s impossible for to me to show you the magnitude of pain, difficulty and humility that comes with asking for help and forgiveness but trust me, it’s huge. Bigger than your ego probably. (The angry me inside laughed at that, the more graceful side of me apologizes and swears she tried to erase it but the angry me is pretty strong at the moment) Anyway, please don’t make me pick up what I’ve already laid down. Please don’t send daggers my way, there’s no room for them on my heart because I have put my own daggers there. Please don’t give me that tight lipped smile. Please don’t sit there and stare at me like a wounded puppy because I’m not.
The thing that frustrates me the most is who fits into each of the categories described above. You would think the people that call themselves “Christians”, go to church, read the Bible, the whole show would be the ones I can find refuge in. Isn’t grace what the Bible preaches on anyway? That’s what I thought too! That’s not to say that there aren’t good Christian people out there, there are endless amazing Christians out there, but now I see why the bad rep is associated with religion. The sad truth is, the majority of those “Christians” are the ones with the tight lipped smiles and eyes that tucked a glare in. They’re the ones sitting high and mighty on thrones they built themselves, refusing to see the good yet pretending to be loving on Sunday mornings. Careful, as soon as you step out the church doors, your mental disorders become all they see again. Surprisingly, the people those high and mighty “Christians” call “lukewarm” or not as Christian as they are are the ones I find reaching out the most, forgiving me the fastest, giving grace like it’s all they have to give and loving me as if they’re meeting me for the first time. This isn’t always true, there are always those who don’t have that attitude but I find that those people usually have a curiosity rather than an “I have it all figured out and you’re less than me” attitude. Thank you for being the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Even now, there are so many more names that come into my mind. Thank you that you outnumber the “Christians” who have slammed the door on mine and probably so many other’s faces.
This sad truth makes me really angry. I wish I could focus on the fact that there are so many more good people in the world but I am so afraid that those with mental disorders won’t ever be brave enough to ask for help if they encounter someone that makes them feel like a wounded project with no end in sight. This topic gets me so fired up and I am so angry at how injustice the world seems to be set up. Mental disorders can’t just be shrugged off or “gotten over”. It’s more than a three day cold and invisible. Just because you can’t see it or experience it, doesn’t mean it’s not real. That’s like saying the wind doesn’t exist because you can’t see it or hold it.
I myself am a Christian. I myself have been one of the people who have worn the tight lipped smile with the glare in the eyes. I have picked up what others have laid down and dropped it in their arms. I’ve even gone so far as to stare or use derogatory terms. I have probably destroyed more lives than I have helped. I apologize for all those I have hurt. I was living a masquerade life, pretending I was something I was not: perfect. I thought I knew everything but the truth is I didn’t know anything. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t really know anything but I am figuring it out. It is so hard, let me say that again, SO HARD to sit here and be on the other side. For that, I apologize to those I have hurt. Laying the shame and guilt at the cross, I commit to fighting and standing everyday so mental disorders aren’t so scary, aren’t so taboo, and aren’t so stigmatized. This is the fire burning inside of me. Or maybe it’s anger. I’m not really sure. Either way, I can’t sit here and be comfortable, I want to do something! At least the mask is off and I have officially left the masquerade.