Robin Williams, Suicide, and Faith: Why we need to stand on our desks

Robin Williams kept me company during the first six weeks of my  baby’s life.

As a brand new mother, I was constantly exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t soothe my crying, colicky child. Nights were particularly difficult. Often, I paced endlessly in our tiny family room into the wee hours, bouncing and patting and silently begging my little one to rest.

Mrs. Doubtfire - Das stachelige KindermŠdchen

And, during those long nights, I’d pop Mrs. Doubtfire (the only movie we owned!) into our brand new VCR, and Robin Williams’ creativity and gentleness would soothe me as I tried to soothe my child. Somehow, the hilarity and tenderness in that film seemed to ease the uncertainty I felt as a new mom, and helped me to laugh at myself  even as the anvil of postpartum depression pressed heavily on my chest.

I wasn’t going to blog about his death. In truth, it’s none of my business, and I cannot imagine the grief and agony that surround these circumstances. I didn’t know Mr. Williams personally, so I can’t speculate on his state of mind. However, I read a piece today entitled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.” The title alone alarmed me, and the paragraphs that followed left me enraged, disappointed, and determined to provide a different perspective .

When people are diagnosed with depression, many of them–especially those who are people of faith–will experience guilt. “If I had more faith, I wouldn’t feel this way….If I prayed more effectively, I would be happy again…The Bible says “count it all joy,” but I feel miserable.” 

Therefore, to be told by a prominent Christian writer that “we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression,” creates an ominous sense of failure. The writer intimates that those who ultimately find depression unbearable possess a real weakness in judgment and character: 

“The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it. (Suicide is) The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”

No wonder people with mental health diagnoses stay away from church.

When the Church characterizes mental illness as a weakness in the soul, something that can be prayed away if we have enough faith, we push people away. Good, funny, loving, hard-working, generous people. People like Mr. Williams.

Like my great aunt.

Like my good friend.

Like a colleague.

Like me.

We need to follow the advice Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, gave his students in Dead Poet’s Society. He challenged those boys to gain new perspective, saying, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

dead-poets-society-04

Can you imagine saying, “If you prayed harder, your tumor would go away,” or “Your Multiple Sclerosis seems to stem from a lack of faith. You need to get into the Word.” Of course not. Mental illness is real. It’s not a sign of weakness or faulty character. We need to look at it differently… not only learn facts but to understand the loneliness, unpredictability, and exhaustion.

And, when tragedy occurs, we need to stand on our desks again, and try to understand the excruciating pain and utter desperation. It reminds me of what Firefighter Joe Casaliggi pondered as he watched people jump from the World Trade Center: “I kept thinking, ‘How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?’”

Most of all, we need to look around our neighborhoods and our communities…and yes, within our churches so that we can try to offer encouragement and support to those who are struggling. From a different perspective, we might be able to see who needs a friend, or a lasagna or an afternoon at the movies or help cutting the grass…or just someone to sit with, in silence. And when we speak, we should do so carefully, because, as John Keating told us, “No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

It’s time to take a stand.
Everyone…climb up on your desk.

PS As a rule, I do not care for “open letters,” but this one is an exception…please take the time to read this heartfelt, wise post.

Photo credits: pmcvariety;pubtheologian

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What I Learned at the Surgery Center

Last week, I had a little surgical procedure. No biggie. Just a routine test based on my family’s history of cancer.

And, based on my family’s history of anxiety, I was a little bit nervous.
(Okay, I was in a tizzy…)

So, I decided to make myself feel better by doing what any hypochondriac responsible, proactive patient would do: I turned to the Worldwide Web. I found not only helpful articles, but also videos of the procedure, helping me to know exactly what to expect. In addition, the medical practice has a website, so I could see pictures of the surgery center, equipment and even pictures of all the doctors, nurses and office managers. All of the necessary paperwork was available on the site, too, making preparations easy.

Once at the surgery center, the technology sparkled…state-of-the-art medical equipment, computers and even a luxurious and, I learned, quite expensive, blanket warming cabinet. Technology made everything so much more comfortable, and certainly calmed my anxious mind.

stanfordchildrens.org

stanfordchildrens.org

But it didn’t replace the care and kindness of real, live people.
Not one little bit. Not even close.

Online videos helped, but they couldn’t replace a discussion with my sister (the nurse!). Web-based articles were informative, but paled next to my husband’s steadfast, calm presence. Downloadable forms were convenient, but nothing compared to the nurse’s reassuring words as I woke up, or my friend, Rebecca’s outrageous sense of humor, or the doctor’s rather jolly bedside manner.

In today’s online, web-based, texty, tweety world, we can communicate silently and work independently. We can connect with people all over the world and access information that only a few short years ago, would have only been available at a university library. On microfiche. Technology is a very, very good thing.

But I was reminded, last Tuesday, that I shouldn’t  be so wooed by the speed, convenience and intricacy of technology that I forget that I was created for real-live, warm, honest community.

That blanket, all cozy-warm, fresh from that high-tech cabinet, wouldn’t have meant anything at all without the nurse’s capable hands tucking it around me, squeezing my shoulder as she calmly reassured me: “Everything is just fine.”

britsattheirbest.com

britsattheirbest.com

2013 Stats That Matter Most {to me}

Happy New Year, Friends!

As I write this, the Christmas tree is still fully decorated, and glowing brightly in the next room. I’m not quite ready to pack it all away just yet. The snow is falling quickly outside, making me feel cozy and content on my brown couch. These quiet moments make me feel as though I can slow down time, just a bit, before plunging ahead into a new year. I love the time between New Year’s and the start of school…a few days to savor the quiet and shift into forward motion.

It’s also the time of year when WordPress sends me a lovely, animated email to summarize my blogging statistics from the past year. It’s quite helpful, as it tells me which subjects that appeal to you, my dear readers, and how you find your way to my cozy little cyber-space. Finally, it allows me to celebrate the posts that resonated most, and consider topics for the coming year. Lots of bloggers like to share these kinds of stats as they transition to the year ahead.

I’m going to share statistics with you…but not those. Below are the 2013 statistics that matter most…to me

23 Years of Marriage to my very best friend, (and the most handsome, wise and kind gentleman I know!)
13tomkatie

19 Years with Annie, our college sophomore whose wisdom and intuition inspire me. She is going to be a great teacher.

annietom13

17 years with Bill, our high school junior, who  has displayed sound judgment and strong leadership (and has entertained us greatly, on stage and off…)

(photo cred: Lydea Swit)

(photo cred: Lydea Swit)

4 Days in New York City during the summer…making great memories, seeing two shows, touring museums, and eating HUGE portions of chocolate cake.
nycplane

5 States visited to teach church leaders about how to reach families affected by disabilities. (Furthest: NEBRASKA!!) As always, l learned more than I taught, and I met the most wonderful, funny, talented people…and laughed until my sides hurt.
accesscf13

1 publishing contract…which means 1 step closer to accomplishing a lifelong goal of writing a book. (Special thanks to my mom, who always believed I could do it, and to Mrs. Manley, my fourth grade teacher who gave me extra time for creative writing.)

bookcontract

3 generations in my living room during Thanksgiving break.
13thanksgivingpapagrammie

1 Completely Awesome Day when THIS happened…
13katierebeccaplane

12 years with Mitzie. Seriously. The best dog in the universe.
mitzietigerprep

1 Great God…from whom all blessings flow.

joytree

Wishing you JOY, my friends, and a new year FILLED with statistics worth remembering.

Love,

Katie