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 Should I Take to the IEP Meeting?

It’s a question I get every year…

Parents, wanting  to set the stage for a positive, productive planning session, will ask, “Should I take cookies to the IEP* meeting?”

My answer? “Sure…if you feel like baking or stopping by the market to get a treat for the team…”

And then I tell them some things they’ll really need…
Parent_Teacher_Conference

Take a picture of your child. Some of the staff  may not have met your son or daughter…and even if they have, it’s easier to discuss goals and objectives when we remember that we’re talking, not about policies, but about a person.

Take information from your child’s doctor or therapist. Many parents tell me that they don’t want the school to know their child is getting therapy to address behavior concerns or taking medicine for a mental health issue. In most cases, though, the teachers can better understand and help when they have ALL the information. It feels risky, but sharing this information can result in better continuity of care for your child.

Take a calendar. Planning often requires follow-up. Take your calendar with you to schedule future meetings or remind yourself to follow through on anything the school has asked of you.

Take your dreams. At the beginning of the meeting, the team will begin to discuss future plans for your child.  Share your hopes…and be willing to accept feedback on realistic ways to help your child achieve these long-range goals.

Take your fears. When a child needs special education services, many parents experience tremendous anxiety, as new questions bubble to the surface…”Will my child be able to read? Will he have any friends? Will she be able to get a job someday?” Sharing those fears with the school team can make you feel vulnerable, but it helps  them understand some of your reasons for wanting certain services.

Take your tears. So many parents tell me, “I read a bunch of articles, so I know that I DEFINITELY shouldn’t cry…I’m afraid I’ll break down, though…” I’m not sure why this has become standard advice; in my estimation, it lacks wisdom. No one likes to cry at a meeting, (and some folks just aren’t criers. That’s okay!) If you do get teary, know this:  Those tears  help you release and communicate grief, anger, and sorrow. Let them flow. They’re born of a great love for your child.

Take a friend. Or your spouse, or an advocate. It’s hard to listen to everything when you’re nervous.  Having someone accompany you allows you to process what happened after the meeting is over. (Be sure to tell the school ahead of time if you’re inviting a guest…it’s just good manners.)

Take your front teeth. You might need them to bite your tongue, if someone says something inaccurate or insensitive. Also take phrases like, “Can you help me understand why you would say that?” or “Would you care to put that in writing so that I can reflect on that later?” Those phrases can help to refocus the meeting. (And, as a back-up, take your humility…because you might say something you wish you hadn’t, too.)

parentteacherconf

Take your heart and head. Your love for and knowledge of your child is a tremendous asset. Don’t underestimate your ability to convey how your child’s unique strengths can be valued.

Take your faith. As you plan, remember that your child was created for a purpose by a King whose love will never, ever fail.

So, there you have it…Those are the things you’ll need for your meeting.
They’ll go great with the cookies.

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*Individualized Education Plan
Photo credits: thechristianacademy.org;engagenkcschools.com

 

 

 

 

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