Wednesday, October 26, 2005


This is a poem written by a young lady from Texas. I thought it said alot about learning to Dream Again.

Here I stand,
All alone,
My soul sucked out,
My weakness shown.
The river of pain,
Flow through my veins.
My eyes filled with hatred,
My heart filled with sorrow.
Hope to God,
It'll be better tomorrow.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


To be profoundly rooted may be our single greatest need. I know that I feel the need to be connected. It seems to grow as I age. It has never seemed easy for me to find a place to call home. I am sure some of it is due to moving many times over the years. When I read or hear of someone being in the same small town or even in the same house all their lives, my heart hurts.

My illness has also played a part in me feeling rejected and like an outsider. The illness (bipolar disorder) itself has built in inhibitors like depression which keeps you from wanting to socialize and mania which keeps people from wanting to be around you. There is also the fear people have of being around people with mental illness. The fear that comes from us being portrayed so often in the media as violent and the fear they feel when face to face with mental illness of the madness in their own minds.

As the downsizing of state mental hospitals started taking place, folks were placed in the community. We were suppose to be better off in the community than in the hospitals. Almost a half century since the big move to downsize the hospitals began, mental health professionals have not even come close to facilitating the results that the big “into the community” movement promised.

Most of us still live lives very much alone and in poverty. We may have our meds, our monthly visit to the psychiatrist and most of us, but certainly not all, have a roof over our heads. Is this what being rooted means? Is this what being part of the community means?

Mental health professionals have written about natural supports as a way to help us make a place for ourselves in the community. The have written about supported education, employment and housing. There are two problems here. First, there is nothing natural about most of the things they write about natural supports. Second, the supported education, employment and housing programs have been funded at such a low level, if at all, that they support almost none of us.

To be truly rooted takes the natural supports found in family and friends. Takes having a place to live you can call home and not just a shared room in a program. Takes being able to get an education so you can get a job with the dignity of a paycheck. Takes even being able to take a vacation like normal folks.

It is not hard to describe natural supports or what truly being rooted in the community means, but it seems hard for those helping us to figure out how to help us get there. Is it because they view our dreams as impossible? Are our dreams too expensive for society to help us reach?

There isn’t any doubt that low expectations on the part of some of the professionals, friends and family members who work with and help us is a hindrance to our dreams, but the truth is we may be the biggest roadblock. To dream again you must feel worthy and able to reach towards the sky. Some of us don’t think we deserve anything but dirt in our faces. Others of us think we are too disabled. What we think and feel matters more than any other factor in whether we can learn to dream again.

When I first came out of the closet, so to speak, and began working on mental health issues in 1988, I had already had a diagnosis for over 20 years. I had been locked away in mental hospitals for months at a time. I was in my second marriage and it was a mess. I had held almost 50 different jobs in a span of 22 years. Nothing about my life was rooted. From that viewpoint I tried to determine what would help folks like me the most. I answered the question, but soon went on to other things.

The answer was that if I and my fellow sojourners could feel the love of the Creator then we could learn to dream again because with the Creator all things are possible. That is why I believe the best place to find natural supports is in the faith communities. If you want to help us to become rooted, help us find the arms of the Creator. In that embrace is the natural support needed to dream again. Dreaming again is the beginning of becoming rooted. Being rooted is our greatest desire. We all can reach it with some support. It is natural to need support. We all do.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Prisoner of Fear

When you live with a mental illness or have a person you love living with one, you become very aware of how the world looks at the issue. In one way or the other mental illness touches every life in this country and around the world. Mental illnesses are not rare. They are not just diseases of the poor. They strike at all levels of society and all races. Why then do we seem to have more trouble reaching out to the mentally ill than to folks stricken with other ailments? Because we all seem to fear going crazy even more than being diagnosed with cancer. It is this personal fear that makes us want to look away from a person suffering from mental illness as though they might give it to us.

I have been diagnosed with a mental illness and I know the fear that strikes my heart when I think my mind will not work well enough to get me through what I have to do. My broken brain and the madness of my mind have caused me to withdraw many times from the world around me. I fear being thought of as crazy. I fear the failure that might come if I get sick at the wrong time. I don’t even try things that I could do because of the fear that in the middle of them my brain and mind will fail me. I am a prisoner of my fear.

I believe the world fears me and folks like me because we remind them of how close they walk on the edge of madness themselves. I wish we were more welcome, but we are not. Not even in most faith communities. The following words of Pope John Paul II says how it should be, but the painful truth is that we are far from this wonderful ideal.

"[The Church] reminds the political community of its duty to recognize and celebrate the divine image of man with actions that support and serve all those who find themselves in a condition of severe mental illness. This is a task which science and faith, medicine and pastoral care, professional skill and a sense of common brotherhood must help to carry out through an investment of adequate human, scientific and socio-economic resources...
Whoever suffers from mental illness 'always' bears God's image and likeness in himself, as does every human being. In addition, he 'always' has the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such.
It is everyone's duty to make an active response; our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude..."
-- Pope John Paul II, International Conference for Health Care Workers, on Illnesses of the Human Mind, November 30, 1997

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Who Decides?

An Associated Press piece, Vienna Austria, written by Danica Kirka starts out, “Johann Gross survived three years of Nazi laboratory experiments under an extermination program that called for snuffing out 'worthless lives.' That trauma shapes the Austrian's view of Terri Schiavo’s death. 'No people in the world have the right to kill another. It's murder,'said Gross, 75, while visiting an exhibit on wartime experiments at a Vienna psychiatric hospital. 'It's the same as the Nazis did." Gross' reaction may seem extreme, but there are many in Austria and Germany whose attitudes toward euthanasia are clouded by Hitler's horrors.' ”

What were some of the experiments like? Later in that same AP story we read, “With the approaching 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the experiments on children are being remembered in two exhibits in Vienna. Gross will take part in a ceremony later this month honoring 400 children slain by the Nazis at a city clinic. Gross was sent to the Spiegelgrund clinic as a child because he was judged asocial and because his father was missing a hand. He said he was given injections into his feet that made it impossible for him to move for weeks unless he crawled.”

In the "Psychiatric Bulletin" (24:347) of The Royal College of Psychiatrists the following is found. “The 11th International Congress of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) was held in Hamburg during August 1999. The most memorable feature of the successful event was not the presence of 10 000 psychiatrists from 96 countries, nor their 6000 papers, nor the elegance of the rebuilt city, but a poignant exhibition prepared by the German Society for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology. The presentation, titled ‘In Memoriam’, described the wartime extermination within Germany of 180 000 psychiatric patients. The killers were their psychiatrists.”

I could have been among those selected because manic-depression or bipolar illness was among the two top psychiatric disorders selected as criteria for death. What does this have to do with today? Well as a disabled person who has often been viewed as not up to par, I have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when the world is having a discussion about when life is worth supporting.

In our world today we value some lives more than others. Children in Zimbabwe where I grew up as a missionary kid do not seem to hold the same value as a child living in the suburbs of Atlanta. Poor people do not seem to have the same value placed on their lives as rich folks. The disabled not the same as the well.

Who decides? What do they use as a measuring stick? That is the real problem. The only stick we have is the one we use to beat each other up with. What we really need is to decide there isn’t a need to measure each other, but rather only the need to embrace the life in each of our fellow sojourners.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stigma Remains Alive and Well

My wife and I were standing on the front porch the other day looking out over the yard. It was covered in dandelions and small wild violets. I thought the color they added to the green made the yard beautiful and said so. She replied that most people who care about their lawns would not think it was beautiful. I think she thought it was though.

I understand it is not normal to want what people consider weeds in your yard. In fact, they sell chemicals to control and stop the growth of anything but the grass. My yard is not normal, but to me it is beautiful. It is what is naturally there and the color brings a smile to my face.

I have never been considered a normal person. My mind has always been full of weeds. I take chemicals to control their growth. I am not saying I should not try to control the madness of my mind, but sometimes I wish that the chronically normal people of this world saw more beauty in me and folks like me.

Those of us with a severe mental illnesses are not welcome in most places just like the dandelions and wild violets are not welcome in most lawns. Even places like mental health centers and hospitals, where people are suppose to be trained to work with us, have a hard time learning to treat us with respect and dignity. I spent years in south Florida doing what they call “consumer sensitivity training” trying to help professionals see us as fully human.

You may think I am making a big deal out of nothing. You may think that the stigma of mental illness has almost been done away with by all the education done by groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. You would be wrong. Ask most people with a mental illness or their family and they will tell you. Stigma is strong. It remains alive and well.

My prayer is that someday we will be welcomed in faith communities, at schools and in the workplace with the respect and dignity we deserve. That we will no longer be considered weeds, but seen for the beauty each one of us have no matter how different we may be. That day will not come too soon for me and my fellow sojourners and their families.


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Wednesday, April 06, 2005


With the death of Pope John Paul II, I have started thinking more about my own faith and spiritual life. Even though I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church which in my youth taught us to believe the Pope was in league with the devil, I have come to love this Pope. The strength of his faith as he faced death is to be admired. I think the world will miss this man.

Another man who faced death with more courage, dignity and faith than I could imagine was my brother-in-law. Tom Edwards had spent his life as a minister, missionary and writer among other things, but it was the way he faced his own death that made his life stand out to me. He emailed me often before he died. We had never been that close really, but his emails were a ministry to me during one of my deep depressions. How he found it in his heart to minister to me as he faced his own death is still a mystery to me.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tom had faith in his own salvation and in the God he had served all his life. I have heard him preach about faith and belief, but his all time best sermon in my mind was the way he faced his own death. It was with a certainty I had never seen before and have not seen since in a person that I knew personally.

Maybe Tom Edwards and John Paul are meeting in heaven right now. What will they discuss? Of course I really have no idea, but maybe they will chat about why some of us have such a hard time with faith.

I started preaching in my early teens while in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, with my parents who were missionaries there. I was last in a pulpit over a decade ago speaking about the need for the church to reach out to folks like me who suffer from a mental illness. Do I believe anything? Am I a person of faith?

Among other things Tom’s faith helped him face his own death. My faith has kept me alive. Since a child I have been suicidal. Sometimes I have been locked away in a hospital, but the real thing that has kept me alive when I most wanted to kill myself was my faith. I have just enough faith and belief not to risk making God mad at me by killing myself. Not enough to live by, but too much to die with. Maybe someday I will have enough faith to face the day of my death with the dignity of Tom and John Paul.


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Monday, April 04, 2005


Terri Schiavo’s death hit me harder than I thought it would. I had followed the story for years and thought I had come to terms with the issues and knew what I thought about them. By the time I heard she had finally died, I no longer felt so certain of my views. Now I am sure I am certain of nothing about it at all.

At first I was convinced that only her husband had the right to make decisions for her. I suppose I came to this conclusion because I would want my wife making the decisions for me if I could not make them for myself. I would not want others trying to interfere with my wife. I felt very sure of this.

Also, I was confident that I would not want to live in a persistent vegetative state with strangers handling my body like it was a sack of potatoes. My own certainty on this matter made me convinced that Terri would not either. Of course like most other people with opinions on this, I had never even laid eyes on Terri in person much less heard her state her wishes about the matter.

Too, I was convinced that she would feel no pain as she died because she had so much brain damage that she was unaware of herself and her surroundings. Then a single phrase in Time magazine stopped me dead in my tracks. To the question “Does a person in a vegetative state suffer after nutrition and hydration have been withdrawn? No one knows for certain, of course, what it feels like to be unaware__” (Time, April 4, 2005)

Yes, no one knows for sure. Not me. Not you. Not the medical experts. How could I have been so sure of something no one could be sure of? That is the question we all should be answering.

This is what I think I know. We should always err on the side of life. My wife tried to make me understand this each time we discussed it. I was trying to make big philosophical points like how to determine when a person was dead. My wife was trying to make the point that life was too important not to be sure. We should be sure.


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Friday, March 18, 2005

The Bonsai Lives Among the Small Wildflowers

If you had asked me a couple of years back what my favorite tree was, I would have answered a bonsai. I thought the twisted and dwarfed trees were like my soul. If you ask me today, I will tell you a big beech tree that is next to the barn on the farm my wife and I bought when we moved to the hills of eastern Kentucky. Why the change? Because I am rewriting my story.

Robert Penn Warren, a Pulitzer Prize winner in both fiction and poetry and a Kentucky native, wrote in one of his novels the following, “all men are looking for their story”. He is right. We all want to know who we are. I have decided that the person who gets to define me is I.

If by meeting me or by reading these blogs or even by living with me as my wife does, you decide you know some facts about me and make a story about me from them that is your right. It is also my right to decide if I agree with your story. I am the ultimate author of the story of my soul.

A few years ago a therapy based on the idea of rewriting your own story was getting lots of press. I never went to a therapist trained in the technique, but I believe in the concept that only the individual has the rights to their story.

What if my grandpa got to decide who I was? He had decided when I was a kid that I was his sex toy. Should the fact that I was sexually abused as a boy be the entire story? What if my diagnosis was the only part of the story ever told? I would be bipolar only.

Only by my writing the story can all of it come out. It will be my reality that defines me. I may listen to others, but I will decide who I am. It will be good when my story is the food for my soul. When I can take the knowledge I gained as a bonsai and bring forth a seedling which might grow into a tall tree and grow old in the community of the forest.

You need a safe place to rewrite the story of your soul. It takes courage to wade into the dark waters, but a swim in your soul is the only thing that can heal your heart.

The thing we do not seem to know is that in your soul along with the bonsai trees are small wildflowers. They are from the seeds planted each time someone smiled at you or gave you a hug. They are all there waiting for you to look upon them.

When you look at the bonsai don’t be sad, but rather celebrate the strength seen in that little tree. Thank the bonsai for bearing your pain but never giving in to it. The bonsai lives among the small wildflowers.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

You Can Keep All the Gold

I HUNGER for the ONE
by Ed Cooper

I hunger for the bread,
I never seem to find.
For the food to keep me going,
When no one seems kind.

I hunger to be held,
For arms in which to sleep.
To be brought into the fold,
So as not to remain a lost sheep.

I hunger for solidarity,
To learn again to be bold.
I you will simply include me,
You can keep all the gold.

I hunger for the One,
By Whom all was done.


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Friday, March 11, 2005


For years now the idea is to move disabled folks out of institutions into the community. “In the community” and “mainstream” are the terms used by those who consider themselves progressive and compassionate.

It has worked in varying degrees. Some folks have felt themselves come alive and some have felt rejected. It is not the same game for all. Not even the same rules. The thought that all of us no matter how disabled or not can live together in community with one another is indeed a wonderful thought. Each contributing what they can. Each receiving what they require for a honorable and healthy life. It is a beautiful thought, but it has a major flaw. All people are not willing to welcome folks who are not like themselves.

I recently moved onto a farm in eastern Kentucky with my wife. It is on a creek outside of a small mountain town. Most of the people living on this creek have lived here for years and their families before them. We have been here almost a year. We still have not been invited to the Baptist church that was originally built on land belonging to the farm we now own. It is almost close enough to our house to throw a rock at. People walk and drive by our house to go to this community church at least three times a week and sometimes four. We are outsiders and will remain so for the rest of our lives. We were not born on this creek. Simple as that. If they knew I had a major mental illness, my imagination is that it would even be worse.

The bottom line is that I have not felt part of a community in years. It has been at least 35 years since I felt part of a faith community. I was a volunteer consumer mental health advocate (consumer meaning I receive services) for years, but never really found a home. I never felt at home in family groups even though I have mentally ill family members. I never fit any consumer group well. They either said there was no such thing as mental illness or pushed medication too hard. It may just be me, but it may be that it is harder for us to become a part of the community than the progressive thinkers imagine.

In a recent article I read the words “temporarily able”. I can’t remember the writer’s name or I would give credit. I did not coin the term, but it has a powerful punch. If everyone could remember at anytime they might become disabled then “in the community” and “mainstream” would take on a new meaning. We would be welcome.


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Monday, March 07, 2005

I Wonder Who I AM

As a child I wondered what was wrong. As an adult I knew I was different. Now I am 56 and wonder who I am.

I know I have bipolar disorder which means my brain works different. It can race at times or be so slow I can hardly move. Medication keeps the highs and lows mostly level in my life today. I take the medications mostly because my wife so badly fears another manic episode. The last one about five years ago was maybe the worst of my life. I was both manic and suicidal which meant I had the energy to carry out my plan. When my brain is slow and I am in deep depression, I don’t seem to have the energy to carry out any suicidal plan. It was the last time I was locked away on a mental health unit and I am compliant with my medications now.

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I really have made little headway in repairing the destruction this caused. It was both sexual and violent. It was my grandpa. It was not a single event. It was many times. Each time taking a deeper bite out of my soul. Now at times it is hard to find my soul at all.

This is not a poor me piece. I am not alone. There are many of me across this land. We need places to get help, but instead services are being cut. Even our soldiers returning from war can’t get timely mental health care. State government is cutting back services across the country. They are even giving contracts for care to for-profit companies. Nothing in my mind is more vulgar than running a company for profit on the pain of broken brains.

We as sojourners, people suffering from a major mental illness, need to reach out to each other. I know that when I do something for someone else I feel better about my own life. Being kind to another human is great therapy for one’s own soul.

Faith communities and other natural support systems are the key to better lives for all of us. We do need a mental health system so don’t say I don’t think we do, but we need more. We need to be part of the community through natural supports. That is why for so many years I have cried out for faith communities to embrace us. Many people are working toward this goal, but it takes all of us working toward the end.

I wonder who I am, but this I know. If I felt welcome in a community of people , it would go a long way to answering the question. How about helping to open the doors.
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Friday, March 04, 2005


My father who was an educator, missionary and minister wrote the following words before his death in 1989.

“We experienced great disappointment and frustration that our child with outstanding ability was unable to cope in work or school. It was difficult during the earlier years of his illness to differentiate between his mental illness and adolescent behavior. We felt some of our friends and colleagues did not accept us in the usual manner because of our son’s behavior, that they considered us less respectable because of a non-conforming member of the family. The mentally ill and their families have a special need for people to befriend them, not in sympathy but in understanding and support. .......... There were times we did not know where Edward was, even for weeks. We wondered whether he had food or shelter, and even whether he was alive. It was very difficult for me to swallow food, not knowing whether he had anything to eat. .......... When Ed was at home we would lie awake at night and listen, for fear he would get up and try to leave. Once when i found him on the street and brought him home, he did not even recognize the house, and he said he did not have a key when he suggested that he go into the room where he usually slept. We offered him coffee and he said he didn’t have any money to pay for it. ............ One of the most painful experiences was visiting him on a locked ward in a hospital and hearing the door being locked behind us as we left without being able to take him home with us. ....... A few months ago Edward told us about the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. We found out about groups meeting in our area and started attending monthly meetings of two of these support groups. Until then we felt isolated, knowing no one else personally who shared our problems and feelings. ........ Our son has made us more aware than ever of the spiritual needs of the mentally ill and their families. There is stigma and a lack of knowledge concerning mental illness to be overcome. Stigma must be erased and replaced with compassion.. It is not easy to stand before my peers and state that I have a son who is mentally ill and that we should have a ministry in our church to help alleviate the stigma and to reach out in love and compassion to the mentally ill and their families as we do when someone has a physical illness. I must continue to do so, and so must others if this problem of neglect is to be addressed with the emphasis and implementation that it deserves.”

I think this piece has a lot to say. It is not his complete version, but important parts I have shared. I am rather sure he never grew proud of me, but he came to better terms about having a son with mental illness before he died. The church he was a leader in never did start a ministry and he made few presentations on the subject.
The point of sharing this is to say how very hard it is on everyone. Mental Illness is no walk in the park. A broken brain and a shattered soul needs a home. A place to be embraced.


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Tuesday, March 01, 2005


It is not hard to believe in a creator or grand designer. Most of us don’t have any trouble looking at our wonderful and beautiful planet and believing it was created rather than just happened. The harder questions come when we start trying to decide if the creator is involved in our lives on a personal level.

Every person has the right to his or her own answer and I certainly do not claim to have the ultimate truth on this subject. As a youth I grew up in the church and was taken to the mission field as a kid. My parents were missionaries in Zimbabwe which at the time we went (1960) was called Rhodesia. I even went into the pulpit and started preaching as a young teen. The point here is that I have been taught the teachings of the Bible and have even taught them myself. I have read some about other religions, but not as much as I should have. However, I have been exposed at some level from the fundamentalist faith of my fathers to the ancestral worship of the Shona people in southern Africa.

What do I believe if it matters? I believe in a creator. I believe the creator is involved in our lives. What I don’t know with any certainty in my own heart is just how much and to what degree. The older I get, I am 56 now, the more I want to be certain the creator is waiting for me on the other side. In fact, being raised a Christian I want to believe Jesus is waiting for me. The problem is that I am not sure.

People say to me well it only takes your faith. Just believe. I did believe. I believed as a young boy when my grandfather sexually and physically abused me in the barn on his farm in eastern Kentucky. I cried out to the Jesus of my Sunday school to come rescue me. He never came. For many years he never came. I stopped praying. I stopped believing.

I am no longer looking for the Jesus of my Sunday school. As an adult I realize horrible things happen to people every day in this world. I am now seeking a more mature understanding that includes both the pain and the wonders of this life.

Houston Smith, author of “Religions of the World” along with many other books and articles, said on a show I was watching that we may be like people in a balloon shinning flashlights around inside of it not knowing what was beyond the thin skin of the balloon. I want to know what is outside the balloon. My mind and heart is opening to a new reality. The reality outside the balloon.


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Friday, February 25, 2005

Well Damn Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. You may never have heard of this writer. Some of his books you may have heard of. He wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You might have seen the film adaptation of it with Johnny Depp playing Hunter. You might know him from one of his magazine articles. When I saw the headlines I did not remember Hunter. The first account of his death made him and his writing sound so interesting I wanted to get some of his books. Then a couple of days later I read another story about him. It said that at the time he shot himself his son, daughter-in-law and 6 year old grandson was in the house. His wife was away at a health club it said. Well damn Hunter S. Thompson!!!!

He was a very selfish person. How do I know this when I had never heard of him before. Because suicide is a selfish act and to do it while your 6 year old grandson is visiting you takes the top prize.
I have lived most of my life not wanting to live. I have fought with suicidal thoughts while both extremely depressed and while riding the high of a manic episode. Having bipolar disorder means that if you are suicidal it can be when you are either up or down. For me it is safer when I am down. When I am depressed I don’t have the energy to kill myself. When I am manic I do have the energy. More than I need in fact. My last hospitalization was caused by me being manic and suicidal at the same time.

You can debate whether I have the right to kill myself or should I be stopped by the state or others, but you can’t debate that it is a selfish act. Philosophically I do believe a person has the right and I don’t agree the state should lock me up against my will to stop me. That being said. If I killed myself it would be selfish because people love me. So really I don’t think I have the right to kill myself. Which means I will continue to write these blogs.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2005


We all seem to have the need to be rooted. To belong to something larger than ourselves. At times we do very destructive things in order to be part of the group. Can you imagine never feeling like you belonged? Never feeling like you were loved? It may surprise you, but there are lots of us that have or still do feel that way.
Sexual abuse at an early age damages the soul and mind. You do not feel worthy of belonging to anything. If the abuse goes on long enough, you may even begin to look forward to it because it seems like the only time you are important.

In a barn in eastern Kentucky, my grandfather made me his sex toy at the very young age of four. Sometimes he was physically violent with me and sometimes he was sweet as hell to me. I never knew which was coming. As time went on I began to look forward to our encounters. I was special then. My grandpa said I was. No other time or place did I seem as special as I was there. The abuse lasted from when I was four until I was almost twelve. It stopped because my parents became missionaries to Africa and he could no longer get to me.

You may think me the odd bird. That I am the only one who ever looked forward to the abuse. Well I am not. It destroys so much of you that you may never again feel whole. I am not whole even now. It started over fifty years ago and I am still not whole.

It has gotten better, but better is not whole. Better is not feeling like you belong. That is what makes faith communities so important. A place to belong even if I am still not whole.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I gave my first speech on the subject of faith and mental illness at the Spring Conference of the North Carolina Alliance for the Mentally Ill in April 1989. They did a special Friday evening event dedicated to the subject. I spoke along with John Baggett who at the time was Executive Director of NCAMI. During the regular sessions there where presentations on the subject by both of us and others including Dr. Thomas A Summers, then Director of the Academy for Pastoral Education at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and John F. Steinbruck, Pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC.
It was my first real experience getting up in front of a group of folks and speaking about my illness. To say the least it was not easy. Speaking for me has always been easy because I started preaching when I was a young kid. My parents where missionaries to Africa and I was preaching before I was in high school. Speaking was easy, but not about my illness. My illness had always been a subject of shame. My father wrote before his death that I had been an embarrassment to him before the other missionaries.
Speaking at a NAMI conference made it somewhat easier. Everyone there had had their lives touched and changed by a severe mental illness. However, they were mostly family members and I was a consumer. Consumer being the term for someone with the illness. A consumer of mental health services. Because I did not have a great relationship with my parents, I was not sure how a group of family members were going to receive me. They welcomed me with a warm embrace. It was a very special experience that I remember well to this day.
The embrace was warmer than I had been given by the church. Having grown up in the church I knew the mission it was suppose to have. I knew it should have been a community of people more than willing to welcome me, but that was not really the case.
Many people have worked hard before and since to bring the church on board as a welcoming place for those of us who have broken brains. I hope the efforts increase in all faith communities because the one thing I know for sure is that we need a community in which we can feel loved.
Mental illness takes courage to live with. It is not easy for those of us with it or those who love us. It helps to have a place to be. A home full of people who love you. A community to belong to. It takes less courage if you do not have to stand alone.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"When Even The Devil Deserts You"

(This poem first appeared in print in 1991.)

by ed cooper
I have a thousand faces,
And I am found in all races.
Sometimes rich,
Sometimes poor,
Sometimes young,
Sometimes old.
I am a person with the disabling pain,
of a broken brain.
You have names for my pain,
like schizophrenia,
bipolar disorder,
and major depression.
Some of you refer to me as crazy or insane.
The real fact is most of you don't refer to me at all.
You want me locked away out of sight,
But my only crime is my shattered mind.
I understand why you don't want to look into a darkened soul,
Because I cry when I am forced to make the journey.
Do you know the hurt I feel,
When I look into my family's faces and see their fear?
Fear of me and what I have become.
I try to tell them I will not hurt them
And to explain it is not their fault.
I try to reach out to them to ease their sorrow,
But I fail to be a comfort,
Because I cannot hide the agony of my soul.
I fight the demons of depression and despair.
I search for a solace for my soul.
I want my mind mended,
But you must understand that a broken brain,
Is more than mere mechanical failure.
It has many causes I am told.
It may be hereitary,
Or environmental.
I don't know for sure what causes it,
But I know what it causes.
It causes the total destruction of your inner self.
It fragments you.
It makes you seek an end even if that means death.
You seek the end because you see not only what it has done to you,
But what it is doing to the ones you love.
The fear of death fades,
Because to a large degree you already feel dead.
You are not able to interact with others,
Nor are people willing to interact with you as they once did.
In fact,
It feels like you have fallen so low
Even the devil has deserted you.
I ask you,
Where do you turn When Even the Devil Deserts You?
To therapy?
It helps but only touches part of me.
To medications?
They too help but only partly.
Is there a path to a place,
That will touch all of me,
And not just mend my broken brain,
But touch the untouchable.
I once heard of such a path.
It was written about,
But my mind wanders so much I find it hard to read.
It has been spoken of,
But I hear so many voices I don't know which to follow.
If you know the path,
Would you please find me?
I may be in a hospital.
I may be on the streets.
I may be at home.
Please find me and take me into your arms.
Hold me there until we find the path,
That leads into the arms of the One,
Not afraid to touch the untouchable.
Please find my family too,
For their pain is as great as mine.
I may not be able to understand the written word,
Or even the words spoken to me.
I may not seem to know where I am,
But I will know the warmth I feel,
When you gently put your arms around me.
I will once again know I am loved.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Why Does a Mind Go Mad

Why does a mind go mad?

First, I suppose we need to say what mind is. In an earlier blog we defined soul as being our very core. Our inner selves. The part of us which can communicate with the reality beyond even the world we know. Our mind then is the meeting place of our brain and our soul.

Mind is more than mere brain. Today we are told by some that our minds are simply a product of brain function. They try to explain everything with chemical and electrical activity in the brain. That is not my view. I cannot prove it, but I think we all know we are more than just our physical brain that rests in our skull.

So then, why does a mind go mad. Mad can mean that a person has a mental illness. Today it is not politically correct to use the term mad when speaking of folks with mental illness, but since I have a mental illness (bipolar) I am taking the liberty. Let me be clear. Most people with mental illness does not have a mind filled with madness. So what am I speaking of when I refer to a mind going mad?

A mild form that most people have experienced is deep grief. When one is so sad that one loses touch with the reality around them. A severe form is psychosis which does occur at times with mental illness and some physical diseases. Madness to me is best defined as a major break with the reality around you. Being in a world all of your own making. Of your own making is key. There may be many realities other than our daily one that we know and hold in common with others here on earth. I am not speaking of those. I am speaking of being in a world created by you and not aware of any other world but it.

How do I know about such madness? Because I have been there. Not because I have a mental illness. My bipolar disorder (manic- depressive) has never caused me to be really mad. During manic episodes I have done some very stupid things, but I was not mad. Then what has caused me at times to experience madness? Violent childhood sexual abuse which fragmented my very soul into a million pieces.

The people I have met over the years who have been sexually abused as children have the most trouble dealing with reality. I am speaking of those of us who were abused both physically and sexually over years by a family member, close friend of the family, or a trusted leader in the community. Add to that a severe mental illness or substance abuse and you are in for some real fun.

I am not trying to put degrees on abuse so don't get angry. Sexual abuse is terrible any time by anyone to anyone. I am just saying what I have observed.

Our madness needs more than medication. It needs the embrace of a loving people in a loving place.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Caring Always Hurts

The truth is if you give a damn you will be hurt. Caring always hurts. I was watching the news last night and they were interviewing Mr. Microsoft. Bill Gates said people should travel more. He said going to Africa and seeing for ourselves would make us more compassionate. I think that is true and maybe he should send us all on a free trip to see the pain in Africa.

My parents were missionaries and they took our family to what was then Rhodesia now the country of Zimbabwe when I was 11 in 1960. We went on a ship from New York to Capetown, South Africa. It was a freighter so there were only 12 passengers. I was the only boy and I had a ball. It took almost a month because we went up the Congo river to unload some UN supplies. The country was at war. It has been in turmoil ever since. Just in the past decade millions have been killed by the constant tribal wars. In Africa one will see the pain of war, AIDS, and poverty everywhere. Mr. Microsoft is right. It is a place of terrible pain, but also of great beauty and progress. Africa is more than its problems.

You do not have to go to Africa to see pain. The streets of America is full of it. Why did Mr. Microsoft not suggest going and walking a street in our capitol and looking into the eyes of a homeless veteran or a lady pushing all her earthly goods around in a cart. Why not a mental hospital where folks are locked away with their pain medicated but their souls left raw to rot? Why not next door where kids are trying hard to be good so their parents will stop fighting and not get a divorce? My fellow sojourners. Pain is everywhere.

To have the ability to help others we need to find healing ourselves. All the compassion in the world does not matter if your soul is too weak to reach out to those around you. You do not have to go to a far off land. Just learn to live a life that reaches out to those around. That tries to sooth the soul next to you. You will need to be strong because Caring Always Hurts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

When I Speak of Soul

What do I mean when I use the word soul. It is used so broadly that it almost doesn't have a meaning. I heard the other day on the news that research had discovered that a broken heart could cause a heart attack. I am not sure we needed research to tell us that, but in this post-modern age nothing is truth without a scientific study. I mean more than heart when I speak of soul.

Soul is our inner most self. Deeper than brain. Deeper than mind. It goes beyond conscious mind. It is even beyond our night- time dream world. It is our core and it is very real. As real as our heart or brain or mind.

I think our minds are more than just the chemical and electrical functions of our brains. Our minds being made greater by our souls. If you believe in a world beyond our conscious experience, then it is your soul which would or does go there.

It is the conduit for the spiritual. The world beyond us. The conduit for communication with both the earth and the heavens. Our pathway to the universe.

Everyone is not connected to their souls in any real way, but all of us live with the results of having one. Our soul effects and affects our lives in ways we can't count or even know. Finding a way to heal our insides may be our most important task.

When I speak of soul I am speaking of our window into the unknown. We must learn how to heal it and to walk into that unknown with it well so we can soar.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I Am A Mistake

A shattered soul is more than simply being sad for a time. It is feeling like your insides have been crushed by the biggest rock on earth. A crisis in your life like losing a job, a divorce, or the death of a loved one can all make the rock fall on you. However, one of the most insidious and lasting demons that beset our souls is the feeling we are no good. Feeling like "I am a mistake." The feeling that we can never measure up can have a self fulfilling prophecy. It can keep us down for all our lives.

The feeling is usually given birth in the early years of one's life. It can come from something as devastating as childhood sexual abuse or from growing up in a home so critical that no one could live up to the standards set there. I am not sure there is a much difference as far as the long term results are concerned. I was violently sexually abused as a child by my grandpa and in our home I never felt I could satisfy my father. Both have left me with a very poor picture of myself.

My soul was shattered in a barn in eastern Kentucky by my being used as a sex toy. It was further scorched by the fires of criticism my father handed out. It always wasn't directed at me or maybe even seldom was, but I knew if he thought so little of people like the teachers at school or the minister at our church then I was nothing in his eyes.

I think I quit dreaming in the barn and have seldom dreamed since. When I have dreamed they have been failures leaving me more certain I am a mistake. Have you ever felt like you are a mistake?

Only by learning to dream again can one find solace for a shattered soul so deeply wounded that they feel like a mistake.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Learning To Dream Again #1

This posting has a very simple message. Anyone can learn to dream again. Without dreams our souls begin to die and tomorrow seems like a dark hole to be avoided rather than a bright light to walk towards. I am not speaking of the dreams we have at night. I am speaking of the dreams we hold in our hearts.

The truth is most adults seem to lose the ability to dream. All of us have had things happen in our lives to dull our dreams. We die inside a little with each painful experience in life if we do not find a way to renew our spirit when life slaps us across the face.

The point of these writings is not to give you the way to learn to dream again, but rather to walk a journey together. My promise to you is to always try to be honest, but understand that my reality may not be yours. I hope we both learn from this sojourn.