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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