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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