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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