Wednesday, March 19, 2014

OUR PRIVATE HELL



For many years before his death in 2011, Reynolds Price had lived as a paraplegic after receiving radiation treatment for a spinal tumor, about which he wrote in A Whole New Life.

Few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage as Mr. Price, who published his first novel, A Long and Happy Life,  in 1962 to near-universal acclaim for its pungent Southern dialogue, highly wrought prose style and vivid evocation of rural Southern life.

When Reynolds Price first received the letter offering him a teaching job at Duke, it warned that the position was a three-year appointment with no chance of being extended. “That seemed a little discouraging, but I thought, ‘Well, three years is three years,” Price said. During those three years, he wrote his first novel and was asked to stay on.

In his book Roxanna Slade is the following paragraph from the viewpoint of his main character Roxanna, “Whatever you believed, whoever you were in the 1940’s where I lived, medical science had no cure for you-just the eventually exasperated faces of however many doctors you saw. Your church had very little more to offer except to say ‘Most everybody will be bad off as you before they die.’ They also had a postscript ‘Don’t kill yourself. You’ll go straight to Hell’-and all that when you were sitting by the absolute instant in a private Hell you’d gladly have swapped for Satan’s worst grill.”

For anybody who has ever gone through a deep depression those words written by Reynolds have a powerful ring of truth to them. Being a person with a diagnosis of a bipolar disorder I have experienced some extreme lows when getting out of bed or off the couch was more than I could do. Back in the 60’s when my illness began to manifest itself my family was blamed for raising such an uncontrollable child. Later as I grew older the blame shifted to me and I was blamed for being a lazy and undisciplined person.

One never fully recovers from the blame and shame directed at them for an illness they did not ask for nor can they help having. I still fight to this very day to see myself as fully human and a true person in my own right.

The church I grew up in and that my parents were missionaries in was little help in this struggle for self. The sexual abuse I endured as a child further eroded any concept of self I may have had. While the meds I take may to some degree help control the bipolar disorder I have, the struggle for self cannot be found in a bottle of pills.

This struggle is a spiritual journey which is why it is so important that we be seen as bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings and not simply as a diagnosis. It is why it is so important that the faith communities reach out to those of us who have been burned to our very soul by the fire of rejection, dismissal and ignorance about us.

The first thing everyone needs to remember is that every disabled person is first and foremost a person.  Treating us any different than that only increases our private hell. You can help lift the burdens if you are willing to walk along beside us. Not trying to lead. Not trying to push. Simply being there.  Simply saying by your presence that you think we are precious. With time we will begin to see ourselves as precious too and our private hell will slowly melt away as snow does when spring dawns.

© Ed Cooper, March 19, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee
    All rights reserved

    (Rewritten from a 2/11/2008 blog)

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