Mental Illness is a part of my life and has been as long as I can remember. My Mam suffered a catastrophic nervous breakdown when I was very young and I remember her recovery as something very slow. When I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 20 I was terrified that the treatment would leave me like my Mam. A lot changed in the 30 years between her diagnosis and mine.
I am an Anglican priest in a small town. Mental health and Mental Illness is not something that is readily spoken of. When I relapsed after a year of marriage, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to speak out. That Sunday, instead of a homily, I shared some of my story and my diagnosis with the congregation. I was quite prepared to be told that I needed to be placed somewhere else; that the congregation was not prepared to support a Rector who was mentally ill.
The reaction was the absolute opposite.
During the exchange of the peace a parishioner whom I did not know very well came up, embraced me and said "I'm so proud of you". I was shocked. At the end of the service, after the dismissal, many parishioners told me part of their story...how long they had been diagnosed, what treatments worked for them. It felt good to know that someone they knew had the same diagnosis. Permission had been given to share, to support, and to hope.
It was as though a veil had been lifted and we could all see the sunshine a little better. There is still stigma with Mental Illness and depression, but thanks be to God, we can talk about it.
Many more of my parishioners have reached out - for support and simply to have someone to listen. We respect and support each other, each knowing that there is prayer, there is peer support, and through God, there is hope.
My world is filled with stressful situations and I know that I don't care properly for myself. Because I trusted in my congregation, they can sense when things aren't quite "right" with me. They remind me to take time off and to be gentle with myself.
It feels very good knowing I don't have to hide who I am. It feels good knowing that other members of the congregation support each other and reach out when they are struggling.
We are all in this together. And gives me great hope.