Them and Us: Mental Illness
Sophia at Sophia’s call has an incredible post up on mental illness and the very fine lines there are in our society and receiving the benefit of doubt and getting treatment or being tossed aside and falling through the cracks. There is also an incredible call for the church to stop acting like the mentally ill are not part of us, the Body of Christ.
I reject the oh-so-tempting divide, and if it is made by others I will stand humbly and proudly with my sisters and brothers who also live with serious mental illness, many with far fewer resources and far greater courage and holiness than I have. I am indeed one of them, who depends on her medication for survival but can pass for one of us because of the grace of God, good luck, and a heap of social privilege. I am white, upper middle class, temporarily able-bodied, highly educated and professionally experienced, and bisexual but in a straight marriage. So I can obtain appropriate medication and therapy, arrange a peaceful and relatively non-stressful life, and when I had my one serious episode I was given some benefit of the doubt and escaped from serious consequences. The police were abusive, but I wasn’t tased or shot as people of color so often are, and I was treated with relative dignity in both hospitals. But with a few changes in circumstance I, and anyone else, could slip past the great divide and become clearly and embarrassingly and powerlessly one of them.
Disabilism with regard to both physical and mental differences is as rampant in the church as it is in the rest of society, as I became aware recently when I did an internet search for prayers and worship resources about disability. Every one I found focused on the need for “us,” the church, the “normal” folks, to have compassion and help “them”, the disabled, the needy, the damaged–who are apparently not fully a part of the church. None gave thanks for the gifts and insight disabled people bring to the Christian community, of which they are in fact full members–the Body of Christ which was, as Nancy Eiseland points out in The Disabled God, a holy and lifegiving and disabled body with wounds remaining even after his resurrection.
St. Mary Magdalene, cherished by Christian feminists as a beloved disciple of Jesus and first witness to his resurrection, is a perfect example of this disabilism–rarely honored in her own fullness as someone who lived with the burdens and blessings of a serious mental illness. Progressive theologians rightly reclaim her place as an apostle and decry her misidentification as a repentant prostitute (though this sometimes carries unwelcome overtones of demonizing sex workers, who brilliantly defied medieval scorn by claiming her special patronage–given with compassion and enthusiasm, I’m sure). But the crucial scriptural fact of her healing by Jesus–that he cast seven devils out of her–is ignored or glossed over.
Go read the rest of Mary Magdalene, My Sister.