Sunday, October 11, 2009

Minds on the Edge

Today, I write of mental illness.  I just finished watching the Fred Friendly Seminar, Minds on the Edge online.  It is a fascinating program with a format where Moderator Frank Sesno unfolds hypothetical stories about people and families struggling with severe mental illnesses and asks the program panelists to put themselves in the shoes of these characters and talk about what they would do if faced with this situation.

Do you remember the old Roberta Flack song, "Killing Me Softly?"

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

I felt as though  Sesno, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Nobel Prize winning neurologist Eric Kandel, former Washington Post Writer Pete Earley (parent of a son with bi-polar and author of Crazy),  the attorneys, doctors, legislators, consumers with mental illness, and parents of consumers, were singing my life.  Not the joyful parts.  But, one of the most devastatingly painful circumstances a parent can face - the severe and untreated mental illness of a child.

We have encountered everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - they discussed in this incredible program. My first impression was gratitude for the knowledge and empathy expressed by everyone on this panel.  Then, shared outrage at this country's mental health "system."  The panelists were in total agreement that this nation's mental health system is "by definition, crazy."  The respect for the integrity of persons with mental illnesses and those who love them was surprising and immense.  Surprising because empathy and respect are often not the case when it comes to public perceptions and attitudes regarding individuals with mental illness.

Even if you don't believe your life is impacted by mental illness, I encourage you to watch this program.  You can watch it online at the link I am providing below or you can go to your PBS schedule and find out when it is on your local channel.  If you are a parent, a lawyer, law enforcement officer,  teacher, social worker, medical professional, or academic, this program has relevance.  In fact, if you are a human being, it has relevance.

So, please watch it.  It's one hour and is absolutely the most balanced presentation on the issues surrounding mental illness I have ever witnessed.

At the risk of boring you with John O'Donohue, I offer this blessing that I pray often for JSB.  Thanks for your continued prayers and support.  There are not words sufficient to express my gratitude for your friendship and for the times when you have offered us your lovely shoulder on which to lean.

Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
by John O'Donohue

Now is the time of dark invitation
Beyond a frontier you did not expect;
Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

You barely noticed how each day opened
A path through fields never questioned,
Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.
Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;
Before your eyes your future shrinks.

You lived absorbed in the day-to-day,
So continuous with everything around you,
That you could forget you were separate;

Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.

Nothing before has made you
Feel so isolated and lost.

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
May grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
To embrace this illness as a teacher
Who has come to open your life to new worlds.

May you find in yourself
A courageous hospitality
Toward what is difficult,
Painful, and unknown.

May you learn to use this illness
As a lantern to illuminate
The new qualities that will emerge in you.

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
Help to release whatever has become false in you
May you trust this light to clear a path
Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
Until you feel arising within you a tranquility
Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
Ask why it came. Why it chose your friendship.
Where it wants to take you. What it wants you to
What quality of space it wants to create in you.
What you need to learn to become more fully
That you presence may shine in the world.

May you keep faith with your body,
Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
Which can bring this night-wound gradually
Toward the healing and freedom of dawn.

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