This is a piece from my daily writing practice that I cleaned up a bit and submitted to this magazine.
You can find it here.
Advocate, christian, disability, doctors, equality, feminism, intersection, justice, LGBT, LGBTQ, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, prison, racism, rights, schizophrenia], suicide, women, writer, writing
Yesterday my husband and I watched Netflix all day because my back was hurting and the two of us came down with a cold. We watched an old movie, “Regarding Henry,” and we watched a documentary from 2007 called, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”
“Regarding Henry” is about an attorney, who isn’t a nice guy. He gets shot and has to learn everything all over again. It is about his transformation. It is a feel good movie.
“For the Bible Tells Me So” is a documentary about how many people in the church have treated their gay children and the things that many pastors and famous preachers have preached about being gay. It only got three stars on Netflix (probably because of a poorly done cartoon that explains studies scientists have done to find the cause of homosexuality, and it lists all the medical associations that no longer consider it a disorder). Besides the strange cartoon plopped in the middle of the documentary my husband and I both think it is worth watching.
Many people writing about mental illness call themselves advocates, and I want to suggest that if we are going to be effective advocates, we need to advocate for equality and inclusion for all people. I didn’t know this, but LGBTQ teens had a much higher rate of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide than the general population.
Suicide is a problem that should be on the radar of any mental health advocate. The other things that should be on our radar are the number of people of color locked in prisons and who suffer from a mental illness. Women should be on our radar too because it is a fact that doctors often dismiss their complaints or treat their pain in a much less aggressive manner than they do that of men. Also, the percentage of mentally ill women in prison is higher than that of men.
I have known for a long time that there is an intersection between disability issues, feminism, racism, and LGBTQ issues. As someone who cares passionately about the issues regarding the mentally ill, and how we are perceived, treated, talked about, housed, etc. There is no way to move away from these other issues.
To be an educated advocate for the mentally ill and to understand all of the issues and how they intersect, collide, and combine with other issues, we need to start reading about feminism, racism, LGBTQ. The problems inherent in these movements are also our problems, not just because equality and justice are something we are fighting for, and we should help others to achieve – these issues have an impact on the mental health of Americans as a whole. The way I see it is that we must move forward hand in hand because if we leave one group behind that group will keep the rest of us from truly flourishing. Many of us are in this together.
When we lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, we were very active in our local community. We attended fundraising dinners for various non-profits and served on boards and committees. Through these activities we met a couple who moved to Southern California from the South. The wife was what I imagine to be a perfect Southern Belle. She was beautiful, a runner, she had a cute figure, and two healthy and adorable boys, she was charming, and she was Christian.
I am not the kind of person who normally feels envious of others. I have friends who have way more money than me, friends who have less, who are far more attractive than me, who are better writers than me, and friends who are smarter than me. None of that is a big deal or causes me any suffering or pain.
But in the instance of the Southern Belle, what I found that tore at the core of me was her perfect Christianity. Her and her husband attended most churches in our area before deciding which one to attend regularly. They picked the most conservative one. Everything about this woman screamed, “I am blessed. I am cherished. I am loved. I am a daughter of the Kingdom.”
I have always felt soiled around certain Christians. It was worse when I was younger, but it still applies to some degree. Some Christians just make me feel dirty and like I don’t belong. Especially perfect looking Christian women with perfect Christian lives who seem never to have taken the wrong path or a wrong turn or made a terrible or regrettable decision.
This woman, the Southern Belle, was one of those Christians, and I envied her.
One day the two of us took her young boys to McDonalds. There was a man and a woman that were dirty and disheveled standing outside asking for money. She walked right by. I stopped and asked what they wanted and they said they were hungry. I told them to follow me inside.
At the counter I said to the man and woman, “Order whatever you want. I’ll get it.”
At first they were a little hesitant and then they both ordered hamburgers, a drink, and fries. I ordered my food, paid both bills and sat down with my friend while her boys ran to the playground outside the back doors.
“My husband said I should ignore people like that.” She said.
“Those people blessed me. They gave me the opportunity to give today.”
“My husband said those people are scam artists. We would never give them money.” She said.
“I bought them a meal. They are eating it.” I said in my defense.
We ate the rest of our meal in silence. I waved goodbye to the people who asked for food. I also waved goodbye to the idea of this Southern Belle being a perfect Christian woman – appearances can be polished with a rag, the heart and soul are polished through empathy which often comes from roads we wish we hadn’t taken. I’ve taken many roads and many journeys I wish I hadn’t, but from those paths I have found compassion for the lost, for the lonely, for the loveless. If it took all my mistakes to make me see the suffering of others, then so be it.
I’ll never be seen as the perfect Christian woman, and that is more than okay by me – I’d hate to be responsible for someone feeling dirty.