Shekinah Glory


You Are Not Alone

Jim and I hit it off from the beginning at college. It had only been the first week of Moody Bible Institute and I was trying to fit in with all the new people whom I met. On the 4th floor of Culbertson Hall my roommate Jesse and I quickly turned our neat two-bedroom dorm into a chaotic mess of cloths, books and loose-leaf papers. Fueled on pots of coffee we would spend our nights in the lounge talking and in wonder of living away from home in the big city. I immediately had taken to sleeping in the storage room floor because the noise of Chicago Avenue was much too much for me to handle.

One night Jim and his friend Eddie walked into the lounge and announced, “I don’t think that you two are going to make it here the way that you are going.”

This was ironic coming from Jim. He was the one that everyone warned us about. Sitting with a group of people in the courtyard it was well known that this gang was one of the more “rebellious” elements at Moody and Jim was their ringleader. They were constantly in trouble with the administration and had piled up numerous violations to Moody’s long and strict “Student Handbook.”

Jim and I had an instant connection because I had just moved from the Plains of Nebraska. As a high school football star in Colorado Jim had been highly recruited and decided to play football for the Cornhuskers. From the story he told it was not many practices before his knees blew out and his football career was over. Talking about football was always a portal into much deeper conversations.

As the semester progressed I became more involved with my studies and work. Jim kept me laughing and I can still see him sitting in the lounge reading our floor’s copy of the Chicago Tribune. I have to admit that I was not shocked to find out that Jim had been kicked out of school. Sometimes he appeared wild and untamed. It was a characteristic that made him popular, but could also be quite troubling. What was more shocking to me was the fact that Jim wanted to return to Moody after taking a year away.

When he returned, Jim seemed different. There was the same rebel that everyone had come to know, but there were a lot more times when he seemed reflective and withdrawn. I talked a lot less with Jim over that time, but occasionally ran into him at parties that were held off campus. Then right before Christmas break it seemed like the only people left on campus were Jim and I. We sat in front of only one of two televisions allowed in the dorms and talked. We talked about the upcoming bowl games, what he would do over break and about how wonderful he thought my girlfriend was. Jim seemed reflective and a little silent, absent was his jovial demeanor.

I took the train back to Nebraska and immediately began working as a dishwasher in the restaurant my brother-in-law managed. It was Christmas Eve when I received the call from Jesse.

“Brian, Jim is dead” he said and I dissolved into tears.

Apparently Jim had taken his life on Christmas in the garage of a friend. He left behind a note that counted down the twenty-five days of Christmas and left many of his friends and family devastated. For a long time I blamed myself for Jim’s death. It was absurd, I know, but I replayed that last meeting over and over in my mind. What could I have done differently to help save his life? My own depression began to engulf me as well as anger when I heard that Moody’s counselors merely gave Jim a religious tract when he went to them to discuss his crippling depression. It didn’t have to end that way!

We should not live in such ignorance. The statistics are available for everyone to see. They are quite sobering and myth breaking:

20,000,000 people suffer from some sort of depression.
17.6 million struggle with alcoholism.
40 million struggle with substance abuse (18.1%).
40 million have some sort of anxiety disorder (18.1%).
2 to 5% of the American public suffer from an eating disorder in any given six month period.
1 in 4 people admitted to hospitals are for mental health or substance abuse problems.

Isolation, depression, paranoia, addiction and loneliness can seem to separate us from the ones whom we dearly love. There are mental health options, medications and groups who can enfold you into the proper support that is needed when encountering a life squelching personal crisis. Yet, when in the middle of these common mental diseases often the chemicals in our brains conspire against us to make us feel too much like Elijah. We say to ourselves, “I am different, no one understands, I am all alone.” We retreat to an isolated mountain, hide in a cave, huddle around a fire and pull the covers over our head waiting for a thundering message from God. Yet, God does not want us to suffer alone. Isolating yourself when you or someone you love is suffering from mental illness is not one of the Ten Commandments or part of the teachings of Jesus. We must not deny ourselves help in whatever form it comes our way. Our growth and sustenance comes from our active participation in living and fallible communities that we trust. Seek out those types of communities.

Above all do not suffer alone. Find help if you or someone you love is in the grips of mental illness. Above all, know that your problems are not unique, extraordinary or without help. You are not alone.

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10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Having gone to Wheaton, I can appreciate this post on so many levels. Also, my Mother saw a “Christian Counselor”–with a PhD, no less–who told her to not allow me to be at home alone with my Dad because he was afraid of a murder/suicide, but he never told her to leave him because that would have not been “faithful.” I love seeing church folk talking about how ‘God does not want us to suffer alone.” So many congregations are built on lies, and require these lies from everyone to keep the game going. No wonder so many of us are fed up and giving up on not only our religious traditions but on God.

Comment by Jacqueline

Amen.

Comment by Jesse Quam

It’s strange how so many years later, I still think, “If only….”
Seeing that young, talented, and extremely funny man end his life was too much.
The tragedy impacted my life, and the lives of countless others.
I’ve certainly become more aware of people with depression.

Thanks for the post

Comment by tribalchurch

Jacqueline-

Thank you for your comment. Many of us have been parts of communities that did not deserve our trust. I appreciate your honesty.

Carol I mean tribalchurch-

Thanks for being there through everything.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Jesse-

Thanks, I hope you don’t mind me literally airing our dirty laundry.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Thanks for this. We were just talking about a good friend’s brother who committed suicide 7 years ago. The church is still struggling to react faithfully to mental illness.

Comment by Alex

Thank-you for sharing this very personal and tragic story. The lesson is clear, we are not alone, we should reach out for help when needed and be there to help when needed.

Comment by tobeme

Tobeme-

I have a friend that always says that we should accept help in the manner that it comes and not the way that we expect it. Sometimes our greatest help is in being available for others.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

PoD,

Thanks for sharing this. You have no idea how difficult it is sometimes to be a person like Jim and attend a “Christian” school. I’m glad that I got to learn a few things before I undertook this task or I may have slipped into a similar depression myself. I can see it on the horizon sometimes now, but I am old enough and experienced enough to get away from it.

Thank you for killing Soylent Green!

Comment by agathos

Agathos,

There is certainly something about seminary and “Christian” school that intensifies the mental pressures that we bring to the table.

Comment by pastorofdisaster




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