Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

After a few months in the group home, I actually felt more comfortable than I did in the outside world. Every outing seemed like an encounter with something foreign, something I’d known in a previous life but with which I no longer had much of any familiarity. Well, the truth is, I was around people who no longer had any masks to wear. They were simply who they were, no more, no less, and I liked it that way. Conversely, so many folks I encountered in the outside world seemed somewhat fraudulent. 

I know, I know. This seems harsh to say, but I’m only being honest about my feelings at the time. (And, really, I still feel this way. Going to day treatment in Dothan now feels like reuniting with family, whereas elsewhere with other people feels a bit alien.) At any rate, it eventually struck me that people on the outside pretty much felt the same way about us; they looked at us as if we were personis non grata foreigners. Well, no, perhaps I shouldn’t go quite this far. Most individuals were at least courteous.

However, I do remember very well the day we went to Wal-Mart in Enterprise (Alabama) and two (Caucasian) cops stopped three of our group home residents, who happened to be African-American, on their way into the store. They not only questioned them; they actually went so far as to patting them down … right there in the middle of the parking lot, in broad daylight, when those three young men were simply walking up toward the sidewalk! They hadn’t even been inside Wal-Mart yet, so why the frisking???

It was utterly humiliating, but do you know that those three men did not complain. I can’t say why. They had every right in the world to make a fuss over how they’d been treated, (and SpectraCare should have lodged a complaint on their behalf, but instead did absolutely nothing!) Maybe they were, unfortunately, used to be treated that way? I was told by someone ~ and I don’t know how they’d know this ~ that someone say our van pull up and called the police. Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea, except… 

There is a stigma that surrounds mental illness. When you add to this the fact of being an African-American (or member of any minority), then you’re pretty well f***ed up! Sorry to be so blunt, but this is an issue obviously close to my heart. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, courtesy, and respect … at least until they forfeit that privilege. These three young, African-American men had not in any way, shape, or form forfeited this right, though, and those two cops should have faced disciplinary measures.

This may have been the most egregious experience of being treated differently, and degradingly, that I witnessed, but it was not the only one. In fact, there was another episode that I was only told about (because I was at home on a weekend pass.) The group home went to a new restaurant in Samson, only to be treated horribly! The proprietor was arrogant, pushy, demanding, impatient… One of the MHTs (Mental Health Technician) told me it was obvious he didn’t want them there.

Do you remember Sally? This man complained that she was taking too long to order, even though no one else was in his place of business! (Except for the group home residents.) And to beat all, after everyone ordered, they had to wait anywhere from an half-hour to one hour to be served! Wow! But again, SpectraCare did nothing. I think I would have at least had someone in the SpectraCare hierarchy call this man and give him a good tongue-lashing… But that’s just me, I suppose.

To tell the truth, I have never lived with sweeter and more down-to-earth people in my life than my second family in the group home. No, they were not perfect. They had their bad habits and dispositions, but after all was said and done, with very few exceptions, I couldn’t have asked for better housemates. So to see or hear of them being treated so poorly really rips at my heart, and fuels my righteous indignation. And you know what else? They also impressed me as being safer to be around than many on the outside.

Yes, for the most part they were/are kinder, gentler, safer, and more unassuming than most “normal” people. Really it comes down to this: These dear souls have simply been diagnosed, whereas people on the outside have not been. Other than this ~ diagnosed as opposed to undiagnosed ~ there is precious little difference, unless you take into account so many of the prevalent, stinking attitudes that “normal” folks display and contrast that with the meek, humble, and friendly attitudes of the mentally ill!

Forgive me if I’ve offended, but I’m just calling like I see it … especially after months (and, really, years) of personal experience. Thank you for listening, and God bless!

For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God


Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

A few months after arriving at the Samson (Alabama) Group Home, I asked for a private one-on-one session with the director of the day treatment program, who also happened to be my therapist … thankfully. Her name was Joy, and it certainly fit her very well. She was, indeed, a joy to be around and, consequently, an extremely comfortable counsellor with whom to talk. I needed this, because I desperately needed to open up about something I’d only shared with two, maybe three, individuals in my entire life.

As always before, Joy welcomed me into her office with open arms and a smile. She listened quite attentively as I “spilled my guts,” shared with her one of my deepest, darkest secrets, (nothing at all criminal or unethical, mind you … but extremely difficult, nonetheless.) Point in fact, I was unloading ~ or trying to, anyway ~ an awfully heavy burden I’d carried since adolescence. It was not as if she could help me shoulder this burden ~ not exactly ~ but what she did do was enough.

I mean to say, I received from Joy all that I could expect from an upstanding, conscientious counsellor: Focused attention, non-judgmental reception, calm and sober-minded evaluation, and compassionate understanding. No, she could not solve my conundrum, one with which I have lived for decades now, but she did offer an altruistic, tender-hearted consideration and sensitivity. I was very thankful, of course, and naturally I felt somewhat better for having “unloaded.”

We visited about this issue two or three more times, but I also went to the pastor of the church I was then-currently attending. We met one time and never again. We were supposed to meet again, but it never happened. I suppose, that was as much my fault as hers, but it did hurt somewhat that she seemingly just forgot about it all. And it was not as if she had a large congregation to attend to ~ about forty to fifty members ~ and the very personal issue I’d raised was, indeed, quite important. Not to complain, though… 

After my experience with Joy, however, I decided I wanted to help people like she helps people. I decided I want to be a counsellor in whatever capacity. This is also when I came to the conclusion that the age of pastors (ministers, priests, rabbis, etc.) may very well be coming to an end … at least the traditional role(s) clergy play. I believe members of the clergy are increasingly being squeezed out of usefulness in society, so that to continue to minister they will need to “retool” in order to expand their resumes, so to speak.

By no means am I saying all clergy are bad; no, not at all! And I am not suggesting that members of the clergy are, in and of themselves, somehow worthless. God forbid! And if I am coming across this way, please forgive me! I am only suggesting that the typical pastoral minister will need to add to his/her repertoire of skills and abilities in order to effectively continue on into the 21st century. But this is, perhaps, a subject best left for another day.

the_psychological_corporation_72891So far as the field of counselling is concerned, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…”¹ And I deeply desire to be one of those laborers, eventually. Along with this desire comes somewhat of a radical conviction, that is: Here is the new face of the Church. Here is the new spiritual hospital for holistic care, including mind and soul care. Here is where ministry now effectively takes place. Yes, there are still the typical, local churches, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but the action is elsewhere.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this, as I believe, but I think it is practically undeniable that the landscape is changing … shifting. If you don’t believe me, believe the numbers as presented by Kelley Shattuck on April 10th of this year:

(Olson’s) findings reveal that the actual rate of church attendance from head counts is less than half of the 40 percent the pollsters report. Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7 percent of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend… 

Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler—known for their scholarly research on the church—backs up his findings. Their report reveals that the actual number of people worshiping each week is closer to Olson’s 17.7 percent figure—52 million people instead of the pollster-reported 132 million (40 percent)

This contrasts to “nearly half of American households,” who “have had someone seek mental health treatment” in 2004. More than this, fully nine out of ten people polled “said they would likely consult or recommend a mental health professional if they or a family member were experiencing a problem.”³ Indeed, this field is “ripe unto harvest,” and the harvest is the very lives of flesh-and-blood human beings … many of those lives quite literally hanging in the balance. I know when I sat down with Joy on that very important day to open my heart and share my decades-old burden, I sure felt like my life was hanging in the balance!

¹ The Gospel of St. Matthew 9.37 (NRSVCE); also on prospective job growth, see the Bureau of Labor (BLS) stats on psychology, for example, or rehabilitation counselling
or especially marriage and family therapists, which shows an extremely high prospective growth rate over the next eight to 10 years, all of which far outpace the expected growth of eight percent in the area of clergy.  Note from BLS: “Clergy conduct religious worship and perform other spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination. Provide spiritual and moral guidance and assistance to members … 2016 employment: 243,900… Projected employment change, 2016–26: Number of new jobs: 19,900 Growth rate: 8 percent (as fast as average)”

² Kelley Shattuck, “7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America,” as accessed on 09/29/2018 at

³ As reported by the American Psychological Association, “Survey Says More Americans are Seeking Mental Health Treatment,” as accessed online on 09/29/2018 at

For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.
~ Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ

Playing on the words of the Messiah, I could very well say to clergymen/women and laity alike, “I was sick and committed, and you did not visit or minister to me… We were mentally and emotionally ailing … and hurting, suffering, yet you do not seem to care, or even give us a second thought. What must we do to deserve the ministry of the Church?” And yet again, Jesus weeps.

Amy Simpson hit the proverbial nail on the head when she surmised that “in general, the church tends to handle mental illness in one of three ways: ignore it, treat it exclusively as a spiritual problem, or refer (the suffering) to professionals and wash (their collective) hands of (the) trouble.”¹ Except instead of “ignoring it” she could have/should have been more pointed and said, “ignoring them.

StetzerAnd it is all-too-easy for superficially spiritual, religious individuals to ignore those with mental illness, unless of course they are disturbed and maladjusted right smack-dab in the middle of their communities, be that the neighborhood or the local church or wherever else. It’s almost like a toddler’s game: If they put their hands over their ears and shut their eyes, then the mentally ill have gone away … vanished … no longer exist.

As for her second point, Ed Stetzer certainly agrees. Recalling challenges with mental illness early in his ministry, he honestly confesses, “I was 25 years old, and all I had heard about dealing with mental illness was that Christians just ‘prayed it away,’ or it was an attack of the enemy, or so I’d been told, and the necessary response was expulsion — just cast it out.”² (The “enemy” being Satan, the devil, or demons.)

The third response listed by Simpson is, perhaps, the easiest: Just confine “them” to an institution, group home, and/or day treatment program and … forget about them. After all, “they” are being helped by professionals, right? So why would I want or feel the need to get involved? I haven’t been trained to be involved. I wouldn’t know what to do or say, and it can’t be as easy as simply loving, spending time, and encouraging … can it?

Of course, it helps to be as prepared as one can because, obviously, the different mental illnesses can be difficult to deal with, not to mention quite disconcerting (in many cases.) Yet from my own personal experience, which most certainly counts for something, most group home residents, and even individuals in the psychiatric wing of hospitals, would just be grateful and happy to have someone from the “outside” visiting them. Yes, there are extreme cases in which it is effectively impossible to visit, but really, in most instances, the mentally ailing are fully able to communicate!

And there is that famous, and popular, question many Christians like to ask: What would Jesus do? They even have WWJD stickers, ball caps, shirts, arm bands, etc. Oh, it’s quite “the thing” in many religious circles … but one is justified in wondering how often the “believer” actually answers the question … still more, how often s/he puts that answer into practice, especially where the mentally suffering are concerned.

And just what would Jesus do? I think he would at least visit, and it’s no good to simply assume one is not allowed. I know for a fact that, at least from my own experience, practically anyone could have dropped by the Samson Group Home to visit on the front porch … especially members of the clergy. There are no laws or restrictions against visiting group homes here, anyway, at least not pastors, priest, rabbis, imams, etc.

No … It’s just a matter of doing it! And even if the ostensibly spiritual-religious individual cannot visit a group home or hospital psych wing, the very least we/they can do is embrace the mentally anguished within our/their own faith communities, and, very importantly, do so in a dignified manner, (after all, many mentally ill individuals have practically been stripped of their personal dignity already!) Indeed, what would Jesus do? I really think he’s already answered that question… 

¹ A. Simpson, “Mental Illness: What is the Church’s Role?” as accessed on 09/25/2018 at 

² Ed Stetzer, “A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church,” as accessed on 09/25/2018 at

For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

He simply cannot say “no” to anyone. This was especially evident when everyday several different people would ask him for cigarettes. Like all smokers in the group home, he received his daily ration of one pack, and he was a pack-a-day smoker, so he would end up short of smokes by the end of the day. If he had some spare change, which he usually did, he would then buy somewhere around five to six smokes from those individuals who both better conserved their supply and could do without a couple. 

By no means am I advocating smoking, especially one pack a day, but this just happens to nicely illustrate the point. This “John Doe,” who was so meek and mild, simply could not say “no” or set any kind of personal boundaries. My take on this, at least after a few months getting to know him, was that this was part of his overall psychological troubles. Clinical psychologist Bruce Kugler might agree:

There is no psychological disorder per se about the inability to say no, but it may be viewed as one of many symptoms of various disorders expressed as an inability to say no and set limits with others.

He continues:

Low self regard, having felt beaten down and undeserving of having one’s feelings and needs go along with being overly compliant and not able to set limits with what others want of us

David Kronemyer of the University of California, Los Angeles, goes so far as to say that this condition refers to “dependant personality disorder, defined by the DSM-5 as ‘a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation.'”² However, I’m somewhat skeptical of this diagnosis, as this John Doe meets only, perhaps, three out eight diagnostic criteria for dependant personality disorder. Nevertheless, it was/is certainly disruptive in his life.

John was always very quiet, very unassuming, and compatible with everyone. But several individuals used him like a vending machine: They wanted it, he gave it (if he had it to give.) Of course, this was not his only struggle … perhaps the least of his struggles. He also frequently heard voices and, point in fact, ask me more than once if I was hearing anyone speaking in our room at night. I never did, but he quite evidently did and, naturally, it was disturbing.

I don’t know how exactly his lack of personal hygiene fit in with his schizophrenia, but the mental health technicians (MHTs) were constantly having to point-blank tell him to take a shower, brush his teeth, change his clothes, etc. Maybe, after all, he was/is dependant on others. Well, during my 14 month residency in the group home I came to know his habits and daily routine, but I never really got to know him personally. It was as if there was very little there to really, truly know.

This sounds sad, perhaps even somewhat derogatory, but I don’t mean for it to come off this way. It’s just that “John” went through his simple schedule and daily patterns and no more. He slept, ate, drank, smoked … attended day treatment, went to group sessions, and … that was pretty much it. Well, of course, he showered and changed clothes when he was told. Beyond this there was very little. He had family, and his mother, who was in terrible physical health, came to visit twice while I was there, but no one else.

Truth be told, I don’t know that he expected any more than this. He’d been in several group homes before moving to Samson. By the time I met him, this just seemed to be his way of life. So far as I know, “John” had no expectation of leaving the group home system. So far as I could tell, he had no real aspirations, which was tragic. And he is still there, of course. In fact, I saw him yesterday, and he did manage a friendly smile and barely audible “hello.” Such is seemingly the extent of his communicative abilities.

Surely I will go back to the Samson Group Home to visit. I’ve made this commitment, anyway, and I fully intend to keep it. After all, some residents there, including my “John Doe” roommate, may never leave… A few will only leave if they are transferred to another facility because they have no where else to go, and they simply cannot take care of themselves without significant help. This is the sad truth in group homes and like facilities across our country, though… All the more reason to get involved as we can!

¹ Bruce Kugler, “What is the Psychological Disorder of the Inability to Say No?” as accessed on 09/27/2018 at 

² DSM-5, 301.6 (F 60.7), “Dependant Personality Disorder,” 675; See this interesting article based on the DSM-5, and/or this article as well

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

The only visitors she had were the voices in her head… During my entire 14 months in the Samson Group Home, no one ever came to visit her ~ not family, not friends ~ and from what others told me, this “Sally Doe” had been there for many years. Of course, none of the therapists or mental health technicians could divulge to me her background or personal information, but from what I did end up knowing, I concluded that she had simply been dropped off and forgotten by her loved ones. Very sad, to say the least…

One time in a group session, Sally expressed her heartfelt desire to go home, wherever that may have been. That was when I realized that despite the severity of her schizophrenia, she remembered family, at least some of the time. But then it was hard to say anything about the reliability of the memories Sally had; after all, there were times she believed herself to be pregnant, or to be a movie star, or some great singer (and she did, in fact, have quite a bluesy, Janice Joplin-type voice.)

Still, she knew she had family. Presumably, her family still knew they had her. They just didn’t visit her. One might quickly conclude they no longer cared, if ever they did care. I know this is what I thought and, honestly, still think; however, it also eventually occurred to me that it might be too psychologically, emotionally difficult for them to visit Sally. This may seem like a lame excuse, but I knew nothing of her family. Who knows what difficulties they struggle with and how vicious those struggles might be?

Did you know that “there is a high heritability to schizophrenia … with heritability estimates ranging from 64 to 81 percent?”¹ This being the case, then, it’s possible that Sally is not the only one in her biological family to struggle with this, or some other, malady. The lesson here (for me, at least) is, “Do not pre-judge! Especially when you don’t know the whole story!” Nevertheless, it was sad to see her day in and day out, seemingly so alone in the world… Funny, though, Sally didn’t seem too upset by her situation.

Point in fact, Sally is mostly happy, although the voices that speak to her do upset her from time to time. She talks to them all through her waking hours, and every so often you might hear her burst out with, “Leave me alone!” or “Go to hell!” or some other virile reaction. Otherwise, Sally is an adorable, happy, 40-something year-old with one of the most beautiful smiles you can imagine. Couple this with the fact that in many ways she is so like an innocent, little girl, and you can’t help but fall in love with her.

Ah, but what about so many of the others with whom I lived? Sally Doe was not the only one who never received visits from family or friends. Tragically, out of anywhere from 14 to 18 residents (at any given time) around eight to ten never had friend or family visit … or even call or write! It’s like they’ve simply been abandoned. According to Natasha Tracy, writing in 2012, oftentimes someone…

… is just left because of the pain and stigma of dealing with a mental illness. Sometimes people just can’t last through the stress of illness and treatment. Sometimes people really are abandoned by those they thought loved them unconditionally

Well, this is one of the important reasons I’ve determined to go back to the group home from time to time just to visit. Perhaps my determination no to forget will make some positive difference. I certainly hope and pray so… Just out of curiosity, what about you? Would you feel comfortable visiting a group home for the mentally ill? If not, of course, that is understandable. If you’ve never experience any kind of mental illness or been hospitalized or lived in a group home, it can certainly be uncomfortable!

Ah … but there are so many in need of pure, genuine love and camaraderie. I think of my second family still residing in the Samson Group Home and my heart aches near breaking. By the way, this is where the Church (and, I suppose, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.) has really “dropped the ball.” Do you know that during my entire 14 months at the group home, we never received one visit from any church (or other religious institution)? Yes, someone might come by to pick someone up for Sunday service, but…

More on this subject later. It’s an important topic, I think, and perhaps in openly, honestly addressing it we might encourage more interaction between Church and the mentally ill. 

¹ Susan K. Whitbourne and Richard P. Halgin, Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, Seventh Edition, 151; for an interesting, informative article on heritability, cf. Natasha Tracy and Harry Croft, MD, “Schizophrenia Genetics: Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?” as found at Healthy Place

² Tracy, “Fear of Abandonment Due to Mental Illness,” as accessed on 09/24/2018 at Healthy Place

For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

It was almost like a Twilight Zone® experience, seeing Angela and my brother-in-law, Charles, for the first time in about three to four months. It was as if I’d been somehow severed from my past life. This was necessary, I believe, in order to begin healing and growing stronger mentally, emotionally, spiritually… Mind you, I was very glad to see my eldest sister and her husband; it’s just that it was like some tidal wave washing over me from my previous existence.

Sitting in the small chapel area of the Samson Group Home on that Saturday morning, I found it somewhat difficult finding anything to say. The ensuing conversation was a bit stilted, but happy nonetheless, and, to my surprise, my sister actually said I looked better … stronger, more relaxed, with good complexion. Her appraisal made me feel good and added to the sense of hope that had been growing inside me over the past weeks in my new residence. Evidently she could see something outwardly that I felt inwardly.

She hadn’t called or visited before in order to give me time to really settle in and begin my psychological recovery. I completely understood. I needed the time in that safe, secure, and structured environment apart from the outside world, and I needed this because, quite frankly, I couldn’t handle “life as usual.” I could no longer shoulder life as it had been — hours upon hours behind closed doors in self-imposed isolation, deep depression, fear, mania, frustration and anger, strained relationships… 

I had been living to write, which was my love and passion, but even this had become an unbearable strain. Consequently, I’d started to keep a journal shortly after I arrived at the group home, but quickly had to leave off on that simply because it caused to much anxiety … or, at least, it was one contributing factor. I’d also loved to read, but after moving into my new residence I found that I just could not bring myself to open a book. Even the very thought of reading felt burdensome … stressful. 

Yes, sitting there in the little chapel area, looking at my dear sister, carrying on an enjoyable (however stilted) conversation … it all felt so surreal. I wish I had words to explain just how detached from the past I’d become. I suppose it was as if I’d entered into some kind of cocoon, and maybe I had; after all, the cocoon is where the beautiful butterfly grows. And in a very real sense, I would eventually emerge from that cocoon, splendidly reborn … heartier, braver, sober-minded and far more tranquil.

Of course, my emergence from the cocoon would come much later. During that first visit with my sister and brother-in-law I couldn’t imagine ever leaving the group home. This is not to say I wanted to stay there for the rest of my life. No, I deeply desired to leave at some point in the future… I just couldn’t conceive of that actually happening. As I sat there looking at my sister’s radiant smile, listening to her encouraging words, it felt like I was looking and listening from across a great ravine … one without a bridge.

After about an hour, we hugged and said our goodbyes. Despite feeling somewhat detached, I was very grateful for the visit, and my spirit felt lifted. All in all, it was a very good (and important) experience. Really and truly, it came at just the right time. Looking back now, I can actually see God’s hand in that event. One might even say it was divinely orchestrated. At the very least, it was a taste of the outside world that I needed then, even if I didn’t consciously realize that at the time.

The next time Angela came, she came alone and took me on an outing, but before getting to that, I’d like to introduce you to some of the precious souls in what really became (in many ways) my new family. Until then, blessings to you and peace.

For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III