Friday, April 03, 2015

Retrieve Lament: Rachel Brown (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.  
That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted." 

             -- Ranier Maria Rilke, from Requiem For A Friend

Each year, during Holy Week, I ask friends to share a "mourning story" from their own life as a way to see Christ in the midst of suffering. Each story reflects on one phrase of Jesus' dying words.  Today's story is a collection of words from my courageous friend Rachel, articulately describing the messy complexities of physical and psychological suffering.  Perhaps most courageously of all, she invites us -- her friends and family -- to pass the peace of a forsaken Christ as fresh healings over the recurring wounding of her body and soul. May we all know ourselves and each other in the same way.

I have Bipolar Disorder.  This is not news.  I always think it’s news.  I always think it’s going to be so scandalous to announce.  I think that telling anyone I am sick will be disappointing, will discredit any ounce of wisdom and wellness I may ever have, undo any bit of the good I’ve done.  As if this is a disease tamed by diligence and strong moral character.  It does not matter how perfectly I eat, how long I sleep, how meticulously I curate my media consumption, sometimes, I just get sick.  Really sick.
Right now I am really sick.  
Sick enough to sit with psychiatrists for hours.  Sick enough to choose anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers.
Sick enough to say I can’t do my job without a tremendous amount of help.
Sick enough to say it out loud.
Depression is an old friend. I have built my life around its coming and going.  I am rarely surprised by its arrival and I have systems in place for when it stays too long or pushes too hard.  Depression slows me down, gnaws at my hope for any good to happen in life ever again.  
Mania drops like an anvil from the sky.  It has no schedule, no rhythm.  It sings it’s siren song and dashes me upon it’s rocks.  It empties my bank account and fills up my notebooks.  It swerves the minivan and sets tarantulas on my writing desk.  It steals my sleep and my friends. 
Mania has crushed me more than once, but even so, I wave the red flag in front of the hypomanic bull, begging it to chase me so that I will finally write fearlessly, satisfy all the extroverted requirements of my world effortlessly, give generously, impress everyone, and clean out all the closets.
It feels easy to write about my back injury and all the ways it disappoints and inconveniences me.  It feels acceptable to be on the prayer list at church every Sunday since the fire shot down my leg, to let them read my name out loud and ask for my healing.  The scar on my back and the leg that drags give me permission to ask for help.  My MRIs and hospital bands and stacks and stacks of medical bills make the pain real and accessible to the world.  Physical pain is universal.  Everyone has a spine, has accidents that break bones, pull tendons, misalign ribs, crush intervertebral discs.  There is no shame in breaking your back.


When I was a little girl, I would get up in the middle of the night and rearrange my furniture.  I would  take out all the drawers, lay on my back on the floor, and push the dresser across the carpet with my legs.  Then the bed.  I would shove the mattress off and scoot one side, then the other, until I had the whole thing on the other side of the room.  It was deeply satisfying to have control over such big things, and to have a quiet way to exhaust my energy when the whole house was asleep.
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