Monday, July 25, 2011

Is Life Fair?

Person of the Month

When Life Isn't Fair
A Conversation with Robyn Bloem by Nancy Lovell of T.D. Jakes Ministry

"People who haven't suffered are missing an important dimension of their lives, I believe."
—Robyn Bloem

In 1984, when mental illness and Christianity weren't supposed to mix, Robyn Bloem and her husband were slammed head on with the disease that won't go away with the right verses or a better quiet time. Steve Bloem was freshly ordained for ministry and narrowing the candidates to his first church when "flu-like" symptoms graduated into full-blown depression and eventually bi-polar disease. That's only part of what the Bloem's tell about in "Broken Minds: A Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It," a dense blend of personal candor, Christian realism, and professional insight into the problems of mental illness—often aggravated by well-meaning Christians who misunderstand. Twenty-two years down the road, they also head Heartfelt Counseling Ministries a non-profit ministry to the mentally ill and their families.

Here talks all too briefly to Robyn Bloem about unfair blows and why she still believes in a just God.

Robyn, tell us briefly—and I know that's not fair—about Steve's mental illness.
In 1985 while doing his candidating trail, Steve became terribly depressed and for four months we did nothing except try to keep going. I sent him for walks to have his devotions and he'd come back worse. Nothing seemed to work. We came down to the last church we were candidating in before the Sunday they were to vote him in, and he had to tell them he couldn't do it. I had a five year old, a three year old, and a four month old. I looked at the three kids and a father crying, not sleeping, wringing his hands and pacing endlessly and I could only picture the old black-and-white movies of the state hospitals. I was 29 and thought my life was over. And his too. We ended up living with my sister and his brother who are married. Little by little we started to understand that mental illness is a physical illness. And that was 22 years ago.

Who was your husband in those 22 years?
People say to me, "I can't imagine living with a husband who struggles with depression for 22 years." I say he's not gloomy and negative. He's perfectly fine. He's a good husband and a wonderful father all the time except when he's in a depressive episode. And it can last up until three months until we get the medication straight and he's back on track. It's always scary—for him and for me. It's something that overtakes him. He doesn't get a little down, he gets hand-wringing, pacing depressed; he can't even drive a car. But when he's not, he's capable of anything.

As you learned to manage Steve's illness, you put up with a lot of misconceptions in the church—the very place you should be able to expect understanding.

We decided we would try to break the stigma. We openly shared my our mental illnesses. In fact we do a seminar called "Whispers in the Foyer: An Honest Look at Christians and Mental Illness." But the moment we shared that mental illness is a physical illness and what we'd learned, within a week or two the pastor would be back to yelling at people who were depressed and accusing them of being self-centered. But we just kept plugging until Steve and I got the opportunity to write a book, writing from both of our perspectives. It was very cathartic to write about the church and mental illness, the stigma, the misunderstandings, what the bible says, and what people suffering with mental illness need both professionally and personally.

I like that you have so much information into your book. You've learned a lot.
That's thanks to Steve's training. When he first got depressed and a couple of churches said, "We don't want a pastor with a case of the nerves," he applied to do social work. He said at the time that his major was religion and his minor was Greek. They told him he was educated for social work. So he earned his Master of Ministry degree, another degree in social work, and changed his life vocation into becoming a counselor. We've pastored since then, but most of the time he's been in counseling or ministry like now.
I wish that were the only story about unfairness in your life. Will you talk about some of the other events?
For more about the subject of the question, Is Life Fair, when your daughter and granddaughter die, please go to this link, and scroll down to pick up the story.