–for J. K. and the other mental health professions who were part of my care at the Muskogee Regional Medical Center.
Whatever your religious belief, whatever your church, mosque, or temple affiliation, if the hymn “Amazing Grace” speaks to a deep place in you, it’s likely, not for its heavenly message, but for its very human one.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
The song says that grace gives us not only the blind-to-sighted experience, but an up-close-and-personal encounter with being found, as well.
And this week, in particular, I’ve experienced the latter of these.
I’ve been found. I’ve reconnected with an important person from my past, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
This appreciation stems from just what an astounding experience it’s been, what an “amazing grace” it’s turned out to be. For the experience of being found is profoundly affirming. It resonates deeply in us as human beings. It feeds us. It nourishes us. It fills an empty place in the center of our forever-searching psyches.
But being found is a passive experience. It depends on action happening outside ourselves. It requires us to be receptive. In fact, it may be because we are not the initiators but the receivers of “being found,” that it appeals to us so deeply. Whatever, however, whoever makes it happen, this experience appeals to a primal place in us that craves connection, closeness, and belonging.
So, for me this week, a grace was given. I was found; I’ve reconnected; and I’m humbled by that experience.
First a bit of background—
Many of you know about my mental illness, one that’s been well-managed for more than a decade now. But two decades ago, I was very sick—and sickest, perhaps, in the early 1990s when one psychiatric professional in particular came into my life. I was profoundly ill. My grip on reality had slipped. It was negligible, at best.
I lived in Oklahoma at the time, having moved there in 1986 to teach English at Oral Roberts University. I was 24-years-old and on top of my game in professional terms. It should have been the best time of my life. And it was for a while.
But a number of factors contributed to my decline—a genetic predisposition to mental illness, a traumatic family history, and dysfunctional dynamics at the university where I worked. I’d stepped from one sick family system into an equally ill institutional one.
I hung on for a number of years. I spent every extra dollar I earned on psychotherapy. But just before my 28th birthday my mental health took an almost-but-not-quite career-ending nose dive—one that would last at least a decade before I regained my professional wings and my work life righted itself again.
I’ve shared before how dark that decade of the 90s was for me.
I’ve shared how psychosis made me aware of my own nothingness, aware that at the center of myself a huge hole swallowed and indeed devoured all I thought I knew about myself.
My experience of myself shifted. I was not who I thought I was.
I saw myself stripped of all that seemed solid and predictable. I was naked and drowning—bare to the glare of what others called crazy.
So, I wondered–if I was, indeed, out of touch with reality, as doctors said I was, what did that mean? And if I couldn’t trust my own mind, what could I trust?
I was alone in a most existential sense–exiled not only from the rest of the world by mental illness, but exiled by mental illness from myself.
This is the profound terror of mental illness.
But in the midst of that terror, one mental health professional in particular tried to comfort me. And it was this woman who found me just two days ago. She thought about me. She googled me. She found my blog and emailed me. That action reconnected us. She found me again after nearly two decades.
She’d sat with me on a psychiatric unit in Muskogee, Oklahoma, while we made art together, while I attempted to create a sane space inside myself, to paint my way there. That hospital was a safe place for me—a home, a harbor—a place where I could cocoon myself—where I could recover—or at least begin to.
So, I thank her. Good God, I thank her. I’m grateful for both the grace she was to me back then and the grace she’s shared in finding me this week.
The real miracle, however, is this– that in the decades between now and the early 90s, I have, in fact, found myself. I’ve found the woman I love. I’ve found my way back to meaningful work. But more than anything I’ve found my way back to sanity itself.
So, please remember this. Despite desperate and debilitating losses, even the loss of something as sacred as sanity itself, the world is still a staggeringly stunning place. Remember that those of us who struggle with psychiatric illness and the professionals who treat us make our planet a richer place to live and love. Clinicians and patients alike dream about recovery. Together we hope big hopes. Together we dream ever more enduring dreams.
Recovery is possible. And that, like the friend who found me just this week, is an enormous gift–and an amazing grace, indeed.
What grace have you been given recently? Have you ever experienced “being found?” What grace in your own life are you most grateful for?.”
When I shared a draft of this post with JK, she wrote the following in response. I thought I’d share it here.
“Sail on silver girl. Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way. –Simon and Garfunkel
The synchronic event 20 years ago is timeless; it has no ending; it can grow but can never be less than dormant. The Unus Mundus is the most amazing psychiatric “tool” available to all but rarely used. At a particular time in the lives of four people…Mary Kay, Mary, J.K. and Kathy…complete Faith in the connections between the four and The One in Many allowed each of us to grow, become whole, and be strengthened on our individual paths. This was a “therapy” of Amazing Grace to which each of us submitted completely. Its power was so strong and Present though not seen, it could not be denied. And the proof of its healing nature is evident in her Art, in her Soul, and in the lives of those she touches……Its A Kind Of Magic!”
Note: I’m participating in a series of posts that are part of the upcoming PBS documentary “Race 2012: A Conversation about Race & Politics in America.” It can be seen on October 16, 2012 (check local listings). To follow the conversation, please like Race 2012 PBS on Facebook and follow @PBSRace2012 on Twitter. To read about the other bloggers participating in the series, please visit “Monica’s Tangled Web.”