My story begins as many do–quietly, and with only a hint of what is coming.
I grew up in the Midwest, one of four kids in a loving family. Dad was a pastor for ten years, serving two small rural churches. Mom was a homemaker. Our family loved to go camping, and all of my best memories of family life have the six of us crammed into a pop-up camper, swimming in a lake somewhere, or sweating together with the wind thrashing our hair, three in the front and three in the back of our sedan.
My parents have adventurous spirits and great passion for serving Jesus. Before I was born, they decided to become missionaries to Africa and worked their way through the process of approval and fundraising in their pursuit of this plan. When I was a toddler, Mom and Dad packed all our belongings in barrels for shipment overseas and moved the family to Lausanne, Switzerland. We spent a year there while my parents did intensive study of the French language. The plan was to go to Africa after that year was over, joining the missionary work underway in what was then known as Zaire. When the time came, however, political tensions prevented our going. We went back to the United States and Dad decided to pursue pastoral ministry instead. I’ve often wondered what our lives would have been like if I had grown up in Africa, different in so many ways, and what if the life that unfolded from there had instead unfolded in a missionary outpost half the world away.
My mom is a gentle person, creative, funny, resourceful, and very smart. She always encouraged my own creative development, indulged my love for reading, taught me to clean the house like I meant it, sparked my love of a good pun, and showed me how to get organized. Mom is also the person who led me to faith in Christ when I was only four years old.
Yet there’s more to our story. Mom has suffered tremendously, and has been the source of much of my own suffering. Ours is a very complicated relationship–as all of her relationships are–and while I didn’t know enough to question the normalcy of our family life when I was a child, something was wrong. This undefined knowledge nagged at my family as we did our best to ignore it. As it became harder to ignore, we started looking for help–and came up short. Then when I was a teenager, on a day when I waited at school for someone to pick me up and no one came, it became obvious.
My brother, stopping at home on a break between college classes, had found Mom in the kitchen, completely unable to function or care for herself. She went to the hospital. When I called home from a pay phone to find out when someone would pick me up from school, a neighbor answered the phone and said my mom had had “a stroke or something.” I walked the two miles home from school, praying and worrying about what this “stroke or something” would mean for my mom. Was she going to be OK? Was she dying? Would I lose my mom? Would our family be the same? It wouldn’t be–life changed after that. And yes, I did lose my mom–over and over again. But it was no stroke that had indelibly altered Mom and our family. That was the day my mom had her first full-on, debilitating, confusing, terrifying, mind-bending, truth-twisting, hospital-worthy psychotic break. And it was a long time before I really understood what had happened.
My family hiccupped through this episode but kept going, and when we got mom back we did our best to live as if what had happened was no big deal. Mom started seeing a Christian counselor and said she was struggling with depression; meanwhile she moved around the house like a zombie, her functioning almost completely suppressed by the powerful anti-psychotics she got at the hospital. My sister and I picked up the slack and tiptoed around Mom like a sleeping ghost. When she was hospitalized again (and again . . . ) we adopted Unspoken Rules 1, 2, and 3 by consensus: Don’t talk about it. Everything is fine. And no one outside this family will understand.
This post was excerpted from Chapter 1 of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. If you want to read more, you can find the book here.
Taken from Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2013 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
© 2013 Amy Simpson.