The Difference

This post might be a little different than my usual output. Probably not too different, you might think – after all, it is the same guy behind the keys and the screen that has been writing almost all the other material here – but I am a poor judge sometimes of how what I write may affect another person’s thoughts or feelings. I’ll always do my best to try and avoid any land mines in the lives of others, but that is the problem with buried things; one false move and the damage is done.

Mental illnessI’ve noted in this space before that I live with mental illness.[1] Please note a few key things about that statement. I did not say that I suffer from it, as that might imply a great deal more pain or discomfort than what I usually experience. I simply said that I live with it; I get up with it, go about my day with it always present, and go to sleep with it. I do my best not to inflict pain on others because of my short circuits. I did not choose to be mentally ill any more than I consciously chose to become an addict. How I came to have it is really not a question I need to spend a great deal of time on these days. Whether due to a faulty genetic make-up, damage caused by taking excessive amounts of psychoactive drugs, growing up in a combat zone of parental alcoholism and parental mental illness, or some combination of all of these and something yet unnamed – the mechanics of how I got here might be of interest to a small subset of professionals, but so long as I bump along in this world without drawing attention to myself, you would never know there was anything seriously wrong with me.

I’m quite thankful for that most of the time, frankly. I don’t want to draw attention to myself unless it is as a writer or as a musician, and in both cases I’d be happier if the giver of the gift was acknowledged first. Were you to meet me at church, or on the street, unless someone who already knew me and of my condition were to tell you, you would have to be a keen student of human behavior to see me as anything other than another face in the crowd. I don’t advertise or walk about with a placard saying “Damaged Goods – Beware.” It shows up in small ways no matter what; the odd speech patterns now and again, the difficulty in some settings of making or maintaining eye contact, or the odd look at things or people, as if I’ve lost my place and am doing my best to quickly regain it. The unexplainable sadness that appears at odd – to someone else’s way of thinking – times that people would like to ascribe to oversensitivity.

Some of the quirks of how my mind works are beneficial. An example would be the high intake of reading that shows up as the links of the Saturday Shortcuts.[2] Chris Peek of TrailReflections and I carried on a conversation in the comments about it after the last edition came out, and I do wish I could give a better answer than to say I’m afraid the effect is localized. I read fast, scanning for meaning as well as tone – and the behavior itself appears to me as a learned skill, a coping mechanism developed in the years when what we now diagnose as Attention Deficit Disorder was treated as daydreaming. I needed a way of processing a lot of information just to be able to get through school. It earned me the nickname “Library of Congress” so it can’t all be bad – but it puts me at the high functioning end of what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorders. I don’t think I can teach that, Chris – I live it.

I don’t enjoy standing mute witness to how people with mental disease or defect are treated by those who are supposedly the normal, healthy ones in our society. I especially don’t care to hear it – or see it – from those whom I would otherwise know as brothers or sisters in Christ. I want to put this out here:

The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity Book 3 – Morality and Psychoanalysis

Things are not always what they seem. Try to bear in mind that people are not always who or what they seem, either. Sometimes what appears as rude is a short-circuit. What makes the difference for me is Christ, and the knowledge that normal is a setting on a dryer, or a city in Illinois that United doesn’t fly to.

ADDENDUM: I published this originally at 1:14 AM CDT on September 17th, little knowing that LifeWay had published this article. They have not published my comment – which was not controversial, but did disagree  – and have chosen instead to publish a single comment and all the pingbacks.

Image credit: The Guardian

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  1. [1] I have multiple diagnoses, and find it simpler to use the generic term for most general audience discussions. Chief among those is depression, though there are several other disorders present as well.
  2. [2] For the newcomers here, I read a lot of blog posts and news articles during the week, quite a bit more than what actually makes it into the list of links I publish. Only those from writers that consistently move me or make me think differently about God make the list.


  1. says

    Thanks for your honesty Rick. i would probably be one of those who would not notice. Not that I don’t take note of people, but I tend to try looking beyond the external. I am honored that I have come to “know” you. I still think, in spite of our different make-ups genetically, we would have a blast together. I love music, especially “older” music (classic rock, arena rock, hair bands, and some 60s). I love sitting and talking and discussing. Yeah, I think we would get along famously. Again, thanks for your honesty. And frankly, I envy (in a good way) you ability to read so much so quickly. I read a lot but not a speedy rate.

    • says

      We’d hang together pretty well, Bill :)

      There are days when it is a bit more of a struggle to keep it together just from a functional standpoint, and most of what happens with my illnesses happens out of sight of the average person that I interact with on a daily basis. I can be grateful for the gifts, even if I don’t care for much of the way the wiring doesn’t work right.

      Thanks for popping in!

    • says

      Thanks, Stephen – since I used to work for United (and Delta, and Northwest) it was a logical chuckle for me to pull out. The transparency is far easier to accomplish in writing – there have been far too many moments face-to-face where I leave the other person wondering what’s wrong with that guy, and I no longer feel a need to justify my existence every time that happens. God loves me, and knows what I live with on the inside – that’s enough for me :)

      Thanks for popping in!

  2. 1lori_1 says

    Who is to say what is “normal” anyway? We are all broken, damaged, and messed up in one way or another. This to me is kind of comforting. My niece, whom I love with all my heart has a form of Autism so we are especially in tune to things a bit out of the range of what we would define as normal. We have learned to celebrate what others take for granted with their kids. And I think that is a good thing! Thank you for this fresh and honest post! We love you the way you are. And so does God!

  3. says

    Whenever I’m dealing with someone, I try to remember what you’ve stated here. We all have different make-up, culture, background, family dynamics, work dynamics, etc. I want to respond to the person, not the situation (especially in tense times). We are all influenced by others around us and what we’ve been through or are going through. God is gracious with us in our foibles and inconsistencies and grace is available to us to live the same way with those in our lives. Thanks for this, Rick. Great insight and reminder.

  4. says

    Thank you, Rick, for inviting me over here where you have shared your story. You’ve said this well.

    I worship in a theological tradition which, at least on paper, affirms that in Adam’s fall the human race was thoroughly corrupted in every aspect of their being. I believe the words thoroughly and every include wounds to our physiological, mental, and spiritual health. In creating us mind, body, and soul–three in one, do you suppose somehow God may have been pointing towards His own Trinitarian nature?

    When I see folks in the church struggle to make sense of mental illness as its own entity, I have to question their depth of theological understanding (as well as wonder whether those folks have ever had a front row seat to someone who suffers from it).

    In reality, for a believer who suffers from mental illness, the soul is the healthiest part of him/her as Christ’s redemptive work has been accomplished. Certainly mental and physical illness can grieve our souls, but in Christ they have been healed. Hallelujah!

  5. says

    Amen. What is “normal” anyway?
    I can’t say I know anyone who is “normal”, just people trying to fit that description by the terms/limits that society deems appropriate.

    I don’t want to be “normal”, I just want to be who God created- me.

      • says

        Nope, you are wonderfully and perfectly made!
        God doesn’t make mistakes and He doesn’t make “crap”.
        You’re exactly who He intended you to be! Thanks for sharing your story with the world- it’s needed.

  6. Hazel Moon says

    Many of the most brilliant clever
    artists and talented musicians and prominent actors, and politicians and don’t
    leave out those around us daily – suffer from minor or full blown depression at
    times. That is where Praise and Worship tend to help lift that veil of gloom
    and darkness and raise one’s spirit. Those events horrid though they may be in
    our past keep dogging us. And the relief is in knowing that Jesus was there,
    and the inflictor was not listening.
    Jesus is here now protecting and healing the wounded spirits. Love and forgiveness when it is difficult to
    forgive are the keys to put things behind us.
    Knowing we are ACCEPTED by Jesus is important too. We must not be victims anymore, but

  7. smoothstones says

    Thankful for you, for your inviting us into this and so many other parts of yourself, for your prayers, for all your reading and sharing and kindnesses.

  8. says

    I admit that I don’t understand mental illness, and thank you for being real and honest about it. Christ makes the difference for me, too, in all my shortcomings and long struggles. Thanks, brother, for being gentle and transparent.

    • says

      Part of the process of learning about who I am in Christ involved the long walk through therapy and diagnostics and self-assessments and medications – over years. Most of us have mental health issues and never realize it because they never really get in the way of how we function and live our lives. Others can be downright crippling. Like Matt said in his comments farther down, grace and understanding :)

      Thanks for popping in!

  9. says

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts that many people don’t take time to consider. When we take time to realize that “things are not always what they seem,” we can certainly exercise more grace for people. I hate being misunderstood, but I am sorry to say that I base my attitudes, actions & words too often on assumptions. In other words, I’m sure I misunderstand people all too often, starting with my kids. I’ve considered this idea before, but it’s one of those that has fallen by the wayside in my busyness. I need to pick it back up and keep it in mind as I deal with others in my life, starting with my own family.

    • says

      One of the reasons I talk so much about slowing down, and listening in the quiet, and getting back to a healthier pace of living is the firm belief that we create more walking wounded by trying to live offline life at internet speeds. It doesn’t work very well, and the crashes are horrible to watch. It is far easier to catch my really wacky thoughts when I’m not piling things one atop the other in my life.

      Thanks for popping in, Kari!

      • says

        You’re so right, Rick! Slowing down the pace of life and learning to exist more in quiet goes a long way in helping to take thoughts captive. When we try to live at fast speeds all the time, “normal” thinking becomes difficult let alone the thinking that might be considered “wacky.”

        • says

          Harder to catch them and sort them between “mildly wacky”, “that’s bizarre!”, and “Truly troubled” when we’re going fast. At a slower pace? Sometimes I can flat out laugh at some of the stuff that filters through :)

          • says

            That’s for sure! Definitely easy to capture and then destroy them when the time is available to do so. In the mix for me is when I’m not feeling well. If that is combined with busyness, oh my…

  10. says

    “normal is a setting on a dryer, or a city in Illinois that United doesn’t fly to.”

    Thank you. Your words are a gift, Rick. You speak calmly, vulnerably, truthfully, into our lives. I appreciate you.

  11. Mia says

    Dear Rick
    I understand and hear your heart, dear friend! The chronic illness I suffer from is externally invisible and it is difficult for others to see how very disabling this disease is. I remember a time when an elder’s wife at a church we attended once a few years ago told me to pull myself together for I don’t want to be the one who was always ill in the church. But I have found so much peace when I once read the verse that Jesus didn’t care for His reputation. It actually brought incredible freedom to my heart and I praise our Pappa for His goodness to me! There is nothing I desire more than living deep in His love experiencing His love, joy and peace from the one moment to the next.
    Blessings XX

    • says

      Hi Mia!

      Yes, we both know a thing or two about folks not having a clue. We have to remember to extend the same grace to them as we would want them to extend to us, regardless of whether or not they do, in fact, have the patience to see beyond the obvious.

      Blessings to you, dear one!

  12. says

    I didn’t think I could gain more respect for you, dear gentleman, but I have. In the short time that I’ve known you I wouldn’t have thought there was anything “different” about you. Maybe that doesn’t come across the computer screen, but what really is “normal?” We are not one-dimensional creatures. What is normal about one person makes the next person a little loony. We are not what we seem, alright. We’re like onions — every layer we pull apart reveals yet another layer.

    • says

      Thanks, Thomas. We peel a layer back, with most onions, and tears are the natural by-product. It isn’t terribly different with humans…save for how the peeling is accomplished. :)

  13. Betty Draper says

    The soul is the healthiest part of him/her as Christ’s redemptive work has been accomplished…that small little sentence really does say it all for everyone. It is the only part of us that is healed here on earth. The body decays…our mind ages…these become weaker and weaker as we head toward our graduation from this earth to heaven. But our inner man can become stronger and stronger here on this earth.
    You are a courageous wise hearted man my brother…thanks for giving us insight on a subject that carries so much misunderstanding. Your post will bring freedom in so many levels. I just posted this on my fb about an hour ago…thought I would drop it in my comment too.
    God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other sorts of affliction, as His chisel for sculpting our souls. Weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.” (J. Packer)

    • says

      Thanks, Dave – it didn’t feel especially courageous to write, but if it helps someone else talk about their own issues, then the post will have served its purpose. I want people to recognize that we all have people in our lives – whether we know it or not – that have a form of mental illness. We need to start dealing with them as real people and with the illnesses as real issues regardless of party lines.

      Thanks for popping in!

  14. says

    Rick, the depth of your heart really comes out in this post. The amazing thing about the church is that although we all have our unique struggles we can stand with each other and encourage each other in Christ. I can’t claim to feel what you feel or even to completely understand it but in Christ I can pray for you and up hold you!

  15. says

    I can relate. I come from a line of genetics that landed my grandma in a home when my mom was a kid. In the days before society grasped anything, I’d be unashamedly bashed by teachers and even called names. It got better after my speech impediment was finally dissolved, but certain minds learn and process in different ways. What the system thought were my weaknesses turned out to be my strengths… Thanks for using your strengths to bring wisdom… that some in the world might consider them your weaknesses… but His ways are higher than our ways…

    • says

      He uses the weak to bring down the strong :)

      There’s a funny thing about the stigma attached to the topic – if enough people would take stock of who they are, where they came from and said “Hey – I fit that description” I suspect we might see more of those that can benefit from the therapeutic value inherent in just talking things out with a good friend, instead of having to pay people to listen. Some folks need medications, some don’t. All need prayer, especially as we walk through the valley of the shadow…

      Thanks as always for popping in, Floyd!

  16. says

    Rick, thanks for opening up here. I hope I didn’t imply that there was something odd about your skill. In my mind, you have a brilliant ability to take in so much information and process it. Even though you live with the illness, you also have an amazing gift. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

    • says

      I’m laughing here – no, you *never* implied anything of the sort, Chris. Quite the opposite – you were encouraging and positive. I just don’t believe I can teach the how when in my mind it is inextricably linked to me. :)

  17. says

    “Things are not always what they seem. Try to bear in mind that people are not always who or what they seem, either. Sometimes what appears as rude is a short-circuit.”

    Oh, to remember that all of us battle forces unseen by others, that we all suffer short-circuits in some form. Maybe we’d be more gentle with each other.

    This is stripping at its finest. Thank you!