On this episode we talk with Beth Anne Fisher and Steve Bedard about their contributions to the Spring issue of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability.
Beth Anne reflects on her lived experience of taking anti-depressants and the connection between her diagnosis of PTSD and her Christian faith.
Steve discusses his lived experience of autism, parenting his children who are on the autism spectrum, and his work as a pastor.
Read their pieces here https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/cjtmhd
Watch with closed captions on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/3tIV7aa5Fy4
Welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast, hosted by Miriam Spies and Amy Panton, which comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability. We both live and work on lands that have been homes and remain homes to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron Wendat, the Neutral; and the Ojibway/Chippewa peoples and other peoples who have cared for the land. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land and are mindful of the need to repair broken covenants. This podcast is an opportunity to model how faith communities can engage in theological and spiritual conversations around madness and cripness. If you need a full transcript you can find our videos on our Youtube channel. We want to say before we begin that topics and conversations we are raising throughout our time together are often hard! They are hard for mad and crip people ourselves and hard for our families and loved ones. So, do what you need to do to take care of yourselves, your bodies, minds, and hearts. And now, here is our episode.
Well welcome this afternoon to the mad and crip theology podcast we're so happy that you've joined us and today we have two guests that are contributors to our Spring um issue of the journal and so we want to welcome Steve and Beth Anne and so welcome to both of you thanks so much for being here with us! Thanks so much for inviting me. Great to be here. And we wondered if you might introduce yourselves, your names, pronouns, work where you live and work, and your connection to the journal so maybe words oh and visual description of yourself. So maybe Beth Ann can start us off.
Great, yeah, my name is Beth Ann, Beth Ann Fisher, uh she/they pronouns are great. I live about an hour west of Toronto and I work in Toronto. I'm a PhD candidate at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology and I'm also currently the Spiritual and Community Life Coordinator at Emmanuel College which has been a great job for me as i take a break from my PhD. I've been on a leave of absence for this school year which was much needed after a couple of really intense years so um that's kind of my locatedness, I, my connection to mental health and disability, oh this is hard to be brief, um I'll say for myself I've been diagnosed with um depression and PTSD and um yeah so I live with those. PTSD I would say is not as much present in my life on an ongoing basis but does come up time to time. And my connection to the journal is uh knowing Amy and Miriam from from school and I think starting the conversation with Amy maybe back when we started our PhD in 2017-2018 talking about how there was nowhere that was talking about theology and mental health and and so we started those conversations uh yeah four or five years ago. And so I'm thrilled to see that the two of you have taken the initiative to create this beautiful space. Um, and what I look like, so you can't tell from the video but I am a tall femme person I have short curly hair blue eyes, um I have a nose piercing and some freckles that are mostly gone because it's been winter for so long and I'm wearing a knit kind of grey, black and white sweater and a necklace. Um, and that is what I look like and I'm sitting in a space that has sun coming directly into me and then behind is really shadowed which I really like, I really like that it's so bright where I am and then the background it just kind of fades. Unlike Steve, I don't have a thousand books on the on the shelves but I'll leave that for you to describe Steve. Thank you so much Beth Ann. Yes, Steve, tell us about yourself. Well my name is Steve Bedard and uh uh pronouns are he and him uh I am in uh Brookfield, Nova Scotia, uh Brookfield uh it's not a city it's not a town it's not even technically a village it's more just a rural community. Uh, we have one stoplight in the the whole place uh but it's a it's a beautiful area that we have I just moved here at the end of January and I am a co-pastor with my wife of Brookfield Baptist church but we're originally from Ontario. Um and uh in terms of my uh my interest in in disabilities uh a big part of that is uh my uh my two oldest children uh both have autism and uh they um that's really kind of shaped our our life. I knew uh nothing really about disabilities before then and uh they have been a a complete uh seminary education uh by themselves some of the best and most graceful uh teachers that I've ever had uh and then um a little bit later on from that uh actually I say a little bit later but actually uh really a couple decades later I found out that I had autism myself so that gave enough another aspect to it. I uh I am a graduate of Acadia Divinity College which I have a Doctor of Ministry Degree and I did my thesis on small churches and disability ministry and so basically I want, I've always been in small churches I'm in a very small church right now and I know a lot of churches tend to equate disability ministry with programming and needing a large budget and I wanted to look more at what what is it that uh small congregations can do to be uh both welcoming and inclusive uh of uh people with uh all disabilities. So that's uh kind of my where my interest uh is uh in terms of uh my connection with the the journal, I I don't, I've met Miriam once, but I've uh I don't really know either of the editors at all but I had seen online uh the start of this journal and I thought this is exactly what we need something that is finding that intersection with uh mental illness and disabilities and theology and looking at how it all comes together and and having a sort of a wide range of topics within that to look at. And and I when I saw that I thought that this is definitely something that I was interested in so I was so thankful to be able to to uh uh have one of my articles included. In terms of of what I look like, I am bald with a mostly mostly white beard blue glasses and I am in the office that uh I share with my wife with a bookshelf of books that uh are very heavy to to move around but I'm thankful for them and uh it's a nice uh nice sunny room that I'm in thank you for letting me uh be a part of the podcast.
Well thank you so much to both of you for those awesome introductions that we were saying before we started recording how jealous we are Steve all of your books like that's like my dream to have a library like that so that's awesome. Um, so let's get into it, we what we usually do on the podcast is send questions in advance to our our guests so that they can have a think about sort of the direction we're thinking of taking and so for today the first question that we had sent to both of you was regarding your diagnoses. So, Bethan and Steven you both write that you have received diagnoses, so we were interested to hear how the church has been supportive to you as you have navigated your journeys with these diagnoses and we were also interested to know in what ways have you found the church to be unsupportive? So Bethan, I'm I think I would invite you to begin if you don't mind. Yeah, thank you. Um, so as I was thinking about this question I think for me I would differentiate between the church as a system or as an institution and the church as individuals with whom I share faith. Um, because I would say the church as an institution has not necessarily been particularly helpful, there have been pockets of it um but uh for example, well this was I I want to say that the expectations we have on people uh the institutions often don't take into consideration um what it might mean to live with a a mental health diagnosis. Um, and so for me at the time that I received my diagnoses I was between church communities. I had recently moved uh cities so I didn't have a space of my own, so first of all just living with depression which is such an energy suck as well as having PTSD that was in some of it was actually quite closely tied to experiences that were connected to church closely connected to church for me, so to first of all to try and find a space or to even begin thinking about looking for a community to belong to was like such an overwhelming experience and then once I started going I I did find a little community. And I would go about five minutes after the service started and I would leave about five minutes before it ended in the last hymn because I had no capacity for the kind of socializing or the meeting new people and all of this and I was at a place too where I was like I don't know how to tell people what's happening in my life that like I've gotten myself out of bed and I've come here today but I don't want to talk about what's happening in my life at all. And and so I think the the ways that we're expected to socialize in a church context and I wonder if this connects in a bit with some of the things Steve that you might have experienced and talk about with your family but the socialization expectations were really difficult for me. Um and and then secondly um having to rename and explain to people the trauma experiences that I had had and why things that they were asking of me were things I couldn't do or even why um they might need to broaden their understanding of what it looked like for me to be involved for a time or if there's different pieces of just having to kind of say it over and over or having to say again oh well actually that's actually really triggering for me I don't know if I can be in that space or do that thing. Um at the same time there have been people who have been so wonderful and i think for me um one of the reasons that drew me to the church that I belong to now is because there were two psychotherapists I learned early on there were two psychotherapists in the church and I thought oh psychotherapists will understand and psychotherapists I feel like they'll get some of the shorthand so if I say something about having depression or like navigating PTSD that instantly their expectations of me would be more expansive. So for me, um yeah, that really helped create a space of safety while I was um, I want to say kind of stabilizing in my in my well-being.
That's really helpful, thanks so much for sharing, and are you would you be comfortable telling us a little bit about the ways the church has been unsupportive? Sure, um, so one thing that comes to mind, and this is actually previous to receiving a diagnosis but was certainly uh when I was I want to say when (and I talk about in my my piece that's in the journal this month about my life falling apart), and so when I was in the midst of that life falling apart one of the things that was particularly unhelpful was being promised care that I didn't receive. So I was a part of a church, this was before the move, I was part of a church where the the pastor the minister of the community was fabulous and they knew what was happening in my life and they were extremely supportive and they had connected with someone else who wanted to be, who who had basically said give me their her name and number I'll call them, well I'll offer some support to them because of the context of what was happening and that person never called me. And I went back to my pastor and said, I never heard from them, and they were really surprised and they said okay well I'm talking to them again I'll reiterate. And they reiterated a second time and I still never heard from them and so I think that that was really harmful to me to be told this person is going to care for you or is going to offer you a connection and never to never have that. And especially to know that someone else was trying to support me and it wasn't their fault, the minister that my my community was really they were doing the right things they were helping me connect and um and it was someone else within the system who just never followed up. So I think that that, when we offer care or when we commit to caring for someone who is in a place of mental distress or mental health struggle it's so important that we follow through and we don't leave it on them to have to do the work of reaching out because the capacity just isn't there.
Right yeah, thanks so much for sharing that's such a good point that's really shitty i'm sorry that happened, um so thank you so much for sharing. And Steve, I'm wondering if you I would like to share with us about how the church has been supportive to you? Sure and uh if it's okay I'd like to maybe look at it in two different ways, one is my own diagnosis and then uh that of my children, because those are very different experiences. In terms of myself uh my congregation actually doesn't even know that I have autism. Uh it just has has never come up and part of it is because I began ministry without knowing about that and I've just been pastoring and doing my thing uh maybe in kind of a quirky way but I just thought that was a Steve thing as opposed to anything else and later on found out why I do some of the things I do. And this is something I wrestle with because I know that if I um talk about it a lot in terms of uh like from the pulpit uh that there are going to be people who are going to be challenged by that. I actually just did a presentation at the Canadian Autism Leadership Symposium and they there I presented a paper about autistic people in caring professions and the assumption is that the stereotype is that people with autism lack empathy so how could a person with autism possibly uh help someone who's struggling through any particular life uh life circumstance they're just not uh going to uh to care about that. That's why uh you know people will talk about autistic people are great in in the technology field and they're great at programming and as long as it's not a people person a people job uh then they're okay but as soon as they have to deal with people then there's gonna be a big struggle so that's the assumption that that people have. And uh that's exhausting to to work through that so when when it comes up in conversation I share it uh but I don't advertise it from the pulpit because I just want to be known as I am without having to deny it. Some, I'm sure there are autistic people who would uh not be happy with that decision but that's uh that's where we're at right at the moment. So that actually gives you both the uh that gives you the negative side as well. In terms of my children, there was a lot of compassion when they received their diagnoses, but a lot of compassion mixed with pity, and we had a lot of people again unhelpful stereotypes. Uh you know April is supposed to be autism awareness it's now autism acceptance uh and I'm not sure that people are any more aware or accepting of autism they still have very unhelpful stereotypes. So we had one person in the congregation said to me you know I feel so bad for you that you can't have any emotional relationship with your children because of their autism. I'm like, pardon? where where are you getting this from? our children are very empathetic to the point where uh that's a challenge for them to to manage uh how they are receiving emotions from from other people. But uh also they are very affectionate uh very emotional um hugging everything else uh you know they'll share that they love us and the whole bit so there's a lot of misunderstandings there. But it's been generally positive in the sense that people have cared and wanted to be supportive as much as they can. We've had times where people have just said you know um we're providing child care for you get out go on a date go away for the weekend or or whatever and provided practical support without necessarily understanding fully what what autism was they just knew that there was a room to help and so we have found congregations to be to be very uh good in that. We were attending a church where our son in the middle of a sermon said just kill me now he just said quite loudly and uh we didn't think it was funny at the time because we we just didn't know how people would react but uh the church was very accepting. And we had a pastor who was excellent who understood what was going on and uh would even say uh when he would make noise during the service to say isn't it great that everyone is is welcome here and uh which I suspect he was kind of confronting maybe some of the dirty looks that were that were coming our way and um so that's kind of where we've been uh we've been at for that. So it's it's been a mix of of good and bad although always from a well-meaning perspective even when they've not been as as good um and sometimes that makes it harder actually is when they're they're trying to be good and and uh and just um give very unhelpful advice or suggestions or whatever when you're trying to navigate all of the services that we required it just was always exhausting to have to navigate that at church as well.
Thank you, we're all nodding to the unhelpful, unsolicited advice. Thank you both for sharing the gifts, the questions, and the struggles of living in communities.
And now we'll turn to Beth Ann for a moment and we we love your piece we wondered if you might share a little more about finding God in the pill and we wondered too about the ritual of partaking, what that means for you.
I think that the first time, well the first time that I said I found God in the pill was when I was talking to my spiritual director, which I talked about in my piece, and uh and I I said it and I felt like, oh no have I just like committed a heresy to say that like uh that that it wasn't just a gift of God but that there was something of God in this? And I think um I think for me I I yeah that it was a profound realization that this tiny pill could enable me to encounter God again. Um, and so it is a gift that this, this chemical this tiny tiny piece of chemical um can open up my spiritual life in the way that it did. And um and so I can understand that some people may feel uncomfortable with me saying that like God was in that pill and maybe more comfortable saying that it was a gift that enabled me to encounter God, sorry, but I think and this is where the language of the eucharist um became really meaningful to me because it's something of a mystery you know, what is it in the eucharist or in communion, what is happening there is it symbol is it strictly uh a sign or is there something is there substance to it if you will. And so I think for me it was the same way of asking where is God in the eucharist to where is God in this little pill in the way that it is something that I need something that I depend on and something that um really changes my experience of faith in my experience of the divine and without it it quickly becomes apparent that something is missing. And I think that helps me understand the eucharist in the new way too because I was raised in a tradition, I was raised baptist, and in the tradition where it was purely symbolic and somewhere along the line as I've shifted denominations somewhere along the line it became something so important to me and this was again before I'd received a diagnosis or started medication and I found myself going to church for eucharist for the communion. And when I made this move in the middle of all that was happening in my life I went to a couple of different churches and uh there was one church I went to when I realized they didn't have communion every week I thought why am I even coming? I don't want to come if I'm not going to get communion and and I know it's not that way for everybody but there was something for me around around saying I need this and I need to be sustained by something outside of me um and so so that the spirituality of that and the psychology of that or that you know kind of came together for me um in in this experience and this recognition that I actually do depend on something outside of me. And especially having tried twice now to decide I twice decided that I was gonna go off of um my antidepressant and after going back on it the second time really saying like if I need this for the rest of my life that's okay and there's no shame in that and there's no and there's maybe yeah something sacred in recognizing the my limits um I think for as someone who is able-bodied it can be very easy to push myself um yeah to push myself and to to try and pretend I don't have limits and so so this act of taking a pill is is a recognition and an acceptance of my limits. And I think in the same way the eucharist is a recognition and an acceptance of my limits as a human and that I need something bigger and something beyond me to sustain me and I need it more than once it's not just a one-and-done deal and it's okay that I keep needing it because that's part of the reality of being a human.
Well that's really interesting thanks so much for sharing and it's it's interesting like this I've been as I've been reading more about people's um experiences of medication taking and how they're thinking about it theologically the ritual aspect seems to come up a lot and I I I think it's a it's a really fascinating way to think about it. Yeah I, sorry, I was just gonna say I it's interesting because I'm not always you know perfectly mindful when I take it, I often just kind of pop it back in the morning with some water, um but when I do stop and think about it it's there uh and also when I participate in the eucharist now this act of you know um it's like it the two interact with each other for me now so participating in the eucharist brings to mind the fact that I have this mini thing happening every day and then often when I am taking my medication if I stop and pause and think about it or if I forget to take it first thing and then I think later on I haven't done that yet there's that that same need and that that anchoring that it really functions for me.
Yeah that's so interesting I and I think um we're gonna have a few other people on the podcast coming up who may have like a very different experience of their ritual pill taking maybe it's been a it's been a real struggle for them so I'm really interested to hear how they're gonna like um add to this conversation that we're having so thank you so much for sharing.
And so um Steve, the next question is for you. So um, in the piece that you wrote for us you argue that incarnational faith calls us to follow Jesus in our embodiment not only in words. So how do you imagine churches putting this into practice and worship or pastoral care settings?
Well this this idea came out of my experience with my children who are minimally verbal and it was at the beginning uh our focus our focus was uh completely on uh making sure that they would be become verbal. We wanted to have uh verbal communication with them we wanted to hear the words we wanted them to say that they love us like we wanted uh to be able to to hear what uh what is going on in their lives, what what's what do they like, what are they scared of and and all of those things. And back in that time it was so important to us that we we would have done anything to give them um give get them to that place and in fact they were in a therapy that we would not support now but at the time we uh we did because we were so desperate for that. And what I see in um in the concept of Jesus appearing and the Word becoming flesh um that really made me think uh about how we do church, which is often focused on on the words uh almost every uh service is uh uh you know we're singing hymns and we have uh hymn books with with the words we have uh scripture passages that are read um prayers that are are spoken and everything seems to to focus in a verbal way so how do we uh how do we include people who don't necessarily communicate primarily in a verbal way? This is really hard because traditionally it's that's been the the complete focus but it doesn't have to be that way and there always has been uh non-verbal ways of of worshiping of uh having discipleship um of of just uh being present uh that that is um something that is available. So for example, one uh one Sunday, uh our uh we're one of those churches that has uh communion uh once a month, and uh we our son uh both our children uh with autism live in in uh group homes so we don't have them with us at church on a regular basis anymore but they our son was with us uh because he was having a weekend visit and we totally forgot that it was communion Sunday and we never discussed with well my wife and I never discussed well what are we doing about communion. He is he's not been baptized not that that's necessarily a problem for us theologically but we've never had a verbal conversation with him in terms of uh where his faith is at uh and you know I'm I'm not overly strict in in in rules and that but it was just that moment of uncertainty and where I'm having this internal conversation while I'm leading the church in communion because that's when I realized that this is happening and I was able to really uh see my son as he he took uh he took the bread and he took the cup uh in in our tradition we passed them around uh the the pews rather than having people come up to the front and they uh I could see in his eyes he he was present in a way that he's not normally present not just in church but in general when he's around us uh he was giving me eye contact not because I was asking for it but because he just wanted to and uh he he was participating probably in a way that I I don't see most people participate in communion. He uh really was taking it serious because there's been many times I've taken the bread and the cup because it's that point in the service and without having thought about it and he he was he was present in that and my wife uh told me that she saw him uh start to well up in his eyes and not the the sad crying that we sometimes see but he was moved emotionally in a way uh that we had never been able to um to see before. And so that was uh so communion definitely is is a big part of how that can happen and there are so many uh other traditions a part of of Christian worship uh beyond just expressing our faith verbally that we can um pull back on and and and find out what is what is available what uh you know physical ways things to to hold on to uh to touch uh to smell to taste um to do all of those things uh there are ways uh to do that. In terms of pastoral care setting uh the setting it also includes the the ministry of presence. Uh I'm also a chaplain uh in addition to being a pastor and a big part of what I do is just being present with people and at first I thought this is a waste of time I can't believe I'm being paid just to be present. And yet I saw over time that making a difference I didn't necessarily have to have a verbal communication with people and these are people perfectly able to have uh that kind of communication but just being physically present with them uh seemed to be making a difference beyond what I fully understood. So I think it just comes down to being aware that there there are more tools in our toolbox than just uh speaking words and expecting people to speak words back to us. That there's a lot more that is going on and the church does have traditions that uh reach out to to these uh ways of of uh engaging our other senses.
Thank you so much, Steve. That's really interesting to remember. I know I've we've been teaching on zoom the past two years and how important it has been to remember that we are bodies, we are not just heads on the computer screen, and that matters as people of faith, so thank you.
We've come to our favourite part of the episode you where we get to listen to you two talk to each other about your work, and we wondered if there was any questions or comments that struck you about each other's work? So Beth Ann, I see you nodding. So maybe you can't take it away. Yeah for sure, I even as I'm sitting here listening I have some more thoughts and questions but I'll start with by saying thank you so much for your piece Steve I am I sat down to read it and I read the abstract and I immediately went nope can't read it right now I'm gonna start crying and I knew just from the abstract I was like oh this is this is a good word. And so I left it for a couple days and then I came back when I had a bit more space um to sit with it and I I was so struck by the central thought of how being the word was insufficient. And and yet in our embodied experience we so often prioritize that verbal communication over the embodied and um yeah so I really appreciate it I really appreciated that um pointing that out as someone who highly values clear communication I've been thinking a lot about how and again someone who's been teaching in online for you know a couple years now um valuing verbal and yet also recognizing how limited it is and I very briefly several years ago I briefly uh was involved in offering support to a young person who um was minimally verbal and had autism and their communication of joy and distress was so clear. And the their I remember their parent commenting wow she really likes you, and how uh how that was communicated despite her inability to uh use words for her communication. And then it got me thinking about how one of the things that I valued about that was I always knew exactly where she stood, there wasn't confusion there wasn't that mismatch that often happens between our words and our other embodied communication and I think um for those of us who are fluent in verbal communication we often uh end up saying things that aren't actually congruent with the rest of our communication and send mixed mix signals to one another and so I was thinking about how the gift of communicating with people who are minimally verbal in part is it takes away that kind of that kind of confusion. And also it values honesty and integrity there's no space for deception in the same way that we often almost always function in a realm of a certain amount of deception you know um so that was something that kind of my mind went to. And then the other thing I wanted to say quickly was from something that you said just today about participating in non-verbal ways in worship through holding something or smells or whatnot and in my in my experiences and especially when my my depression and my PTSD were quite acute I felt for the first time in my life that words failed me, that verbal communication was insufficient and that I couldn't participate verbally in church. I might tear up saying this, that I couldn't sing the songs, I couldn't say the things, and yet I wanted to be there and um it's interesting that you mentioned something to hold because I I would often bring something to hold or I would just sit and receive the sounds or or listen and I know that I was often seen as not participating because I wasn't singing the words because I wasn't verbal. And um and that's really hard when you're when you're in a space and so I can only imagine how it would be to have that be the consistent experience that people assume you're not engaged. People assume you're not connected, people assume you're disrespectful simply because you're not using words in the way that they expect you to. Yeah so those are a few of the things that really stood out to me and um and I also was profoundly moved by the the story of your son at communion uh what a gift what it what a just a beautiful moment um and and a reminder of how God is not limited to being the word and the embodiment of our lives is is so much more than whether someone can make a profession of faith or not.
Well thank you for that, and as you're talking there it actually reminded me of uh my previous church we had a young man um a pretty severe mental illness and um uh tara unfortunately he he found the only medication that worked for him was heroin. Uh that was what he he would try to use, the minimal amount but that was the only thing that he would find some relief from and ultimately he died of an overdose which was which was very sad but he was a part of our church for a long time although many people didn't know that because he couldn't necessarily participate in worship on a Sunday morning. What he would sometimes do is he would come in and he would be in the choir room which is just behind the sanctuary where he could hear everything and he would just sit in that choir room by himself and he would hear the music and uh and hear everything you know he wouldn't be necessarily singing songs or or participating in that way but just being physically present and yet absent at the same time was so important for him. And he would also come into our our sanctuary and we had a uh a pipe organ and uh I remember the first time I met him I heard the the organ, this beautiful organ playing, and I thought you know it's our organist uh practicing and I get up there and there's this guy in a tank top covered in tattoos uh just playing the organ in this incredible way and uh and that was you know I guess his nonverbal way of of of worship. I mean he was he was able to speak but his anxiety was so high that he could not um that really wasn't a way for him to to worship and so just being physically present was uh was important. I I wanted to uh talk to you about uh your experience um i'm on medication as well actually I think I take the same pill as you I believe um and uh I remember when our children, uh especially our daughter, she was the first one to have to go on medication and our first thought was you know we failed we thought we failed our daughter that somehow she had to be on medication even though we knew in our head that medication and we use medication for all kinds of other things that we would never even think about doubting uh but at that moment we thought you know you know maybe if we had been better parents you know she wouldn't have to go on medication. And then our you know next child went on medication, and then our next child went on medication, all of them have it at some point or another both my wife and I are on medication uh for for mental health and um I I don't I don't know how to get beyond that as a as a pastor. And as chaplain I I try to encourage people and I'll tell them you know it's the same thing as taking you know medication for diabetes or for seizures or whatever but there's always in the back of our minds I think that doubt of you know maybe if I just if I worked harder I'd be able to not have to have this this medication. How do you respond to those kind of feelings and do you still get those feelings at all? Yeah um, I don't really anymore I I did for sure and especially because I for a long time I had other people in my life who are on medication and psychotropic psychotropic whatever medication for for mental health supports and I always think I thought well my mental health isn't like that's for people who have you know extreme mental health and so it was really humbling for me at first to be like oh oh maybe I do need this. And um but but now yeah there's so much stigma about it there's so much stigma and I I think it's really hard to um to fight back about that in a really like there's not like there's no there's no pill to cure it you know there's no simple thing to say here's the answer to stigma um but I do think for me one thing that's made a big difference is actually understanding a bit of neuroscience and doing and like just learning some things about how the brain works. Not even specific to depression, but just understanding how the brain works relative to various functions in the body and so and realizing like oh like the brain does so many things um and why would I like there's like this one tiny piece that it's not it's struggling with why would I blame it for that right like it's not even as if my whole brain is faulty and even if it was so what. But like it's for me it's it's right sizing it down to like there's this one small part of my brain that's struggling and and the other thing for me that I often say and I'm a big I'm a big believer in normalizing things so I'm very open about this and I talk to a lot of folks who are either considering going on medication or have recently been diagnosed with depression and I say something that the psychiatrist um said to me uh and they offered they asked me if I wanted to go on medication they said you don't have to go on medication it's your choice. And then they said medication won't cure your depression, medication will support your brain so that you have the space and the capacity to have strategies and to do the work of healing and all of these pieces and so for me it's not that medication isn't a cure for anything but the medication is one way of supporting my brain. And if someone had a broken limb we would never say you shouldn't have a cast for the first eight weeks right um and then some people may end up needing splints for longer some people end up needing surgery and they get metal in their arm and we don't blame people for needing a metal piece of their arm. And so really for me it's about neutralizing it in that sense like this is the same thing my brain needs a little extra chemical that's not a big deal.
That's good yeah, that's a good definitely a good way to be to be uh looking at it and I got to tell you that I I envy you that you can see that sacramental side of the the pill. I have enough, the way my brain works, I have enough trouble seeing the sacramental side of communion to be honest and and now I understand that's part of my my neurological makeup uh that that side of it uh it's easier it's not a theological thing for me that it's a memorial uh it's it's more really hard for me to get myself to that place to to see that so uh um i was moved by the way that you could uh you could um experience God in in those ways so that's good. Thank you, well I think it's it speaks to how diverse our experiences of the divine can be right and you know, Amy mentioned other people having very different experiences and I in no way would want my experience to be seen as prescriptive and um but for me and you know coming back to this embodiedness that you talk about for me it was uh a really tangible embodied experience when so many other experiences around me were of loss and of suffering um to have even that little tiny bit of hope. And so yeah, I'm very aware that like there's no right or wrong around I would say experience of taking medication and um and I am grateful for it um but but it doesn't have to be that way for anyone.
Well thank you both so much for sharing we really appreciate it and I was thinking we were talking about medications in the podcast that we just uh recorded before this one too and I was just thinking how important it is that um we're just talking about this stuff and um doing some normalization around you know taking your meds, struggling wanting to go off your meds, throwing up your meds, all these things that happen um with our bodies. So so thank you so much for for sharing with our listeners. The last question that we always ask everybody is how do you take care of yourself while you're doing this work either academic work or pastoral work or wherever you find yourself? So um Beth Ann, would you mind starting us off what does soul care look like for you right now um I I often say I've had a spiritual director for the last 10 years and I often say that's the single reason I would still consider myself a Christian. And that's been such an essential place for me to have somewhere where I can be totally honest um and I have been involved in church leadership and academia in various ways over the last decade so so I think often I tend to be hesitant to be honest in case I'm you know shocking to others or I don't want to distress others with my distress and so having a spiritual director has been such a huge um a huge part of it for me um I also see a therapist regularly which um my I'm particularly interested in psychospiritual integration and and how um psychotherapy and in and insights from psychology can influence spirituality and theology the practices of those so for me it's been really important to have input from both places. Um and then nature is huge going out in nature makes such a big difference for me and I'm some I'm not always good at it I often will when I'm having a hard day collapse and have a nap instead and then I often know if I went for a walk this would this would feel different if I went for a walk in the woods instead that might be a less of a collapse and more of a self-care. Um and then and then being committed to delight I think has been something I've really worked on that has made a big difference for me is being committed to finding delight in the small things and in the daily things and in whatever it may be that there's so much delight to be had in the world and that that's something I can cultivate um in the midst of all the hard things.
Thanks so much, and what about you Steve?
So, in many ways I I seem to have the ideal life right at the moment and that uh my wife and I are sharing a position so I have less actual work hours than I've had in a long long time. I am done my DMin now after do taking way too long to uh to finish that and uh i'm living in this beautiful rural place with lots of lots of things to do and and my my teenage children love to spend time with me which is great uh and so all of those things are are wonderful and I'm loving it but I also as I become more aware of what it means to be neurodivergent and to uh how my mind processes things uh it seems very counterintuitive but for me that the most the most life-giving thing is for me to come into the office. And uh it seems like so bizarre and and I struggle with it because it just doesn't make sense and yet my wife will will recognize when i'm struggling and she'll say all right pack up your computer go to the office not because she wants to get rid of me but because she knows that when I come to this place surrounded by my familiar books and and have the opportunity to to write something or to record a podcast or to record a video or just to sit down with a book here without the the high intensity emotions that are going on at home that is the uh the life-giving thing for me and that that's how I take care of myself and how my wife takes care of me and I'm just so thankful that she recognizes that and uh even though you know we have a new puppy at home and she could use the help working with the puppy and and that she will send me off to uh to have that time alone. I I definitely need the the other things that I'm glad to to to get out into the trails with my my kids but uh I have as a hardcore introvert I I need my alone time or else I just can't function so that's that's what I do and I I think I recognize too maybe as much as I say I struggled to find something sacramental but it is you know to be in a church building even went out it's just me here and uh to be in this place where worship takes place uh you know i do feel close to God, I realize that the church is not a building but uh the building is important too so it's uh it's a it's a good place for me to be at.
Thank you so much, I've found delight in this conversation today so I'm really appreciative of both of you. We wanted to give you a chance for final thoughts before we sign off today no pressure if you've said everything you wanted to say but if you have something burning, now is your moment.
i'm just grateful for the chance to talk with the three of you and uh yeah like Amy said so important to have these conversations and be normalizing that that various levels of ability and disability, various levels of mental health experiences are are present in our churches and our communities and so to normalize it and to say how does this work how does this integrate with um with what it means to be in a in a community of faith is I think so vital so thank you, and thank you Steve again for sharing um your story it's yeah like I said it's given me a lot to think about and really helped remind me of yeah the complexities of communication and also sometimes the simplicity of it too.
Well thank you and uh this has been great to to talk and and you know I just uh thinking about this conversation we're having and the four of us we all have four different stories uh four different experiences and uh that's really what the church uh the church is about. I think when it's at its best when it's at its healthiest is respecting that diversity that we're all going to connect with God and connect with each other in in different ways and doesn't have to look exactly the same and there's there's beauty in uh in that diversity and so i'm i'm thankful for that and uh and I think uh tonight when I I have my my Ciprolix maybe I'll I'll think a little differently when I pop that pill uh after this conversation.
Thank you all.