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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog


Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Every Day by Karl Shallowhorn

pixabay photo

written by Karl Shallowhorn

This past weekend, the UCC celebrated Mental Health Sunday. But for the one out of five of us living with a diagnosable mental health diagnosis, every day is a mental health day. This isn’t meant to disparage our denomination’s recognition of the importance of raising awareness and reducing stigma, but it’s a plain and simple fact.

If you’ve read any of my posts in the past, you know that I’ve been living with bipolar and co-occurring addiction disorder for the vast majority of my life. Over time I’ve fortunately been able to develop tools that have helped me to gain stability and which have allowed me live a life “beyond my wildest dreams.”

When I was struggling with my illness in the 1980’s all I ever wanted was to have a “normal” life (whatever that means). These were the days when my peers were all going on to have careers, start families and seemingly living a carefree life. What I didn’t realize at the time was that by comparing myself to others I was limiting my own potential and developing a negative self-image at the same time.

It was, however, at this same time, a period of spiritual yearning. I recall even going so far as to calling prayer lines, like the one promoted on the 700 Club and the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker television programs. I would pray earnestly to have my maladies removed. And while some of my belief was tinged with delusional thinking, I still had the hope that I could get better. And I did.

The turning point came when I joined a 12-Step program and my bipolar symptoms abated. The spiritual principles and the practical application of said ideals helped me to change the course of my life. As I have said, this program saved me from a mental, emotional and spiritual death. This was when I began to realize the awesome power of God’s healing presence in my life. Over time I slowly experienced a transformation that can only be described as miraculous. I mean, if you had seen me in my “wilderness years” of my illness, you’d say the same thing. There were times when I was completely incapable of any kind of self-care, not to mention being utterly unemployable and devoid of any emotional capacity to feel anything.

One thing I do know is that never during my time of struggle did I blame God for my condition. Like Job, I had to endure many unbearable situations; ones which could have easily caused me to throw in the towel and give up. But my faith in God, as distorted as it was at times, helped to get through to the other side. The many trials and challenges I’ve experienced have all served to help me to grow my belief in my Higher Power.

This is not just something I experience on one Sunday every year. It’s every day. One thing I’ve learned through my 12-Step program is to “live life on life’s terms.” What this means is that I have come to an acceptance of my life, thereby understanding my assets and liabilities, as well as my potential and my limitations. I’ve also learned that by turning my will and my life over to the care of God, I can withstand any challenge that life presents.

And I’m not the only one. There are many people who have successfully overcome their condition by using the tools that are available to them. Each one of us has to discover what works best. It is through this knowledge that we can fully live out God’s plan for our lives, not just on one day of the year, but every day.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.

You are Enough by Lisa LeSueur


written by Lisa LeSueur

After our church service yesterday, a friend of mine approached me and told me that she immediately thought of me during the sermon that our Senior Pastor was preaching. It was a sermon about the feelings of inadequacy that so many of us fight against and the constant barrage of messages that tell us that we are never enough. My friend knows all too well that I have struggled throughout my life with the feeling that who I am at this very moment is never enough. I must do more, love more, give more, learn more, act more, be more.  

It is even more ironic that this message was preached on the very Sunday before I travel to Chicago to receive my Master’s in Divinity, a goal that I have been working toward for a number of years, thinking that this was my one and only calling. And yet, even as I get ready to board the plane, my thoughts have turned towards the idea that this achievement alone is inadequate. I have now set my sights on yet another degree, a Master’s in Social Work. If I follow this new ambition, it will mean attaining my third master’s degree. When will I be satisfied that I have done enough, accomplished enough, attained the skills necessary to be what I am called to be? 

I struggle with these feelings of inadequacy, not only with my career, but within my family as well. I struggle with the idea that who I am and what I have to offer each of my family members is enough for them. It’s not that any of them have said anything at all to indicate that I am not enough. Instead, it’s a feeling that comes from deep within me, that goes to the heart of what I believe about myself.  

I know that I am not alone, and if anything, the problem is getting worse as we place more and more pressure on our children to succeed. Recently, I sat through a high school awards ceremony at my son’s school. I listened in awe as each child approached the stage to receive their honor and the speaker gave the background of what that child had accomplished. In addition to being honor students, most of these kids had participated in sports, played instruments, volunteered at non-profits, held part time jobs, and participated in multiple clubs and school associations.   

I remember the pressure that my own son received from teachers and administrators to do more, be more. He was pressured into becoming a member of multiple clubs, even though  initially he was not a joiner; engage in a sport, even though he had no interest in athletics; learn an instrument, even though on his own he probably would not have pursued this interest; volunteer his time outside of school and engage in mission work, all while carrying a heavy academic load. He worried constantly that if he couldn’t check off each box next to the appropriate achievement on a college admissions application that he would be deemed unworthy. As much as my family tried to impress upon our son that he was enough, just the way that he was, the messaging that he was receiving from the school was much more powerful. He needed to do more, be more. 

As many young adults, just like my son, ready themselves to attend college next year, I worry about their mental health as the pressure to do more, be more intensifies. I have heard too many stories of young adults going off to college filled with enthusiasm, only to return broken by the feeling that they were somehow not enough. While I get the need to inspire children, and adults for that matter, to live up to their potential, we need to learn to balance the message with a message of grace. You are enough. 
Lisa LeSueur is the Minister of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children.