What I’ve learned about transformation from living alongside mental illness

October is mental health awareness month. In the various spaces that I navigate, especially Christian faith spaces, we are often faced with silence around mental health. For this reason I am often cautious to mention that I have been living alongside depression for all of my adult life. This statement is mostly met with awkward silence, sometimes a change of subject or a deep sense of sympathy that I am somehow incapable in all spheres of life because of the “challenge” of mental illness. 

However, when I do get a creative response, it is usually from someone that has lived alongside mental illness as well and have also found creative ways to co-exist.

In my work with transformation, mental health is often the last thing that faith spaces include in dialogue processes. However, some of the greatest lessons in my life with regards to transformation and diversity I have learnt from living alongside depression with honesty.

Some of the lessons that I have learned over more than 25 years remain with me and make me who I am today.

“What is normal after all?”

I have begun to realise that ‘normal’ for most people is really not what we have been taught from a young age. In reality,  ‘normal’ often includes so much diversity, also along the scale of mental wellness. Just think of artists like van Gogh, writers like Hemmingway, and even theologians that I read, know and who inform my theological reflections.

Inclusive conversations springs from internal work

In order for me to participate in more honest, creative and inclusive conversations, I had to learn to do internal work. I can only join a conversation on diversity when I have dealt with my own exclusion. I can only do diversity work when I have dealt with the fact that I have also excluded an important part of my own story towards transformation.

Learning to live with the mess

All transformative work is messy and I am grateful that I have learnt that messiness often results in the most beautiful forms of creativity.

I am blessed to have a network of support that includes the IAM team that has taught me that true transformation starts with an inner journey.