June 16, 2006
Pastor's Struggle with Illness Carries Lessons
by Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley, rector of Christ Episcopal Church,
The following originally appeared in The
Robert Qualls, who suffers from mental illness, is on a journey. It began on a bridge in
That bridge was not where his life ended but where his new life began, thanks to an
I first heard Qualls tell the story of his journey at a prayer breakfast for clergy sponsored by the
Qualls, a program and training consultant at NAMI, served a church in
The stress, he says, became a "trap door" into mental illness — specifically, into obsessive compulsive and bipolar disorders, into despair and nearly to death.
Qualls resigned from his ministry. His marriage ended. He left
He's on a journey — not one of recovery, when, he explains, a person tries to return to a time when he or she was well to start over — but on a journey that he describes as "procovery."
"I have bipolar, and it's not going way," he said. "I live the richest life I can now, despite my mental illness. I take care of myself. I have healthy relationships."
And he takes his medications, works in partnership with his doctors and therapist and helps others on their journeys with mental illness through NAMI.
Churches and other faith
Communities of faith, Qualls urges, should "uphold and embrace" the person in the psychiatric ward just as they do the person in the hospital recovering from heart bypass surgery.
Thomas quotes the late Roman Catholic priest and theologian Henri Nouwen: "We are all healers who can reach out to offer health, and we are all patients in constant need of help."
Every day of his journey, Robert Qualls knows the truth of those words.