End the Stigma: Lois Haley

This month’s post comes to us from Lois Haley, who says: Hello everyone in NazToo land, my name is Lois Haley. I am located outside of Portland, Oregon in a lovely town called Scappoose. My husband and I have been married for 3 almost 4 years now and during that time we have been foster parents to 9 kids (not all at the same time, 2 at the most at one time). I currently work at JOANN fabrics and love my job there. I am working to finish my bachelors degree in Behavioral Health Sciences with an emphasis in Trauma. No clue what I will actually do with it but it is a start. My dream is to help people that have been impacted by trauma. In my free time I love to be crafty, I love to sew and create things. 

First off I am completely honored to be asked to write this blog post. I was asked to write this post because a certain admin wanted to hear more of my story since we’ve started to become friends *cough*Taryn*cough*.

I am not an ordained elder or graduate from a Nazarene university. I did briefly attend Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) but was asked to leave after mental health issues arose, I’ll get into that later. Being asked to write this feels like an honor that I am not worthy of, but to save the arguments from Taryn, I accepted. There are triggering topics of abuse, self harm, overdosing, and mental health crises. 

 I was born and bred Nazarene in the same church, though as of this writing I am not attending but have not given up my membership due to some background workings of potentially starting a church plant. I was baptized in the Nazarene church, received my membership when I turned 15, and was excited to vote in annual meetings. I attended 2 district assemblies as a delegate, and Mission convention as well. I went to kids camps, teen camps, attended NYC’03, attended Caravans from Papoose to Adventurers, was on the teen quiz team, and later a quiz coach. I felt I was a typical Nazarene, I loved the church and what it stood for. Looking back on it, I threw myself into the church because it was a safe and stable place.

Growing up I was a victim of child abuse from my biological father, the emotional scars of which are still there and I am working through them now as an adult. My parents divorced when I was young, and I witnessed domestic violence between my parents. My mom was then a single mom taking care of two young girls. Some of the church members did help and provided for us – they provided scholarships for me to attend camps, because my mom could not cover the cost, and they would help us with Christmas gifts and the like.

Looking back, I can notice a trend of the church not knowing what to do when mental health events happened. When I was eleven my biological father died. Oh man, that messed me up mentally, all those issues about his abuse towards me now going unresolved. For his first birthday after he died I was able to fly to my aunt’s home in Anchorage to spend some time away from all the shit going on. During my stay there one day I had a fall from 7ft loft and later was a victim in a hit and run car accident. Sadly I did not have medical treatment until I arrived back home, nothing was broken physically but something was triggered in my body, fibromyalgia, but at that time we did not know it. My mom commented later that I was never the same after that. Something also came out that we were not expecting, depression. Here I was an eleven almost twelve year old wanting to kill myself. How did the church respond? They did nothing. When my mom had breast cancer how did they respond? Food trains, drivers to her chemo and radiation appointments. Did we have drivers to our grief group, or meals delivered, or even rides to my mental health appointments? No.

Going around during youth group asking for prayer requests and asking to have prayers for my mental health, I remember one fellow student remarking, “I would have never thought you had depression.” This would have been back in the early 2000’s when mental health was still an unspoken taboo. Here I am, asking for support from my peers, and not feeling like I am receiving any, or that they believe me. 

Fast forward a few years, and I was given the opportunity to attend NNU, freshly out of high school and first time living away from home. I was not prepared at all. Depression hit me again, and, well, my grades were horrific. I came home at Christmas break and was put on an antidepressant. I went back to classes with hope and a new medicine, with the dream that the medicine will help, as well as accessing counseling on campus. Unfortunately the medicine did not help; in fact, it made things much worse. 

In my darkest time at NNU, I self-harmed by cutting myself and the next week I overdosed on Tylenol. I was in the emergency room within an hour of taking them because I told my counselor and they came with me to the emergency room. If you have never had the experience of needing to drink charcoal, count yourself lucky. And don’t ever mix charcoal with cola; it doesn’t make it better. After going through the procedures of the emergency room and talking with the State’s traveling mental health provider, he and I both deemed it best that I would be admitted to a mental health unit for observation for a 72 hour hold, at least. What happened from there: I was transferred by police officers – supposed to be handcuffed but I was willing to go so they did not handcuff me – to another local hospital with a mental health unit. I was admitted and thought I had hit the lowest point in my life. But that came later when I was forced to withdraw from NNU. I was crushed. I had worked so hard to attend NNU – my dream – and now I was being forced to withdraw because of my mental health. I am thankful in hindsight for this.  

So how did the church respond to this mental health situation? I was 600+ miles from home and my mom’s vehicle most likely would not have made the drive there and back. Luckily, the youth pastor at the time was able to use the church van and bring my mom to help pack me up and take me home. After coming home I dealt with full blown anxiety attacks, even while at church, a safe place for me. No one helped me with getting to my daily appointments, or brought my family food. It was like after this great event no one knew what to do. 

Fast forward to 2019, my husband and I are foster parents and our daughter is dealing with her own mental health issues and was in the hospital for a month, and residential treatment for the next 4 months where we would drive at least two times a week for visits/therapy appts, as a whole our church did not respond or help us. In previous events with my sister and her family people dropped everything and supported her with gift cards to the cafe or gas cards, meal trains etc. We did not receive any of this, inside I was crushed.  Luckily I have such a great support system and some great friends who reached out to us and saw our need. After much discretion between my husband and I we decided to leave our church, the church I was born into, grew up in, and got married in, the church I poured myself into, knew more of the history and inner workings of than some of the board members, because we did not have the support we thought we were going to receive during this difficult time. 
Something needs to change. I have found an online resource that seems to be appropriate for our context. For Community and Faith Leaders. My own thoughts on what would be helpful when I was younger is having someone invest into me and be a mentor and being open and honest about their struggles with mental health issues. As for when I’m an adult, I tend to isolate myself from people, but having someone to text or talk to has been the most beneficial knowing that someone cares. 

I hope this post challenges our collective response to those in need of support during some of the dark times in their lives.

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