Next week I finish my job as a mental health chaplain. I am about to embark as a chaplain elsewhere and there will be more to say about that. But right now, as I step away, say goodbye, I share with you a few snapshots from where I’ve been. A tale or two I offer of lives I have seen, walked a little along with, of footnotes I have made for myself as I’ve worked in mental health as a chaplain, and what preconceptions have been torn apart for me.

Untold stories

I need speak about them for their stories are not often told

Lives with great lines going through them

Stripped back humanity

Niceties are gone

But so is pretense

Which is refreshing

But what is unearthed is

achingly devastating

like bare roots

like exposed wounds

like unmanned kites tearing across a sky

like a life where there is no one outside the institution to care, no one invested except professionals

like the life of abuse suffered so young means now this life may never recover

like a life where there are no good memories to remember, or to forget

like a life where fixed beliefs of cause and effect are so ingrained

that the past predetermines the future

like where who the person is, is not enough and so the idea of embodying a higher power seems much more preferable.

Like the young beautiful soul who is so convinced it has nothing good within it and can only ever cause harm,

Like a life where you have such a beautiful voice and only four walls to sing to

because the section keeps and contains this life. The voice sings ‘damn these walls’, these walls of the ward, walls of the mind which hold a world from which there is no escape, walls of the cells which refuse to absorb goodness, who have learnt to resist what offers wellness.

Like lives where nothing changes, lives maintained in a holding pattern. Lives where losses continue of bereavement and identity but all on a backdrop of poor mental health and damaged social structures. Where folk do not recognise themselves or their behaviours anymore. Where every battle is hard won, housing, repaired relationships, acceptance of medication, openness to therapy.

Like lives walked in the perpetual half light. That is what we enter too, trying to stumble along, to find a way, to forge a path although we cannot see and we try to remain alongside for as long as possible, for is it hard to walk alone in the half light.

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