In November of 1987, a year before I was born, my parents took a ski trip for a short time away without their two kids. One morning, while my father was making her tea, my mother slipped outside, completely unclothed. My dad found her in the cold, all alone and mumbling to herself. This was where he began to witness the unravelling of his wife’s personhood.
As I grew up, I mourned the absence of the mother she was supposed to be – I desperately wanted her to be well, like all the other moms. I watched as she remained unsupported by the doctors who struggled to diagnose her. I saw her attend churches, only to be asked to leave when she couldn’t tithe. I saw friends distance themselves when they didn’t know what to say or how to support her.
I prayed for a new mom – I just could not accept that she wasn’t well. I desperately needed to be known by my mother, and for her to be normal. But she was unable to be “normal” because of her illness. She isolated herself and left our family, putting herself in high-risk situations and joining a cult. Throughout it all, she prayed.
Fast forward to 2019, and I’m working for Indwell, a Christian charity that creates affordable housing with supports for people, many with mental illness. Our tenants have beautiful, clean and thoughtfully-designed homes that promote health, wellness and belonging. With our Hamilton Apartment Team, I provide direct support to tenants, like a cheerleader on the sidelines, encouraging people to join programs, meet with social workers, and share coffee and meals together.
I see first-hand the loneliness that can occur when someone struggles with mental health, whether it’s because they’ve isolated themselves, or because family and friends don’t call anymore. As Christians, I believe we must move towards people – not away from them. That homeless person on the street, that neighbour who irritates you, that woman who is mumbling to herself – we need to move closer to them, to be unashamed about not knowing how to help or what to say, and to acknowledge the person’s existence, seeing Christ in them.
Some of our tenants at Indwell have no family or friends; they have no one to call when they’ve had a difficult (or good!) day. We change this by being a person they can connect with, by fostering community, and by building positive social networks – by fighting isolation. At Indwell, I am honoured to know and serve people whom society often considers unknowable. It can be challenging at times, but I continue to do my best to really see other people’s needs.
My mom is now on the Indwell housing waitlist. She deserved better treatment than what she received over the years. Everyone deserves to be known and to be seen the way our Father knows and sees us. I’m thankful that organizations like Indwell see the dignity of all people, and continue to build bridges that bring people out of isolation and into community. The only way we can experience wholeness is together.
This article was originally published in April 2019 with the title “Finding Wholeness: Indwell provides not only affordable housing but community.” Now, a year later, COVID-19 is having a significant impact in all of our lives—particularly the communities we serve. Here is an update from Hannah:
As we participate in social distancing and isolation, we may find feelings arise to the surface that we cannot ignore. Feelings like anger and wanting control over this virus, feelings of insecurity, sadness, navigating boundaries and relationship tension. As you experience a fluctuation of these thoughts and feelings moment to moment, I want you to know that I understand, and you are not alone. People with mental health issues knew—before COVID-19—how it feels to experience isolation, lack of control, and sadness.
Maybe their medication was adjusted, maybe their symptoms were too much to handle, or maybe you were that person who stayed with them regardless. Just know that this season of loneliness and insecurity is what some of our tenants feel all the time. When this season transforms into a little bit of normalcy, may you have the courage to do things differently, and participate in a new creation.