By Laura Van Tosh
Late last fall, I reached out to Zack McDermott using Facebook after learning about his new book, Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love(Little, Brown and Company 2017). A simple question, “Would you like to come out to Seattle?” followed by Zack’s “Yeah. Sure!” put me on the journey to bring him to Seattle. That short exchange began the project that was enhanced through the partnership formed with SFBC, the Rodney R. Romney Legacy Fund, Companis, and Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project. (There were other events planned for Zack in the first week of April. This article is about the public event held on April 7 at SFBC.) The design and implementation of these events also woke rusty and dormant skills, so in a way it was an experiment! Today’s social media tools made planning and outreach easier in many ways, however old-fashioned networking still played a major and necessary role.
Now that Zack’s visit has come and gone, Jim Segaar invited me to write a short blog about the event. I, in turn, reached out to a few SFBC members who were there for their impressions. Coincidentally, May is Mental Health Month, and while Zack’s visit took place in early April, his message helps reinforce lessons that mental health and substance use disorders and the struggles they can impose knows no day, week, or month for that matter!
Christopher Poulos, a recognized leader in reentry services and related policy in Washington state, was the guest interviewer for an engaging on-stage dialogue with Zack. They shared their own stories of surviving mental health and substance use crises as well as their involvement with jail and prison systems. Another common thread in their recovery trajectories was the role of family.
Zack and Chris’ dialogue left several church members hopeful and with the sense that overcoming barriers (prejudices) and recognizing recovery is possible, if not expected, can help create a new status quo.
Another church member who read the book prior to the event, understood the hereditary nature of “disease,” but it became clear that other issues play a role in family as we understand it. Those realizations gave pause as we think about the structure of family, not simply genes. The family unit, especially if “broken” raises other concerns relevant to the development of illness and disease. The strong desire to not repeat history and find one’s own path was shared by these young men.
In the wide-ranging dialogue, they shared the irony of terminology present in the justice system such as ‘criminal justice’ and even ‘correctional facility,’ and the confounding nature of this system that has become an over-crowded de facto mental health hospital.
Another church member was curious about what clinical or psycho-social services were helpful for Zack on his path to recovery. It was clear his deep connection to this mother played a huge role. Her unwavering support and presence during the height of his crises and journey to “normal,” was profoundly impactful. That undying devotion brought church members closer to understanding how important family is for people who experience mental health and/or substance use disorders.
This vital connection to family was strikingly clear as I worked on the planning of the events. The partnerships created a close family bond of sorts, with a sense of faith and spirit-healing. The connection with SFBC embodies the stated church values of “being present,” and “welcoming the stranger.” The partnership with Companis and Real Change furthers the teachings important to its workers and the community at-large. Together we made a simple greeting on social media a reality.
For more information about Zack McDermott, visit the Facebook page created for the SFBC/Companis event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1866093023690428/
Thank you to Carole Cornell, Cherry Johnson, and Harriet Platts for your observations.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist