Shortchanging the Mentally ill?

The April 2020 study issue, under consideration for the  Watchtower Study, was about encouraging all runners in the race. However, some runners are not in good health. Among the maladies faced, some grapple with depression and anxiety. “Their distress is just as real as is the distress of someone with a broken limb, but they may not receive the same compassionate response from others,” the article stated.

Verrrrryyyyyy gingerly I will suggest that the writers themselves provided an example of such withholding compassion.

For the “broken limb” people, there was: “Are you lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair? Do you have weak knees or poor eyesight? If so, can you run along with those who are young and healthy? You certainly can! Many older and infirm ones...cannot do this work in their own power. Instead, they draw on Jehovah’s strength by listening to Christian meetings over a telephone tie-line or watching meetings through video streaming.” [italics mine]

But to the “mental health” ones, it was: “Because of severe anxiety, some brothers and sisters feel very nervous and self-conscious in everyday social situations. They may find it difficult to be in large groups, but they continue to attend congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions.”

Someone cynical persons might suggest that to the latter ones, the hidden message is: “You suck it up and get your rear end to those meetings! There is no reason that you can’t!”

Now, I am not that cynical one. I am not a ‘reformer’—I am an apologist. I either allow myself to be molded by counsel, or if for some reason I cannot, I put it on the shelf and tentatively dismiss it as ‘one of those things.’ I lean more heavily than usual on this item because I have known ones with severe anxiety or depression—so severe that they do not get to meetings. Should they? It’s not for me to say, though I note that the infirm, blind, or wheelchair-bound get a free pass should they require it—but not the mentally ill. Maybe it is agoraphobia some have—a terror of outdoors. Maybe it is claustrophobia—a terror of indoors. There are all kinds of weird issues with which people suffer.

I thinking of such a person now. I know that one’s circumstances. I know that one’s home life. I also know that there will be some that will lean on that one VERY heavy to ‘get with it’—and that the person, who already feels worthless, will likely feel that way all the more.

It probably is not deliberate. Paul became a Jew for the sake of Jews, and a Gentile for the sake of Gentiles. He even became weak for the sake of those weak—but there are limits. Did he become agoraphobic for the sake of those agoraphobic? There are some things that you have to experience to understand.

My favorite circuit overseer—he wins that status with many who recall him, even though there has been very worthy ‘competition’ from a steady stream of excellent traveling overseers since—is remembered for the expression, “Just do the best you can.” He wasn’t one for comparisons. He wasn’t one for guilting or pushing or shaming. “Just do the best you can,” was his slogan. He said it repeatedly, so that the slogan itself is sufficient to identify him.

He was not a favorite of everyone, for there were some who feared that if you tell people “do the best you can,” some will do nothing and pass it off as their best. The urge to transform ‘encouraging’ into ‘pushing’ is strong. There are those who yield to it. I did notice, though, that in one of those elder training schools in which the traveling overseers took turns instructing the brothers, my CO was invariably given the heaviest and most sensitive parts. His was the example thought most beneficial for the friends.

That impression is only furthered by the Branch brother, or Gilead brother, or someone, teaching another class, leading a string around on the overhead projector, with finger placed firmly on the lead end. “See how nicely the rest of the string follows this lead?” he says. “Now what happens if I turn the method around?” he asks, as he attempts to ‘push’ the string from that lead, and it bunches up. “It’s really not very smart of me to do it this way, is it?” he observes.

So I was a little surprised to see what I did in print. These days circuit overseers approach with the directive to simply show love for the friends and don’t “pile on” at all. It is not a huge deal, for there is fine print elsewhere recognizing that some people have extraordinary circumstances which preclude normal activity. Still, I almost wish there had been just one more sentence: “Of course, in some extreme situations.....and these ones, too, need reminders that Jehovah, who knows us better than we do ourselves, knows they are “doing the best they can.”

He was my favorite circuit overseer. He has long since retired. He is in his 90’s, and last I heard, he still keeps a “circuit overseer schedule” for his pioneering. He is the one person referred to by actual name in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’—everyone else I wait till they die—not only they, but often also family members and friends. I sent him the chapter he is named in. But he replied that “it didn’t make much sense” to him, adding that he still thought he had all his “marbles.” This worried me. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not like it, and I offered to change the name—electronically you can do such things. But he said that at this point he didn’t really care, so I left it be.

He appears several times in my writings, but only once is he named. It is for the time that he reviewed a demonstration of mine for the upcoming District Convention. Upon hearing it, he was effusive in his praise, and marveled at the hours and hours we must have put into it. “Only,” he finally said, “this one tiny point—I wonder if anyone could get the wrong idea here?” and he outlined some picky little thing.

“Well—sure—I guess we could redo that,” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, wonderful! Just wonderful! The rest is just fine! Absolutely fine! Exactly what the slave means to convey........except...”

By the time he was finished there was nothing left! There is only one thing a brother can say in such circumstances, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother NamedHim, for your counsel,”

One of my participants, himself a man of sterling reputation who had been around forever, said: “Why are you thanking him!? He messed it all up!”

Hmm. Maybe he didn’t want his cover blown. Maybe that’s why it “didn’t make any sense” to him. It’s okay. He certainly did benefit me. And I’ll bet if he’d written that Watchtower, I would not have written this post.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'