Behind the Scenes

We Committed to Starting the Revealing Voices Podcast in October 2017. Neither of Us had Experience in Podcasting. These Posts Tell the Story of our Learning Curve.

A Pandemic Prayer Journal

March 20, 9 a.m.

Me: Hey V., how are you weathering this virus crisis?”

V:  We are doing ok. A little more depressed. That is normal. It is affecting almost everyone. Worried about seeing our retirement being wiped out. I have a back up plan. If things get to the point I cannot handle it , I will end my life. That is my back up plan for anything that is totally overwhelmingly. I cannot control it. I know I am not the only senior this is happening to. I know what it is like to barely have what I need. I am grateful for what have had and what I have, but I am at the point in my life there is no way of replenishing my savings and no one to be there for us. We do not have family. I do have a brother , but even if he could , he would not help. I do pray he will be ok. Very high risk. He lives in another state. Have not seen him in almost 6 years. We were never close. I know God has always helped me and my husband find a way , but your options are limited when you reach a certain age. I have people say that when this is over the market will rebound. We will not live long enough to recoup what we lost. All I want is enough money to have what I need and may be some small things I want. Nothing extravagant. I want to know I can replace my roof or furnace if I need it . We depended on our 401k for emergency expenses like these. No if we have anything left we will have even less because of the taxes they take. Can not win for losing. You have to have money. I am not in love with it. I just do not want to go back to not having what I need.

Me:  Oh V., my heart breaks for you. I can’t even imagine the desperation you feel. I want to say, “No wait, I’ll rescue you.” Or at least pray, “God send her a rescuer.” I can offer no simply solution. All I can do is urge you to not give up hope.

V:  Thank you. I appreciate this very much. It is something that is impacting a lot of average. Not only do the seniors have to be concerned about contracting the virus they have to worry about their finances being wiped out.

Me:  Yes. I know several in similar positions. Well, V., take care of yourself as best you can.

March 20, 10:12 a.m.

How to prepare without panic.

I’ve been ruminating on this for over a week now. Some say it’s too late, a handful that it’s too soon. Experts say it will get much, much worse before it gets better. While anxiety is not my go-to diagnosis, you’d have to be in a coma to not be concerned.

Last night I began shopping on Amazon for survival supplies. Tuna. Protein supplement. Dried fruit. Canned veggies. A friend of mine who is an expert in preparedness advised me to keep 2-3 weeks worth of supplies on hand and start replenishing them regularly on-line. I noticed that Amazon now has a monthly subscription option on food items. The pantry was closed by the time I got there, though.

As a man of faith, I have both peace about the future and urgency about the present. What can I do to shine Light in the darkness, point to the Way that leads to Life? Who is hurting the most? How do we triage souls?

One thing I need to heed is the message I have been sharing my friends and family wherever I can reach them.

Receive care for yourself as you care for others.

March 20, 10:45 a.m.

Susan continues to forge ahead with her many vital work commitments.

Education doesn’t take a vacation.

Prisoners need something worthwhile to take their minds off the reality that they will have no visitors, that volunteers will be restricted from coming in.

College students need to prepare to care for future generations who will live on long past this virus crisis. If we want to one day leave the world a better place, we need to invest our hearts in equipping those who will follow us.

I pray for these things as I sit at Susan’s side in our shared study, looking out the window at the birds on the feeders and the squirrels in the tree. Briley lays beside me and prays in her own way.

We hope to one day break the bonds of social distance handcuffs and frolic freely with family and friends, but for now we will love virtually.

Receive God’s care, even as you care for others.

March 20, 12:22 p.m.

I’m so glad dogs are resistant to Coronavirus. Briley is a rescue. I rescued her so she could rescue me.

March 20, 6:17 p.m.

The doctor has advised me to be in self-isolation for seven days as we treat a suspected bacterial infection.

On the scale of universal problems, this doesn’t even constitute First World.

First World problems are…

Getting laid off from work… Being separated from your loved ones because of travel restrictions… Becoming suicidal from severe panic attacks… Contracting the virus or watching a loved one contract it.

No, seven days to focus on my writing and reach out to people I love poses zero problems at all.

March 20, 9:34 p.m.

I’ve been contacting family, friends, and acquaintances from all over the country with this question:

How are you weathering this virus crisis?

Responses vary widely… From a man trying to share strong hope with his wife and daughter… to the senior who expects to lose her life savings and sees death as the only relief… to the young man working in a relatively isolated call center grateful for work and safety… to the mom of four, including two fosters, laughing and crying through the chaos.

We will survive these trying times. We really will. And we will be better, because we will have learned that the only way to move forward is not to climb over each other, but to walk together.

March 21, 5 p.m.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry.

March 22, 2:13 p.m.

There is word that my state (IN) will go on lock-down today. No one knows for how long. We are moving a deep freeze into our basement this afternoon to store perishable items. The grocery stores are packed with more people than supplies. They are breeding grounds for the virus. The waiting period for having food delivered from is almost a week. Amazon will ship food and supplies, but they are also back also back ordered on many items. It’s a damn shame, but the panic is prompted people to put themselves first rather than look out for others.

It is Sunday. I will be listening to messages from two friends who are gifted pastors “for such a time as this.” I’ve been trying so hard to pour myself into Hope for Troubled Minds, I need to replenish my own. It has been a blessing, though, to reach out to folks with Good News that will endure beyond this pandemic. Today we’re recording a special episode of Revealing Voices called “Passing Peace in a Pandemic.”

How can I offer spiritual touch from a safe distance?

Season 3 starts on March 5!

It has been over a year since I’ve written a blog post. Tony and I are committed to being more intentional with out “Behind the Scenes” posts this year.

We had a very productive Sunday afternoon yesterday. Before recording, we had a brainstorming session about knowing our listeners better.

What we do know is that we’ve had 3275 downloads as of tonight (100 from the great state of Alabama, coming in #5 overall)! We want to get to 10,000 in 2020. It will take a listenership base that encourages others to listen to the show to reach that ambitious number.

Tony will be sending out a survey this week to subscribers of his Delight in Disorder blog. With that feedback, we will be able to ask questions that our audience finds more relevant.

Please contact us if you would like to take our survey and contribute to the ongoing dialogue of faith and mental health.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our website. We do value your voice and are honored that you take time to value ours.

Mental Health during Lent

I spent a long time on Ash Wednesday sitting in the candle light considering what I would dedicate myself to until Easter. I remembered 3 years ago I had chosen silence and solitude. That experience resulted in a weekend silence retreat and much contemplation of the power of language.

I have decided to do a similar practice this year.

Recently, I’ve noticed the momentum of bringing stress from work into my home. The drive from work to home is less than 3 miles and sometimes involves continued phone calls related to work. Without that transition time, the stress and attention to work may continue unmitigated. It is a bad habit, creating unintended stress for my family.

With this in mind, I chose to transition from work to home by going into my basement to spend time in intentional silence when I get home. The time in silence has proven throughout my life to serve as a reset. The resulting prayer and meditation leads me into a much more mentally healthy experience.

After a time in silence and focusing on my relationship with God, it is much easier to bring that sense of peace into my relationships with people.

I look forward to dedicating myself to silence and solitude.

Tony’s Big Announcement

I don’t make a habit of fraternizing with our Revealing Voices guests, but I made an exception with Susan Lockwood from Episode 20. Not only did we fraternize, but we started dating regularly, became engaged, and on December 20, 2018, got married.

Some might look at my diagnosis and claim that I swept Susan off her feet in a case of mass mania. But it wasn’t that way at all. We are in our mid-50s. We have been single for 7 years and have grown quite confident in our solitude. We don’t desperately need each other to be complete. Instead, we have the desire to share our lives together to enrich them and bring glory to God.

What will this mean for Revealing Voices? On the whole, I believe it will greatly enhance our show. Susan is passionate in the field of correctional education and networks with many persons who overlap with mental health ministry. With her, we can make connections with potential guests who know mental illness inside and out.

Yet, in a few practical ways it will change the nature in which I prepare the program. I will not likely pull all-nighters and send Eric dozens of emails about ways to improve the show. Hopefully, I will also not get lost in a depressive haze where I find it difficult to engage with guests, brainstorm new possibilities, even commit to a date on the calendar.

For some time, I have found great joy delighting in the Lord. Now I am receiving the desires of my heart. I pray my voice of praise inspire others to reveal their own as they wrestle with mental health disorders.

New Home for Studio E

Over the Christmas break, Tony and I moved the podcast equipment from his basement to my basement. Tony is preparing for a move and my Man Cave had plenty of space for the studio.

The episodes will no longer have Briley’s paws striding across the wooden floor. However, at my house, we may get random outbursts from my teenagers.

In other news, Tony and I have decided to change the normal episode frequency to once per month. They will remain primarily interview driven and may be extended to up to an hour long. This will give us more time to also try a second format called “Healing Stories”.

Two of the main reasons for the changes:

  1. Healing Stories releases will be under 15 minutes. This is a benefit to our listeners who prefer shorter podcasts
  2. We will have more time for production between episodes and flexibility to release Healing Stories when we identify people who want to share in this new format

The shorter podcasts will be released in the same feed as our normal episodes, but will not be released on a normal schedule.

We will be writing more about our new Healing Stories concept in a blog update later this month.

The Stability Network Experience

By a matter of serendipity in early 2017, I was invited to join The Stability Network.  

The previous year, as a contract employee at Cummins Engine Company, I had put together a business case for creating a Mental Health Affinity Group.  The company already had other Affinity Groups that were focused on African American employees, Newcomers, LGBTQ employees, etc.

The intention was to create a safe place for those who identify with having a mental health diagnosis to share coping skills and their aspirations for success while effectively managing their mental health struggles. Unfortunately, my contract with Cummins ended and my main “corporate champion” for the cause was transferred to India.  

Through this process, I met Donna Hardaker.  When I was asked to create a business case for the value of the Affinity Group, Donna helped me find the statistics and other organizations already doing this kind of work. Donna is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the mental healthcare system. I was intrigued by her unique sense of the masked stigma and unique challenges that people with mental health diagnoses face in their career development.

After it was clear that the Affinity Group development had stalled, Donna surprisingly invited me to join The Stability Network. I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.

This past weekend, I attended The Stability Network’s national meeting in San Francisco. It was a follow up to last year’s regional meeting in New York City.  The energy at the meeting and the natural bonds between all the members was a great atmosphere to be around.

Over the past 2 years, my involvement has helped me gain deeper relationships with other mental health advocates, helped me craft my own advocacy storytelling techniques, and inspired me to start the Revealing Voices podcast. The Stability Network inspires and encourages people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive. I am fully committed to the vision to help people with mental health challenges to thrive in workplaces and communities.

As Tony and I prepare for season 2 of Revealing Voices, we will be highlighting some of the individuals from The Stability Network who boldly share their mental health journey.

During my time in San Francisco, I was blessed to get the chance to ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. The sight of this engineering marvel rising from the fog filled me with gratitude. The trip was rejuvenating and I’m energized by all my fellow advocates across the country.

Keynoting at Best Practices for Ministry: Heartland Conference

This Wednesday (October 10, 2018) is World Mental Health Day. We are honored to be keynote speakers at the at the Best Practices for Ministry: Heartland Conference held at St. Peter’s Lutheran in Columbus, Indiana.

The topic of our presentation will be healing. Here is the program description:

What does healing mean to you? How can it be received and maintained?  Eric Riddle and Tony Roberts have tackled this issue in an intimate way as they wrestle with mental health diagnoses. In Eric’s pivotal work with the flood recovery effort, he discovered how to serve his way to sanity. Tony turned inward, writing a spiritual memoir called, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. Eric and Tony then teamed up to found a faith-based mental health support group Faithful Friends. They were then led to produce Revealing Voices, a podcast that is faith-based, peer-led, story-driven, and stigma-breaking.

      Eric and Tony will discuss how God them into mental health ministry, where they find Christ’s strength in their own weaknesses, and what the Holy Spirit can do when believers reach out to those with troubled minds.

Our hope is that we will cultivate a greater sense of healing within and among those who participate and that this healing would spread as they are sent back into their communities to love God and serve God’s people.

Lousville Labyrinth

Today, Jen and I went to a labyrinth on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary – where Tony earned his Master’s of Divinity degree.

It has brick sides with a grass path.  Freshly cut. Very large at 66’ diameter (picture was taken at entrance of labyrinth).

I knew that I wanted to walk with an intention, so I quickly decided to focus on the word “time.”  With the size of the labyrinth and the intention in place, I will say that it felt like easily the longest labyrinth walk of my life. That is good.

It tends to be cliché, but time is definitely the most precious commodity that we have. Reflection on time took me deep into my thoughts on values, prioritization, time allocation, and attention.  It also led me to question how I value other people’s time.

How I can commit to making my engaged time with others more valuable?

Thoughts on legacy even came up.  Legacy is connected to people recognizing an individual’s investment of time in a certain place, idea, people, etc. We control legacy only as far as we control our use of time.

When I asked Jen about her experience in the labyrinth, she said that she had “cleared space” in her mind.  It was an important time to be more mindful, something that she admittedly struggles to maintain.  There was no revelation for Jen, but hopefully the space that she experienced will be something that she can carry with her into a new chapter in her life.  She has decided to explore a career in paid ministry.




To Edit or Not to Edit

Back in October of 2017, when Eric & I were conceiving Revealing Voices, we discussed both our dreams and visions as well as pragmatic concerns: format, length, equipment, cost. One question we raised was how frequently we would release episodes. We kicked around a number of possibilities. We discussed how much time we could invest. We looked at podcasts dealing with similar subjects and having similar budgets (none). Shows like CXMH, The Depression Files,  Waking Up Bipolar, and The Dark Place.

We knew a few things with certainty:

A steady schedule. It frustrates us as listeners to get episodes weekly then not for months.

A realistic schedule. Eric has many essential life commitments. My own mental health has comes first.

Our faithful friendship must outweigh the podcast. If the demands jeopardized this, we would cancel.

With these priorities in mind, we settled on a magical number of every other week, with the option to take a planned break as needed. My therapist recommended 20/year as a goal, so we’ve had this in our minds as we entered into our first session. To date, we have released 12 episodes in just 5 months. We even took a hiatus in July for travel, family, and work commitments.

It wasn’t easy at first, especially not for Eric, who bore the lion’s share with editing. While learning the ropes, early episodes took up to 8 hours to edit. This was put a great strain on sustaining the schedule. I wanted to help more, but had panic attacks just sitting down to help edit.

But by God’s grace, we made it through. Technique became smoother. I developed a system of logging and rating that helped Eric with technical editing. We put more interviews in the bank we could draw from. Before long we were in a groove.

With the success of two unedited episodes, we are positioned stronger than ever. Confident in our quality. Eager to schedule interviews with more local leaders and national experts.

We look forward to continuing with the show schedule and bringing you mostly edited interviews and some unedited episodes with the two of us when inevitably crunched for time.

As always, we welcome your feedback and show ideas!


A Faithful Response to Suicide

I am a man of faith who has attempted suicide. As such, I feel a unique responsibility to share my story. I want to stress that this is my own story. Not the story of Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Or the countless others who don’t make the news. Still, maybe my story will contribute to a better understanding of how someone like me could choose death over life.

First, my own story. In high school, I was a star athlete and a stellar student. I gave a speech at my high school graduation and shared a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson called, “Richard Cory.” It begins:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And ends…
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

I talked about faith as the “missing ingredient” to provide us the will to live. What I didn’t say is that in spite of my own faith, I wrestled inside with a profound sense of meaninglessness. All I seemed to be in the eyes of others was vanity. Sheer vanity.

I took this nagging sense of “phoniness” (as Holden Caulfield might put it) with me to college. Therapy was not a preferred course of treatment in the early 80s. Frat parties were. So instead of psychotropics, I imbibed copious amounts of beer. Whenever I began to feel the angst of meaninglessness, I would drink something to make me laugh at the foolishness of life or smoke something that unveiled the creative connectivity of the universe. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Fast forward to when I became a husband. A pastor. A father. I was suddenly thrust into roles with no script. I was terrified. I turned to a therapist. Then a psychiatrist. I started taking psychotropics which did neither good nor harm. At first. Then we found one that picked me up. And kept me up. Night and day. Day and night. Over 125 hours of brain-racing, vision-seeing, voice-hearing, roller coaster riding mania. Later, they would call this medication-induced psychosis.

Did the psych meds cause my mental illness? Doubtful. More likely, they set off an early warning signal that prompted me to get help.

In spite of this episode, my faith remained firm. I just had to re-exam it. The voice I was hearing was not God’s.  The inspiration I received was not divine revelation. If I felt ecstatic, it was not God’s favor. If I felt despair, it was not God’s judgement. All these things were part of my experience, but my core identity was that I was a child of God. A child who, like other children, had special blessings and unique challenges to make it through life.

By the grace of God, I remained in pastoral ministry for another dozen years after my psychotic episode. These were fruitful years and I found myself with the opportunity to advance in my ministerial career. “Climb the ecclesiastical ladder,” as some put it. I was thrilled by the prospect and poured myself wholeheartedly into the task. I sacrificed my family and my mental health in an effort to be the Savior I had lost sight of.

But I felt no despair. Maybe I buried it, like everything else, under a pile of papers on my desk or stacks of half-consumed coffee cups around the office.

One Saturday night, as I was walking home, I began to feel queasy. I thought I had the flu. So I called someone to preach for me the next day. I went to bed and suddenly heard a voice that said, “It’s okay.”

Had I been in my right mind, I may have found this reassuring. God telling me through an inner voice, “It is well with my soul.” Instead, I heard it as Divine permission to kill myself. So I tried. And it didn’t work. Thanks be to God.

It’s been over a decade now since my suicide attempt. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on it, to feel its impact, to explore it, to pick it apart. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy coming to terms with it. I wrote a book on it (Delight in Disorder) in an effort to reach others who may be struggling with similar circumstances.

So, what have I learned? How does my own suicide attempt contribute to an understanding of the suicides we hear so much about, as well as the vast numbers we don’t? And, what can we do to best create a climate where suicide is less common than every 15 minutes? Here are three modest proposals:

  1. When someone seems to have it all together, they may be most at risk. Rather than idolize them, offer prayers for them. We often demand the most from people who have the least left to give.
  2. Fund independent research for pharmaceuticals that are affordable and effective. Major drug companies are not making better drugs; they are marketing more profitable ones.
  3. Integrate faith, therapy, and psychiatry so they function more as a three-cord strand rather than ropes pulling the most vulnerable apart.

These three things may seem beyond the reach of any one individual. And, they are. We will need foster a healing community that provides help for the hurting. At the same time, we can each do our part.

Before I started writing this, I shared a Facebook update that I would be addressing the subject as a person of faith who has attempted suicide. Immediately, I got a message from a friend, “Are you okay?”

This simple act took less than 5 minutes of her time. And it took place on what is often a poorly misused social media. The point is, however, she was alert to a potential risk and reached out.

The more we cultivate the care involved in connecting with the unconnected, the less likely they will be to disconnect.

{originally published in Delight on Disorder blog}