Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Me and Van Gogh (You Are Not Alone)

The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh

While the kids watch TV my husband and I steal a quiet moment at the edge of the yard.  Sitting side-by-side at the end of the driveway, the garage shades us as we talk about the morning’s sermon.

“I really liked the painting,” my husband says. “It makes me want to have more paintings of gospel stories.  To hang them in the house.”

That morning I spoke on the parable of the Good Samaritan and rather than making a formal power point presentation, I used Van Gogh’s rendition of the story as a visual backdrop to the discussion.

“Yeah,” I reply, “It really helped me when I was preparing.”

It’s one thing to read about acts of love, another to see them laid out stroke, by stroke in rich yellows and blues.

“I found a post where someone wrote about it,” I add.  “It’s by Van Gogh.  He painted it when he was in an asylum.”  Tipping my head to the side and shrugging my shoulders with my hands spread wide I add with a grin, “So . . . you know . . .  me and, Van Gogh.”

We exchange looks and laugh.   

“Yeah,” he says, “You and your pal, Van Gogh.”


Parker Palmer struggled with debilitating depression.  As did Henri Nouwen. 

When I was in the psychiatric hospital last summer, I gathered these names and held them to myself as evidence that mental illness and hospitalization didn’t have to be a stigma.  Their stories gave me hope that despite struggles, my life could proceed with productivity and meaning. 

This past Sunday, after reading about his painting online, I added Vincent Van Gogh to my list.


This week I’m approaching what my counselor eloquently referred to as a “tender anniversary.” 

A year ago this Thursday I had my first panic attack.  My heart beat furiously, waves of heat and chills ran through my back.  My stomach flopped.  I lay on the living room floor, unable to get up.  I called my husband at work and asked him to pick up our kids and come right home.  I canceled my plans for the weekend, which included preaching, and made an appointment with my primary care Dr. 

Still, the panic continued, pulling me under, like a rip tide.  Six days later we woke a friend in the middle of the night, asking her to come and stay with our kids while John drove me to the ER.  The next evening, after a long wait, I was admitted to the Behavioral Health unit. 

I’m telling you this because it happened.  It's part of the truth of my life.  I’m also telling you this because it happens – every life is filled with shadow and light.

And lastly, I’m telling you this because I want you to know that you can add my name to your list

When fear rages and panic sets in. 

When you’re unable to eat, unable to sleep. 

When you make a difficult Dr. appointment and fill a prescription you’d rather not need. 

When you or your child needs to make that scary trip to the ER, to be sheltered for a while until the meds kick in. 

You can add my name to your list.

Me and Palmer, Nouwen and, of course, Van Gogh.       

Linking with #TellHisStory.


  1. Oh, Kelly, you make me cry....truth does that. You and Van Gogh.

    1. Thank you, Jody. I wanted to answer my own question - why do I share about my hospitalization - I had such a hard time finding the words for it, but I knew I had it when my own eyes teared up. Thanks for being part of my journey.

  2. Kelly, I love the bravery, honesty and kindness in this post. Well done!

  3. Kelly,
    Oh, I love Van Gogh and I remember reading your story about a year ago...Thank you for being brave and vulnerable...I didn't know about that painting of his...I knew he painted Irises after he was at St. Remy's hospital or while he was there...praying you feel God's tender arms of love around you as you approach Thursday...((hugs))

    1. Thanks so much Dolly. And thanks for filling in for me this Monday - your words were a gift.

  4. My daughter is my hero. I love you and am very proud of you. You write like Van Gogh paints with passion and vision.

  5. Oh, Kelly, this is such a story of courage and desperation, sadness and comfort. I love that you shared it because you will empower others with similar stories -- even if they never write about them, I know they will feel differently about them after having read your words.
    As for the idea of Gospel inspired art in the home -- wow, I'm pondering that one too.

    1. I used a lot of paintings when I taught biblical studies, I found it to be such a helpful way to see old stories in new light. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Thank you for your honest post, it's so important to share to dispel the stigma! Years ago I had a panic attack..it felt like I was dying..so intense. I think every family has one or more with some sort of mental illness, it should never be a secret. Thank you so much!

    1. Yes, I'd had one in that past too - while waitressing. Thanks for sharing, Kathy.

  7. There's a whole list of words associated with mental health that I even have trouble saying for fear of what they mean. The more I say them, though, the more they lose their power over me.

  8. This takes my breath away, Kelly... and tears, I feel them, too. Along with admiration, appreciation, hope. I love every word of your story here, friend, and I've already added you to my list because it helps me feel braver than I can be on my own. Thank you. I know you will be kind and tender with yourself this coming anniversary.

  9. Thank you so much for your bravery :) I too have suffered panic attacks, PND and as a teen I had an eating disorder. I have always felt deeply moved by Van Gogh, both his life and his works. His paintings are raw, childlike, honest and brimming with all life's colours, both the dark and the light.
    Wishing you a peaceful weekend :)

  10. This is exquisite, Kelly. Thank you.

  11. BTW, I tried subscribing - again. No dice. It tells me I already am subscribed, but still . . . I get nada. Rats.

  12. Full of beauty, beautifully written. I'm thinking we are a pivotal generation, bringing mental illness out of shame-filled, dark rooms into the Light. I am thankful the church is beginning to offer help and healing (Good Samaritan!) to those who are suffering instead of condemnation. I just read a post by another blogger who shared some of her journey with mental illness.http://robynmulder.blogspot.com/

    Maybe as we share our experiences, those who are depressed and/or anxious will seek help. Or perhaps family members may be able to recognize problems and intervene. Although I certainly don't want to place blame on family members. (Our family's experience after my nephew took his life last summer has taught me that.)

    Thanks for your tender heart and willingness to share. Praying your "anniversary" is filled with peace.

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