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One of my daughter’s and I are in the throws of a game called “In the Hot Seat”.  Now regular readers of this blog might remember the name and indeed the general premise of the game.

Basically one person sits “sits in the hot seat” for 5 minutes and the others get to ask any question of them that they like.  The person in the hot seat has to answer honestly and can only decline from answering where by doing so they would a) be breaking a confidence or b) placing his or her self in too compromising or vulnerable a position.

There is, of course, a lot of trust involved in the game but it does serve a very real purpose and can really benefit if that trust is present and people’s feelings respected.

Where there are only two people playing, instead of a time limit per person you simply take turns asking and answering each others’ questions and can set an overall time limit for the game should you so wish.

In respect of my daughter and I, the game started one night during her visit home and had overflowed into our emails since her departure.

This morning’s emailed question for me made me really think and is the basis of this post.  That question (Which in this case I am sure he won’t mind me sharing) was…

Where have you felt you most belonged and why?

I have to tell you that this is not, for me, (and I wonder if it is the same for others) an easy question to ask oneself or to answer.

Belonging – it is such a strange thing isn’t it?

Take this picture for example.  I mean clearly they are all baby ducks and thus all belong together in some sense but clearly one is so very different from the others.
Hm, I wonder if you can guess which one of the ducklings I relate to and I wonder which one you do?

If I am honest, I mean totally honest – which of course I do try to be especially in this blog, I am not sure I have ever truly felt that I fully belonged anywhere.

Now not belonging (or the feeling of not belonging) – not fitting in, is a symptom of numerous mental illnesses.  But let’s be honest here it is also a symptom of numerous social circumstances and can be a byproduct of a number of childhood experiences and not just the obvious ones.

My family would not obviously be classed as dysfunctional and if totally honest I would have to say that any dysfunction that was present would have been focused around me, at least that is how I would see it.  Not that I am by any means blind to those thing which were obviously not quite right and for which I had little to no influence or involvement in.

But I think it is interesting that actually my not ‘fitting in’ as a child would be a direct result of my mental health and only added to by other circumstances and not the other way around.

As an teen and indeed as an adult I felt equally alienated.  Although very popular, that popularity was resultant from a very deliberate social mask that I would wear.  My mental health, although bringing with it many curses also came with many blessings.  A mind that worked incredibly quickly was conducive to quick wittedness and humor and so playing the clown was not only relatively easy but also afforded you acceptance and appeal.

Picture courtesy of Christian ClipArt.com

But the problem with masks is of course that even when you are accepted as a result of them you are always aware that your acceptance is conditional on that mask and that it is in fact the mask that is being accepted and not you.

So unless you are a predator, or have a specific personal gain in mind for wearing that mask in the first place and/or are quite happy living a lie, it all seems not only inadequate but oh so very wrong and in my experience ends up being totally wrong and totally counter-productive.

Somehow the very fact that you have to wear that mask feeds into the self-doubt or lack of self-worth that all too often created the very need to wear it in the first place.

And additionally it can seriously add to any depression that is felt about not fitting in in the first place.

Plus being a sheep in wolf’s clothing is so much different to being a wolf in sheep’s clothing and had a very different and often long-lasting effect.

And of course sometimes the masks that we were are placed upon us by other people and we end up having to wear then as the alternative is unthinkable or unappealing.

But belonging whilst so important to us, sometimes is only available to some of us in small doses or for small stolen moments in time it seems.

Even when I was married and had my own family I seldom fully felt a part of them and all too often felt that I was not a part of them.

I still have memories in my head of times when I would come home from work get to my front gate, look down the path and into the front window and see what to many would be a cheerful picture of my wife and son playing together only to have that happiness stolen by the overwhelming conviction that I myself had no part in that picture and that there was no place for me in that picture either.

And trust me that was not as  result of my relationship with my wife and son which was at that time excellent nor was it as a result of anything that they did or felt.  No this was directly resultant from my mental health and from within.

No this was less about the reality that they knew and felt and more about the reality that I perceived.  But of course very often our perceived reality whilst being false or corrupted is still our reality and the only reality that we know.

Can there be two realities?  I ask some of you ask?  Well check this clip out from one of my favorite shows…

If you ask my children or my family if I belong as part of their lives I do not doubt for a moment that they would say absolutely and I have no reason to question whether they are right.  That is, for them, the reality of things.  Do I feel, can I mentally grasp that I belong, fully belong?  No I just can’t do that and I cannot lie about it.  And this difficulty, this flaw or inadequacy in me has far reaching effects.

As a Christian I fully believe that nothing is bigger than God’s love and thus on some levels I accept that even in my inability to mentally accept that I truly belong anywhere I belong in God’s love.

But as a Christian with mental health issues I constantly battle myself in this regard ad as weird as it may seem whilst on one level I can accept that I belong and am acceptable to God it is always done with the contradictory evidence that is wired or mis-wired inside my head.

Have I ever truly believed that I belonged anywhere?  No I can’t say that I have.   But that does not stop God from loving me and it does not place me outside of God’s love – even if it does often make it so much harder to fully accept at times.

But then that is where faith comes in and faith, as I mentioned in a previous blog, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

And here is the question that I think we all, who face this kind of symptom/mindset, or who try to love someone who does,  must ask ourselves.  Does this inability to accept or feel or realize our belonging negate our actual belonging?

Back to our cute and fluffy ducklings picture.

In this picture we have one little yellow duckling by a small wall and seven (although on first glance it looks like six) little black ducklings on top of a wall.

All of them are ducklings and the only think that separates them is the wall.

Are they different?  Yes of course, one is yellow and the others are black, but it is not the colors – the differences that is separating them.  It is the wall.

The wall is clearly the obstacle here and trust me as someone with mental health issues I have seen my fair share of obstacles in my time.  Will the little duckling ever be exactly the same? Who knows but one thing is for sure they will never be together until the wall that separates them is removed or together they all move beyond that wall.

I have mental health issues and whilst I accept that those mental health issues may make us different I cannot accept that they should ever become a wall or ever be allowed to remain an obstacle or keep us apart.