Updated: Jun 2
empowered and oppressed by the intricate ways in which parts of their identities connect."
Kimberly Mebane (she/her), who holds a bachelor of science in public health, joins the conversation today. Kim is the Program Coordinator at NAMI KDK, a Marine Corps veteran, and a Northern Illinois University alum. She comes to this conversation as an atheist with experience in numerous religious traditions. Kim also brings lived experience with the diagnoses of bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit disorder.
As we begin, Kim and I discuss some reservations about "interfaith." She recalls that when I initially asked her to participate in this project, she wasn't sure she was the right fit for a conversation about "faith." I share my experience attending the Interfaith Leadership Summit as an undergraduate student leader, training and learning alongside atheist and agnostic leaders. You can learn more about what interfaith means here.
Kim grew up attending Baptist church services until the age of 12, at which point she could and did choose not to attend any longer (Baptists make up a branch of Protestant Christianity). Kim says she mainly remembers being bored and uncomfortable in fancy clothes.
Kim also recalls feeling that "prayer solves everything, which made me drift away, even as a kid." Kim reflects that since God is not helping or answering everyone's prayers, God must not care for everyone.
Things seemed to change for Kim as she explored witchcraft, which for her took the form of Wicca. She experienced Wicca as less about a higher power and more about being "empowered to make changes in my own life." She went on to discover Buddhism, which for Kim, was similarly not about the divine but about having agency within herself and a spiritual practice of chanting.
In these practices, Kim, who says, "I need answers, not mystery," was not seeking certainty, nor was she promised it. Kim reflects that, in these spiritual experiences, she felt she could feel the impact of spiritual practice, whereas in childhood, prayer "didn't feel like me."
"I need answers, not mystery." Spirituality, for Kim, is being "empowered to make changes in my own life."
Reflecting on her role as a mother, Kim shares that she did not have the resources for the mental health care she needed. Without these, she could not get the correct diagnoses, treatment, and mix of medications for many years, making caring for her daughter the way she wanted to so hard. Kim also notes that even with the best resources, it can take years for folks to get to a place of recovery. "This is why showing up and caring for my daughter is so important to me now. I can't go back...but this shows us how much resources are needed."
As a veteran, Kim reflects that, although this is changing, the military can be a place where the symptoms of mental illness are often seen as a weakness, which has been "difficult for me to unlearn." She also shares that the access she has been afforded to healthcare through the military has been beneficial. A place where resources are also needed is with therapists of color. Now seeing a Black woman therapist, Kim reflects on the significant "relief" it is to be free of the "extra work of translating" her experience as a Black woman.
As we wrap up our conversation, Kim connects her sense of right and wrong to her "gut" desire not to harm others, in contrast to the fear she felt in the services she grew up attending.
From atheism, she takes the importance of the present moment and this life: "this is what we have, and that's it. We should be as kind to others as possible."
While she may not have spiritual practices, Kim says she does these things because "they are good for my soul": listening to music, reading, playing video games, eating food, and guided meditation.
Finally, Kim reflects that she finds her work at NAMI fulfilling and meaningful. A former NAMI KDK intern, Kim knew the work would be good, "but I did not know how good it would feel to me. It makes my soul happy."
Check out Kim's blog That Feeling When....? to learn more about her journey.
NAMI KDK helps fill the mental health resource gap in Illinois's Kane-south, DeKalb, and Kendall counties. We provide free support groups, education, a resource guide, advocacy opportunities, and community presentations. We recruit staff and interns that look like and represent our community. NAMI KDK has support groups for those experiencing symptoms (Connections) and those who support those experiencing symptoms (Family and Loved Ones). We have Spanish-speaking Connection and Family support groups and programs and support groups specifically for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
The views and opinions expressed in these conversations are those of the guests and host and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of NAMI KDK, Interfaith America, or any entities they represent or with which they are associated.