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Couple hopes testimony helps others struggling

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (BP)–She wanted to disappear. She wanted to die. She thought her family would be better off without her.

Shyre McCune’s life had changed unexpectedly in 1992 when she started feeling overwhelmed to the point of losing control.

On the mission field in Honduras with her husband, Ken, and two sons, Shyre — who previously never had exhibited any signs of mental problems — started having episodes of self-destructive behavior.

“I would bang my head on the wall, and I would hit my arms and legs until they were bruised,” recalled Shyre, who grew up in Missouri as a Baptist pastor’s daughter.

Ken was bewildered. “I didn’t know what was going on. Shyre had always been independent and not afraid to do things, and then she started withdrawing and doing strange things.”

Shyre became afraid to leave the house alone, and she started having hallucinations. “She’s arachnophobic anyway, and she would see real spiders, but she also would see spiders that weren’t there. She would want me to kill a spider, and it wouldn’t really be there, but I would kill it anyway.”

The McCunes had been on the mission field four years and had just returned to Honduras after a furlough when the problems became noticeable.

Several months later, they requested a medical furlough from the International Mission Board and soon were in Dallas at a center for mental health.

After 14 months of therapy, they returned to Honduras — with misgivings. “I told the counselor I had doubts about her being ready to go back to the mission field, but he talked me into it, saying she’d be fine.”

Three weeks later, Shyre had another episode of self-destructive behavior.

“I quit having any feelings for anyone,” she recalled.

“Everything shut down. I had a lot of anger, usually at myself, but later on, I took my anger out on Ken for things he hadn’t done.”

But after an episode subsided, Shyre said, she felt ridiculous. “I’d wonder why I did that. I didn’t want Ken or the kids to see me like that. But I couldn’t control this. I felt something going on, but I couldn’t stop it. That’s why I sought help. But it wasn’t stopping.”

By this time, the McCunes’ marriage was under severe strain. Shyre’s conversations were irrational, making it difficult for the two to talk without arguing.

“Everybody has normal marital problems, but this was irrational problems,” Ken said. “We recognized marriage problems were happening, but that wasn’t the root problem — her illness was.”

They returned to the States, this time going to Shawnee, Okla. “I had another episode,” Shyre recounted. “Ken took me to the hospital, and there was a good psychiatrist on the team. Within a month, I was doing a whole lot better.”

The difference: “Shyre’s psychiatrist was the first person in the mental health field who didn’t blame her problem on me or her childhood or anything other than what it was — an illness treatable by medication.”

Shyre was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The condition combines symptoms such as irrational behaviors, anxieties, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and hallucinations.

“It took a while to get the right medication with the right dosage, and I’ve still been back in the hospital a couple of times, but I was on the road to recovery,” Shyre said.

For the past two years, Shyre has not had any episodes. As long as she takes her medication and doesn’t “overdo,” she is fine. “I can feel an episode coming on now, I start to feeling a sensation that things are getting out of control; if I’ve got too much going on, I know I need to back off.”

Once, she decided to stop taking her medication, and she became suicidal; Ken took her to the hospital after she overdosed on some pills.

“After that last hospitalization, I decided I’d rather take medicine than have the problems like I had been having; they disrupted my family life. I decided if that’s what I have to do, then thank God for providing the medicine for me.”

The McCunes said if they had seen a psychiatrist sooner, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.

“One of the worst things you can do with someone with borderline personality disorder is [talk] therapy, because they’re not thinking rationally,” Shyre said.

“The counselors I saw were intent on us becoming angry with God, but we didn’t see it as God causing it at all. God was the one carrying us through.”

Today, the McCunes live in Springfield, Mo., where they are members of Ridgecrest Baptist Church. Ken is coordinator of the church planting initiative for the Missouri Baptist Convention. Shyre is a homemaker. She has been an activities director in a nursing home and an administrator at a senior citizens center.

Both said they had wondered what good could possibly come out of their experience, but they said one thing is they can help other people through similar situations.

“I had been real skeptical that people could have a mental illness,” Shyre said. “I thought they were weak. It’s made me a lot more sympathetic for people with mental illness or just struggling to get their life together.” Christians have been supportive of them throughout the past nine years, they said, including the IMB.

“Now we’re appointed by the North American Mission Board. A mental illness doesn’t necessarily prevent someone from serving God. It’s not like I’d ‘strayed,'” Shyre said. :They said only a few Christians have told them she just needs to have more faith, that Christians should not have such problems.

“It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking, if I’m not careful,” Shyre continued. “But I knew the Bible. When I first started having problems, I was spending time in prayer, doing my devotions, reading my Bible. It’s not like I had strayed or been unfaithful.

“If anything, I obsessed with Scripture. It’s the only thing I knew to do … go to God’s Word.

“For some reason, God chose not to use a miraculous healing, but he has provided a medicine and a means for us to get [healing].”

Shyre encouraged other Christians not to be afraid to acknowledge that they might be dealing with a mental illness and to see their medical doctor or go to a psychiatrist. “Christians can have mental illness,” she said.

The McCunes’ marriage is stronger now, they said, and their sons — Brent, 17, and Kenny, 15 — are enjoying a “happier” mom.

Ken said, “For a long time, it seemed as if things would never be normal again. But it does get to a point where you can go on with life.

“There is hope.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SHYRE AND KEN MCCUNE.

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  • Stacey Hamby