Friday, September 05, 2008

Misconceptions - UGGH!!!

Canadian Christianity has another excerpt from A Firm Place to Stand up. The title is Misconceptions and in it I outline the problem many Christians have, spiritualizing mental health problems like depression. I spell it out really well.

But, lo and behold, someone comments - compassionately enough - but totally NOT getting it. She writes, "
Surely, it is spiritual if you break it down to the very root cause....Perhaps a multi action plan would be of use. Spiritual instruction, positive confession, meds and human support."

This is the kind of stigma that exists amongst many Christians. This is the reason many people with mental illness feel judged when they go to church. This is the reason many stop going to church and end up receiving no encouragement in their faith.

I feel so frustrated. Here I spell it out so carefully and it has done no good. I feel I need to return a comment of my own and will eventually do that. First I need to cool down and talk with my two close friends. And - wouldn't you know it - they're not home. And I need them.

I'm just glad I have you out there, my blogging pals. And please, if you feel as I do about this, please write your own comment on that article. I would very much appreciate it. A lot of people read that website and many of them truly don't understand. They need to be educated. Can you help do that?

I feel angry at the stigma, not at the lady who shows the lack of understanding. And I feel even more determined to bust that stigma. Will you help me?


Nancie said...

Dear Marja,

I am greatly saddened by the comments left at Canadian Christianity. It is sad that there is still such a terrible stigma and misunderstanding about depression even among Christians. I believe this is the reason why you and I are so vocal about our conditions and willingly open our life to share with others. We want to educate others on the myths about mental illness so that fellow suffers can receive help and support, and their families and friends are more accepting and supportive.

Someone ever said "Being depressed is bad enough in itself, but being a depressed Christian is worse. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell." How true! Too often Christians who are clinically depressed, not due to sin or lack of faith in God, have been misjudged by people around them, even in their church. And instead of receiving love, prayers and support, they were rebuked and scolded for being emotional, having sinned against God and lack of faith in God. I have had such painful experiences in the past. It is sad that this is the reason many stop going to church and end up receiving no encouragement in their faith. I have friends who are in that position.

No doubt ultimately all the troubles, sicknesses, miseries and sorrows we experience in this life is due to sin, the original sin committed by Adam in the Garden of Eden and the remaining corruptions in us and in the world. But clinical depression and bipolar depression are real medical illnesses that need to be treated. It is not due to a weakness in our character and may not be directly due to any particular sins. We can be walking aright with God, loving Him and His people, serving Him actively and yet experience depression when we over-strained our body and mind, or due to other reasons.

Having battled with some 10 or so prolonged and severe depressive episodes over the last 20 years, I know by experiences that depressions are debilitating and torturous experiences that we did not choose to have. Depression is different from the "blues" and that is why the comment "That is what a person who feels a bit blue would possibly do. Get up, get going, and make oneself do SOMETHING." doesn't work for us. We can't will our depression away just like the way those who are feeling "blues" can do. Many of us with depression and bipolar have a genetic pre-disposition to depression, perhaps traceable to our parents' genes, which increases the likelihood of suffering it ourselves. Stress, strain and many other factors can trigger off our relapses.

It is absolutely vital for Christians to understand and accept that while mental illness usually has serious consequences for our spiritual life, mental illness is rarely caused by problems in our spiritual life. There is also the usually mistaken tendency to locate the cause of mental illness in our spiritual life, our relationship with God, which also increases false guilt and feelings of worthlessness. It is sad when others who have no knowledge or experience of depression say or write things that hurt us as it only serves to deepen our pains and sufferings.

Hopefully your books and articles will continue to be used of God to educate others so that more and more people will be more understanding and supportive. And people who suffer from depression will also know that theirs is a condition that can be treated.

Take heart, your labors of love is not in vain! Many people including me are being helped by your books and blog. May God continue to bless you as you seek to minister to His suffering children. Take care!

With hugs and prayers,

marja said...

Thank you so much for that, Nancie. My husband is away and my friends aren't home, but it was good to have you there, feeling along with me the tragedy of it all. I don't think I'm exagerating when I say "it IS tragic."

Anonymous said...

You are right, it is tragic.
However, I remember before I was divorced, I wondered about those people who were divorced. 'What was wrong with them' I wondered. 'Why don't they try harder' I judged. 'People give up too soon' and 'I thought they were such good christians'.
Now I know differently since I am one of the divorced. Just like all of mankinds suffering, you can't understand it until you have been through it. The same can be said of mental illness.
The only one that truly understands is our Lord, for he was despised and misunderstood...
But I hear your frustration, and I share you sorrow over this frustrating situation.
Sometimes I think our expectations of our fellow christians are too high. They are just people who are saved. They are not more understanding, more moral, more forgiving etc....
I remember when I was going through divorce. There were a few dear christian friends who walked alongside and heard my grief (over and over and over and over again!) and I am thankful for them. But my own church let me down big time. I talked to a friend about this and she asked me if I had any christian friends who were supporting me, and I said yes, and she said, well that is the church.
The church however, as we humans think of it is just a manmade institution with all of the weakness of manmade stuff. Here are two scriptures that have comforted me and may they give you strength as well.
Psalm 9:9,10 "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."
Psalm 9:18 "But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish."
I have shared these scriptures not to cast judgement on your feelings but to bring strength to your heart.
Wendalyn Love

P.J. said...


What you are doing is wonderful, and don't ever doubt that. You will never completely change the stigma, but we can do it one person at a time - look at what you did for Melanie. That is something to rejoice about.

I am so proud of you for standing up and speaking out. You have a lot of support. It would be great if more people would read your work and change their stigmatic attitudes about bipolar and depression. God is blessing you, and through you the world is changing, one person at a time.

Have you heard of Joanne Goodwin? Before I was diagnosed, it was her that broke a lot of the stigma for me. You are doing the same for others. Be proud, and thank God.

And remember, when there is negative feedback, at least you've planted a seed.

God bless you, Marja. Sending love, support, and hugs your way!

marja said...

Wendalyn: I suppose you're right. Perhaps my expectations are too high. However, I feel we need to do all we can to educate people so that they will be better equipped to give accepting, Christ-like support to people who are suffering.
- marja

marja said...

Hi PJ: Yes I don't believe the stigma will be totally eradicated. As you say, if we can help one person at a time learn to understand a little bit better, it will be a victory. My church friends have come to know me and my story and have learned to understand and support me very well. It is my prayer that people will read A Firm Place to Stand and come to know what I, as one person with bipolar disorder, am all about and have had to go through. And I pray that my story will help in that way erase some of the stigma.
- marja

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog when I was googling information and perspectives on christians with bipolar. I'm 22 and I was diagnosed with bipolar summer of last year. My junior year of college ('06-'07) I was active in my campus church, bringing several people to Christ, and preparing to join my campus church's staff leadership in the fall. I had struggled with depression for years, which I was very aware of, and I made it a point to be a transparent person in my struggles, believing that no one can truly lead or minister without total honesty...Except that I hadn't been completely honest about my struggles with impulsiveness and lust, because I was so ashamed of dealing with them. I didn't see a pattern to that side, thinking I was only depressed, and in the winter of '07 my doctor diagnosed me with general depression and social anxiety (I've had panic attacks and a general fear of working with people). Obviously I've worked through a lot of this in order to be able to work with so many people and bring some to Christ and counsel others, but it is still a constant struggle and obstacle. It's like driving through life with my e-brake on. So, spring of last year, I was becoming impulsive, restless, irritable, feeling grandiose, and those other symptoms, and I got off my anti-depressant (now i know that anti-depressants can cause manias in those prone to them, although I didn't know i was prone to mania) and things quickly spiralled out of control. I did things as a result of my impulses and emotions and feelings from my mania that I was so ashamed of, but I didn't feel I could tell anyone at my church. I didn't think anyone would understand, or give me sound advice, and I didn't feel I could trust anyone to see this as a legitimate problem, not even the pastor I was serving under. I stepped down from leadership and stopped going, and mostly got out of touch with all my friends from there, save a few. Even though I knew better, I still believed that Christian attitudes had to be a reflection of God's attitudes, and if they would judge me for sinning because of something I couldn't control, God would too; if they couldn't accept me, how could God?
My relationship with God has been very distant since last summer, and things have changed a lot in my life (for the better). I still wonder though; can I assume that God would still accept me? Am I even sure I believe in God or that He's worth my heart again, after such a deep feeling of abandonment?
I don't know what to do.
Thanks for listening!

marja said...

Hi B. I can understand how you must be feeling and I want to give you a well thought out answer - or at least my feelings on this. Could you check back later? I don't have time right now but will write later this afternoon.
- marja