Saturday, August 24, 2013

Misunderstandings - stigma

Recently I've become frustrated and angered again by a fresh reminder of stigma. Since this blog was initially started to speak out against stigma, I have to address this once again.

I was drawn to a book about fighting to have joy in our lives. So I bought it. I haven't read the whole thing yet but one small statement from the book makes me doubt that I will value what the author has to say. The author - who will remain nameless for now - said: "A Christian, no matter how dark the season of sadness, never is completely without joy in God. I mean that there remains in his heart the seed of joy in the form, perhaps of only a remembered taste of goodness and an unwillingness to let the goodness go."

It's so obvious to me that this person has no understanding of what deep depression can do to a person. For a person like that their "seed of joy" lies dormant - in effect, dead. There is no "remembered taste of goodness" for a person who wants to die.

I told my pastor how annoyed I was with this obvious lack of understanding. I told him how a person who had never experienced deep depression should not be writing about seasons of dark sadness, without at least mentioning the presence of mental illness in some people. I feel there's a huge gap in this author's knowledge and he shouldn't be writing a book like this.

Pastor told me how the author was probably talking about people suffering from bad times in their lives, and not thinking of depression. He told me how we need to treat "normal" people who don't understand with grace, as we who live with mental illness want to be treated with grace. I agree with him and yet...there's a lot of learning that absolutely must take place.

I heard another religious leader make the statement, "Depression is no excuse not to focus on God." And - as he had explained in his sermon - focusing on God will bring joy. This is another case of total lack of understanding. When we are deeply depressed, our minds are broken, unable to function normally. Often we are just not able to focus on God. It's no fault of our own.

Thing is, one in five people deal with mental illness. It's certain that many of the people who have trouble finding joy are suffering from depression. They will feel blamed for not focusing enough on God, made to feel guilty by church leaders and writers for something that is not within their ability to control. This is so very wrong and so very damaging.

I'm praying - praying big - that religious leaders will educate themselves about mental health issues. I pray that they will find ways of giving better support to those many of us who suffer in this way.

And I'm thanking God that Rick Warren, after losing his son to suicide, has started a sermon series to counteract the stigma. I haven't listened yet, but will soon. Thank you, Pastor Warren.


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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Feeling unaccepted

Strange to be writing here. The only things I've posted lately are copies of my Monday morning Reflections on Scripture that I email out every week. But this afternoon there's something I feel I want to talk about that might not be as uplifting as those devotionals are intended to be. I'll write here and leave this out of my Monday mailings.

It's Sunday afternoon and I've been hurting ever since I came home from church. The pain isn't as bad as it sometimes is, nevertheless, I'm certainly not happy. I often come home feeling this way for one reason or another and I don't know whose fault it is. Although I love church, at times I don't feel loved or accepted. It seemed like no one wanted to talk to me today. I felt on the fringe...left out.

I've always said that my church is very accepting of people with mental illness, and I believe it is. So maybe the problem comes from within me. Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if I took the initiative to go up to people and make them feel comfortable talking to me. But I have trouble doing that - especially when my mood is slipping downwards, which it may be right now. I'm not a natural at making small talk.

Interestingly, I've received many emails from people with these kinds of feelings coming up in church. In most cases, they felt that there was an unfriendliness and lack of acceptance because they had mental health issues. Many people in church don't know how to approach people with such problems. There is a fear. Add to that the lack of understanding and belief that these problems are spiritual in nature, and it makes a very uncomfortable climate for people with mental illness. Often they are even shunned. It's very difficult to find a church they can come to consider home.

I wonder too if people with our disorders have social problems as a result of what we deal with. Stigma causes a lot of damage. Not only do people who don't have an understanding think ill of us, but often we think ill of ourselves. And thus we're probably more sensitive than we should be. If we could only walk up to someone with our hand outstretched, a big smile on our face, and ask how they are...totally confident about who we are as a person.

I don't know what the answer is in terms of finding a church where we'll feel at home. But we shouldn't give up looking. When I started going to my church I went prepared to educate, starting with the pastor, then my Bible study group, and gradually others. I spoke in church a few times, explaining what it was like to live with bipolar disorder. I told the congregation how God helped me cope with the symptoms and how He strengthened me.

So...what happened today? Maybe it was all my own doing. Maybe I longed for someone to talk to me but wasn't up to do the same for them. Maybe it's the result of getting less than six hours of sleep a night for over a week. Yup, I think I have a mood issue here.

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