Stacy, May 17, 2019

"People living with mental health issues deserve to be treated as equals"

I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for fifty years, but recently came to see that this was not my only mental health problem. I always knew I was a bit too much of a child, but the degree to which this affected my behaviour and people’s view of me came as a surprise. I only realized recently, as I talked with my husband, how serious my emotional problems were. People don’t usually tell you such things.

I was too innocent. Too immature. I talked too much. I trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted. My strong attachment to friends ended up stifling them. Today I can see how difficult I had been for people to cope with. Today I can see why some individuals in my church started avoiding me. It hurt to see that happen. At the time I didn’t understand why. 

At my church there were significant instances where I felt rejected. One good friend stopped talking to me. Another would no longer meet socially with me, though we had been very close. I was left wondering why – imagining all kinds of horrible reasons. The pain of not knowing was excruciating, even leading to a suicide attempt. If only someone could have told me the truth about myself! 

The pastor came to dislike me so much that he started treating me hurtfully. Over the course of a year he had very little kindness for me, instead showing uncalled-for anger. I was belittled and humiliated. Excluded from a group I had my heart set on. When I asked questions, even important ones, they were not answered. All this instilled a sense of worthlessness in me. 

I needed boundaries – clearly set out, easily understood. But none were put in place.

I wish I had been told I was getting in the way. It might have hurt for a while, but at least I would then have understood. Like every human being, I need to be told the truth. I need friends who will be honest with me. Not to do so would be condescending – would be treating me as different than others. 

But people weren’t honest with me – at least, not in a way I could understand. I kept asking myself “Why is this happening?”, ”What did I do wrong?” The questions did not stop until recently, four years later. 

Even though I had a severe mental illness, I had made significant contributions for years, giving support to people living with mental illness. I loved the work and I loved the people. And so it was bewildering to be treated the way I was. I took my Christian faith seriously and was serving God in the best way I could. So why was I being punished?

When I left that work after nine years as leader, the respect I once had was gradually stripped from me. I was excluded from discussions. My opinions were disregarded. The slightest connection I might still have had was taken away. Within one year, my memories of the good I had done dimmed, along with my self-esteem. 

I left the church a different person than I was when the mistreatment began. For at least two years after leaving I suffered greatly – traumatic memories flooding my mind, bringing thoughts of suicide. My mental and emotional health were damaged, not likely to return to what they were. My personality changed. I was frequently angry. Many of my relationships – including my marriage – suffered. 

For years I had loved this church. It had been my home away from home, my family. But the issue was kept quiet. The mistreatment and the pain it brought were not acknowledged.

Although I suffered deeply for years, few other friends from the church, except for two individuals, called to see how I was doing. No one offered to pray. I felt like an outcast. I felt like I had been blamed.

My life today would be much different if I had only been regarded as the real person I am. People living with mental health issues deserve to be treated as equals. We’re human beings like everyone else. It’s an insult to be looked down on. 

My life today is peppered with challenges. I have no control over the frequent fluctuations of mood that come in response to traumatic memories. My risk for suicide is high. Emotionally I’m not always up to going out – whether it’s for a shopping trip or a holiday. My husband’s life has been severely affected. And grief for my many losses will probably always be with me. 

What keeps me going is my faith in a God who reminds me that I still have much to give. When coping gets hard, as it often does, I write and do photography, using them to encourage and inspire others with problems like mine.

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