What about consumers being totally accepted at church? Other "outside" groups of Christians found help from church leaders to become recognized, supported, and embraced inside their church. I believe it is time that God's love, and a Christian welcome, be extended to the innocent suffers of mood disorders. Scores of them are Christians sitting next to you in the church pews . . . but still in the closet.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Saturday, June 23, 2012
The following article comes from the Spring Edition of BP magazine. As many of you know by now, I am working to push back against stigma in my own personal way of being well and living well. The article I share with you shows how misunderstood mental illness is in our "educated" society. I recruit all of you to follow your wellness program, attend our meetings, and speak up and push back against stigma.
Stigma—Talk or Walk
By Lizzie Simon
I've always thought that stigma toward people with mental illness comes from ignorance. And when I'm confronted with someone who simply doesn't know much about mental health, I can explain myself, my story, and my viewpoints and stay pretty relaxed through the conversation. After all, there's plenty of stuff I'm ignorant about, and I generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt concerning what they may or may not know about bipolar disorder.
But what happens when the person expressing stigma is extremely intelligent? For me, what to do becomes far more complex and uneasy.
Recently at a party, I was introduced to a small group of people by someone who praised my book DETOUR: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D. One of the women in the group asked me what it was about. I told her that it was a cross-country memoir in which I interviewed people who had been successfully treated for bipolar disorder.
"Successfully treated?" she asked, pulling me aside to talk further.
My reaction: I was stunned. What can you do in these situations? Do you battle it out or just walk away? Is it worth it to try and "convert" the individual, or is it better to stay focused on what you believe and be surrounded by people who support your beliefs?
I wondered how she could look me in the eye and think that I had been stripped of my own humanity and my self-reliance. I wondered how she figured that any person with mental illness could somehow get by without retaining these qualities. In fact, I told her, people who pursue wellness must continually express this self-reliance and personal advocacy. They have to constantly monitor moods and triggers; they have to navigate their way through the mental health-care system; they have to take responsibility for the ways in which their illness may have impaired their work and their relationships; they have to constantly and consistently pursue wellness. You want self-reliance? I'll show you self-reliance. I had to build my life up from total devastation at the age of 17, after I became horrifyingly ill with bipolar disorder. That's self-reliance.
But I didn't say these words. I couldn't somehow. Instead, I told this woman that I have had contact with thousands of people suffering with mental illness and with their families, that there is no question in my mind that these illnesses are real. I tried to persuade her, but she didn't budge from her rhetoric. It was almost like she had an edge on me, simply because she had only an intellectual relationship to the subject, whereas mine was personal, emotional, political, and intellectual.
I started to worry, is this what everybody at this party thinks? Is this what all of my friends really think? Looking back, I didn't stay as calm as I should have. I didn't make the points I could have. I let her get under my skin, and in doing so, I allowed her to shame me, and shame the work to which I've devoted most of my professional life. Of course, you can't operate socially with shame in the system; it's like spilling coffee into your computer (which I have also done). Everything goes blank.
In the end, I invited the woman to attend one of my lectures and to meet a few families who are struggling with mental illness. I wanted her to test her judgmental and reductive comments against actual human suffering, to expand her vitriolic attack on American health care, business, and politics and thereby acknowledge the painful reality of millions of Americans with due empathy and respect. She said she would email me—we'll see.
While considerably trying, it is meaningful to speak with people who don't agree with me. Not only is the experience a key ingredient to my personal growth, it's also an essential component of a healthy democracy. And I know that we can lessen stigma by being examples, and sources of information, in our communities. I always encourage people to share their stories. I have shared my story with tens of thousands of people through lectures and through Detour, and I have been rewarded in a million ways, a million times over, for my offering. But I'm not immune to stigma.
Once in a while, I guess, I can expect to get stung.
Lizzie Simon is a writer, producer, and frequent guest lecturer for colleges and organizations. She is the author of DETOUR: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D, a memoir that chronicles her cross-country adventures, interviewing people with bipolar disorder about wellness.