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Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
As if it is not already enough to acknowledge a mental illness and pursue treatment, there is a crowd around us projecting who they think we are with preconceived notions, and judgements.
The hardest thing about having a mental illness is not the illness itself, but rather the stigma surrounding it.
I was diagnosed with bulimia a little under a year before they officially diagnosed me as bi-polar, and it seemed as if one diagnosis was a battle wound, but two was a fatal shot. They typed out my treatment plan with the two B’s at the top, “Bulimia and Bi-polar,” to send to the insurance company, and just like the paper indicated, I felt like a name defined by a diagnosis.
Now, I wasn’t just the girl who had an eating disorder, but I was the girl who was bi-polar, too. All I wanted was to just be Abigail.
It took me months to realize I was always Abigail, and this was just the learning tool I’d been given.
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You see, not only are you not your mental illness, but it is a gift to you.
Our first step in releasing the stigma we feel from others is releasing the stigma we feel within ourselves.
Knowing your mental illness is not only a teaching tool but a character builder leads us from once hiding in shame to engulfing light as we ask, “What is my mental illness here to teach me?”
I know you’re saying, “Ok, my stigma is released, but what about everyone else?”
We’ve all heard “you can’t control others, only the way you react to them,” so the best thing you can do to release stigma about your mental illness in other people is by being honest and open about your experience with it.
With openness comes responsibility and the possibility of judgement.
I caution you to carefully “share your shame story” in precious parts of your recovery.
I like to think we have two camps of people in recovery: Our loved ones who would do anything and learn everything about our mental illness, and then everyone else. We would love to have everyone be as open and understanding as those who have a direct interest in us, but unfortunately they just won’t.
This brought me to Jesus dying on the cross. Whether you believe in God or not is irrelevant. We see a man unjustly dying on a cross, ridiculed, and beaten by those below Him, and Jesus prays to God, “Forgive them they know not what they do” (Luke, 23:34).
I know I have been wrongfully judged by my mental illness time and time again.
I have shrunk in silence about this part of myself in fear of judgement and discrimination, but I desire to be more like Jesus on the cross, doing what I know is right, and forgiving those who simply do not understand.
We must “be the change we want to see in the world” (Gandhi) and the only way people really change is when they realize what is being proposed is directly affecting them.
Sharing your story is necessary to educate and bring awareness to what mental illness actually is and not stereotypes we see on T.V.
Many people point the finger and ridicule because they simply do not understand.
I challenge us, as a community, to help people understand, forgive those who have judged us unfairly, and “forgive them they know not what they do” (Luke, 23:34).
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