(Yes, I know…it’s really cheesy and lazy to “bump” a post just so people will read it, but this one fits in so well with some of my other recent posts that I’m doing it anyway. Deal with it. :) -PQ)
I’ve been looking through some of the online articles about bipolar disorder in the hopes of finding a kindred spirit. Like many other people I know, I have bipolar disorder, and have had some rather, um, interesting experiences with it. The articles I find particularly interesting are the ones about the stigma of the disorder, as this has been one of the biggest issues I’ve had with it. I’m glad to see that I am certainly not alone in this! Believe it or not, the worst ‘reactions’ or ‘judgements’ haven’t come from parents, friends, boyfriends or even employers. Don’t get me wrong-I *have* had those, and usually don’t tell employers for this reason. I figure they’re on a ‘need-to-know basis, and they (generally) don’t need to know. The ones from boyfriends have hurt too, but it just proved to me which ones were ‘husband material’ and which ones weren’t. The worst and most hurtful judgements I’ve experienced about my bipolar has come from my religious communities. I’m not sure how other religions view these things, but I can only speak from my own experience with Christianity.
Let me make something clear up front: I am not using this essay to trash the Christian faith or any of her branches. That would be completely unfair, especially considering that I am still a Christian and have found great support at my current church. The difference between groups has been the approach taken.
I’ve known people and been a part of churches who believed that basically everything has a spiritual cause. While I can affirm the mind/body/spirit connection in that what affects one can affect the others too, I won’t affirm that medical problems are the result of a spiritual failing. Maybe ‘failing’ is the wrong word; maybe ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘misdirection’ would be better. The idea was that, if your faith were ‘enough’ or ‘in the right direction’, you wouldn’t have these sorts of problems. If you did, that was a sign that something was wrong with your faith, usually in the area of ‘not having enough’. I even heard some talk of ‘binding’ or ‘casting out’ the ‘spirits’ that caused these problems.
Previously, my instinct would have been to ignore this sort of thing. It would have been easier to do so had I not heard most of it from some people I was very close to and had I not already been in a ‘weakened’ mental state. It would have been easier to deal with it had I not been given a hard time about seeking medical help for my problems in exchange for being ‘healed by God through faith’. At that time, I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder-after having been treated for depression for a number of years-and was willing to try anything. I figured, nothing else was working, so what was the harm? And, well, the mixed (manic and depressive at the same time) states we get into can make you feel as though there is something else inside of you controlling your thoughts and actions. Things that you would normally not even consider trying somehow look better when you’re already pretty desperate for help wherever you can get it. I’m saying all of this to say that turned out to be a big source of the ‘stigma’ I’ve experienced about my bipolar-the ‘diagnosis’ of having a spiritual problem rather than a medical one.
Before you ask-no, this wasn’t Christian Science. I know they usually don’t believe in medical treatment, but their approach is somewhat different. It was from a much larger group. I won’t bore you with details but this went on for about three or four years. In this time, I was consistently given a hard time for my willingness to go to doctors or take medicine. I had even gone off of my medication for a while and felt good, feeling that maybe I really had been’ healed by God through faith’. Again, I was willing to try anything. However, three months later, this ‘remission’ period was over and I had to go back on medication. I was told all manner of things-that God took the healing from me because I lost faith, that I have some unresolved sin in my life, that I didn’t ‘believe the right way’…even that I had a ‘spirit’ that needed to be cast out! The only thing that wasn’t considered was the real explanation-that I had a medical disorder that needed medical treatment. That was the ‘stigma’-the lack of considering a medical option. In a sense, you can liken this to the people who view bipolar or other mental disorders as a ‘weakness’, a ‘character flaw’, or ‘excuse’. Maybe this one was even more powerful because it had the ‘God label’ (falsely) attached to it.
After leaving here, I had a very ‘dark night’, both of the soul and body. Let me tell you, there are few things that will make you feel more depressed or suicidal than feeling as though God hated you and not having the mental stability to reason away from this feeling. I got another diagnosis of bipolar, this time with treatment. My current church is an Episcopal one that has a completely different understanding. There are different kinds of healing, including acceptance and learning to work around something in addition to ‘curing’ of the symptoms. They also believe God works in so many ways, including through medicine and doctors. In fact, they won’t even *consider* any other spiritual cause for a disorder until all medical avenues have been exhausted!
I’ve joined a healing intercessors ministry through my church in the hopes that I can give others with illnesses the compassion and understanding that I didn’t get before.
I hope I haven’t completely gotten off track, but I wanted to tell the story of a different kind of stigma I’ve experienced in regards to bipolar disorder. Again, I’m not trying to put down Christianity or any forms of it, but I wanted to point out some of the different beliefs regarding mental illness so that a person can better assess which communities they want to belong to, if any at all.