Stigma is Awful!

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By T. Rea Okerberg
Mental illnesses, all of them, are difficult. Not just for the person afflicted with the ‘bad brain days,’ but the people who a part of their lives. Personally, I’ve got two: C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Bipolar Disorder. Because of these, I’m prescribed two medications that I have to take twice a day to keep me functional everyday. And I hate it. I’m also supposed to – and do,regularly – see a psychologist and a psychiatrist.


Even though mental illness has become a lot more ‘mainstream’ over the past few years or so, there’s still entirely too much stigma with it.

Recently, I applied for a volunteer job and part of that process does include divulging some pretty personal (understandably) information about my medical history and current – if any – treatment(s) I’m undergoing. As anyone who’s ever tried to apply for a job – regardless what it is – can tell you, sometimes this can cause the applicant to pause and wonder, ‘How badly do I want to do this job? How badly do I want to be part of this company?’ This particular position I knew I wanted to do because it’s something I enjoy doing all the time, so why not? I had to divulge some things that aren’t typical to a job application at, say, a retail store, because this isn’t a typical job I was going for. So, I was up front and honest about the requested items needed.


Several e-mail conversations later, I received a phone call from my contact person about the job in question. Further questions had come up, which was fine. Concerns had been raised about my mental illness – which I do understand, completely – but then … another phone call to someone else about my mental struggles (I was later told) happened. A lot of the same questions that were asked of me directly were asked of this other person about me. While I absolutely do get where they’re coming from, their concerns about having me as part of their team as it were, that bothered me a great deal. I’m not in any way ashamed of my mental struggles. I was, for many years, but I’m not anymore. After a lot (and I do mean a lot) of hard work, I’m able to look up when I walk and see what’s in front of me, rather than walking with my head down and my eyes even further downcast anymore.

I wasn’t surprised that the second phone call happened, this time to a person who’d sent a reference letter on my behalf, but at the same time, it made me a bit sad that it happened. My friend took up for me, for which I was really grateful, but the fact this conversation had to take place about me bothers me
just the same. I get it the concerns that were raised, like I said. A discussion that my friend and I had, I was told that the lady who I’d been keeping in touch with about everything was fine; she was being diplomatic and a go-between because the concerns really were from the other party involved on the employer’s end. Okay, fine, but rather than hide behind another person, just ask me directly. Sure, ask other people who know me in the day-to-day, of course, but come to me directly rather than by way of a middleman. This is much easier to get to know the person on your ‘potential to-hire’ radar to bring them on board or not. After all, that’s why references are asked for on any application.


HOWEVER.

This felt a bit … harsh … to me.


Here’s the thing to take away from all this: It doesn’t – and shouldn’t ever – matter what anyone decides about you. No one person can make you feel less-than. Our society has put entirely too many stigmas on mental illness, but none of that should ever put you in a box and make you feel like you can’t be a functional human being because you struggle with something you can’t help. What should matter is how the Father sees you. His opinion, alone, is all that should ever be your concern!


You may be wondering why this is the case, and the answer is threaded all throughout the Bible, all 73 books. He says, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’ – Jeremiah 1.5 He knew everything about you before you ever even were. He reminds us in the Psalms, ‘You are fearfully and wonderfully
made!’ – Psalm 139.14.

Now, I want you to stop reading for a moment and let that settle in, like a spiritual tea bag that’s been dipped in to the water of your soul. Really think about that. Remember that you are a child of Royalty! You are a child of the King.


In Isaiah, He reminds us not only of our origin, but who we are to Him: ‘He Who created you, O Jacob, He Who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are MINE. … Everyone who is called by My Name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.”’ – Isaiah 43.1


We are His. Each of us has a RIGHT to exist. Even if we are treated less-than by someone who looks down their noses at us, WE HAVE SOMEONE WHO CARES BEYOND OUR FINITE AND FEEBLE UNDERSTANDING AND LOGIC AS HUMAN BEINGS. Just because we’re afflicted with a struggle does not make us specimens under a microscope to be studied and analyzed, as alien species to a ‘normally-functioning’ society. We aren’t any more set apart than someone who is sick with a chronic illness of a physically debilitating nature. Mental illness is also a chronic illness, it is just not one that can be seen with the naked eye.


I’m fond of quoting something I read in The Noonday Devil last year. The author points out, ‘Leaving on the mountain the ninety-nine sheep, that is, the angels in Heaven, God set out in search of the lost sheep, humanity. After reaching the brambles and mud of its sin, God put it on His shoulders; He put on the human condition. In this way, He was able to bring it back to the flock, in other words, to the Father’s House.’ – Noonday Devil, Jean-Charles Nault, OSB (p.85).


Our Beloved Lord loves us so much, despite all of our flaws. Yeah, even despite our mental illness struggles. When you look at yourself in the mirror remember something:

You are a child of the One True King! You are loved beyond comprehension and reason. Your identity is not now, before, nor will it ever be your illness. Your identity is, was, and will FOREVER be Beloved Child of God and no one can ever take that from you, and nothing, not even an illness – visible
or invisible – can ever change how God feels about you!
©2020, T. Rea Okerberg
tolkien.nerd91@gmail.com