Mental Health: No Stigma

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Today is World Mental Health Day, with the 2017 designated theme of “Mental Health in the Workplace.”

There are two huge and simple things we can do as employees and employers in our jobs: help to end stigma, and human kindness.

I live and thrive with bipolar disorder. It wasn’t always that way. I was (mis)diagnosed with depression at 14, and due to a negative stigma around treatment thanks to religion I went untreated for many years. Sure I tried therapy here and there, but fought it until I stopped going. I tried meds until I stopped that too, believing God healed me. Religion tending to feed into stigmas around mental health aside, although that is huge story that could be told, going untreated for so long culminated in a suicide attempt in 2010.

After that, I got onto this antidepressant and that one, struggling through the uninsured system of having a pre-existing condition before ObamaCare was a thing, until I got onto the antidepressant that would trigger my manic episode, 4-days with no sleep, and eventual involuntary hospitalization under a 5150 hold. Not uncommon for someone with bipolar who is misdiagnosed as depressed to be diagnosed this way, but unfortunate.

During all of these instances and hospitalizations, I had jobs. Myself, or my caretaker, usually boyfriend, would have to go to my manager and explain what had happened and where I was. We always went with compete honesty. They always gave complete kindness and confidentiality.

Many years and struggles later, and I’m on a regimen that works. I can report that I am currently more manic than otherwise, and that be ok because I know what it means for me. I know it’s who I am, that I have two main emotional states and where my boundaries lie. I know how to ride the waves, and how to take it easy on myself. Some days I don’t, and some days I need to take a mental health day from everything. Some days I can’t be around people, and some days I’m tackling projects left and right better than anyone around me.

I function. I thrive. I live and I love. I’m a person with a mind, and a heart, and a career. I just happen to also have a disease for which there is no cure – but there is help for.

What we can all do is make it so that speaking about my disease is no more strange and uncomfortable than someone telling  you they cannot have that cookie because they’re diabetic.  My friend who sees things that aren’t there is no more different or strange than my friend with Celiac disease. End the stigma.

And be kind. Be kind to everyone. Always assume the best. It’s so much better for everyone when we are kind to each other. When we don’t say mean things, or assume the worst. When so-and-so calls out for being sick – again – don’t feed the negativity by talking shit about her. You don’t know her story. Be kind, be empathetic and compassionate.

Read more great things you can do with this great article including 5 way to show support this year for mental health.

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The Jesus Drug

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“Feel you when I’m restless, feel you when I cannot cope

You’re my addiction, my prescription, my antidote

You kill the poison, ease the suffering

Calm the rage when I’m afraid to feel again

 

You’re better than drugs

Your love is like wine

Feel you comin’ on so fast, feel you comin’ to get me high

You’re better than drugs

Addicted for life”


“Better Than Drugs” by Skillet was one of the many songs that permeated my young life, as did its message. The concept of Jesus’, or more accurately the Holy Spirit, as this thing that can make one experience a “high” is not all uncommon to many denominations of Christianity. Go into any Pentacostal-esque church and you will witness speaking in tongues (that is, gibberish speaking where those inflicted believe they are speaking in an angelic language), falling on the floor where they proceed to either go catatonic or writhe, moan in a strangely sexual way, weep, or laugh, and all sorts of ecstatic behavior.

In the teenage life of many Christians, the use of Jesus as a drug is more exemplified by the first line: “feel you when I cannot cope.” Turning to Jesus becomes an escape. When the teenage angst gets too hard, the answer is to pray, read the bible, listen to Christian music, or anything at all relating to God. To completely saturate oneself with the Gospel in anyway possible. And only the Gospel: only Christian music, only Christian books fiction and non-fiction, only Christian games, movies with only Christian values (we skip through any sexy scenes, btw). If someone got sick, we’d hold prayer meetings and saturate ourselves in prayer, so we’d learn quick that it’s not medicine that heals, it’s God. We’d have youth groups for teens where we’d get to unleash our pain to each other, and instead of giving advice, we’d lay hands on each other and pray. We’d get to cry, sure, but ultimately “give the pain to God,” have a worship session, and go home happy and drugged up.   

What happens when one goes without the drug? Does one go into Jesus’ withdrawal?

 

“I hate feelin’ like this

I’m so tired of tryin’ to fight this

I’m asleep and all I dream of is waking to you

 

Tell me that you will listen

Your touch is what I’m missin’

And the more I hide I realize I’m slowly losin’ you

 

Comatose

I’ll never wake up without an overdose of you

I don’t wanna live

I don’t wanna breathe

‘less I feel you next to me

You take the pain I feel

(Wakin’ up to you never felt so real)

I don’t wanna sleep

I don’t wanna dream

Cause my dreams don’t comfort me

The way you make me feel

(Wakin’ up to you never felt so real)

I hate livin’ without you

Dead wrong to ever doubt you

But my demons lay in waitin’

Tempting me away”

Christians would often call this withdrawal, as seen above from, again, lyrics from Skillet, “doubt.” There was one night in particular I will never forget when I put this song on repeat, and knelt in tears, singing/praying the lyrics over and over again. Every word I meant. It was one of my last cries of desperation in a stage of very deep, tormented doubt. I wept for hours, and I would again for many nights. It physically, mentally, and emotionally hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt.

You see, I was born an intellectual person. I always had an unquenching desire to know. When I was very young, this showed itself best in my little 6, 7, 8 year old self sitting during the worship service reading the Bible instead of singing the songs (which weren’t boring hymns like most churches, but the jump up and down kind). Instead of watching Veggie Tales and playing games in the little kids Sunday school, I got put in the big kids’ class where we read the Bible, memorized verses, and asked questions.

I did Christianity hard. By my teens I’d been baptised, in water and the Holy Spirit with manifestation of gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues and prophesy), gone on a healing crusade where I “healed” people, read the Bible front to cover in multiple versions more times than I could keep track of, and started a Bible club at my High school by petitioning the principal of the school. I read commentaries, took notes in the margins of every bible I read, highlighted, did devotions twice a day, read and listened to everything by Dr. Dan Brown and got certified in Healing Ministries and Gifts of the Spirit through Kenneth Copeland Ministries. I consumed everything I knew to consume. And I believed, damn it. I loved Jesus with everything I was, with every atom of my being. I talked to him every moment and believed he talked back. I lead hundreds in the Sinner’s Prayer, personally. Jesus was my everything.

And then I got the call to ministry.

And I went to a federally accredited Christian college.  

And long story short- I read Richard Dawkins, Timothy Keller, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Socrates, Plato, Kierkegaard, Robert Wright, Christopher Hitchens, I read commentaries by Atheists, Jews, Agnostics, Muslims, and Christians of all types. I read the Bible in Hebrew. I read anything, and everything. I wrote my Pastor with questions, I wrote and spoke with my (very Christian) professors, I spoke with students, I typed on message boards and forums, I asked questions everywhere I possibly could. And one by one my doctrines came to be questioned by reason and logic until they all fell away.

And there I was at the end of it all, an Atheist with no Jesus drug to help me cope with the pain of my long untreated mental illness and dysfunctional upbringing, or to comfort me from the loss of friends and family who wanted very little to do with me now that I wasn’t a Christian. But that, not the doubt it self, was the withdrawal. All the pain, the loss, the “oh shit how do I cope now?”, was the coming down process.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but neither would I ever go back to the addiction. The addiction kept me blind from reason – from seeing two sides of the argument, not just one, and discerning for oneself, from seeing science and philosophy and logic and doubt and tasting it all -, from entirely healthy parts of life such as sexual exploration, love in all its forms, making mistakes, and living life to the fullest, and from proper self care, not faith [[ many sects have an irrational fear and/or outright contempt for psychology and all its medicinal help for people with mental illness]].

The Jesus’ drug culture is not healthy. When these two songs came on my playlist, because yeah I still listen to my old Christian stuff, I cringed. There is nothing ok with raising young people to seek a thing that does not exist to give it a placebo like high for all of life’s ills, and to drown their mind, senses, and psyche with nothing but that drug.

Just say no.