Breaking Through the Shame of Mental Illness (Interview 2)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thank you all for tuning in to our Thankful Thursday Interview series. Joining us today is one of our fellow SWAPs who will be graciously speaking on the topic assigned for this month, Breaking Through the Shame of Mental Illness. She has chosen to remain anonymous, yet has decided to give her story a name!


Today, we’re on the SWAP couch with: Leaving Shame.

SWAP: Hi Leaving Shame! Thank you for being here with us for Mental Health Awareness Month and sharing your story with our SWAPs!

Leaving Shame: I'm so thankful that God has used me as His vessel of hope and healing and also realness as it pertains to addressing, without fear, the topic of mental illness.

SWAP: What comes to your mind when you hear the words “mental illness?”

Leaving ShameMy heart just leaped low because when I hear the words mental illness, my countenance drops.  It’s as if a big rain cloud forms right above me and I’m instantly in the storm.  And you’re probably reading that and saying, “Huh! Don’t you know God is good?” And you’re right, I’ve heard every cliché in the book, been given every scripture, heard every prayer, and yet still, I struggle.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 26 and up until that time, all I recall were jokes and negative comments about bipolar from many people, including my so-called friends, co-workers, and church members; yet not so much in my biological family which I am grateful.

I remember the Sunday after I was diagnosed just as if it was yesterday.  I remember wanting to walk down in front of the church and ask for prayer, but throughout the entire sermon, the preacher made mention of people who were “spiritually bipolar.” Mind you that was the first mention I’d ever heard of mental illness terminology in the church. So how dare I walk down and ask for prayers being a person who had the actual diagnosis. So yes, still 12 years later, I still sometimes bow my head low and my heart skips a beat when I hear the words mental illness.

SWAP: Have you ever or are you currently battling feelings of shame?

Leaving Shame: Shame for me comes and goes. Two of the symptoms I struggle with regarding bipolar is being easily distracted and irritable. When my children are talking to me about their day and I drift off into la-la land and they say, “Mommy mommy, are you listening?” I snap out of it and am instantly shamed. I battle the shame of my illness when people talk negatively about it, I interpret it as them talking bad about me. It’s not easy sharing with someone that you are on medication due to bipolar disorder.  At church, people will jokingly come up to me in front of my children and ask am I “cray cray,” and did I take my meds. I smile, but it really hurts. I smile because I don’t want my children to be sad that their mother has a mental illness, but I know my hiding it doesn’t make it better for them either.

I try not to expose my shame, but I’ve learned from my support group and through your ministry that denying how I really feel actually keeps me trapped. Ultimately what my main problem was and sometimes still is, is that when I look in the mirror I only see my disability.

SWAP: Have you found a way to give thanks to God for your diagnosis or is it still a struggle for you?

Leaving ShameI do give thanks to God but I must be honest, I sometimes ask God why he chose me to be the one that has bipolar. I thank him for two reasons, awareness and hope. Because of my diagnosis I am more aware of my intentions and because of God I have hope that one day I can be healed; if not from the illness itself at least from my negative view of it. I thank God for people who tell me that I encourage them when they are facing difficulty because of my faith. I thank God that he still saw fit to allow me to raise children and have a husband who supports me even when I don’t know how to support myself.  I thank God for love.

So yes, I thank God and when I find myself questioning him more than I am giving thanks, I take that moment too. I don’t beat myself up for asking God questions.

SWAP: What words or thoughts of encouragement would you like to share with someone who may be going through something similar?

Leaving ShameTo my fellow fighters, stay aware and stay filled with hope. It’s hard, I know, I endure it every day, but it’s okay. When you find yourself going to that dark place, close your eyes and you will see a little shine of light. 

And to those who don’t have a mental illness diagnosis and may never understand the depths of our shame, speak up for people like me; those who smile in the presence of being talked about even when it hurts. Speak up for people like me who just don’t have the courage to say out loud that the stigma of mental illness hurts. Speak up for someone like me when your church asks what the next seminar should be about; choose mental illness awareness because I guarantee you that someone on your pew is dealing with mental illness too. Speak up for someone like me who is taking it one day at a time to not be identified by their disability but by their heart. Speak up for someone like me who is looking for a community counseling center but is clueless on how to start or where to go. Speak up for someone like me who comes to church late and leaves early because of the fear that the question, “how are you?” might come up.  Speak up for someone like me, please I beg of you; WE need you.

Thank you ladies for taking my calls late at night, or answering my messages when I’m feeling low, or sending me an out of the blue text.  Having a genuine, non-judgmental support system has and continues to help. Thank you for encouraging me to swap my truth, as you both would say. I can’t believe I did it! LOL
***

SWAP: Leaving Shame, we are empowered and encouraged by your testimony. We thank you for opening up and sharing a piece of your life in this interview! We hold your testimony sacred and thank God that He has used you to be a light in the darkness for those who may still feel alone and for opening the door a little bit wider to Break Through the Shame of Mental Illness!


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