A friend of mine has been battling obesity for a long time now.

It’s affecting her in a multitude of ways, physically and emotionally. Recently she made the difficult decision to address her problem surgically. That means a series of tests before the surgeon would consider her case, including a psychiatric examination.

The conclusion? She wasn’t a suitable candidate.

She was deeply disappointed, but still determined to fight her battle with her weight. However, she wanted to address the issue of her mental or emotional health one more time, so she went back to the psychiatrist who had made the diagnosis.

Turns out, it was a clerical error and didn’t reflect the psychiatrist’s opinion one bit. In fact, my friend is considered to be someone with a high level of probability for success, both short- and long-term.

What she came to realize through all of this was the bitter treatment people with mental illness face. After this mistake was made but before the error was discovered, she found herself being treated harshly by the staff who once were so kind to her. When her chart was corrected, they returned to their friendly behavior.

clipboard smIt reminded me of a close friend’s experience with bigotry after she had a liver transplant. Nurses and others on the hospital staff were abrupt and, on occasion, downright rude. Finally, she asked her doctor to please note her transplant was necessary due to an auto-immune disorder, not because of substance abuse. The doctor wrote AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE in big letters on her chart, and the staff turned around in their judgmental attitudes. Jean was disgusted.

Mental health and substance abuse remain stigmatized in our society,

even among medical professionals who should know better. They presumably have accurate information about the nature of these diseases, and after all, haven’t they committed themselves to a profession of compassion and empathy?

It brings me back to singing a familiar tune: you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s easy, and convenient, to judge another’s behavior. It gives us a feeling of control.

But it’s dangerous, and a crutch for the foolish.

EyesI respect those who are gracious enough to give those with mental illness the room they need to deal with their disease. One of my closest friends has two sisters diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at different levels of severity. The oldest sister has a difficult time functioning in society. With the help of family, she’s chosen to live in a halfway house in a remote area.

The other sister, after years of destructive living, was able to get a handle on her disease and maintain both a job for herself and a home for her son. About every seven years, however, she had a severe relapse. Her son would live his with father during that time, and her employer would give her a leave of absence for as long as she needed it.

The time came when that company was sold, and she decided to apply for disability, knowing that odds were another employer wouldn’t be as kind about her mental health. The courts agreed, and at the age of 56, she was granted disability. She still makes a valuable contribution to society through volunteer work, and her son is healthy, happy and completely supportive of his mother.

Her volunteer work is with mental health awareness, and people listen to her. How they apply what she has to say in their own lives is, of course, an unknown, but we can only hope they open their hearts and listen to what is unsaid.

Because we are often best understood by what is unsaid.

Image Credits: (Woman in Despair) © Bigstock; (Medical Chart) © GraphicStock; (Eyes) courtesy of Pixabay.

8 Replies to “Misunderstood”

  1. This is so true, Belinda. You would think that health care professionals would have more compassion and less judgement. I remember when I had my very sick first child, I was pumping breast milk in the hospital and couldn’t handle the pressure and pain. My son wasn’t able to nurse or suck (cardiac condition). When I decided not to continue pumping, I was treated like a pariah. It was awful – on top of my severe depression over the situation.
    I have friends with bipolar conditions and they definitely keep it under wraps and don’t want it to be talked about. It is sad for me that an illness has to be hidden because people judge you for it.
    Thanks for writing such a though provoking post. I did wonder – will your friend who is struggling with obesity still pursue having surgery now that things are corrected?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, she did. She hopes to have surgery later this summer. She has met this surgeon and has a great deal of confidence in him (plus she did her research before seeking him out). His nurse encouraged her to ask the psychiatrist about his diagnosis. So the “main players” have always treated her properly. I believe this will change her life and I’m very excited for her. She has a supportive family, so that will make a difference as well. I’m sorry your friends are forced to keep their condition hidden. That only adds to their stress, I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I watched someone who had kidney disease get treated differently at work. so when I developed kidney disease, I said nothing until I had to leave for health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear about that, and I know yours is not an unusual situation. Kidney and liver disease can occur for a multitude of reasons, and to assume we know why and treat someone poorly based on our assumptions is deplorable. For that matter, treating someone poorly who has developed kidney or liver problems because of substance abuse is inexcusable. We do not know a person’s full story, no matter how close we might be to them.


    1. Thank you. My friend finally had her surgery today, and I’m waiting anxiously to hear how it went. I appreciate your openness to understanding the plight of others, whether it’s physical or mental disability.


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