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.
It 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.
I 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.