“Are you OK, Rachel? You don’t seem yourself. You’re making quite a lot of mistakes.”
I could hear the disapproval in his voice. I watched my feet as I shuffled them side to side. I couldn’t look him in the eyes.
I wish I never told you about my anxiety.
It was in that moment when I drew the conclusion that I had made a terrible mistake—the mistake of disclosing my mental health struggle to my previous boss.
The only thing more threatening than mental health stigma is someone’s ability to hold your mental health against you. That’s what happened to me with a previous employer. Amidst a myriad other factors, I felt discriminated against for having anxiety in the workplace. And get this—it was a Christian organization!
“Have you prayed about this? You might want to consider getting prayer.”
And just like that, I was dismissed. With a slap on the wrist and a call to prayer.
As I sit here writing this article, I can’t help but feel trepidation about sharing my story with you.
I don’t want to portray myself as the victim or as someone who insists they have the ultimate say when it comes to mental health awareness.
I can only speak from my own experience, and hopefully that will help others who can empathize with my story and challenge those who have the power to change the way we talk about mental health, and thus combat mental health stigma.
The Church has an ugly relationship with mental health: self-medication or spiritual meditation. We can’t seem to pick a spot in the middle. We avoid the golden mean: recognizing the role that supernatural healing plays yet acknowledging that our bodies are very broken, and more importantly, very human.
“Pray about it. Have more faith!” If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this uttered from a well-meaning church leader, I could quit my day job.
I am not for one second saying prayer is irrelevant. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer. Prayer can change lives, heal relationships. Prayer can move mountains. What I am warning against are the instances when the Church uses clichés to dismiss what is a very complex and multifaceted issue. Prayer certainly plays a part but that is only one side of the coin.
While there is real truth in bringing everything in prayer before the Lord, this kind of cliché rhetoric, if used void of empathy and understanding, can cause more harm than healing. How we talk about mental health can perpetuate stigma within a community that is desperately looking for answers and trying to make sense of the monster that is poor mental health.
I’ll never forget that painful encounter I had with my ex-employer about my “issue.” In exchange for my vulnerability, I was handed a dose of judgement. Get yourself sorted might as well have been written across his forehead.
Sort it out. My anxiety. My dirty little secret.
The more people I speak to about mental health, the more I realize its commonality. Anxiety knows no boundaries. Anxiety doesn’t discriminate. Anxiety doesn’t care how old you are, how much money you have in your bank account, what name brands you wear or what neighborhood you live in.
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Source: Relevant Magazine