By the time I lost count of the number of times I spent time in behavioral health hospitals, I had also lost track of their different diagnoses for me. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADD, ADHD, psychosis and clinical depression are the ones I can remember.
But sometimes I wonder if there is actually a person alive who has ever received the oh-so-coveted professional diagnosis of “normal.” And if too few people are normal, then the inherent bias informing these definitions is greatly understated.
That is not to say that mental health issues do not exist. But the degree to which we stigmatize them does not correspond to the shared experiences many of us are having.
As members of the LGBTQ community, many of us have often been — or at least, at some point will be — diagnosed by someone as being “perverse” or “abominable.”
Only in the last century did society stop viewing queerness as a mental illness. And before that, lobotomies, shock treatments and various other forms of torture were the go-to as the behavioral health industry’s “solution.”
There was a time when I bought into their narrative. If anything, I had Religious Stockholm Syndrome characterized by my fear and devotion — not of an actual person, but of one I thought existed. Because I believed that God would send me to hell for being gay, I was held hostage by this irrational fear, and I lived my life trying to gain the approval of others.
This war within me led me to many psychological breakdowns and four attempts at suicide.
It was not God, however, that was the cause. It was instead my own community of religious extremists who had been feeding me propaganda since childhood. And as much as it was killing me — almost literally — those closest to me continued to further degrade my mental wellness.
How many of us have had the guardrails of our sanity attacked? When one’s family, community and governing entities have control over our narrative, and we suffer as a direct result — that is, plainly put, systematic oppression.
When I was young, I could not perceive that my Religious Stockholm Syndrome was generational. The same people who were trying to convince me of my sin had someone convincing them of theirs. The same parents who were trying to protect their children from things like R-rated movies were telling them that their souls would burn forever in hellfire if they were queer.
And now, the same institutions that were diagnosing us are trying to whitewash their legacy of crimes against humanity.
It is impossible for a God of love to have a human disposition of prejudice. A systemic lack of compassion demands our examination, acknowledgement and reconciliation. The practice of psychology has had many gains over the last few decades. And as the need for quality mental health services continues to rise, we must rise to meet those needs.
We must take back our narrative, and we must take back our faith. And we must never again allow someone else to think for us. This means we have to dig deep to find the answers for ourselves, raising our standards and admitting our own mistakes.
My mistake was believing that I needed a reason to love myself. But I have realized that if you need a reason to love, then it is not love.
Love is more a verb than noun; it is action. Certainly, love is a gift. But if that gift is never given, then it never fulfills its purpose. If we never give love to ourselves by treating ourselves with dignity and respect, then it is because we failed to act. We can love ourselves because it is our choice.
Remembering that our oppressors have themselves been oppressed, we can choose to love them, too. What will it accomplish if we reclaim our sanity only to have the world around us going mad?
We cannot attain world peace if we forget about the world; it is made smaller by our connectedness, and one tree will not survive if the rest of the forest is burning.
Jonathon McClellan is an award-winning author who often writes devotionals for Cathedral of Hope. In March 2022 he will release Messages of Hope for adults and The Ant’s Palace for children, each book the first in its own of series focused on empowering adults to keep hoping and encouraging children to look beneath the surface to find true riches. A large part of the proceeds will be donated to Cathedral of Hope programs for the homeless. Learn more Facebook.com/NewSeedsOfHope.