Ask Dr. Lin: Mental Health Diagnosis

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sad woman

I am an individual who has an unusual and slightly complex mental health diagnosis. Friends and people who know me in everyday life would never guess. Part of this diagnosis includes anxiety and depression. When I tell friends that I deal with anxiety and depression most are okay with that and understand.  The problem is the part of the diagnosis they don’t know about.   However, I am hesitant to share the full extent of my diagnosis with many. I’ve shared it with a few close friends (and I only share with those I feel quite secure with) and only 2 have really tried to understand. One or two others have either totally not gotten it, or gotten kind of weirded out and awkward, and one of those relationships is now almost completely estranged. It’s like, in spite of knowing someone for several years, once they find out one piece of info about you, they act like they don’t know you, or they don’t know how to treat you anymore.  How do you help people understand that just because you can’t see a diagnosis doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting your daily life, and how do you share your “truth” with others in a way that will help ensure that they don’t misunderstand and pull away from you? It’s been a very hurtful thing to deal with.

I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve been hurt by people who haven’t taken the time to understand your struggles , who can’t seem to see you for the worthwhile person that you are, even though there are broken aspects of your life.  Unfortunately, this is very common, as is the human tendency to avoid those people and situations that make us uncomfortable because we don’t know how to handle it.  Please know that this awkwardness is more about THEM than it is about you – it is more an indication of their fears and discomforts or perhaps judgmental stance that cause them to distance themselves from you.

While we’ve come a long way from locking up all mentally ill people in asylums, many of us still struggle to show the care and love they need.  Even mental health experts and care professionals don’t always take the time to regard their clients as people who matter rather than someone who holds a set of symptoms that need to be managed.   My heart has been grieved by too many stories from clients who have been mistreated by other professionals in this field.  And I am even more heart-broken when I see Christians judge, reject or treat poorly people with mental illness.  This is definitely NOT what Jesus modelled when he came to this earth to love the unlovely, heal the sick and hang out with the broken and the downcast.

It’s important for you to remember that you have no control whatsoever over what others think or how they react, and so there isn’t much you can do to ensure that others understand your diagnosis and respond with appropriate care and compassion.  If they aren’t able to show genuine interest and ask questions to understand your struggles while showing their desire to support you, then you will regretfully have to let that go.  Please don’t gauge your worth or the validity of your suffering by how others react.  If they choose to judge you because they don’t understand how your illness affects your life, then that’s their choice.  Don’t waste valuable emotional energy and time trying to convince them otherwise, or fretting about their hurtful actions.

As is the case for all of us in relationship, people need to be tried and tested as worthy of receiving your truth – they need to demonstrate that they are trustworthy to handle the truth of your diagnosis.  So consider how they’ve responded when you’ve shown vulnerability in other areas:  Have they shown you understanding and grace?  Have they drawn nearer in wanting to understand and show you their care and concern?  Or have they been quick to tell you what to do or shut you down?  Have they started avoiding you?

Only when they’ve demonstrated their trustworthiness in the small, daily ways can you ensure the greater likelihood that they can handle your truth.  That way, even if they don’t respond in the “right” way initially (allowing for the shock and discomfort that many people feel when faced with uncomfortable things), you know you can trust them enough to talk this through, be honest about how their reactions hurt you, and work it through to build an even stronger friendship.  This is the case for all of us in building strong friendships, regardless of our own truths.  Isn’t that what we all long for?  To be known and accepted, warts and all?

Remember that revealing vulnerable truths about yourself is a gift you are entrusting to your friends, and so you want to ensure that these are friends who will receive your truth as that gift, as a demonstration of your trust in them.  As I described in a previous post, you need to be certain that the person is in your A group (intimate relationships, demonstrated trustworthiness) rather than in your B (social and enjoyable but no expectations) or C group (the people to whom you minister and expect nothing back in return).  Be sure that in your desire to be understood, you do not give away your truth too quickly without considering the strength of that friendship.  And pray for discernment – even those people who really love us can’t always handle the full extent of our truth.  So let them love you in other ways.  And be okay that there’s a part of your life that you aren’t able to reveal to them.

All of us need to root our value and worth in how God sees us as his children, as holy and blameless because of Jesus in us, as beloved and worth dying for, as treasured beyond measure.   This truth is what REALLY defines you – your diagnosis is something that you suffer this side of heaven but it isn’t who you ARE.  As you have a settled confidence in how your Father sees you, then you’re more resilient to handle the human responses, good or bad.  I suspect that you have a wonderful capacity to show compassion to others who are similarly struggling because of your own experiences.  And so I wonder how God will use your suffering to bless and encourage others.  Please let THAT also be an aspect of your truth, and be a part of the revolution we need to change how we respond to mental health issues.


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