In addition to having bipolar, I also have epilepsy. Not the scary grand mal type – I have absence seizures, which mostly look like I’m staring right through you, until I waken a bit confused. It’s pretty well-managed, and I haven’t had a seizure in ages.
My diagnosis was one of the scariest things that happened to me in my teen years. See, my family was very Christian. and one of the things that they believed was that epilepsy was caused by demon possession.
I had already moved out of home, and started moving away from Christianity. But I was still involved enough to be afraid of what people would think, and what they might do.
I felt like if I told anyone, they might think that I didn’t have a ‘real’ illness, and that they would try to cast the demons out of me. I didn’t believe that I was possessed – I understood enough biology to understand that I was physically unwell, not under spiritual attack. But the part of me that still clung to faith was terrified. What if they were right? What if my sins were manifesting as demonic possession and I needed to have them cast out?
This delegitimising and stigmatising of a real illness, one that was affecting me, was part of what set me on the path to atheism. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I had a real problem with the church view of brain problems as demons.
Evangelical Christianity treats many mental health issues the same way. They’re evidence of sin, of letting demons in to your mind by not guarding against them. Having real problems reduced to ‘you aren’t trusting God enough’ is disempowering for sufferers. It adds guilt to the already difficult process of accepting neurological and psychological problems.
It’s not ok.