Marja Bergen

author, mental health activist, follower of Christ

The day my life changed – beaten to the ground


For many years I served in a caring ministry, sharing God’s love with those who needed him badly. I loved the work and gave it my all. Many benefited. But throughout those years I longed to be part of a small group – a place where I would not lead, but simply be a participant. A place where I would be able to develop friendships while studying God’s Word. I had no real friends in the community with whom I could spend time over lunch or coffee.

An opportunity came that sounded perfect. There was a group described as a place to “develop deeper relationships.” I eagerly put my name down to join.

But a few days before the first meeting, I got a call telling me I would not be included in the group. A number of reasons were eventually given, none that satisfied me. But the first was that I had a mental health condition and there were already two others with mental health conditions in the group. The wording pretty close to his: “To have me join would be unhealthy for the group.”

I was devastated. Could not understand how – after the many years of good work I had done – I would now not be allowed something I needed for myself. I had thought this community had responded to the importance of not stigmatizing people with mental illness. I myself had worked towards it. And now this?

Did they feel there was something so terrible about me? Was I considered that different from others in the group? Why was I the only one excluded?

The injustice of it overwhelmed me and I told the organizers what great wrong they were committing. And yes, I yelled and screamed, trying to make them fully realize it. Trying to make them understand how badly I felt. My emotions went over the top. I could not stop the tirade. Nothing justified this action and they refused to change their minds.

I called someone who I thought might offer compassion. But, without pausing, she said, “Maybe you could go somewhere else.” In my mind I asked “…and leave this place I’ve called home for so long?”

This event marked a change in me. My life hasn’t been the same since. Neither did the organizer treat me like a “real’ person after this. When no one else was around I was hurt with words and actions. My mental health suffered greatly. I felt my personhood was being taken from me. The gentle person I used to be, started being angry – “more than I used to be” my husband told me. A few months later, a friend told me, “Marja, you never used to be like this.”

Even now, memories of this painful event, as well as the mistreatment that followed, come back – often on a daily basis. Each time I experience the pain all over again. Although it’s better than it was, I can’t be left alone for long. Sometimes, when a memory comes, the only way I can think of escaping it is not to live anymore. I have called the crisis line often.

As always, all that helps me deal with the memories is to write. I love writing devotionals based on Scripture to encourage myself and others. But I also have a great need to tell my story and, hopefully, the stories of others who have been stigmatized. I want to express the evils of stigma and the dehumanizing effects on the victims. The severity of emotional pain needs to be appreciated by those who might offer support.

All this happened a few years ago. Remorse and empathy have never been expressed, though the person who hurt me fully knows the extent of the suffering I underwent. When I offered forgiveness and asked for forgiveness for any part I might have played, both were refused. Forgiveness, such a big part of our Christian faith, was not to have a part in helping me find healing.

And so, I suffer yet and find my healing in the writing.



1 Comment

  1. So glad you are continuing to share and expose how stigma affects those of us with mental health challenges.. thank you

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