Do you remember those days long ago when you were a child and hurting? A friend had let you down. The teacher had shamed you in front of the class. And your mom sat with you, pulled you close and listened to you tell it all. She listened to every word you said. She believed you. She understood. I remember.

How comforting it was to be heard. To have my pain known. To release it all into the care of someone who loved me. I felt secure. I felt that I belonged.

But I grew up and received the mental illness label. Now, when I tell my stories of pain, there are times when I’m no longer heard. No longer believed—not really believed. At times like that I feel powerless. Helpless. Like a nonperson.

It hasn’t always been like that.

I’m a good person. I do all I can to make the world a better place, like many of us do. I’m kind. I help others.

But despite having those good qualities, I have the label of a mental illness attached to me. My thoughts and behavior are sometimes colored by my disorder. But mostly they’re not. Mostly I appear as normal as the next person. And yet, in the eyes of many, that label makes me less worthy.

But I’m not less worthy. I’m a person. I count.

Bad things happened and I was hurt. I complained to those I hoped would help.

But I was not heard. Because I had a label.

Not believed, simply because you have a mental illness is like having the foundation of your person-hood pulled out from under you. You are no longer recognized as the real person you once were—not to yourself or to others.

I told friends about my experience, but nobody seemed to think it mattered. Nobody understood my pain. The attitude seemed to be: What do you expect when you have a mental illness?

This has been Part 3 of the series EQUALITY AND RELATIONSHIPS.