By Marja Bergen

In 1966, at the age of twenty I met Wes, a man of twenty-three. We had been going out for a few months when I was admitted to Riverview Hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia. Twenty years later, with better understanding of psychiatry, it was found that I had bipolar disorder.

During my six months in hospital, Wes visited me and took me out when I had weekend passes. Although he had not known me long, he stuck with me during that difficult period. Three years after I was discharged, we got married. Today, in 2020, we are in our mid-seventies and recently celebrated our fifty-first wedding anniversary. God has been good to bring us together.

We’ve had many good years, sharing our love of photography and attending a camera club together. This passion caused us to travel to many locations, wherever there was a promise of interesting photography.

Nevertheless, our lives haven’t been easy by any means. But we’re partners, during good and bad times. We support each other as equals, no matter our flaws.

From the beginning, Wes has known me with symptoms of mental illness. But more than anything, he knows the person living underneath those symptoms. He knows the real me. I’m not the symptoms. I’m not the difficult behavior that sometimes appears.

When problems arise, one of the most difficult things to deal with is the misunderstanding of my thoughts and feelings. Although my husband is my close friend, he’ll never fully empathize. But I’ve learned that Jesus will. I need to turn to Jesus most of all.

As a person with mental health problems I have experienced rejection. I have felt looked down on. Sometimes knowledge of my condition makes people doubt what I say or what I’m able to do. That’s demeaning. At times like that I turn to Jesus for comfort.

Jesus knows. He understands. He’s been there.

Life for my husband is a series of ups and downs as he tries to cope. When my moods rise and fall, so do his. When I’m depressed, he often gets depressed as well. He worries about me. When my behaviour goes over the top, he suffers. Sometimes when there is conflict in our household Wes has to shut down and say nothing for awhile.

It takes effort on both our parts to regroup and pull ourselves together. To forgive and let go of the unpleasantness. Distress like this doesn’t usually last long. I believe both of us know that we belong together, despite the turmoil.

In my early forties I became a believer and started following Jesus. “Come to me,” he said. And with that, he gave me a reason for living.

One of the first things God showed me was the injustice of stigma attached to mental illness. I had such illness myself yet considered myself a good person who should not be blamed. How wrong to make people feel shame simply because they have a health condition! Hoping to be an example to others, I started openly speaking out about my illness. If I didn’t show shame, others might not feel shame either.

Since that time, I’ve been following this call on my life to respond to the needs of people with mental health problems. In 2000 and 2001, I organized two depression seminars at the church I attended at the time. That was how I began raising awareness in the church.

In 2006, with the support of my church, God led me to form faith-based support groups. They provided places for people with mental health issues to find assurance of the abundant love Jesus has for them. They came to realize that God accepts them the way they are. With Jesus there are no outcasts.

Today, I have many years to look back on. It has been a joy to write and send out reflections based on Scripture. Such a blessing it has been to encourage those who struggle with their mental health! When I pass along God’s love to my readers, I feel it come flowing back to me. An ever-flowing river.

We started this story talking about the long marriage my husband and I have enjoyed. With my mental health challenges, how was that possible?

One thing is certain. My husband is a special person to have the patience that my behaviour has, at times, required. So many years of longsuffering! I couldn’t have been more fortunate to have had Wes by my side.

But I know this more than anything: It’s by following Jesus ,and his example, that I’ve been able to play my role in our relationship. Through Jesus I was able to feel good about myself, despite my illness. Through Jesus I was able to have a rich productive life, through him I was able to weather some of the worst trials.

Thanks be to God!

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Marja Bergen
Author: Marja Bergen

Marja has worked for many years to reduce the stigma of mental illness. In 2000 she started bringing mental health awareness to the church by organizing two depression seminars for her church. She has written two full-length books and four gift books. In 2006 she founded a faith-based support group, which led to the establishment of others—at one time, to other parts of Canada. Since 2013 she has sent out weekly Reflections on Scripture addressing the spiritual needs of people living with mental health challenges. Marja is an avid photographer and accompanies these writings with her photographs. Her website/blog is at www.marjabergen.com