Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

Life After Diagnosis: The Restoration of Dignity

Receiving a mental health diagnosis is never easy. Many of us feel irreparably broken, damaged beyond repair, or just plain not enough when we receive that label. But the truth is that our God-given dignity and worth is still fully intact and undamaged, despite how we feel. 

My friend Abigail Alleman knows what it’s like to fight to reclaim that dignity, to see herself as still worthy and loved even after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I’m so honored to share her story with you today and hope you find yourself reminded of your own dignity and worth in Christ.

It was when I lay in a foreign hospital bed, only a flimsy hospital gown to cover me. My wrists and ankles were molded to the iron bars of the bed, strapped tightly after my second attempt to leave the mental ward of Szent Imre Korhaz (St. Henry’s Hospital) in Budapest, Hungary. It was here in this place where I felt the last shreds of dignity fall helplessly from me.

As I then processed the events of the last weeks, post-hospital, post-diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I felt so very lost. Lost to myself. Lost to my family. Lost to the world. And yes, lost to that precious gift of dignity uniquely given to me as an image-bearer of God.

How do I come back from this? I found myself asking. It had been a treacherous few weeks of insomnia—the harrowing escalation of bipolar mania to the point of delusions, visions and dreams on cataclysmic levels. I displayed bizarre middle-of-the-night behavior and finally, left the reality of my life for the one void of sanity. It has been the deepest journey of my life to reclaim that which was lost in those days.

Human dignity is a God-given right for each person. I refuse to believe it can be destroyed in a way that it will never return. But when mental illness stamps itself on our lives, we enter a deep struggle to maintain and cultivate this gift. 

Why?

My stay in a foreign hospital where the care for mental illness is far behind the States, seemed to strip my dignity like the tearing away of skin. Yet, it was fifteen months later in a U.S. facility where I lost again what I had fought so hard to gain. I will say it another time. Why does this happen, bringing grief upon grief to those with mental illness?

There aren’t one-dimensional answers where we can solely blame others and their response to us. It’s true, we face a myriad of misunderstanding and the heaping on of shame for the simple fallen reality of mental illness. And everyone, especially the church, can do better to stop this culture of shame. Amen?

But there remains the brokenness of a fallen world, even amid the best response of others. We can feel the shame and that Giant Less-Than even amid safe, seeking-to-understand people. Ask me how I know.

So, my dear friend, how do we live as overcomers who reclaim our dignity? The answer lies where all great answers do—we wrap ourselves in the matchless, unchanging, gorgeous, dignity-granting love of God. I am not saying it is easy to do this, but I know no other way to stand tall again.

Closely linked to this embracing anew of God’s love, is the telling of our stories. When we stand tall and strong in our stories, holding them humbly and even with shaking hands, we bear the light of the God who calls us his in Jesus, and this overcomes the darkness every time. 

If you are like me, this can be terrifying, to share the inner places of such shame and loss of dignity. It was when my feet yet faltered physically that God spoke to me, saying, ‘I want you to share your story—the one you are living now.’ I was terrified. But he has been ever-so-patient with me, holding my hand and not letting go for one moment.

As I have walked with him, I have found increasing courage to share my story with others and the world. In March of 2022 my first book, detailing my now twenty plus year journey with bipolar disorder (a little over six years diagnosed), will be released. God has been so good to take my fumbling first words from a drooling mouth (an affect post-mania for me) to a dear friend and multiplied them like the loaves and fishes to would-be strangers brought in as friends. In this entire journey, he has been restoring my dignity as his beloved, clothing me afresh in his glorious love.

But friend, I understand if this reclaiming of dignity remains a difficult journey for you. It yet does for me too. At times I have felt the ache as I speak or pen more of my story. The lies of our primordial enemy want to lay hold of me, telling me that now I will be even more defined by mental illness. And I lose my courage to speak another word of my story.

Yet, the beauty remains of how we are in this together. As I humbly offer my story, it opens the door for you and others to do the same. We must, together, fight the good fight of our faith in God’s indestructible bestowing of dignity upon us. In so doing we will arise in a greatness of restoration which reclaims our stories and the story of mental illness as a determined end.

It is now over six years since that strapping tight to a Budapest hospital bed. The pain of it can still linger along with all it was to leave our beloved overseas home. But God is writing something ever greater and the remembrance of where I have been is always guiding to the perpetual sunrise of a New Day.

If I could look into your beloved eyes right now, I would say, “Come, friend to the light of day for which you are meant. Reclaim every shred of dignity for you are exquisitely beautiful. Rest in God’s love anew as this satisfies you with the strength to stand tall in the display of glory that you are. Come home, friend, come home.”

Abigail is a lover of story. She has endured many sorrows but has experienced the true joy of overcoming as God redeems her pain. Out of this place she writes of the good and hard of her overseas life and her current life in the Chicago area where she has just moved to minister to refugees. She has three rapidly growing children, an exceedingly patient husband and one amazing God whom she adores—they are the beauty and sustaining strength of her life on this long road Home. Find her at abigailalleman.com where you can download her free ebooks on faith and mental health, Highways to Zion and The Three R’s: A Simple Path to Mental Wholeness.

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