Casting Out the Lepers


Once upon a time (in 2001), a congregant of an Episcopalian church decided to start a spiritual healing group for people with musculoskeletal disorders.  I have such a disorder, and my nurse (I was at that time hospitalized on a psychiatric unit) was also a congregant of the church, so one day she called and arranged for me to join the group.  A couple hours later, after some reflection, the woman starting the group called back to disallow my participation.  The group leader knew three things about me:  I was a Christian, had a musculoskeletal disorder, and a psychiatric disorder.  I was refused admittance to a church group because I had a psychiatric disorder.

And there I saw it clearly:  it was Jesus’ time, and the priest was standing on the steps of the temple refusing me admittance because I was a leper.

Actually, in Biblical reference, I would have been described as possessed by demons, but we have come a long way—oh, such a long way!—since Biblical times that we no longer think people are possessed by demons.  Although, come to think of it, that’s not true either.  Around 1992, a Salvation Army chaplain told me about his perception that a certain man could not pass in front of the altar because he was possessed by demons, and my friend’s mother, whose spiritual basis was formed in Jamaica, likewise accused her of being possessed.

But for most of contemporary society, we no longer believe in possession.  We are too cool.  We now believe in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, multiple personality disorder, and so forth—but we still treat people like lepers.

I am physically disabled.  I have been receiving home health aide care for five years, started using a wheelchair three years ago, and have been bedridden for four months.  Six weeks ago, I was hospitalized on a psychiatric unit in a community hospital in New York.  On that unit, they variously refused to push my wheelchair, bring me breakfast in bed, give me a shower, and assist in my toileting.

I am a leper, you see, and we all know that the cure for 21st century leprosy is meanness—and if meanness doesn’t bring ‘em around, then you cast them out of society.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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