Judges in Passing


People working in the mental health industry—aides, nurses, therapists and doctors—judge others.   A diagnosis is a judgment of what is normal or abnormal, sick or healthy.  Doctors and therapists make these diagnoses, then they and nurses and aides talk about patients’ behavior, using words like “appropriate” or “inappropriate.”  They are all, at all times, holding in their mind an image of what is “okay”—right/wrong, good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, normal/abnormal—and judging others as to where they fit in relation to these criteria.

In typical street-life, we are appalled by people who judge us:  The mother-in-law who finds us lacking, the co-worker who condemns us, the “best friend” who denounces us.  We seek acceptance.  We seek to be loved for who we are, honored for what we do, trusted for how we act.

Fifty-five percent of Americans identify themselves as Protestants, 27 percent Catholic, 2 percent Jewish and 2 percent Muslim [CNN, Easter weekend].  Catholicism is the most judgmental of religions.  They have parsed the non-acceptance of their fellow man to the point where they presume to distinguish between what is a venal sin and what is a mortal sin.

Americans prefer Protestantism two-to-one over Catholicism.  Among other things, they reject being harshly judged.  In my church, Plymouth Congregational, United Church of Christ, we practice aggressive acceptance.  We call it “hospitality.”  There is no need to judge.  Gathered at our table—we call it Christ’s table—are rich men, homosexuals, taxpayers, women, lawyers, tax collectors, poor people, lepers and psychiatric patients.  They gather because we accept them as God’s children, every one.

Religion judges by what it believes to be God’s law; psychiatry judges by what it believes to be sickness:  it is all a degradation of the human soul.

Jennifer Daniels, once a physician and now a minister, said that in medical school she was taught that God makes mistakes and doctors fix them.  The doctor judges God and finds him a failure.

Rev. Daniels went on to say that we should not be in the business of forgiving each other because to forgive means that first we have judged.

Acceptance means that what is, is.  You are responsible for your own behavior, and not anyone else’s.  People are who they are, and do what they do.  It is not my business to hold them against any measuring standard.  I try to understand why others act as they do, then I offer to teach what I know, if the other wishes to learn.  Then I mind my own business.

I spoke my truth about the failure of my pastor to draw back into the church an at-risk child whom we had baptized.  Diana, once a therapist and now a minister, came to me to get an “attaboy.”  She needed me to recant the things I’d said about her, and offer her my blessing, but she did not characterize it that way in her own mind.  Consequently, at the end of an hour in which I did not retract what I’d said, she said she hoped she’d helped meet my needs.  Dear child, the needs were yours, yet you took your therapeutic background and judged me to be unfit, and in need.

When I left mental health care, there were few people I wished to take with me.  Gary, once a minister and now a mental health counselor, was one I did want to continue with because of his sense of humor, intelligence and spirituality.  We corresponded for a year, then spoke by phone.  In his voice I heard what I did not read in his written word:  he was judging me.  It had been subtle enough that I had been able to avoid it before, but now it was in my face:  this man found me lacking.  In his final e-mail, he said that when I was right, he celebrated me, and when I was wrong, he tried to teach me.

But first, he set himself to judge my rightness or wrongness.

Between religion and psychiatry—the studies of the human psyche, the spirit—there is a transparent barrier through which judges pass.

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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