People are searching my blog for Ruth Woodlen, so it is necessary that I make clear the relationship between Ruth and me. She is my youngest sister, and the executive director of the Mental Health Association of the Capital Region of Pennsylvania. Contrary to information available on-line, she is not a doctor or psychologist and does not have a master’s degree in the arts. She has a master’s degree in divinity and is an ordained Methodist minister.
Ruth does not espouse any of the things I do in regard to issues of mental illness. To the best of my knowledge, she is in favor of labeling people with psychiatric diagnoses, treating them with drugs, putting them in hospitals, and denying the fullness of their humanity. I oppose the use of diagnostic labels, drug treatment, hospitalization and everything that reduces people to less than their full personhood.
Ruth went to theological seminary in Washington while I was a research subject at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I lived in Syracuse, New York; after she was ordained, Ruth became pastor of a church in Philadelphia. Soon afterward, she became a practicing lesbian. The problem with this was that the Methodist Church forbids active homosexuals from occupying the pulpit.
Ruth openly could have challenged the Methodist Church’s homophobic stance, or she could have changed to a denomination that accepted lesbian pastors (such as the United Church of Christ, where I was a member). Instead, she chose to lie to her employer. She and her partner bought a home on a side street a good distance from Ruth’s church, and she never invited any church people to visit her there. Her partner did not regularly attend Ruth’s church.
Ruth never openly acknowledged her sexual orientation to her family. Initially, we were puzzled and confused about the nature of the relationship but we accepted it. In time, we understood that they were lesbian lovers but they never candidly conceded it, so the family followed their lead and didn’t talk about it either. Ruth’s partner was accepted as any other in-law.
After Ruth adopted two daughters, she sent a letter to her family members stating that her partner had also adopted the girls, that they were not going to tell them, and that we — Ruth’s siblings and parents—were not to discuss it even with each other. I wrote a reply in which I said that the children having two parents should be celebrated, and that it should not be kept a secret from the girls, and that I did not recognize her right to tell me what I could or could not talk about.
Other family members would later tell me that Ruth interpreted this as a threat that I would “out” her as a lesbian. The thought never entered my mind. Thereafter, Ruth, who never had a close relationship with me, became even more distant. We would see each other at family gatherings but did not exchange cards or phone calls more than a few times a year. I had one three-day visit in her home. When I asked to visit her again in early November 1999, she did not welcome me.
In late November, I attempted suicide and spent about a month on life support with no expectation of survival. Ruth, in defiance of my Health Care Proxy, the Catholic hospital’s policy, and the will of God, tried to get my life support turned off. Our 82-year-old mother was at my bedside and Ruth would call her every day to direct what actions she should take to get the ventilator removed. Later my mother and I had a long talk about this. My mother apologized and I assured her that I bore her no ill will.
Ruth refused to talk about it. A year after the fact, when I tried to talk to her about her activities to terminate my life support, she would not. Ruth blamed me for a great many things in her life (e.g., that her children were going to school in tears because of me; fact: I had not had any contact with the girls in about two years) and then told me never to speak to her again. She helped me become conscious of the extent to which I had been made the scapegoat for the family’s problems.
I felt that I would never be safe as long as Ruth continued in the belief that she had the right to end my life. I needed a clear admission from her that she was wrong and would never cross that line again. Since Ruth would not talk to me, I contacted her senior pastor, figuring that an assistant pastor usurping God’s right to end a life was a pretty serious matter. Her senior pastor responded that it was a family problem and he would not get involved. Ruth could lie to the Methodist Church about her sexual orientation and try to end someone’s life, but the church didn’t care. One wonders what the Methodist Church does care about.
At some point, I heard that Ruth and her partner had split up, and that Ruth had quit her job as a pastor, saying that the church wasn’t making proper use of her talents. It was a year or more before I heard that Ruth had a new job, which turned out to be executive director of a Mental Health Association. I was appalled.
I had suffered from episodes of depression since age 14. I had been hospitalized about fifty times; Ruth visited me three times. I had traveled to Pennsylvania as many times as I could; when I became too physically incapacitated to drive, Ruth never came to visit me. She traveled internationally but would not drive 270 miles up Rt. 81 to visit me. She did not call or write. I suffered alone with depression and the damage from the drugs prescribed to treat the depression. We never, ever discussed my journey into or out of mental illness. And now she was the head of a Mental Health Association, which declared one of its main priorities to be working with families to accept their mentally ill members.
Ruth freaking tried to kill me! That’s how she dealt with her “mentally ill” family member! Outraged by her hypocrisy, I contacted the president of Ruth’s board of directors and learned that Ruth never had told them that she had a family member diagnosed with mental illness—and she certainly never had told them that she’d tried to get my life support turned off.
Ruth Woodlen, my birth sister, represents everything that is wrong about so-called “mental health treatment.” She is arrogant, dishonest and secretive. She lets her credentials be misrepresented on-line. She fails to accept responsibility for her own actions. She is unable to be honest about her own life choices. She blames the “mentally ill” for the family’s problems. She advocates the status quo. She has no integrity.
I was there. I was her sister, and she denied me. Now she claims to be an authority on matters of mental health. Ruth Hope Woodlen knows nothing about the respectful care of troubled people.