When author Susie Stead first met “Stephen” (not his real name), he had been in and out of mental institutions for much of his adult life. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and later with Asperger’s. Susie was from a local church group, trying to “do good” in the community.
“I wanted to make the world a better place,” Susie says. “I saw Jesus as one who was with the outsider, healing the outsider.”
Over the next two decades until Stephen’s death in 2018, their relationship challenged both Susie’s perceptions of her Christian sentiments, as well as her assumptions about mental health. It also taught her many things about herself.
“He wasn't some other sort of person who is mentally ill and different from me,” she says. “How come he turned out how he turned out and I turned out as I turned out?”
Susie says she also realised the limitations to her own ability to offer support and compassion.
On one occasion, exasperated by him, she says she shouted angrily at him: “I’m not bloody Jesus!”
In 2012, Susie decided to write a book with Stephen’s collaboration, as a way of convincing him that his life had been worthwhile. She read him back their conversations and noted down his responses. He died before its publication.
In this fascinating conversation with former BBC religious affairs correspondent, Mike Wooldridge, Susie looks back at a special friendship that changed her life and explains how it revealed truths and challenges about herself and her own Christian beliefs.
Susie Stead’s book, “Stephen from the inside out” is available here: https://www.susiestead.com/stephen-from-the-inside-out/