This is going to be a difficult article to write but as you know when it is in my head it has to go down on paper so I will do my best. Since I have opened myself up to the world about my mental health problems I have often had worries how it may affect me, how much change in others will it bring about. Obviously I had my family to consider and if my being so open abojut my illness would it affect them, would they rather I kept it a secret? Would people look at them as the partner, daughter, parent or relative of a ‘defective ‘person. Would my friends look at me differently and finally would my employer think my illness made me unsuitable for my job.
I must admit that when I started this blog it was a coping mechanism to help me deal with my feelings, I never expected anyone to ever read it, I never felt that anyone would even be interested. However some people did read it and they started to send me messages thanking me for sharing, saying things like they were proud that I had the courage to speak out. I soon discovered that I was different in a new way, I was a person with a mental illness who was putting the illness and living with the illness into words, even though they were just my view of it.
I started building a Twitter ‘community’ by following those who also had mental health issues and started to see the pain people were in, not just caused by their illness but also about the feeling of isolation their illness seemed to bring with it. I signed up to forums and started reading these posts from people looking for answers about their illness, pouring out their feelings and worries to strangers from behind a screen name and it became clear that there was an even darker side to mental health than the illnesses themselves.
My brother-in-law has for many years been a campaigner for social justice, especially for those who find themselves homeless and he often mentioned that these people were often stereotyped and neglected because of the stigma attached to them. And I will admit that I have expressed more than once that there are loads of jobs so why people say they can’t find one was beyond me. I was in the position of ‘i’m all right so it’s not my problem’ but as I have come to realise I was pretty much an asshole back then. Having gone through what I have in the past few weeks has opened my eyes to many things, one of these being I was not a nice person before but whilst I don’t wish to make excuses I was constantly battling my own demons so I didn’t really have space in my head for empathy and compassion.
Soon I started to see on Twitter and forums the same word over and over again STIGMA, especially that attached to mental health. Now I have known for a long time that I have a problem but I kept it hidden and would ‘fit in’ and follow the herd, I would say things that probably reinforced this stigma all the while suppressing the voice inside me telling me what an absolute hypocrite I was. Coming clean and opening up about my illness has changed me as a person, I still don’t quite know who I am anymore but I’m glad I am not who I was and family and friends seem to like be better. My partner is getting a tad fed up of me constantly talking about mental health but I see this as me just using her as my ‘talking therapy’ partner, I know this is wrong and will try not to treat her as a sounding board. Though this is in itself a problem, apart from forums and social media I have no one to talk to. Since my crash I spent a few days in hospital, have seen my CPN twice and my GP twice (both times to check/change medication) so I feel very isolated not being able to talk out loud.
Definition of stigma in English:
noun (plural stigmas or especially in sense 2 stigmata ˈstɪɡmətəstɪɡˈmɑːtə)
1A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person:
the stigma of mental disorder
to be a non-reader carries a social stigma
Above is the Oxford dictionary definition of stigma, I looked it up before writing this and was horrified by what I saw, “Mark of disgrace” so in effect as it says “the stigma of mental disorder” translates as “the mark of disgrace of mental disorder”. So what this implies to me is that because I am ill, though no fault of my own I am a disgrace. Well that makes me feel so much better about myself, not only do I have to deal with the anxiety and depression, fight the urge to self harm and take medication that often makes my illness seem like the least of my worries I also have to live with being a disgrace. It is no wonder people with mental health problems have no desire to let people know or even seek help if the prevailing attitude is that they are a disgrace to society. I knew that in the 1900s people with mental illness were regarded as being unworthy of a place in society, even Prince John who had epilepsy and possibly autism was kept away from royal life because of his ailments. I would have expected things to have moved on a bit but it seems we are better at creating better ways of communicating than we are at actually doing so.
I know that social attitudes are changing and that more people are seeing the world and its inhabitants for who they are not what social group they have been previously stereotyped into. Not all people who have religious beliefs are terrorists, not all people who live on the streets are alcoholic wasters, the colour of a person’s skin does not define them and being ill does not make you a disgrace. The shame is that social attitude does not seem to change as fast as technology, if it did the world would be a very different place. I have a nine-year old daughter who was asking questions the other day about same sexed couples, we explained and she understood, hopefully she will grow up accepting that there is nothing wrong with who you love as long as you have love and cherish it. Maybe by changing my attitude will help her become a better person, this is one of the traits of the new me I very much wish to hold onto.
Once this article is complete and I press the publish button it will go out into the world, I can not choose who reads it or the opinion that they form. I recently read a very good article pointing out that sharing the experience of mental illness can attract very negative people who will deride and belittle and even become quite hateful. I worry about this but not because I fear their words or threats, I have lived a long time and a bit of abuse is nothing I can’t handle. The problem is I might be able to handle these people but others may not, some people are already as much afraid of the stigma attached to their illness as they are the illness itself. This is a new reason for me to continue writing this blog, it is no longer just for my therapy but to be a voice for those that do not wish to speak. I have fear, I do not know what the future holds for me but if I can help others by speaking out then I have purpose, I have a reason each day to live. I will continue offering support on forums, writing articles to highlight mental health issues as I see them and being a part of the mental health community.
I only hope that those who feel that this stigma, this social disgrace, applied to them can see that it does not. An illness even one that is ‘invisible’ is nothing to feel shame about. your feelings and emotions when controlled by your illness are not you, you have nothing to blame yourself for. Maybe the way you lived your life may have contributed to your illness or like me maybe hiding from it caused you to live a life that was not good but the fact remains you are ill. We are not our illness, we are not a disgrace because of our illness, we are not defective. We are strong in that every day we try to live a ‘normal’ life with this monkey on our backs. If people want to give you a label to help themselves deal with things then let them, if they are only intelligent enough to think that having depression makes you a lazy miserable person do you think they will listen to reasonable explanation? If someone on social media replies to your post explaining how hard you are finding it to face going to work by telling you to”man the fuck up you lazy retard” then that person is not going to respond to explanation, all they know is what is in their narrow mind. the best fight for bullies is to ignore them, confrontation is what they desire.
I do not know what my future holds for me, when I return to work will they feel I am up to the job? When will I be ready to go back and most importantly can I still do the job. For now though my focus is on getting better and to do that I talk. I have a motto “help others, help yourself” and I will continue giving support on forums, spreading the word on social media and being a voice for mental illness. I feel the stigma inside me and maybe you do to, maybe our first task as a mental health community should be to work on letting go of the stigma inside before we confront the stigma out there.
Peace and love be with you.