Life in the Stigma

Mental health may be getting more publicity, but is the stigma getting better? Anyone who suffers with mental health issues knows the importance of this statement. I have suffered with borderline personality disorder since I was a child. It has been an uphill battle. Until recently, hiding this little fact from the world was even more of a battle. It took all of my effort to act normal. It occurred to me, finally, that I shouldn’t need to. No one should. We are all human. Having anxiety, depression, bipolar ect. does not make you a failure.

Roughly one in four people suffer from some sort of mental illness, that's a whopping 25% percent . So, if it's so common, why all the hate? We all know the saying that lack of understand creates fear, and this seems to be the case for mental heath. People who do not understand, hear the word illness and recoil. They start to look at you differently. Like if you cough, they'll catch it – which is ludicrous. This mentality that so many take upon themselves leaves a bitter world for those who suffer. As if it isn't enough that we must go through this, now we're a pariah?

Lately I’ve been bombarded with posts, memes and videos about different mental health issues. Something we never would have talked about, let alone spammed on Facebook and Twitter, ten years ago. But with all this social media, why is It when someone has a real problem, in real time, we sweep it under the rug like its filth we don’t want to even admit we have? Which is it? Is mental health becoming okay to talk about or is it just another ruse to get us who suffer to come out of the wood work. To expose ourselves?

I can tell you all about my suffering, how I can’t get out of bed some days. How I cry uncontrollably in a ball on the floor, rocking, because I’m so utterly consumed by emotions, chemical imbalances, hormones, whatever it is at the time. But chances are, if you suffer too, you know all about this. The problem is, even if I never showed any of this, a lot of the time I felt it. I felt it so painfully it was hard to smile and walk through the door – but I did it. I do it. It isn’t all utter despair and balls of tears, those are the bad days; sometimes, I just simply feel anxious or sad and it comes across in different ways to different people. They see a girl who isn’t quite right, they can’t see the hourly battle I suffer through, just so I can go about my day.

A lot of my struggle through my years was the way I was viewed. I would steal myself away, hide from large crowds and get easily overwhelmed in certain situations – okay, most situations. I was called a variety of names such as stuck up, sensitive and uptight. All of which I believed at one point. I saw people interact with each other so easily and figured, it must be true, I can’t do these things like they can. It must be true. Those thoughts pulled me down deeper. Not only do I feel the way that I feel but I don’t understand it and all I have to go on is what people tell me. I become more of a loner and more introverted, things became really bad for a while. See the cycle? These were my friends, family, co-workers, saying these things, not bullies in a school yard – granted, they had their harsh words too, but they failed to penetrate as deeply.

After I started opening-up about my issues I got mixed reactions. Anger, embarrassment, pity and even empathy. Some felt comfortable enough to rub their wound raw for me, showing me their struggle. These are the people that helped. They’re the ones that made me realize I was normal. Or at least that I wasn’t alone. because that’s the scary part. When an episode hits. You feel isolated. You feel that part of you is crazy, pathetic or worse. It’s a spiral from there.

It isn’t just friends and family that have these negative reactions, it’s also our health care professionals. They see so much of it on a daily basis that they become desensitized – bedside manner is not a skill many possess. One of my favourite stories is from my mother, who also suffers from mental health issues. It’s funny now, told as she does it, but in reality, I think she hid how much it hurt to have someone treat her as they did, and a licenced doctor no-less. After going to a free clinic for mental health, she finally asked for a psychiatrist because the therapist just wasn’t cutting it anymore, they weren’t getting to the root of the problem. After some waiting, this happened. I’m sure she had much trepidation and excitement going into this appointment. Finally, someone who could help, and I mean really help - boy was she wrong. After opening-up about some of her issues, the psychiatrist with the fancy degree rambled into some anecdotes- to try and relate I suppose. He goes into a story of when he was still in school and consumed by self doubt and depression. After enduring this for I don’t know how long he explains that his girl friend came over and they slept together. Bam, he felt amazing. Sex was the answer! Wait… what? My mother responds with, “So, what you’re telling me, is that I need to get laid and all my problems will go away?” He hesitates and answers with a shaky no. “No, that’s not quite it, here let me try this”. He proceeds to tell her a story about his son who had a messy house. He claims his son was feeling down for a while and was randomly inspired to clean his house. Bam, he felt amazing. Cleaning was the answer! Again, my mother responds with a quizzical, “so, what you’re telling me is that I need to clean my house? Then I’ll be fine?” As predicted the doctor with the fancy degree stumbles on his, “No”, again and stares at her blankly. Not once did he assess her actual problems. Not once did he try and figure out her triggers – was it driving, was it people, was it a messy house or lack of sex. Not once did he try and, well… doctor. They continue to stare at each for a moment and come to the agreement that, no, they will not be setting up another appointment. He treated her like a nobody and her problems as some sort of surface issue that could easily be pushed aside with some endorphins and relief of any guilt a dirty house may have on a person. Granted, these things can make a person feel better, but those are not solutions, nor is it something a trained professional should be advising. That’s more of a best friend job to jokingly tell her to get laid. My point is, this psychiatrist did nothing for her. He treated her issues as lot of people treat mental illness, that it’s a quick fix and only limited in its duration. WRONG.

Mental health issues are all consuming, all the time. There is no break, there is no quick fix. I don’t need to go to medical school to know this. If this is the way someone who is supposed to be able to help treats a patient, how are the rest of us learning? If you can’t see a problem, there is none? There are good days and bad days and in between days where you feel nothing. You can medicate, you can yoga, you can send out positive vibes – hell you can get laid and clean – but NONE of these will ever make it go away. So how do we deal? How do you “show” an individual that doesn’t experience mental health issues, exactly what we go through? It’s tough, but I find words a powerful tool. Never assume that because you cannot see the pain, that is does not exist. I kind word and a hug go a long way. Mostly it’s up to the individual to deal, to find their own unique way of coping, but an empathetic ear and vocalizing these issues can lead to a new era where we no longer get swept under the rub, ostracized, ignored or called “sensitive”.

Speak up, and teach others.