Last night, you dragged me home from the pub -drunk- after a drink too many of Chardonnay. And this morning, as I nursed my hangover, you shared with me how scared you were last night. And yet, I have no recollection of the night’s events.
You are not the only one to tell me that you’re scared. My therapist says that my nihilist attitude scares her. My friends and family keep checking in on me, because they are afraid I might act on my suicidal thoughts. Strangers keep a distance and think twice before befriending me, because I scare them away. And I know you have my well being in mind, I know you want the best for me, and you mean well when you check in on me. But, still, it hurts to know that I scare people.
Let me tell you how I feel. I’m scared too. I scare myself every night. And when I wake up in the morning, the fear is still there. I am scared by my suicidal thoughts and even more so that I can’t stop them. I am afraid that I might not be strong enough today and engage in self harm. I am scared by my bitter attitude, knowing that it pushes people away and leaves me on my own to fend for myself in this scary world. I’m scared of my urges to drink and smoke, because I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to not act on those urges. I’m scared to look at my bottle of medication, because it triggers more fears. I wake up afraid, and go to sleep afraid; I can be my biggest enemy.
Last night, when you dragged me home and told me how scared you are, I wanted to hold on to you, keep you close, and tell you how scared I am. I don’t want to scare people away, because I know how it feels to be scared of myself. Last night you experienced what I experience every night. (and sometimes every day)
So please, when you feel afraid, know that I am just a frightened little girl and I need all the support I can get. I know it’s hard, but together we are stronger and together we can conquer our fears.
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all. – Bill Clinton
And yet, three out of four people suffering from mental illness report to be experiencing the stigma associated with mental illness. There is no denying that the stigma is out there. Fortunately, society is slowly gaining more awareness of mental health. Still, the stigma isn’t completely gone; it’s merely lurking in the shadows.
I have repeatedly encountered stigma myself. I’ve watched people change their attitudes towards me as they find out I take medication for my mental illness. I’ve had to deal with rejection and being shamed by the people closest to me. I witnessed the eye roll accompanying the word crazy; and the ease with which people label and classify others. Truth be told, it did not make me feel better. In fact, it has stopped me from coming forward and reaching out for help when needed for fear of the reaction. It has made me feel guilty, ashamed and second class. And it shouldn’t have.
The toughest battle I have to deal with, though, is self stigma. Unfortunately, people with mental illness are aware of the stereotypes about them. Knowing those stereotypes, has made me very self conscious, which means from awareness it has gone to internalization. The more those stereotypes, generalizations and misconceptions are internalized, the more my self esteem plummets. And when self esteem is low, it is a lot harder to reach out for help when needed.
It’s hard for me to talk about stigma when every day is spent judging myself and beating myself up for what I’m not. It’s almost foolish to expect people not to judge when I degrade myself in my own heart. Sadly, though, self stigma is a direct result of public stigma.
Dear friend, I’m writing to both of us today – you and me. I will work harder to accept myself for who I am, with my flaws. I will reach out for help when I need it. I promise not to let the stigma get the better of me. And please, in turn, don’t judge. Accept, respect and don’t expect. Educate yourself and try to get rid of those negative beliefs. Every single person makes a difference in fighting the stigma. You. And me.
Let’s bust the stigma.