In this series first article I dispelled some myths about mental health conditions from the ever so lovely National Alliance on Mental Illness from their website, discussed what stigma is and gave the introduction that I wanted to speak more about my own personal experiences dealing with it.
What inspired these articles was my encountering stigma during the one course I am enrolled in for the semester. It started when one person in the classroom referred to those who act violently as “crazy people.” No surprises here, but you’ve probably read before how I hate the word “crazy” in its general use and especially when related to mental health. Someone else in my class likened a specific violent crime to people who are “mentally ill.” That, in order for those people to commit such a crime meant they were “not right in the head, that there was something wrong with them.”
Let me explain: I don’t deal with stigma very much, I have been very lucky in that regard that over the nearly four years since I was diagnosed that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of stigma. At the moment that this discussion started turning south in my class, I didn’t even identify it as stigma. All I knew for sure was that I was highly offended and also quite triggered. Remember back in “Why We Use Triggers” that I said being triggered is not synonymous with being offended? It just so happened that I was offended, and more so I was having a reaction to these declarations that I could not ignore.
I felt the adrenaline go off, I felt anxious and I felt really angry. Looking back it’s a little murky to what happened exactly when, but I did speak up and say, “As someone who is “mentally ill”, I find this offensive, and now I’m triggered.”
I simmered for a few moments as my professor explained the situation and related it back to the class, and to be honest, I was too busy simmering to be able to recall all that was said at that moment.
The few times I have dealt with stigma before this point in time it was people saying: “Those balloons are so OCD”, “I just killed myself studying”, “that class makes me want to kill myself” and other comments that made suicide, self-harm and mental health conditions in general into the butt end of a joke.
I have grown as a person not only in the last two months but in the last few years, as well. Whereas before when someone joked about OCD balloons I didn’t say anything but quietly simmered, now I have learned to speak up. I hated that I didn’t say anything back then and just wound up triggered and carrying around that level of baggage with me into the surrounding days.
I pride myself on being a mental health advocate. I work with NAMI in In Our Own Voice presentations, I am trained as a peer to peer mentor for NAMI’s recovery class, I blog about mental health awareness and suicide prevention, I write these articles rather shamelessly, I have built Twitter and Youtube platforms, I write fan fiction stories touching on the topics people don’t often want to talk about.
I guess, speaking up is becoming part of my nature. I know that I regret it when I don’t speak out.
So, at the end of class I shared the statistic that those of us living with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. I shared that I live with depression and that I am far more likely to hurt myself than anyone else.
I said something because it mattered, it needed to be said, and I felt that if I didn’t say anything I wouldn’t be able to let it go, so I chose to get in the hot seat for my sake, for those out there struggling and for anyone caring enough to listen. I may not respond right away when I hear stigma, but I do respond eventually. I am thankful that the day program I am attending three days a week has helped me in using my dialectical behavior therapy skills, because before now, I would probably have been triggered and acted on self-harm or suicidal behavior.
Instead, I just wrote an article about it and gradually let it go. There’s a quote that says “don’t let people rent space in your head” and I think that is a very important thing to keep in mind when dealing with stigma. I chose to face the stigma head-on, extend my thoughts on the matter, disclose one aspect of my history, close Pandora’s Box because it was opened and used distract skills later in the day. I was able to identify coping alternatives I could use as well as knowing I could bring up the situation again in program the following day.
Overall, I think I handled it pretty well and I am proud of myself. This will continue to be reflected in my future articles on NAMI and maintaining wellness.
Written 4.12.18 I would say more here but I’ve said what I wanted to say and am extremely tired, ahaha, am scheduling this to come out about twelve hours from me writing this now. Hope you enjoy and please share it!! 🙂 I’ll probably touch on other alternatives to this kind of advocacy in another article–I definitely ran out of room for this one! XD Much love & light to you all! ❤ ❤ ❤ (I also want to mention #SickNotWeak and similar movements).