Be Kind to You: Eradicating Self-Stigma

By Kate Lynch O'Neil

Be Kind to You photo 20150927-IMG_3454As a mental health advocate I preach eradicating stigma. Prejudice compounds the complexity of managing a mental health diagnoses. My tendency to blame myself and stigmatize my diagnoses took years to correct. I now know overcoming self-stigma granted me life.

Two years after being diagnosed with Bipolar I with psychosis and rapid cycling, I excelled in my position at a highly respected university. I thrived managing public relations, events and ceremonies. I was capable. I got the job done. My colleagues and senior leadership respected my work.

But the earlier six-month psychotic episode haunted my every move.

My career was the only rewarding aspect of my life. While admired for my professionalism, I felt like a wet rag. My life was lonely, and I no longer believed in myself. I was paranoid that I would eventually be found out and labeled insane.

I therefore became acutely aware of the smallest interpersonal detail. I lived in fear that my hand tremor in a meeting or racing speech in times of stress might give me away. All roads led to the possibility of being called crazy. Since I was convinced that work was life, losing my position was not an option. While this method of operation provided the university with my undying dedication, I was lonely, miserable and acting the role of a new Kate I didn’t like.

My growing paranoia triggered a second, less severe episode, resulting in a three-month leave of absence. I developed an acute fear of returning to work. Colleagues would certainly be aware of my diagnoses, seeing the reality behind the smoke and mirrors.

Or so I thought. In the end, no one had heard about my health.

Years later, I asked a close colleague what people had thought of my leave and of me as a person. She said everyone respected me and spoke highly of my abilities. While a few people knew the full story, she said they judged me based solely on my professional capabilities.

If only I had asked that question a few years back . . .

I’m public now. I tell my story with sincerity to anyone who asks. I enjoy sharing and pray others find hope and faith in their wellness. The liberation I’ve found with being Kate – not Bipolar Kate –has been refreshing and a stepping-stone to better compliancy and wellness.

A good friend shared a quote by the late feminist and activist Audre Lourd. I find the passage inspiring as it evokes self-acceptance and wellness:

 

When I dare to be

powerful,

to use my strength in the

service of my vision,

then it becomes less and less important

whether I am afraid

Being afraid is no way to live. Let’s stomp out stigma – both the brand you may encounter publicly and the more debilitating kind you tell yourself.

 

2 responses to “Be Kind to You: Eradicating Self-Stigma”

  1. Mary says:

    I love the quote. I’m trying to overcome self-stigma as well. I know somehow my purpose is to advocate for all of us with mental health issues, yet I keep waiting until I am “better”. Perhaps recovery begins, or is at least aided by, our willingness to share our story and get past the stigma.

  2. Kate Lynch O'Neil says:

    Thank you, Mary. It’s extraordinarily validating to hear your thoughts. Keep being strong and as you see fit, keep speaking out! Thank you for joining the movement to eradicate stigma! All best – KLO

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