Defining Stigma

By August 19, 2014Blog

Recently I had the honor of representing Bring Change 2 Mind at a press conference for philosophy’s Hope & Grace Initiative. I had been featured in a short film underscoring the realities of mental illness. The cosmetic company will be giving 1% of their proceeds to grass root organizations supporting and advocating for mental health awareness and wellness.

After the video, I was called to the podium to tell my story. I also broadcast my full name, which was a huge personal achievement.  I always assumed I was obliged to hide my diagnoses for fear of judgment – and personal and professional failure.

In the moment of making my remarks, however, what struck me most was the chattering of my knees, the dancing of my feet and the tremor throughout my legs.

My voice resonated well. My diction seemed good and my pace was on mark. But from my torso to my toes, I was a mess. I’ve spoken in public a good number of times, but not about this element of my personal story. I was so surprised by my shaking that I even made light of the situation by saying “Wow — I’m really shaking”. This, as I continued to dance behind the beautifully translucent, lucite podium. Ugh.

Upon returning home from New York, I spoke with a number of friends, family and clinicians about the shaking phenomenon.  I was embarrassed, but felt this experience was less nerves and more a distinct moment in time.

After speaking with a friend who specializes in holistic healing. I learned the shaking could be a release of 17 years of negative energy. She said it was important that it took place and that this release was going to clear space for more exciting and important endeavors.

And isn’t that a good trick? As we manage our diagnoses and hopefully find an even-keeled maintenance plan, there are still snafus that remind us that while we’re not our diagnoses, our mental wellness is something that requires daily attention. Utilizing a tool from your “bag of tricks” — like removing yourself from a situation, conscious breathing, knowing when to see your therapist regarding an urgent matter or how to overcome the fear of judgment – are all key in the learning how to manage your diagnoses.

The idea of my shaking being a release of pent up energy may be a stretch, but the theory served as a salve for my self-doubt and embarrassment.

Better understanding stigma has become a profound element of my journey. I first thought of stigma as being judged for your diagnoses and/or symptoms, but now realize it’s also the self-loathing and insecurities we put on ourselves. It’s not just those without a diagnosis having poorly educated viewpoints, but those assumed opinions that we instill within ourselves as well. A small example: I shared the philosophy video throughout my circle of friends and family. Many had no idea that I had a mental health diagnoses! But I had been living under the presumption that most of my family and acquaintances were watching every nose twitch and gesture for a sign of my next fall down the slippery slope to an episode.

Despite years of doubt and self-loathing, I embrace life. I’m in love with my devoted and encouraging husband, and our son is a blessing. My friends and family are supportive and meaningful to me, and I’m happy to say I have a team of medical experts who keep me on track.

No – I’m not my diagnosis. I’m Kate, and I’m living a life I never dreamed possible.  And that’s why I’m writing, saying my full name and joining the conversation. I appreciate this opportunity to share. It’s given me a safe space to think freely.

And thanks to my holistic healing friend, I now have a beautiful new tool for my “bag of tricks”.


  • E Woods says:

    I have someone close to me who must see this. Thank you, Kate. I want all of us to be able to stand up and say our names. Here’s mine for the list: Essie Woods Bruell.

  • Martha says:

    I tend to be like my mom and say what’s on my mind and sometimes it comes out seeming a tad unladylike but I am who I am! Isn’t it sad to think we can have a million ads on tv for sexual issues, bladder control, night sweats etc. yet there is still a stigma to mental health. There shouldn’t be. Be courageous and keep sharing your story.

  • Lori says:

    I, too, have lived with a bipolar diagnosis since 1995. What a journey it has been. I am inspired by these stories of dealing, accepting and living, truly living life positively with mental illness. I’m also excited to know that my enjoyment of Philosophy Products is helping others with mental health issues. Thank you so much for your encouraging stories. I’ve always known I’m not the only one dealing with associated symptoms and stigma attached with this diagnosis. Your stories are awe inspiring. Keep up the good work of bringing awareness to others thus helping lift the negative stigmas attached with the diagnosis. My best to all of you!

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