For my family, this is a joyous Christmas. My five-year-old son “gets it”, and playing chief elf is super fun. Plus there are all the traditions to establish from various outings to tree trimming and favorite carols . . . We’ve also made a pact to teach our son the “true meaning” of Christmas. I think it means something different for everyone. For us, we think of it as the Season of Giving.
But since I’m having a selfish moment, I’ll digress and pen my own wish list:
For those afflicted by a mental illness and living without the help they need – may they find a road to sustainable wellness;
For those successfully managing their diagnoses, may they have the strength and support to stick with their health care regime;
For the homeless — a warm bed and a roof to shield them from the cold;
For those who manage our nation’s fledgling health care system, that they be blessed with the tools necessary to properly treat mental health just as freely as “physical health”;
For empathy — to enable everyone the ability to find the resources and energy to live a kind life;
For snow. A white Christmas would be lovely;
For a bountiful Christmas dinner celebration with close family and friends.
Now, I tried wishing for the end of stigma, but couldn’t find the words. I asked myself why and realized that for me, it’s too complicated for a nod on a wish list.
What is stigma? I think, like anything, it’s defined differently for each of us, but it’s equally troublesome for everyone. For instance, I stigmatized myself for almost two decades before finding the ability to speak my full name and my diagnoses in one sentence. But during those years of silence I was able to establish great support and a strong family support net. For that, I am lucky.
During those years of managing both my diagnoses and my silence, I learned tools to help me to ultimately lead a life I never dreamed possible — a loving husband, son and home.
So, of late, I’ve better understood the difference between two brands of stigma. For me, it’s been a struggle between self-stigmatizing and self loathing — and being judged, misunderstood and/or criticized for a mental health diagnoses by others.
So what’s my final hope for my Christmas List?
For anyone who’s felt stigmatized that they find the power and fortitude to talk about it and help others understand how they’ve been hurt. And, that they acknowledge the power of doing this — not just for an important social movement – but for their own well being.
At the moment, I wish for a brighter, more tolerant world, open to the realities of mental illness. Let’s see what strides we’ve taken by this time next year!