During my short tenure as a blogger for Bring Change 2 Mind, I’ve talked about how lucky I am to be able to walk away from stigma and “out myself” publicly. I’ve shared the structure of my “safety net” and how it keeps me on an even keel — and I’ve explored the concepts of mental health advocacy. What I haven’t shared is that the word “stigma” only recently became a part of my vernacular. In fact, I didn’t even know the word prior to serving as an Ambassador for BC2M.
Upon reflection, the most important lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that I haven’t necessarily been heavily stigmatized – to my knowledge, but I’ve self-stigmatized and as a result put a halt on any open conversation about my diagnoses and the realities therein throughout my circle of family, friends, co-workers and broader community.
I couldn’t get over the shame and embarrassment, never mind the undue and misunderstood judgement that inevitably affects those of us with a mental health diagnoses. For me, living in fear creates the perfect petrie dish for growing a large dose of self hatred. And this led to a sense of being angry, bitter and victimized.
And who wants to be a victim?
So before having the confidence and space necessary to say my name and my diagnoses in one sentence, I learned the tools necessary to obtain what I hoped for in life: a loving husband, beautiful son and lovely home, neighbors and community. I’m lucky. Of course I was and am consistently compliant with both my behavioral and pharmaceutical management regimes. Many of my hopes and wishes came true – but before the output of my faith came to fruition, I was still horrified by the prospects of my mental health secret getting out. For most of this time I worked in the Public Affairs office at a large University. I managed many large-scale events and felt accomplished for my achievements and professionalism. At one point, however, I had what I like to think of as a blip on the screen. I certainly wasn’t feeling well and took a leave of absence.
Only recently I spoke with one of my colleagues about that time. My office-mate Amabel was always a source of great solace and built a solid framework for day-to-day “normalcy”.
Throughout my time on campus, we never truly spoke of my many issues, but she was free with a funny quip about the day or a circumstance, and in a motherly kind of way, compounded my hope with a “this too shall pass” attitude. I recently interviewed Amabel expecting to hear how the entire University was aware of my symptoms and that I was freak of nature with a post it note on my head explaining my plight. But I learned these were my own inhibitions – my own doubts and personal misunderstandings. Scary, but such a relief and yes – a source of validation.
Many moons have come and gone since my time at the University, but I now know that I was simply seen as a competent professional and had not been stigmatized due to my undefined leave or odd behaviors prior to that time.
Such a waste of worry and a long standing hammer to my self confidence.
So while I wasn’t a victim, I was having a hard time conjuring up the strength to ebb my fears about judgement and lack of respect in the work place. I was a shell of myself, but that self continued to be compliant – continued to learn how recovery could happen.
I’m certainly human and both personally and as a family struggle with the day-to-day stressors many of us do throughout these often trying times. Keeping these stressors in check is key to having any one straw break the camel’s back.
So how do I do it? I muddle through like everyone else, but I look at managing my illness as a basic equation of steps that work. I take my medication and as I mentioned — adhere to my therapist’s recommendations. Otherwise, I live my life. My diagnoses is not a daily stress for me – after 18 years, it barely passes my day-to-day thought process.
I can now confidently say I am not my diagnoses. The beautiful part of this is that once I got through the looking glass of an ugly duckling, I was able to learn more about Kate the well-rounded, loving person. And sure – if a talk fast, laugh loud or make some out-of-turn comment, I worry that if people know, they will judge me for being bi-polar. But guess what? The Kate behind the diagnoses does happen to talk fast and laugh loudly. And that’s more than okay. So why do I continue with therapy? Why do I take my medication?
Validation that everything is going to be safe and secure and that I’m successfully managing life’s stressors is the most quintessential part of my health care regime. I know more about myself than most people know about their favorite color, but that’s just fine as knowing the difference between a well validated Kate and a spiraling, manic Kate is worth the time, money and effort.