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.
The stigma around mental illness is amongst minority is being stereotyped as a personality and low income, homeless, and uneducated people are being killed and disqualified for help in America as we see in the news everyday and I see I my own home with my daughter who is 22 yrs old diagnosed as schizoaffective the system has shut her out and the ghettofiedhood stereotype that empire the show supposedly portrays is definitely opening doors about mental illness in the hood.