Stigma can strike at one’s mental core. It rips through one’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
When I was diagnosed with depression, I would quickly and harshly learn about stigma. I actually prefer the term “discrimination”.
I spent years thinking I had a horrible life, not recognizing my symptoms as depression. So once diagnosed, I thought, given that depression is an illness, with help I could heal and feel more optimistic about my future.
I told my immediate family and they were solid in their support. Without them, I know I would not be alive. I will forever be grateful.
My extended family vanished, including one relative whom I had helped time after time with the bad choices he had made in his life.
Word that I had depression spread throughout my law firm, then the community at large. As a practicing lawyer of 18 years in a small city, I knew lots of people, and lots knew me. I had friends at my firm, colleagues and clients. I heard from only two. Neither of whom I had considered close, at least at that time.
I always thought that if I had been diagnosed with cancer and been in a hospital or at home, there would have been a lineup to see me at lunch and after hours. But with mental illness: no lineup, no get-well cards, and no casseroles.
I felt rejected, even abandoned by my firm and friends. I was the “fixer” at the office. Everyone who had difficulties, whether it was my law partner or a staff member, came to me for advice or to assist on a file that had gone astray. I also was receptive to their personal troubles. Then, when I found myself in a dark place, in need of support and understanding, there was no one. I stood alone.
I was hurt, angry, bitter, then resigned to the fact that they would not help. It took awhile, but I cut them loose from our so-called friendships. It was a difficult decision to release them from my life but such a healthy one. I was better off alone.
But “alone” is a cold place.
Now years later, I am still impacted by that stigma.
I wanted and needed to be accepted by others. We all need family, friends, and even strangers to accept us as we are. We need connections that provide safety & understanding, empathy & warmth. We all want to “fit in” somewhere.
Being invited in December of 2009 to join BC2M as a volunteer was so important to me. It changed my life. I found acceptance by so many people. My fellow volunteers were amazing. I felt that I had friends, even though long distance, who understood me and my life with depression. I also learned that I could be a friend as well. I realized that I had something to offer and contribute in relationships. It felt rather good!
I continue to seek, and fortunately find, acceptance.
I met a new friend a couple of months ago. It was a random meeting. As we got to know each other I readily discussed my depression. It’s important to reference my history with depression, as it has made me who I am and explains some of my thoughts and behaviors. She viewed my depression as just one part of my life, but not the only part. The first opportunity we had to spend a few hours together she simply said, “tell me some stories”. Someone was actually interested in me!
Acceptance can happen at any time. But, when it doesn’t, it can be painful. Don’t let the ignorance of others impact your life. We all know the power we possess and the empathy of which we are capable. Use that power to focus on improving your own life and then the lives of others. I did, and now my life is good, even wonderful at times. It took many years, but I am happy. Hey, I saw two movies this past month, I hadn’t been to a movie theatre in 13 years!
I truly enjoyed reading this article as I too have experienced the gut wrenching effects of stigma.
You’re exactly right – no one is there making casseroles for you and I too have never received a psychiatric greeting card! I think the only weapon we have in this war is knowledge and education. Its ok to get a boo boo on your hand but God forbid getting one on your brain!
You made some good solid points and I thank you for sharing them with us!
I am so sorry your diagnosis winnowed out your true friend/family. True friends and family stay close through tough times. This is a brave and helpful piece. I have no doubt your wisdom will help others! Enjoy those movies!