My Stigma

By November 15, 2017Blog

I was planning today to write about language, media and the stereotypes that stalemate recovery. While these caustic brands of stigma debilitate, I’ve come to realize the stigma I put upon myself is just as dangerous. None of us are free from stigma – whether you shame others or shame yourself.

Let’s all remember that hearing the word “crazy” or “insane” while psychotic, for example, only makes matters worse. Often worse than that, however, is judging yourself with similar words and images. Self inflicted, so-called societal judgments kept me from witnessing joy, from seeing gifts, from hoping for the future. Shame and embarrassment held me hostage.

Thinking back on the past twenty years of “illness”, I can cite a few important examples of how self-stigma has made managing my illness more difficult. Take participating in a clinical trial to help carry a child. The opportunity was a blessing, but inside I was a guinea pig who ultimately felt incapable of parenting. The joy of carrying and birthing a healthy child was fogged by the shame triggered by needing help in the first place. I have a beautiful eight-year-old son today, but I lost four career-building jobs from the post partum psychosis that was caused by the experience. I continue today unemployed. The self-inflicted pain and guilt made things worse. It’s too easy to forget that my bravery and courage kept us alive.

Getting married reads love and beauty, but what spouse truly loves a partner who’s “bat shit crazy”? It was unbelievable to me, but I wed the love of my life anyway. Who knew I had found a man who truthfully vowed, “through sickness and in health”. Feeling unworthy of our relationship triggered fear and little faith in our love, ultimately unleashing psychosis and mania. I was hospitalized as a result. My strength helped make the right choice to marry, but I’ve been tortured by the possibility that illness could bring us down.

I share these stories to reveal how courage is a personal strong suit my mind’s eye could not see. I couldn’t believe reality, but kept trying to live as though it might be possible. That takes strength I never granted myself permission to see. Forging my path has been difficult and the embarrassment has been unnerving. I’ve been affected by stigma from outside my bubble, but also held my self-judgment too dear.

Whether you’re managing your own diagnoses or managing how to understand others, remember it takes fortitude and courage to overcome anxieties and fears — and how we’re perceived. Consider stopping the use of painful language, as words can be sharper than you think. And think not of how you see yourself being judged but by the courage it takes to see your reality. I seldom shame myself today. I now remind myself that my strength and courage are miracles and it’s okay to let myself shine. Overcoming shame took at least a lifetime’s worth of recovery work. I wonder how long it would have taken to find peace if stigma didn’t exist. Maybe someday someone managing a mental illness will know.


  • Christine says:

    Well written and to the point!! xo CHL

    • Linda V says:

      Those at the helm of our mental health care system have most Americans convinced mental illnesses are incurable and that synthetic drugs are needed to control the symptoms. This is simply not true. I used orthomolecular medicine to cure my loved one of “incurable bipolar with psychosis” and he hasn’t needed psych drugs for years. He leads a good life. I wrote The Secrets to Real Mental Health as the layperson’s guide to this wonderful, sensible, safe, non-proprietary, integrative and proven way to restore one’s mental health, to not just cover up the symptoms but restore their mental health back to normal.

  • Mel says:

    Kate, this is beautiful, brave, and brilliantly articulated. I feel blessed to have watched you grow, the catipiller into the butterfly. Profound post!

    • Julia says:

      Thank you for this gem. I have just stumbled upon this page and am so grateful that you shared. Ive felt so alone and like an alien, wishing to be human. I see a glimmer of hope today thanks to you.

      • Kate O’Neil says:

        Just seeing your response! I hope your glimmer of hope shines even brighter today. Know seeing your comment today helped me remember my reality and instills a refreshed sense of hope and faith. We’re all in this together. Thank you!

  • Jacqueline says:

    My brother is not the boy a remember it breaks my heart and soul looking at him trying to destroy his life…..

  • Nan says:

    Thank you for your comments. I also had to deal with the shame I had caused my family. They were wonderful to me, and I was also blessed to have a great doctor.

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