There is this thing called “stigma” that gets thrown around a lot when talk of mental illness comes up. To me, what I mean when I refer to the stigma of mental illness is that someone thinks less of you because of your illness or judges you unfairly.
In your life, as you become more comfortable coming out of the bipolar closet or people happen to find out you are mentally ill, you will find people who will judge you harshly. I am sorry, but that is the truth. I know. I live it.
Before I attended graduate school I was assigned a mentor – someone in the MFA creative writing program already – to answer any questions I had and just help prepare me. One day, while instant messaging each other, I told her that I planned to do my thesis (a completed book) as a memoir on mental illness because I have bipolar disorder. The next line she wrote me was, “Hey, sorry gotta run to the grocery store. Bye.” She never mentored me again after that. That was my first very bitter taste of stigma.
There were other situations – after my suicide attempt (before the mentor reaction) my therapist dumped me and told me not to contact her, that she would be sending me something in writing. I understand that she felt like she couldn’t help me the way I needed to be helped at the time, but it stung nonetheless.
Some friends called less and less until they stopped calling at all.
But what I want to tell you is that this thing called “stigma” is a reflection of them, not you. You are amazing, just as you are. I feel that I am better off without the people that would judge me than I would be with them in my life. I am still Elaina J. I still laugh really loud. I am still empathetic. I am still a good friend/daughter/sister/girlfriend. I just happen to have bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I don’t mean to make it sound easy when people can’t deal with your mental illness. It isn’t and it sucks. I’ve cried over it and you may too or you may get angry or you may get depressed, but it is good to feel something about being stigmatized because then is when you learn to be brave. You’ll learn, sometimes sooner than others, that you will be okay without the judgmental person in your life. And you will find new people – awesome people – who know about your mental illness and like/love you just the same. These are the people to hang onto; let the other ones go.
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