Fighting the Stigma: What Mental Illness Means to Me
There are certain things you should do every day, like brush your teeth and meditate. Not that the latter one actually happens in my life, but wouldn’t it be ideal? There are other things that happen every day which are inevitable, like experiencing emotions and needing to regulate them. There is no right or wrong way to deal with emotions. Everyone is different.
When you see someone struggling, especially if you love them, it can be very difficult to watch. If you have seen and experienced the light at the end of the tunnel, meaning that you know what peacefulness feels like, you may be tempted to want to impart that knowledge of how to get there onto this person. But don’t push it. Some people just aren’t ready for the light and each person’s path to enlightenment is different.
What We Need
Do you know what they really need? Why don’t you ask them: “How can I be helpful to you right now?” I know what I would need. I would need someone to listen to me and to accept me for who and how I am in that moment without trying to change me. I would want someone to acknowledge my pain as real, and not made-up. No matter how far out there a person’s perception may be, no matter if it makes logical sense, it’s real because it’s real to them. If I told you to close your eyes and then put an egg in front of you, would you know that it was there? What if I were to tell you that the egg is there in spite of the fact that you cannot see it? Mental illness is called an invisible illness for that reason. You may not be able to physically see it, or be able to fathom its existence in your mind, yet it is there and it is very real.
Addressing the Stigma
To all the people who have bought into the negative stereotypes of mental illness, I wish you could read this now. I wish just one person from that category of people could set their eyes on these sentences. That’s the great thing about words: they are visible. People who suffer from a mental affliction have a voice. The more and more we use that voice, then the more others may listen. If there is one phone ringing, you might be able to shift your attention and try to disregard it. But if a thousand phones were to be ringing in the same room all at the one time, it would be unmistakable that we have a voice. So just pick up that phone, and listen.
Who We Are
People who have a mental illness are people just like me. I have dreams, aspirations, wants, desires, feelings, hopes, talents, and more. I get up every day and try to live each day to the best of my ability given the emotional resources that I have. Not every day is a good day. Sometimes those good days are far and few in between. But I can put on a fake smile and unless you have key discernment, you would never know that I have self-critical thoughts which plague my existence. It might appear as if I have everything going for me, yet deep down below, I feel like a failure and a fraud. Feelings of guilt and shame pervade my being.
Then there are those of us who are suffering so much internally, that we cannot function. That used to be me. The days feel like an eternity and every moment is fraught with thoughts of self-hatred and not wanting to exist. To walk down the block to get a gallon of milk seems like such an impossible feat, you don’t even attempt it. Every waking hour feels like a living nightmare because you are experiencing your past trauma over and over again as if it were really happening at that moment. How are you supposed to get out of bed when you can’t even open your eyes for fear of something, anything, triggering you? You would rather be asleep and you sleep with the light on at night just to feel safe.
I had people who rallied around me when things were at their worst. My mental health care professionals fought hard for my survival, as did I. A few family members stayed in touch and a priest took me under his wing as a daughter for several years. I was a part of the family just when I needed it the most.
Now things have changed. People have moved on and my support system has been modified to include some and exclude others. I send yearly holiday cards to the professionals at the hospital and they have expressed their pride in my success and progress. It feels good. I am able to hold a job, be employed, and pay my own rent and bills. I feed myself and try to stick to a routine.
Yet I still have difficult days. I don’t think life will ever be rosy, and it doesn’t need to be. What matters is how you feel in the moment and what you receive from experiencing that moment. What matters is that I live from one day to the next, sometimes planning things ahead and that I keep on moving forward. What matters is that I still have those same dreams and desires as I did before my recovery. The difference now is that I have a say in my fate and that I can shape my own destiny. I can make some of those dreams come true.
Nunn, A. (2018). Fighting the Stigma: What Mental Illness Means to Me. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-recovery/2018/04/fighting-the-stigma-what-mental-illness-means-to-me/