In these unprecedented times of social isolation, I wanted to share my thoughts from my memoir. Yesterday, I offered suggestions about what you can do while the world is heading into a “shelter in place” type of society, and isolation will be a friend of ours. Today I wanted to share a chapter that can be helpful. You can always find my memoir on Amazon here. This chapter talks about the stigma surrounding mental illness but it also discisses more towards the end isolation.
Chapter Nine: The Stigma. What is it?
I MUST PREFACE THAT MY EXPERIENCE is not professional, I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. What I write here is what I personally have learned and experienced when it comes to the stigma of mental illness. I ask that you take what you read here into further research. There are so many great resources out there on the internet.
The stigma surrounding mental illness is a real thing, but it is important to first look at what is a stigma? I consider a stigma something in your mind that you believe puts you at a disadvantage—like having a mental illness. It becomes a stereotype, not only in the lives of the sufferer but also in the minds of those who do not understand or have lived a day with a mental illness. The mental health stigma can lead you to worse mental health down the road. I am not immune. For a time, I hid behind the mental illness stigma, and went as far as convincing myself there was nothing wrong with me. I was scared of what it would mean to admit to myself that I had a mental illness.
Growing up, mental illness was not something that was talked about outside of a classroom setting. When kids that I grew up with talked about mental illness, it was always in a negative light. I remember as a middle school student, there was a mass shooting on the news that happened at a high school. The conversations among my peers were that only people with mental illness do such terrible things. It sat with me for a while, I knew very little about mental illness, and it was effortless to take what adults on the news said about mental health as fact. This only perpetuated the stereotype in my own mind as an adult with a mental illness.
The problem when the stigma continues, is it can have some unintended consequences that have a lasting effect on a person’s mental health. One of the most significant issues that is talked about in the mental illness community is how the stigma has made sufferers reluctant to seek help. In my own experience, I was in my twenties before I sought help. It was only after years of struggle, a suicide attempt, and a diagnosis of Bipolar-1 that I got help. I hated it, and for years the denial that there was something wrong, kept me from genuinely finding peace in this mental illness life.
When it comes to an understanding, there is the harmful effect of believing that, because you have a mental illness, that means your chances to succeed life is not plausible. I have fallen victim to this for many years on this journey. I lost so many years that I will never get back because I believed the lie—that succeeding was out of the question.
When I finally got back on track, I have proved this theory wrong. I went back to school and finished one degree, then began to work on a second. I started writing full-time to including a screenplay/novel. My blog The Bipolar Writer, has become a safe place where other writers with mental illness can call home. I have found my place within mental illness, and it was only possible when I started to fight the stigma. One thing that I have found that has perpetuated the mental illness stigma is the lack of knowledge and resources available to families.
For my own family, it was very hard at the beginning of my mental illness journey. When I attempted suicide, it threw my family for a loop. The understanding that my family and friends have now come from trials, errors, and a lot of suffering. I honestly believe if I would have given in and admitted early that my mental illness was real, it could have saved myself some lost years. On the other hand, my struggles, including those lost years made me who I am today.
There are other areas that the mental illness stigma can hurt sufferers. One area I see issues with, is bullying. When there is lack of understanding, it can lead to bullying of those that are open about talking about mental health. Work life can be affected, where your options can be limited because of the stigma. There is a lot of self-doubts and personal shame that comes along with a mental illness, and it affects how you do socially in work, school, and in your social life.
I have talked about the dangerous parts of the stigma surrounding mental illness, but there is another side—finding ways to cope when the stigma is there in your life. The biggest thing you can do is seek help. It sounds simple, but the truth is it can be hard to admit something is wrong. I can tell you, getting treatment and believing in that treatment is the best way to tackle the stigma. In my experience, personal therapy and writing helped me overcome the stigma.
On my blog, I often get inquiries from teens and young adults about if he/she should talk to an adult about seeking help. I tell them every time that the answer is yes. Mental illness is a growing issue as we continue to put our entire lives on social media it can have adverse effects on how people view mental illness. The main thing that I see is that those talking about mental health are only doing it to seek attention, and that is dangerous.
There are other important things can help you fight the stigma. First, believe in yourself. Your illness does not define who you are in this world. Yes, it is a part of you, but that is something you can overcome. What some experts will tell you to say is instead of “I am Bipolar” you can say “I have Bipolar Disorder.” This is good, but I like saying that “I am The Bipolar Writer.” I am not ashamed at all, but I believe you find what works for you.
One area where stigma comes to play in my own life, is isolation. It is essential for someone dealing with a mental illness to resist isolation. When it comes to social anxiety for me, this is a significant issue. It can become an easy thing to just hide away from the world, I have done it a lot in this journey. That only further hurts you, and it can make the stigma in your mind grow. A way to keep from isolating is to join mental illness support groups online or group therapy. Find a coffee shop and say hello to one person. I have met some amazing people simply by saying hello.
The last thing I want to share to honestly cope with the stigma, is to speak out. Become an advocate. Write about your experiences, if you are ready. Get the knowledge out there for those who are just beginning their mental illness journey. When you share your experience, as every mental illness story is unique, it means that we are coming closer to getting others to understand what we live through each day.
I once let the stigma of mental illness run my life. I became a lifeless and hopeless wreck that was allowing life to pass me by. I could not see what was up or down. I lost so many people in my life because living was so hard. Eventually, I gave up, three times I was almost not a part of this world.
Life is a funny thing. I went through the worst and best parts of my mental illness. I am lucky to be alive and to have the ability to wake each morning. I have no idea how many more days, weeks, months, or even years I have left. I plan on making the most of the time. Always keep fighting the stigma.
Always Keep Fighting
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