All of us who have suffered from it know that stigma is a bad thing. It alienates us and further adds to the pain of being mentally ill.
But I think there is something that is much worse.
I often, when meeting new people, stigmatize myself before anyone else can do it to me.
Example: Yesterday I was talking to a new American friend that just moved into my subdivision and I mentioned that I write. He asked what I write about and I froze. Without giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assumed he would react negatively if I said I write about my experiences with mental illness.
I find myself holding back with people much of the time: an innocent remark about what the scars all over my body are from, a question about why I was taken away by ambulance a few weeks ago. A query from my wife in front of other people asking if I had taken my medication leaves me red-faced and silent.
I don’t know why I get embarrassed by my mental illness, but I feel like a huge fraud because of it. I am quick to talk about my issues on Twitter or in my blog, but if someone, maybe with the wrong ideas about mental illness, asks about my struggle, more often than not I will stutter and stammer instead of standing up proudly and talking frankly about it. I don’t always do it. Many times I am immediately comfortable with someone and I am quick to open up about my illness, but other times, I stay silent.
Why do I do it? I am old enough to stand up for myself, and in other areas of my life, I talk about difficult things proudly and with conviction. Why do I flounder when I talk to someone I think may have a problem with a “crazy” person? That’s when I should be the most open and honest, to impart to this person the importance of not judging a person by something they have no control over. Maybe the next mentally ill person he talks to will suffer his ignorance because I didn’t speak up.
In my defense, I did eventually tell this fellow that I write about my mental illness, and he didn’t say much, which I guess is better than him running screaming from the room.
I need to get control of my fear and paranoia, and the next time someone mentions by scars, say “These are what I did to myself to cope with my mental anguish.” I need to have more dialogue with people about mental health and be honest, like I am on my blog. I need to be brave and courageous and be the voice that others in my situation don’t have.
Please tell me that I am not the only one who does this. Leave a comment below!