When I was diagnosed with depression, bipolar, and other mental conditions in my 30’s (late 80’s – early 90’s), I felt ostracized in every part of my life.
My family was clearly embarrassed. My parents and older sister only saw my diagnoses and not me. To them, we were one in the same. Maybe at first, this was true; however, in later years (after my Mom passed in 1995), neither my sister nor my Dad could see (or maybe admit) any improvements in me. This would just bring me back to being that sick person in their presence.
My work (for the Provincial Government) also treated my time off for depression as if I was in quarantine for something contagious. My boss met me outside the back door of our building when I went to pick up some papers I needed. He said he didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable, but I knew that wasn’t it at all. On the two other occasions when I came back from treatment, I was given a different job and finally “phased out” given three choices of severance. They were more worried that I would go on long term disability.
The housing co-op where I lived…actually that I helped build in the figurative sense… soon realized there was something “wrong” with me when I wasn’t working, was in and out of the hospital, had great mood swings and became a little erratic. I helped build the membership, was there for inspections and sat in meetings galore. I was there when they needed some help, but when I needed help people took a step back.
Even some friends stepped back a bit when they learned what was “wrong” with me.
The one place that I found solace was through my beliefs as a Christian. I was still okay to babysit the kids of some of our bible study families so the parents could go out and feel safe. I was accepted and prayed for when I had medication problems or symptom reoccurrences. At my first church, I was treated like any other child of God.
For the most part, I have been treated that way at my current church as well. In fact, they are mostly seeing me as being physically ill than dwelling on the emotional side of things.
There were a couple of acceptions, however. Two women who are not at the church anymore were keeping me under a microscope finding any minute reason to find fault. I even felt set up sometimes. The irony is that no matter what they thought of me, I always held each woman in the highest regard. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
So other than looking the other way, how have I battled stigma head on? I decided many years ago that I am not going to hide the fact that I have been battling with moods, anxiety, etc. most of my life. If others can’t handle it then they are the ones that need to look deeply into themselves.
I have told my story including both good and bad, to various groups and ages. I openly answer questions to the best of my ability. A couple of paramedic friends use my story to talk down potential suicide victims and from what they tell me it works!
Of course, I am blogging here. As anyone who has read any random few posts here knows that I leave my heart out on my sleeve and make my life an open book.
Why do I do this?
After growing up in a world where mental illness was barely even discussed behind closed doors, I want to shout it from the rooftops! I want anyone with a mental condition to be able to do the same one day. I want to be treated and to have others like me be treated the same way someone with a “normal” medical condition would be treated – with tender loving care and not with judgment.
On January 25th (at least in my country of Canada) we will be encouraged to talk about it. My prayer is that this happens no matter what day it is or part of the world you are from.
Okay, Rant over! 😀