Defining Stigma and What it Means to Fight it

Just cause your heart’s afraid
Doesn’t give you the right to say
I was born this way
–Andrew Belle

Fighting the stigma of mental illness. What is a stigma?

stig·ma
ˈstiɡmə/
noun
  1. 1.
    a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
    “the stigma of mental disorder”
    –source: Google

A mark of disgrace. Is the impulsive nature that comes with ADHD a mark of disgrace? The ideal that the the spouse of the man with anxiety is cast as a horrible wife for her refusal to reassure his self-confidence when he can’t do it himself? The backlash of a bipolar woman going through menopause when insensitivity is everywhere? Migraines as a result of PTSD associated with sexual abuse? Is that a disgrace?

No. Actually, none of this shit has anything to do with mental illness.

Impulsivity, emotional consciousness–these are personality traits. Mood swings? Migraines? Women on their periods cry for no reason. People coming down off of caffeine are laid out with headaches for days. They don’t have mental illnesses. They are humans and their bodies don’t last forever.

The point in all of this is not to claim that those affected by mental illness don’t go through these things. They do; I know they do. And it sucks. It sucks just as much as it sucks that my father cannot raise his right arm above his head because he is fucking old. But that is not stigma. No one is casting you out because you are impulsive or because you hate yourself or because you get headaches. When faces go cold when you say out loud that you have been raped or when people hide their children when you say you are schizophrenic–that is stigma. Stigma is being automatically tossed from society for the sole reason that you have the mental illness, not because you are fucking weird.

Look, a lot of people are fucking weird. Hipsters are fucking weird and everyone loves them. A lot of people are impulsive and a lot of people hate themselves. These are personality traits that can be “cured” with a desire to change and with therapy and meditation and hard work. I know because I have cured impulsivity and emotional chaos and self-deprecation and even depression with said hard, hard work. Most mental illnesses however, at their core, cannot be cured (according to the FDA). These treatments help, but they do not cure anything. Meditation does not cure hallucinations; I know because I am schizophrenic.

But being fucking weird is not a medical diagnosis. We do not empathize with fucking weird people. You can go ahead and say that you do, but I know that you don’t because I see what you post on Facebook and I hear what you turn around and say about people when you think no one is listening. Stigma Fighting (“everybody was STIGMA FIGHTING”) should not, and can not, have anything to do with I am impulsive so please always forgive me and I am sensitive about my self-worth so please be nicer to me than you would anyone else. No. No. Fuck that. What is your campaign to fight stigma for? Why are you doing it? As a mentally ill person, you want to be accepted into society, right? You do not want to be cast out as some kind of alien, correct? And if I know that you know that it is not acceptable for a non-mentally ill person to blame their own self-confidence issues on Being a Human–it is really not my problem if you don’t love yourself, that’s your problem–then why is it okay for you to blame it on depression? Do you want to be normal or not? Do you want to fight the stigma or not? Then try. Fight the stigma. Show them that you can function in society, don’t write some fucking article about how everyone should feel sorry for you because depression is a real thing. Depression is a real thing, but you are not fighting the stigma by asking people to feel sorry for you because you have depression. You are fighting stigma by showing people that even though you have depression, you go to work and you take care of your kids and you make huge strides to be a good person even though you are affected by an illness, just like the person with MS or the person with autism does. Make a statement. Educate the world. Tell your story and show humanity what you add to society, not what you take away from it. And if you can’t do that, don’t call it fighting stigma.

Because those of us who don’t use our mental illness as an excuse to fuck off are really trying to make a difference. I hold myself at the same standards as everyone else who is not affected by mental illness because I want to be treated as an equal. I could say that I am agitated easily and treat stupidity at a logical level exactly for what it is because I am schizophrenic, but a lot of people are agitated easily by stupidity.

It’s called intelligence, not schizophrenia.

fsosa1

An American novelist, book critic, and magazine editor from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.
Visit Allie at http://wordsbyallieburke.com

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2 thoughts on “Defining Stigma and What it Means to Fight it”

  1. I think you’ve written a very passionate post here, and I love it, but I respectfully disagree with a couple of points.

    “I am impulsive so please forgive me…” While I understand the point you are making here, I do feel the need to point out that with my particular illness, impulsivity is a real problem if I happen to go into a manic episode in which I become non-compliant. I am the first to admit that during these times I have done things, acting on impulse alone, that I would never even entertain the idea of doing if I were not in that state. Things that have put myself in dangerous spots at times, with no regard for any sort of consequences. After the dust had settled, I asked for forgiveness from those my actions hurt. I didn’t blame my illness, I was accountable for my own behaviour, but still, it’s a battle. I have also worked tirelessly to become aware of these issues and how to stop them from happening.

    I am guilty of posting things when I go up or down, it’s true, but I don’t think I do it for attention of sympathy. I do it because I am an advocate and I want people to know that while I take the best care of myself possible, this shit still happens.

    When I see people posting that they are suffering from depression, I think a lot of people believe that by using their voice in that way and admitting they are struggling is a step to getting the ball rolling when it comes to talking about stigma. I don’t like the feel sorry for me shit either, but I’m the one who hopes that they’re asking for help as well. Some people just aren’t quite there yet, but I am an optimist and hope that by reading posts like yours, they will get there.

    Yes, they may not have been affected by what we know stigma to be, but maybe the next step will be them standing up an finding a way to fight through it so that they can become stronger and use that voice to change things. Like you have. I applaud you daily. You are brave, and I know that grates on you when I tell you, but it’s true.

    I know all about stigma. My kids are no longer invited to play with some of their friends at school because their mothers found out I have Bipolar Disorder. That’s fucking Stigma. And to be perfectly honest, while I advocate, and Yes, I am an advocate, I don’t really want my kids around that kind of ignorance anyway.

    I don’t use my illness as an excuse, never have, never will, but I know my limits, and I know when it’s time to take a day or two to just breathe. I’m not asking for sympathy, but even if times get dark, I’m still a Stigma Fighter.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comment, Nicole, and I thank you for your feedback. I think the point here is exactly as you said: you do not make excuses for yourself. Yes you are impulsive and yes you do share these issues, but you also make a point to advocate by taking responsibility for your actions and by focusing on the positive you do bring. That is the balance I’m speaking of here. I respect your voice highly, and I’ve never seen you ask for sympathy. From what I’ve seen, the issues brought up in this post don’t apply to you.

      Liked by 1 person

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