Regular visitors to Funny In The Head know that it is a mental health humor blog. I rarely, if ever, reveal anything resembling a personal detail. As a long-term professional writer, I am very careful, and selective, about what I do and do not say. Like a spy, I know how to offer only the appearance of self-disclosure. As a mentally ill person moving incognito among “sane” citizens, one becomes a skillful actor.
Saying Goodbye to Shame and Stigma Around Mental Illness
However, I am temporarily discarding this policy. Shamelessness has been a wonderful byproduct of my recovery and there is little I am not willing to do in the battle against mental illness stigma.
When I began writing Invisible Driving (my bipolar memoir) in 1990, I realized there was no longer any room for privacy, anonymity, and secrets. Terrified, confused, and completely overwhelmed, I painstakingly recreated the bizarre and harrowing odyssey; thereby taking charge of my own healing. That, dear friends, was transformational.
The journey lasted many years; I worked hard. In diverse settings I received kindness, guidance, and wisdom from a wide spectrum of wonderful people. Triumph over fear and shame, acceptance of life as it is, celebration of self, and peace of mind, grew gradually through the incremental process of recovery.
So, a few facts about me. Male. White. Dad. Hetero. Highly educated. Posh lineage, famous father. Christian upbringing. Widely traveled. Diverse, prestigious work history. In other words, I began life at the very top of the food chain and learned early that – when everything is designed to fit you, and society itself is doing backflips to please you, it is easy to succeed.
Worse, it is easy to believe you did it yourself. Worse still, it is easy to believe you are entitled to it – simply because you are a white male straight Christian who went to a good school, drives a nice car and looks good in Madras. When the world is beneath you, everybody carries just a whiff of stigma, and the mentally ill are at the very bottom of the heap.
Mental Illness Was A Sobering Experience
But life beat me down, way down, all the way down to the streets, the prisons and of course, the madhouses. There is no lonely like the lonely of a madhouse. Everything was taken from me and I had to rebuild from zero many times. It was a process that might have killed me, but instead, it made me. Today, I live a life beyond my wildest dreams; I am the only person I envy. (Ed. note: Listen to Alistair talk more about his life with mental illness on the HealthyPlace Mental Health Radio Show.)
Madness took me places most folks could not spell, much less imagine. I had every stupid scrap of entitlement, superiority, and prejudice ripped away – I was reeducated in the realities of life, of being a moral person, of daring to be the very best me, the me that finds joy in contributing to this world without the expectation of benefit. Of all the unexpected blessings of life, ironically it was mental illness that gave me most.
At this point, I regard the attempt to stigmatize as a public admission of fear, insecurity, and unapologetic idiocy – like a self-administered learning disability. (We fear what we do not understand, and, to be fair to the apple pie crowd, insanity really is hard to fathom when viewed from the outside. Of course, that’s why I wrote Invisible Driving – to give a name to the unknowable.)
My problem today is an intense desire to stigmatize those who actually believe they are superior to people suffering from an illness. This cruel illusion is revolting and ludicrous; almost like believing one person is better than another because of their skin color. I mean, can you imagine?