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Internalizing Fear and Hatred of Mental Illness

The public fears mental illness and people are afraid of disclosing their mental illness due to stigma. But some of other people's fear affects how the ill feel about themselves.

I grew up in a small town where there was no diversity of any sort, in beliefs or otherwise. And one of the things an outspoken group really didn’t like was gay people. This group lodged a major war to ensure that anything ever mentioning homosexuality was banned from my high school.

I thought these people were idiots. So I fought them. I wasn’t about to let some closed-minded, ignorant people marginalize others based on their sexuality. I went to their rallies and spoke against them. I wrote stories for our paper.

And then, sometime around age 17 I figured out I was bisexual. So I jumped into a closet for a few years.

Internalized Fear, Prejudice and Stigma

What had happened to me was that I had internalized the hatred from all these other people. I knew they were wrong and I fought against them, but their rhetoric was so prolific and convincing that some tiny voice in my head believed it myself. This is not uncommon in homosexuality and it’s not uncommon in mental illness either.

Negative Images of Mental Illness Are Pervasive

As the comments to my last post on talking about mental illness prove, people still don’t want to tell others that they have a mental illness due to the stigma associated with it. I don’t blame them. Not at all. They are protecting themselves from the hatred and ignorance of others. It’s self-preservation.

But here’s the thing, are we really scared of their ignorance and hate or deep down inside is there a little voice inside of us saying that we’re “bad” and “scary” because we’re mentally ill.

Internalizing Hatred

I hate that I’m bipolar. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling. I think most people would pick being not-bipolar over being bipolar. It’s OK. I also don’t care for the fact that I was born without depth perception, but whatchagonna do?

But I have, on many occasions, hated myself because I’m bipolar. Not the best way of handling it given that it’s biological and something I can’t change.

But I have to wonder, if I lived in a world where people didn’t consider being mentally ill any different from having any other kind of illness, would I have those moments of self-hatred?

Depression Makes You Hate Yourself

Of course, a symptom of depression is self-hatred. It comes with the package. You can hate yourself for your eyes, or your nose, or your job, or anything; and it just happens to be very easy to hate yourself for the illness that is making you hate yourself. It’s got a high convenience factor.

I know that I don’t really hate myself for being bipolar. I know I don’t really hate myself for any real reason at all. I know it’s the disease. I know that.

Giving in to Stigma is Giving a Part of Yourself Away

But I have to think that every time someone with a mental illness hides their mental illness in the dark and refuses to tell anyone or talk about it, the ignorant people win a little. They’ve successfully made you believe you have to hide, when you shouldn’t have to.

I know that it’s impractical to run around telling people you have a mental illness. On many, many levels that isn’t a good idea. Choosing the people that you tell is important.

But on the other hand I think it’s important that we stand up against the people that hate us. On some level we need to say that we know there’s nothing wrong with us, we’re not bad, we’re not less, we’re not scary, we’re not violent and we’re not dangerous.

Because on some level, their blind ignorance seeps in. And we just can’t let that happen.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

14 thoughts on “Internalizing Fear and Hatred of Mental Illness”

  1. I like to think people are enlightened when it comes to “mental health issues” but for me that has not always been the case. I have limited self-awareness when it comes to manic behaviour and it has deeply affected my life. Fortunately for me I have a partner and a step-mother that look out for me when I need it.
    Disclosing BP to co-workers can hurt you in a job. My personal experience dictates you should keep it under your hat until you pass probationary periods in jobs so you cannot be fired without cause.
    There are a lot of jerks in this world but conversly there are some really kind people.

  2. Hi tlingit,

    It’s hard to have empathy when you truly don’t understand what a person is going through. At least, it’s harder for some than others.

    “people I have a harder time with who promote my self denial of bipolar disorder”

    I agree, those people are seriously dangerous. We all have moments when we really want to deny our illness and convince ourselves we’re “not sick” due to whatever rationalization we can come up with. And when people around us feed into this it can lead to very dangerous consequences.

    The thing is, people don’t understand this. People don’t understand that just because I haven’t stood naked in traffic something else bad might happen. It depends on your definition of “bad.” How about getting fired or quitting? How about breaking up with a significant other? How about being horrible to your children? How about cutting yourself with broken glass?

    Not sick enough for you (them) yet?

    People have a variety of symptoms and negative life-effects from a mental illness. No two people are alike but that doesn’t mean the illness is any less damaging to our lives and functioning. (But I know you know this.)

    Honestly, I think many times you just have to put your head down a barrel forward ignoring all naysayers at times. I get a whole lot of naysayers online, but it’s up to me to realize they’re, um, let’s go with unreasonable. And treat their opinions accordingly. It’s much more difficult to do with a professional, granted, but remember, not all psychiatrists agree with each other and sometimes the line between unipolar depression and bipolar is a fine one.

    And also remember this: even if they can’t agree on whether you’re bipolar or not, what matters is the treatment. If bipolar treatment works, great, if straight depression treatment works, great, what matters is you getting better.

    (You’re welcome.)

    – Natasha

  3. Outsider ignorance is strong and pervasive it’s very scary to me because I am very close to some people who do not have bipolar disorder and although are supportive still have little empathy for me. It doesn’t mean they don’t have sympathy. I can work with these people. The people I have a harder time with who promote my self denial of bipolar disorder are other people who should know better but are equally as ignorant and even more than the people who can’t relate. I am talking about professionals (psychiatrists, therapists, social workers and other human service workers,) and particularly other people with the bipolar diagnosis.
    I have heard, “You don’t have manias, you’ve never stood in the middle of traffic naked directing traffic or lost thousands of dollars buying clothes in a day.” That gem was from a psychiatrist. I’ve also heard, “You aren’t bipolar, you only have major depressions, you have major depression,” also another psychiatrist. I have also gotten attitudes from other bipolar people that my symptoms are not so pronounced so I can’t have bipolar disorder. It must be something else. These are the opinions that are most damaging to me. They make me doubt myself and think I am “just crying for attention,” something a very close relative told me once.
    I expect stigma from ignorant parties. It’s the ignorance of the professional community and peers that really bring chaos into my life.
    BTW thank you for an insightful and interesting blog.

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