Fighting Stigma and Discrimination Begins in the Mirror
I’ve been working on coming up with mission and vision statements for a charity I work with, and one of the things that a fellow board member said was that we want to end self-discrimination. I thought this was quite brilliant, and, of course, quite true. One of the things people with a mental illness face isn’t just discrimination from others but discrimination and stigma from themselves. And if we want to fight discrimination and stigma in the world, this begins by looking in the mirror.
Bipolar and Discrimination
But what else is true is that we sometimes discriminate against ourselves. How many times has a person with bipolar disorder thought, “Oh, I can’t do that, I have bipolar disorder,” or, “I don’t deserve a relationship in my life because I have bipolar disorder,” or, “I can’t be that because I have bipolar disorder.” These aren’t thoughts that are necessarily conscious but they are there, in the background, haunting us.
This makes sense because it’s natural to internalize the message that the world gives to us and the world tells us we are lesser-than. The world tells us that we are so deficient, that we shouldn’t be amongst the “normals.” The world tells us that there is something so wrong with us that we could injure others and that we are “scary.” It’s not so surprising we are scared of what and who we are. It’s not surprising that we deny ourselves the opportunities that others enjoy without a second thought.
Fighting Bipolar and Discrimination
So while I’m against discrimination of anyone based on their mental wellness, the fact is, I can’t control that type of discrimination. I can, though, control internal discrimination. I can fight back against the voice in my head that says I’m not as good as everyone else because of my bipolar disorder. I can prevent myself from passing over opportunities because somehow my bipolar disorder makes me not worthy of them.
I can look in the mirror and say that I accept my bipolar disorder for what it is – a brain disorder and not a defect in character. I deserve the same life as everyone else and I will not stand in my own way anymore.
Tracy, N. (2013, September 17). Fighting Stigma and Discrimination Begins in the Mirror, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2013/09/fighting-stigma-discrimination-begins-in-mirror
Author: Natasha Tracy
If you don't have very good self esteem to begin with before a mental illness diagnosis it's almost inevitable that you will feel some level of self stigma, especially if you tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I was emotionally abused growing up, even into my adulthood by some family members so it's no surprise to me that when I was first diagnosed I experienced a lot of internal stigma. My family were the only ones I told about my illness, naively expecting support, rather dumb on my part. My internal stigma was also partially based on the external stigma out there in the world about negative perceptions of people with mental illness some of which I was also guilty of I'm ashamed to say. Depressed people often have a problem with negative thinking as well which doesn't help
As I come to understand this illness better and those who also struggle with it, in large part through this blog, I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin and increasinly more compassionate toward others who struggle with all form of mental illness
I sooooooooo get the self discrimination thing, especially in the beginning when I was first adjusting to the diagnoses. I was always hard on myself but this bipolar thing was living on the cake. I became super sensitive to any perceived slight. I have since gotten a lot better. As time goes on I'm learning to be kinder to myself and others...
It is truly, in a personal way, a conscious and insidious illness that robs me of sanity. Meaning, I know what it is, how it feels and what I need to do. Yet, there are a host of parasitic symptoms that accompany mania and depression - like anxiety, panic and psychosis, to name a few. Just when I feel I've got a grip on bipolar, ancillary symptoms pop up out of nowhere. And, honestly, when I look at myself in the mirror, it's not real easy to determine who's behind the mask - what pole is going to show today or tomorrow or next week or a month from now. It is a 24-7 battle! If we were all to examine ourselves and try to find just one part of our daily life that is not effected we'd be hard pressed to find it - the good news is . . . I'll keep looking
I think this is key.
If we discriminate against ourselves, we also put on the mental filter that sees other people's behaviour as discriminatory as well. We also expect other people to be discriminatory.
Much of the time, if someone is discriminating against you, they are struggling with their own mental health and self esteem issues. Otherwise, why would they bother?
Much of the time, if you are comfortable with yourself, then other people are too.
It's true that we do that really often, and it's really hard to break that pattern when everyone else seems to be confirming your self-deprecating, toxic thoughts. It's really sad.