Stigma-Busting: "I Am Enough"
Ben has a friend. A real friend. They actually socialize. Last night, "the boys" were up until 2 am playing a video game, and I am about to drive them both to school so they can take their finals. They studied. They care about their grades. They talk about life, philosophy, favorite foods and TV shows, and just plain old everyday stuff.
This - as you may already know - seems like a miracle.
It's as though Ben is finally getting to have his adolescence back - the years that schizophrenia stole, slowly and then nearly completely, until he began to stabilize with the right schizophrenia treatment - and then begin to rebuild.
Bust Stigma to Help Nurture Relationships
Certainly the symptoms of schizophrenia created the biggest obstacle. But the stigma that comes with mental illness came in a close second - and still does.
That's why this new friendship - and, happily, a few others like it - is so miraculous. Ben, after years of hiding his illness, is finally finding some friends who know who he is. Not all know as much as others, but every small step toward acceptance can inspire others.
[caption id="attachment_1226" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="Supportive Community Adds to Self-Esteem"][/caption]
This particular friend also knows that Ben takes meds, respects his schedule to take them, and makes no judgment because of it. Why? Perhaps it's that he has taken the time to know Ben and realizes it doesn't matter. Relationships matter more.
I do know that it has helped Ben to feel less embarrassed about his diagnosis - at least around this friend. And one good experience can, I believe, plant seeds for another.
Busting Mental Illness Stigma Through Education
This news just came from Dr. Tamara Daily, a mental health professor (Mount Union) and advocate, who invited me to speak this year about our story. It shows the effect of education against stigma:
I wanted to let you know that several of my students used your talk at Mount Union as a stigma buster project. They recruited people to come to the lecture. Before coming, though, the students asked them questions about their beliefs and attitudes concerning schizophrenia. Their responses were very consistent with the stereotypes we all know too well. After the lecture, they asked them the same questions again and found that your message clearly got through to them. Their attitudes changed moving toward compassion and understanding. You make a difference!
Stigma-busting. So vital. The enemy? Snap judgment. The ally?
[caption id="attachment_1227" align="alignright" width="170" caption="A reminder to bust stigma"][/caption]
Understanding, learning the facts, being open to changing one's mind. And being open about mental illness - as are all the mental health bloggers here on HealthyPlace - will, I hope, help create and promote this understanding.
Self-Acceptance Is an Important First Step
It's perhaps a tired cliche about love: "first, love and accept yourself" - but, like many cliches, it is based in truth.
The more Ben can accept the reality of where he is, the more he will feel accepted by others - and know which friends are the ones to trust. Not so easy when faced with a diagnosis (and, often, label) of mental illness.
Like all of us, Ben carries his own internal list of things he feels are strengths, and those that he feels less secure about. This latter list may include: marijuana addict in recovery (this, now, a source of pride, thanks in part to the community in "anonymous" meetings - where he is also forming friendships), a young man in treatment for schizophrenia (this one, still not so easy for him), a person who takes psychiatric medication twice a day (also not easy).
I recently helped facilitate a meeting of "The Happiness Club" at our local ICCD Clubhouse - members are diagnosed with a major mental illness. We were discussing the "mini-mantra" (one of seven I teach as part of a Happier Made Simple presentation):
"This is good." (It's a phrase that helps us focus on appreciation)
One of the members raised her hand to contribute the "mini-mantra" she uses when she starts to feel bad about herself, or her life:
"I am enough."
Wow. (I always learn more than I teach at these meetings.)
I am enough. Good one, for inward appreciation. For self- acceptance. The important seed to grow more love. Thank you.
So we all work together to bust stigma - and that includes stigma-tizing we do inwardly (self stigma). You are enough. That doesn't mean we don't want to grow - it just means we also appreciate where we are, and how far we have come.
The more Ben feels that, the more he will continue to grow.
As will we all.
Kaye, R. (2012, December 12). Stigma-Busting: "I Am Enough", HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2012/12/stigma-busting-i-am-enough