Body Image and Mental Health Stigma
There is so much pain in self-stigma, especially when it comes to our body image and looking in the mirror. We often hate ourselves because we have a mental illness, not realizing that we are not a terrible embodiment of our illness. We are simply people that have struggles and face unique challenges stemming from our mental illness. For example, being tired all the time, being overweight because of medication, and even being unable to work. We seem to give up on the belief that one day things will be better and fail to trust that others will understand us. I have learned that life has many surprises in store for us and, at times, we may just get to understand that we are not exactly what we see in the mirror.
Perceiving Myself and Mental Health Stigma
I have been diagnosed for 11 years with bipolar disorder and I have had new discoveries and insights into my illness and especially of myself over time. When I first realized I was simply not my illness, and that I was a person who deserved to be happy, a flame ignited inside to reach out and share my story. For many years, I thought I had it mostly figured out. I still struggled but have failed to see the growth that came with this pain. Recently, I engaged in a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) session with my psychiatric nurse. DBT combines mindfulness, psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy, stress tolerance and other skills boxed into a therapeutic package. I have started to learn about my negative behaviors and patterns and ways that I could assess my way of thinking. I never believed that one hour with her would have such a significant impact on my life.
It was one thing to realize that I had a certain negative perception about myself, but it is another to have discovered what I have been doing to feed that negative behavior and why it existed in the first place. I have mentioned before that I have been known to look in the mirror and say "ugh" when I saw myself. I was perceiving Andrea in a certain way and did not know why I felt so unhappy. I had gained weight and my face had broken out in acne often and the mirror reflection of myself brought me to tears. As I explored this in a DBT session, I realized that I took past hurts into my present reality. I used to have my ex-boyfriend scoff at me when I jumped on the scale, he would grab my belly and make gross noises, and call me out when I ate dessert. I constantly looked in the mirror criticizing and assessing myself wholly because of this. With DBT, I learned that my mirror addiction fed my feelings of self-hate and it was not possible to look at myself in a different way without targeting the behavior and not looking in the mirror altogether.
My Personal Solution to End the Self-Stigma of Body Image
I cried endlessly as I made these realizations and as I left my DBT appointment, I committed to covering all the mirrors in my house with pink wrapping paper. I love pink and it serves as a reminder that eventually I will be able to look at myself in the mirror without disgust. I know that society often judges us for the challenges we go through and my insecurity was my weight. There are social norms that say you have to have a body of a twelve-year-old girl in order to be model material, but beauty is found in our hearts, not on a scale. I also ditched my scale and threw it in the trash bin, and a feeling of empowerment has flooded over me. I am breaking the mirror addiction and have left the constant weight assessment behind. I never realized that it was actually the behavior of looking in the mirror constantly that needed to be addressed, not just my reaction to it.
People may not always understand what you are going through, but you know the truth, and taking action with exploration is the only way to truly change what is negatively happening in your world. As I sit in my house with paper on my mirrors, visitors may think I am crazy, but what is actually crazy is the image I have painted of myself. I now pay attention to how my friends and family see me instead, which is a shining light and inspiration in the world. I have also realized that this one life is too short, temporary and precious to be wasting it on hating yourself. The image we see in the mirror is a mere shell of who we really are, so try looking deeper and you may just surprise yourself by how beautiful you really are.
Paquette, A. (2014, October 2). Body Image and Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2014/10/the-image-of-mental-health-stigma
Author: Andrea Paquette
That was beautiful!! Thank you !!!
So very well said. I have the a same struggle with mirrors or pictures right now as I try to get my binge eating under control.
Support and self belief is all one requires at these moments but I never see a store with a subscription or shelf of what we require.