I’m Mentally Ill and I Am Not Ashamed
Sometimes I feel strange and different from healthy people. Perhaps we internalize stigma because we feel a deep sense of shame. We’re offbeat, eccentric, weird and ashamed.
Shame makes me want to hide the real me. I don’t want others to see the real me, the one who is embarrassed to be thought of as mentally ill. I don’t want HealthyPlace readers to know it either because I’m afraid they might stigmatize me the other way, perhaps get angry with me because I still sometimes succumb to the disconcerting voice of stigma.
An Attempt to Shame Me About PTSD
I suppose something like this was bound to happen. I enjoy the back and forth of politics, so I frequently read articles from various periodicals. I do enjoy it, but as many can attest, there are times when a certain event or person in the news just makes my blood boil. This was one of those times.
A post on a social media site reported a well-known talk-show host had suggested that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, shot down over Ukraine, might be a ruse to distract from the border/immigration issue that had been in the news all week. Even though this claim is so illogical as to be absurd on its face, I was incredulous.
So incredulous was I, that I decided to make a comment on the social media article. Now, if you know me, you know that I can get incredibly snarky when I’m angry. So I made an incredibly snarky comment. Almost immediately, I received a cryptic reply. This is the exact wording of the message: “Poor Mike with his mental illness triggers.”
Attacked for Being Mentally Ill
What the? Did I just read that correctly? Then it suddenly hit me. Fear gripped my mind as I realized I’d just been attacked because of my mental illness. Attacked with my mental illness. Attacked for my mental illness. Being the astute posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferer that I am, I surmised the writer was either trying to intimidate me or to simply make fun of me. Whatever the case, he was trying to convey a message.
At first I was a bit chagrined, but not overly so. But then I realized this person was referencing an article I wrote fairly recently on HealthyPlace. Published June 11, 2014, the article entitled Don't Wait: Prepare for Mental Health Triggers Beforehand, was a description by me of being triggered and how I dealt with it.
You want to talk about PTSD triggers? This triggered my PTSD on several levels, the most obvious being the hypervigilance bordering on paranoia because of the threat I felt coming from this person. The reason I interpreted it as threatening was because these were the only words used by this person. Nothing about the social media article at all, no specific argument against what I’d written. Just, “Poor Mike with his mental illness triggers.”
So, what had happened? This individual had apparently looked my name up on Google. When he found my article (which takes some effort), he decided to use my words to either intimidate me or make fun of me.
Don't Feel Ashamed of Your Ideas Because You’re Mentally Ill
Besides being creepy beyond belief, it was serving me up a big helping of mental health stigma stew, because at the heart of it, I had interpreted this person’s words to be negative about mental illness. As in, “I don’t like what you said, so I’m going to use your mental health against you.” If there were no stigma, it wouldn’t matter. But there is stigma and we all know it. As in,"your ideas have no value because you’re mentally ill."
Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if I wasn’t internalizing the stigma. It can be difficult to be open about things when you fear you might be attacked or not taken seriously because you have a mental illness.
Living with Mental Illness Is Brave, Not Shameful
We need to stop internalizing stigma, and let go of our shame. We have no reason to be ashamed about our illnesses. We didn’t ask for them, and we are doing the best we can to survive them. Instead of shame, we should be proud of ourselves that we face our challenges daily as we do, and somehow we survive each day. We will not be ashamed.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, July 23). I’m Mentally Ill and I Am Not Ashamed, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/07/im-mentally-ill-not-ashamed
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
You said, "I’m a failure At life, I’m disabled, on SSDI and I use to be the breadwinner of the family." Not sure why you say you're a failure at life. I hope it's not because of your mental illness. It's not your fault and it doesn't make you a failure. I have no more courage than you, in fact, probably less. I wish I had better words to say, but I do encourage you to not give in to the negative stigma and stereotypes in yourself. You are a very valuable person, regardless of your illnesses. Hang in there! :)
I'm mentally ill since i was a child.I didn't born like this and this is not my fault.I went through mental-abuse from my mother that managed a double game - when nobody saw she did and said horrible and terrifying things , and near the other family she acted like a lovely and poor mother that has an ill child.
I believe that family dysfunction is the reason for most of mental disorders , and it has various of consequences.
Because my nerves were almost always altered, some nerves are defected and i feel strange non-normal sensations that mentally-healthy person will never experience - sometimes i feel kind of pre-syncope state and very strange feeling that i can't explain , i feel heat and like i'm going to fall,with or without dizziness. Other non normal feeling is after i eat and feel heavy it's hard for me to sleep because when i fall into sleep phase then i immediately wake up and breathing very rapidly , like i didn't have enough air , till my breathing stabilizing, and it happens 3-4 times till i can sleep normally.
The world is getting better now, and i hope that the normal people that produce the mentally ill people will loose their rights on "educating" their children.
Sometimes I catch it, now. Sometimes in the middle of a post, I just drop the whole thing, because I realize it's this guy's problem, not mine.
But it took me twenty plus years to get to this point, once I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
And I went from: "What's wrong with me?" to "Why have I got this illness?" to "Why should I have to take this much medicine?" to "Is it me? Or is it the illness?" to "I am not my illness!" to "Okay, how do I work around my illness?" to "Yeah, I've experienced that; I can help someone else through it." to "Hey! This illness has some aspects that I can embrace!"
I am seeing a lot more about my illness than I ever could. And the more I learn about myself and my illness, the more I realize that other people's opinions don't matter.
With a few caveats. First, I need to remember my own triggers and find ways to minimize or avoid them.
Second, I can do nothing without my religious practices and prayer. It might not be for everyone, but it is essential to my living.
Third, it does matter when I am interacting with others: I need to keep the situation safe physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually for myself and for others around me. And words matter.
Fourth, I must be judicious around employers. It is an opportunity for learning, but there is also a living at stake. There are some things an employer is supposed to do for you--reasonable accommodations. But there can be situations where accommodations can't easily be made, even now. And I think one of those might be attendance and being on time all the time. Sometimes absence is a need of a person with mental illness, and they can't be accommodated without it affecting a company's productivity. It's a fine line.
But when an employer is willing to work with you, it really helps in any situation.
In Australia most people with mental illnesses don't have a job, and stigma is a big factor in that. People are scared about what they do not understand. Most Disability Employment Services do not have staff trained in mental illness although 60% of their clients have mental illness. In these I experienced more stigma and discrimination then ever before.
Another great child of stigma and discrimination is the soft bigotry of low expectations.