The stigma surrounding mental illness is no joke. People struggling with mental illness feel isolated, ashamed, invalidated, and hopeless in a world where their condition isn’t taken seriously. There have been huge strides over the past few decades toward treating mental illness with the care it deserves, but there is still a long way to go. We who suffer from various mental illnesses often feel different from everyone, and we learn to feel shame for having an invisible illness, and the results of this can be deadly.
As long as we let ourselves give in to shame and stay silent about our experiences, the stigma isn’t going anywhere. I understand that there are social and professional boundaries in place, and even though they are based in stigma we can’t always call our boss and say, “I can’t come in today because my depression is making me feel like I need to cut myself so I’m going to see the psychiatrist.” Things just aren’t that open yet. But someone could go up to their boss and say, “The migraine medication I’m on is making me throw up so I can’t come in today,” and no one would bat an eye. What is the difference between these two statements? They are both medical conditions.
Why is there so much shame enveloping the mental health statement especially when there are so many of us suffering from similar symptoms. How many people are not seeking help at all because they are afraid they won’t be taken seriously? I was one of those people. I’ve been invalidated and not taken seriously. I’ve had to make up the stomach viruses, fevers, and severe illnesses that would explain my missed days at work because of severe depression. I might as well have had those viruses with as bad as I felt, but I didn’t feel like I could tell the truth. And I felt every ounce of the shame that came with it.
I propose that we start speaking up. Not in a way that will make us lose our jobs – sometimes you just have to play the game to survive in this world. But when we feel shame, I propose we push through and talk about depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, whatever issues we are dealing with. Talk about the feelings we feel because we have to live with an invisible illness, about how we often feel alone. Talk about the positives (yes, there can be some) and the negatives. Basically, talk louder than the shame. Louder than the stigma. That’s the only way to fight it and break it down.
We are enough in and of ourselves, and that means that no matter who makes us feel less than or who tries to invalidate our experiences no longer has the power to change who we are. We are strong. We are not alone.
And one day, if we work hard, we can be completely shameless.