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To Shamelessly Adult

I’ve known how shameless of a person I am for a long time. I spent formative years, from age four on, fighting type 1 diabetes and realizing that if you make a mistake (and kids never make mistakes, right?) with my medical care I could die. Not only that, but it will never go away and will probably get worse. Kids shouldn’t ever have to learn to face their own mortality, and yet… Then add to that bipolar with severe depression in my early adult years, also something that doesn’t go away, and a messy divorce, and a parent illness, and losing my job and then my career…dealing with all that on a daily basis, when the hell am I supposed to have the energy to give a shit about being polite? About feeling shame for the ways I have learned to cope with my life and be productive and successful despite its best efforts to keep me down?

The older I get, the less I care about being shy, and being afraid to speak up for myself, and the less I care about changing my personality to match whatever group I’m in. In addition to the human experience of aging and developing a sense of self, my multiple and repeated brushes with death have accelerated this shamelessness I have. Yes, I have a much stronger sense of myself at 37 than I did at, say 20, but even at 20 I had faced death multiple times with diabetes complication hospitalizations and one suicide attempt that no one but my best friend knew about (more on all of this later).

When I realized that everything I know could end in the matter of a second, it gave me a new perspective. I’m alive. I’m alive because I work my ass off to stay alive, and things could be very very different. So changing who I am to fit in? Not saying something I want to say because it’s different from what other people are saying? Needing validation from people around me to feel better about myself? Ok, I still need that one, but the others are things I just don’t have energy for. They are not important in the big picture of life, and I’ve been forced to understand the big picture, over and over again).

This most recent time I was in the psychiatric hospital I saw this shamelessness with new eyes. In an environment like a hospital you have a lot of down time. Even with all the structured activities, group therapy, psychiatrist meetings, yoga and stress relief classes, art classes, exercise classes, you have a lot of time to interact with your fellow inpatients. You get to know each other very well, you get to make friends.

It’s a unique relationship because you’re all hospitalized for serious reasons and you find you learn people’s deepest secrets. You can help them through their darkest moments while they help you through yours. You find people you have things in common with and you make friends. There’s also a tendency of people in groups like this to form cliques and create their own drama. I’ve never been a fan of interpersonal drama, and I’m even less a fan of self-created drama. But I understand its function, especially in groups. It can be intimidating to join a group of people you don’t know and just be left to you own devices to find your way. Cliques can provide comfort.

Continue reading To Shamelessly Adult

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Speak Louder Than the Stigma

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.