It is a sad fact that we live in a world filled with discrimination and stigma. It is everywhere, up every street and around every corner, causing hurt and impacting on so many people’s lives. Gender, sexuality, race, colour, disability, to name but a few, are all discriminated against and come with stigma attached. I personally believe that a lot of this is due to naivety, lack of understanding and fear of the unknown.
Mental health is widely misunderstood. People are uneducated about it and, in turn, are scared. I was diagnosed with bipolar in my early 20’s and I was scared! I had studied mental illness and worked within the field and I was still frightened. I was especially afraid of what others would think, would they judge me? Would they treat me differently? Would they even want to know me all?
The amount of stigma and discrimination that existed was overwhelming.
The nature of bipolar disorder means that I can come across to others as a different person, sometimes, on a daily basis. I may meet you one day, stranger or not, and I will be the most energetic, motivated person you’ve ever met. I will talk to you for hours on end, I’m sure at times you will have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, as I cannot control the rate at which the words are coming out and I’ve jumped between four different subjects in the last 30 seconds. I may walk past you the next day with my head down, my eyes firmly focussed on the ground, in the hope that it might swallow me up so that I don’t have to talk or engage with you in any way.
Other days I won’t walk past a living soul, I will either be velcroed to my sofa or hiding underneath my duvet with absolutely no motivation to do anything, too sad and tired even to cry. Some days I will be so out of touch with reality that I will not know if you are there or not.
It is on all or many of these days that I’m pretty sure my friends and family would rather not be in my company. People would not know how to act or what to say, it reminds me of when people cross the road to avoid someone they know is grieving, they are not being purposefully rude, they are just not sure what to do or what words to use.
People with mental health problems become isolated, others unconsciously step back or turn away from them, causing them to feel alone and their mental health to decline further. The thing is, even when it’s the last thing that I want, sometimes all that I need is company and maybe a hug (I do know people who wouldn’t thank you at all for a hug, so this is a personal thing, I am a hugger!).
I’d like people to realise that although I have an illness, I am still just me. I don’t want or need to be treated differently, I don’t want you to be scared that you’ll say something wrong, I’m not asking anybody to magically give me any answers or advice, I just need someone to be there, non-judgemental and ‘normal’ (whatever that may be).