When I was diagnosed with mental illness I was very lucky to have people around me who did not stigmatise me, who saw me as me and not my diagnosis. However, when I stepped out of my comfort zone and into society, I was hit with the stigma of mental health illness which many people have to battle with from time to time.
As soon as some people - not all I must add - knew I had mental illness, they did not see a human being standing before them who was very similar to them. All they saw were the differences; to them I was a walking talking diagnosis. I may as well have developed an extra head or horns, or written a sign on my forehead saying, "Don't take me seriously, what do I know? I have mental illness”, or the words, “Of course you are better than me. I am glad that makes you feel better about yourself". I’m being sarcastic, but this is how it made me feel based on the reactions of some people towards me.
As soon as some people were aware of my diagnosis – wow, didn't it bring out their true colours very quickly.
These people liked to wave their nose in the air and look down at me. They were very fond of pointing out all of my faults but not accept their own. It seemed to me they thought my diagnosis could give them free range to speak to me and treat me how they wanted to. As if I were wearing the ‘crazy’ badge and they were waving the ‘sanity’ flag right in front of me with pride.
I heard this comment when confiding in someone how I felt to a ‘normal scenario’ or expressing sadness: "there must be something else going on here". Oh yeah, if I made a pretty penny for every time I heard this I would be happy I can tell you.
Over time I became aware of certain media hype sensationalising or stigmatising many mental health issues. Drip feeding the public ignorant damaging views on subjects they knew very little about, which only added fuel to the fire in the world of stigma and discrimination.
Day by day, month by month I was becoming conditioned by some people’s opinions. Bit by bit stigma penetrated through the armour I wore to protect myself, consuming my very being.
I started to believe some people’s opinions of me. I saw myself as a mental health diagnosis forgetting who I really was. I believed I was weak, I believed I was a second-class citizen. But most damaging of all, I did not think I was important, I did not believe I mattered. The battle against society's perception of mental illness turned into a battle between me myself and I; what I had done is turned the stigma I had encountered in on myself.
For years I fought the battle within, trying not to let stigma control the way I saw myself, and sometimes I won and sometimes I lost. Even though I did receive compliments and kindness from many wonderful people in my life, I couldn't feel it in my heart as I lost myself. I scrabbled around in the darkness with no way out for quite some time, looking for someone to turn on the light so I could see myself clearly again.
I thought the person I was, who I had remembered before self-stigma had taken over, had gone forever with no point of return. But like a bolt out of the blue, I had a light bulb moment and started questioning many things I had overlooked:
Are their opinions of me a reflection of their character or mine? Do they really know what they are talking about? Or are they in fact ignorant?
I played around with these questions for a while until it dawned on me. These people had stigmatised me based on their misguided, misinformed, ignorant opinions. It was not based on fact.
I will not let their opinions of me control the way I see myself, as this is a reflection of their character not mine. I have nothing to be ashamed of, I am not my diagnosis, I am me. I am not weak, in fact I am strong, stronger than even I gave myself credit for. If some people like me, great, if not oh well that's just too bad. I can safely say I have won the battle between me myself and I as I do not turn stigma in on myself, I have left their opinions where they belong and that certainly isn't with me.