June, February 21, 2020

“My experience of stigma began early in life. I was designated a ‘crazy’ child who was always at fault and different.”

To say that mental health stigma and discrimination have impacted on multiple facets of my life is an understatement. On reflection these issues have been and still are the biggest obstacles to my recovery from major trauma. This is due to my reluctance to “come out” about my challenges and to believe that I deserve some support. I am not good at asking for help out in the real world. It is a heavy weight to carry and one that I am increasing keen to dump. 

While it is hard to admit, I have to own that I am my own worst enemy. I am guilty of severe self-stigmatisation. A therapist once pointed this out to me this when I was talking about the abuse I had endured in my family.  I have found it hard to accept myself as I am and make peace with myself about my life. I am an entrenched self-blamer.

My experience of stigma began early in life. I was designated a “crazy” child who was always at fault and different. I was always “too” something e.g. sensitive. I was labelled “difficult”. My pain was ignored as was I. 

I decided from this experience that there must be something wrong with me but nothing was ever done about it. This was the beginning of me feeling that I was somehow bad and shame was the result. I began to engage with the mental health system alone in my late teens. Some therapies and medications helped early in my life and I was able to achieve a high level of education. I had worked out that emotional issues were taboo in my family and trying to talk about my struggles resulted in comments like “there’s nothing wrong with you??” and “you are doing this to yourself”. I believed those around me and saw myself as an essentially flawed person.

This led to a life-time of no confidence and social anxiety. I have not coped well in many hierarchical workplaces and regret not having reaching my potential in my profession. I never had to courage to tell any of my employers about my challenges.

My way of coping (i.e. as self-protection) has been to shut my feelings down and try to be like someone else who is more socially successful than I am. Somewhere along the way I have lost myself. This has not proven to be helpful.

Because I still struggle with shame about “failures” in my life I fear in writing this that I will sound like a person with a “victim-mentality.” I am not that person. I have not given up working on myself and never will. I am a survivor and I am coming to terms with some of the most challenging truths about my upbringing. I have spoken up to my siblings about my life even though they are never likely to “get it” or to value me as I am.

On a positive note I have had to put some boundaries in place around my contact with my siblings and my son to take care of myself. I have known loneliness all my life and currently that is a big challenge for me. I don’t have a sense of fitting in anywhere and have few close friends. I am addressing the loneliness issues by living in a retirement setting with people around me. This is helping somewhat. My cat is my best friend. I know I am a “crazy cat lady” but I am proud to be that.

I have noticed a lot of frustrated and angry feelings coming up. I want to die some days but don’t really know why. I would like to think that I am working on some big advancement but will have to wait until I see more evidence. I am not going to run away anywhere (another poor coping strategy) as it is too big a risk and I don’t want any more regrets. I have to move forward to “something”. I feel like I have left an old life behind and have yet to find my new one. It is extremely painful being where I am now.

I am currently in therapy (have been in therapy all my life) and I am reviewing my medications with a compassionate and positive doctor.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.