September 9, 2013

RachelI have a mental health condition which has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. There have been long stretches of time when I have managed it well and times when I have needed the input of mental health professionals and the support of my loved ones to keep going and to rebuild my life from scratch. I am still here.

This poem (below) deals with the stigma, discrimination and fear that can and does occur around mental illness out there in media land, much nearer to home and, I have to say, within the person with a condition ( well this person anyway), though I think these are linked and create a blaming vicious circle.

Lets start with the media

Lets start with the media, always ready to print salacious and circulation grabbing stories, they will often focus on the mental health angle when some individual with a diagnosed condition commits a violent crime. They are loose with their words and care little if it is interrupted by the reader that all people, say with schizophrenia, are a danger to society. This is wholly untrue and perpetuates the stigma.

I have yet to read that suffering from diabetes was, in part to blame for some heinous crime and, that to be safe we should be very wary of said people! Daft isn't it? A criminal is just as likely to have ,say, diabetes as any mental health medical condition. Fear fueled untruths become fact in the minds of many when the see or hear it often enough.

How much, if any, to disclose on the dreaded job application?

Nearer to home is the thorny issue of how much, if any, to disclose on the dreaded job application or , if you get the job, to your colleagues. I have been in this position several times and have usually ticked the no box rather than disclose. Simply because of experience when I have dared to be honest.

Honesty seems to lead to, "thank you for your application. On this occasion you have been unsuccessful " or before we can go further you will have to agree to seeing our HR doctor or nurse. OK but it is not the easiest thing to discuss with yet another stranger. If myself and support team, who know me and my condition best, think that I am ready to work, then that should be sufficient if my skills fulfill the criteria.

It sometimes feels like everyone knows what's best

Then there is the myriad of occasions when we experience well meaning patronisation. This can occur anywhere, anytime when in recovery or on the rocky road to an episode . It sometimes feels like everyone besides yourself knows what's best for you, and how my illness should be approached etc, "We didn't win the war with weeping and staying in our beds, we had a stiff upper lip, picked ourselves up and carried on " attitude or " not to talk about it, you wouldn't want other people to know".

I have been spoken to as if I am a contrary child, had so called friends 'unable' to find the time for me when ill or vanish from my life, lost jobs, had my judgement questioned , been told I can't take a joke, that I am oversensitive and treated badly and emotionally abused in a ( thankfully past) relationship, in that case because, "I did not know how hard it is to live with a mad woman !" Actually I do andit can be quite fun, loving and rewarding.

The stigma and harsh judgement I put on myself

Finally to the stigma and harsh judgement I put on myself. The times I forget the golden rule, 'Be Kind to Yourself ' I feel that as I learn and practice this, ignore the judge and jury which like to park themselves upon my shoulders, in order to whisper stigmatic dogma in my ears.

I am learning to challenge myself ,as well as others, on the myths surrounding mental illness, take opportunities to be vocal, share experience and so on ( my friends on Facebook can vouch for that! ) I am working towards better understanding by all. When there is the need to let off steam and shout about it, I write a venting poem.

Your Reality Too ( A protest poem )

When I go off the rails
I hurt my self not you
I curl up in my bed
A snail within the shell
When I am depressed
I don’t rise up off my sofa
Let alone become a danger
Manned with an axe
To chop up you
When my brain is racing
From one thing to the next
I haven’t the space or time
To bother anyone other
So relax
When I’m up
I am creative
Making, painting a must
I become one possessed
But not with you
Stigma wielding man
My juices too precious to waste
On hydrating your prejudice
I have an illness
It is not contagious
And not the all of me
So if you cannot accept
Or treat me with a little respect
Then at the very least
Zip your mouth
Don’t tell me what’s best
Or simply to pull my self together
I am not curtains
And I do not care to be patronised
By your ignorance
Yes I’m talking to you
The uninformed jury
Assuming fear as fact
Remember one day it may
Be your reality too.

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School project

Hi Rachel I love your poem, it so beautifully captures the stigma of mental illness. I am doing a poem analysis for a year 10 assignment where I analyse a poem about a social issue of my choice. I would like to use your poem and attempt to clear misconceptions of mental health in my class in the hope that it will reduce the stigma at our school. I am finding it hard to analyse the poem's meaning in some sections because I am not really sure which illness you are referring to. If you are comfortable with letting me know, I would really appreciate the clarification. You are a really inspiring poet, this poem is exactly what I was hopping to find. Yours sincerely, Selena

this poem!!!

Hi!!! I was looking for poems about Stigma and mental illness. I am the artistic director of a dance theatre company and we are doing a piece about this very thing...I am looking fora poem and resources. I am looking for a poem to end our piece and I'm wondering if I might have permission to use this beautiful piece! You would of course receive credit. I feel this is the best thing I've found to sum our piece up. Please visit New Dance Theatre on facebook to see more about the project. I have a web link too but see i can't put that in a comment. Facebook has a lot of info. This blog is such a great resource. Thank you! Please email me and let me know!

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