All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

What do I mean by stigma?

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Addy’s note: Unlike a lot of the posts I’m republished I wanted to put a wee not on this one saying I’ve never been a fan of it. It is, in fact, one of my least favourite of posts from those insane months of 2007.

“Pop quiz hotshot; how many times have I used the word stigma in this blog?”

Got your answer, good, scribble it down on a piece of paper because you’re about to do some basic maths. (You shouldn’t need a calculator)

Now, head over to Facebook and see how many times I’ve used the word there – and remember, there’s more on Facebook than just a profile page, we’re talking about every single time I have used that word there; groups, blogs, wall-to-wall messages, the lot!

Got your answer, excellent. Scribble it down after the number you had from this blog.

Now, go onto DepressionTribe, My BlogLog, MySpace (ick), every single blog listing directory I am on. Go into every message board, forum, chat room, email and website I have visited or sent in the last 4 weeks and take down every single time I have used the word stigma. To make it a little easier, some of my room IDs are: addy, straythoughts, addy50of3, allthosestraythoughts and naughty_addy (for those times when I’m just feeling cheeky!)

Got all those answers.

Excellent.

“Pop quiz hotshot; how many times have I used the word stigma on the internet as a whole in the last 4 weeks?”

You answer is…?

Well, I can’t tell you if you’re correct or not because, to be honest, I couldn’t even be bothered working out how many times I’ve used it on this blog, so whilst you’ve all been hurriedly trying to work this out in the hope of winning a sandwich toaster or a “John Howard: He’s a Twat!” commemorative mug, I’ve been logged in to some of those chatrooms having some cheeky fun as and messing with all your sums by just repeatedly typing stigma over and over again. Ah, good times! I will however ask this:

“Pop quiz hotshot; what the hell do I mean by stigma?”

Your answer is…?

Well, I can tell you that according to Dictionary.com, stigma is: a mark of disgrace or infamy or an identifying mark or characteristic. In other words, it is when you label a particular person, or group of people, as deserving to not receive as much respect as others. It is a mark of disgrace, it is a mark of ill repute, and it is a mark which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. It is a mark which makes living a “normal” life almost an impossible task. Drastically affecting how they are perceived; by strangers, the media, employers, the medical profession, and even friends.

It’s interesting that an archaic meaning of stigma is a mark made by a branding iron on a criminal or slave. From my experience, I believe that there are people out there, who would happily make it law to physically brand someone who is suffering from a mental illness. This way the greater population is made aware of this shameful “lesser” human being so they can avoid them at all costs. So why not just do that?

[NOTE: IN THE ORIGINAL POST THERE WAS AN IMAGE HERE. REMOVED FOR ARCHIVING DUE TO ME BEING RECOGNISABLE]

I have had to endure so much stigma in regards to this part of who I am that, just like so many other people like me, I have been mortally afraid of mentioning it, talking about it, admitting to it, discussing it and making people aware of it so often in the past simply because I did not want to be judged for it. This is a risk I am running now and it is a risk that I am willing to take.

How is it a risk?

Easy: It is going to affect EVERYTHING that happens in my life from this point on!

People are now completely aware – or have the possibility to be aware – of everything about me. All those panic attacks and cigarette burns and suicide attempts and self-assaults with the knife are now available for the world to see – to read – to digest – to judge – to insult – to criticize – to throw back in my face. It’s going to affect friendships (past and future), relationships, family, employment, medical…my god what the hell am I doing???? I think I have just pretty much abolished any chance of that ridiculously twee dream of wife, two kids, job and a cute pet wombat.

So…why exactly am I opening up the darker recesses of my soul for the whole world to see?
Simple.
The answer has so far been written 9 times in this post – it was in the title.

STIGMA

Stigma is the very reason I finally decided to open myself to the world. I am tired of people seeing me as some crazy worthless piece of crap. I am tired of being considered to be a selfish self absorbed little man. I am tired of being accused of being lazy, weak and malingering. I am tired of being told to “cheer up and just get over it”…! I am tired of lying and pretending about my past and who I am. I am tired of people just not understanding what it is that I feel and go through. I’m tired of the misconceptions.

“Pop Quiz Hot Shot! True or false!

1. Psychiatric disorders are medical conditions like diabetes or heart attacks.
2. All people with a mental illness are violent and dangerous.
3. Mental illness is indicative and a result of bad parenting.
4. Addiction is a lifestyle choice so that makes you morally weak.
5. Depression and anxiety does not exist in children or teenagers, it’s merely “teen angst”.
6. Schizophrenia is split personality and as such there’s no way to control it.
7. A change in brain chemistry is a cause of depression.
8. You can cure a mental illness by pretending it’s not there and wishing it away.

Answers:

1. TRUE
2. FALSE
3. FALSE
4. FALSE
5. FALSE
6. FALSE
7. TRUE
8. FALSE

All of the eight questions were examples of common myths and preconceptions surrounding mental illness. I’ve included them as an example of some of the views that contribute to stigma which I have had to face over the years.

1. I have a medical condition, accept it. This is singularly the most recurrent example of stigma I have ever encountered. For some reason, and it has never been explained to me exactly why, people seem to believe that there is no such thing as mental illness. That it is something I bought on myself
2. Aside from the occasional moments when I’ve swatted a fly or a playful sexy bottom I’m not a violent man. I’ve never been in a fight, I’ve never whacked someone with a fish, I’ve never smashed a beer bottle over someone’s head and I’ve never even hurled a koala at anyone.
3. My parents were awesome, can’t say in any way they were bad.
4. I am not morally weak.
5. ANYONE who has ever read the book Alone by Myself will never again believe that depression cannot happen to teenagers.
6. Schizophrenia is NOT split personality! Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically.
7. Well duhhhh…
8. I swear that the next person who expects me to do this will be the very first person that I hurl a koala at!

I will state this now – YOU CANNOT CURE A MENTAL ILLNESS BY PRETENDING IT IS NOT THERE! You cannot solve anything by merely pretending it is not there. You can change the way you think about yourself by pretending, and as a logical step you can change the way you act by slowly believing this is who you are. However, at some point in time, this pretence will come crashing down around you, simply because you are lying – not only to yourself – but to everyone around you.

Sooner or later whatever it is you are lying about, whatever it is you are pretending not to feel, whatever it is you are pretending in order to avoid, will have to be dealt with in some way. You cannot run forever. You cannot hide forever.

I say this, because for many years, I tried to pretend I did not suffer from depression. I ignored it. I refused to take medication, go to psychologists, admit I had a problem, or seek help during the times that I felt this pretence slipping. I built a world on a foundation of lies, and for a while this world was the epitome of beautiful wonderment. It was a world that came crashing down around me – I had been pretending for so long, that when an earthquake that could only be described as a minor tremor rippled though my life, the foundations I had built upon were so weak that they collapsed and I didn’t have any knowledge of ways to cope with what I was feeling.

This belief that mental illness doesn’t exist, and that it is merely something I’ve created, is singularly the most dangerous form of stigma I’ve encountered. It is the bare bones in fact of the danger stigma against mental health and illness can cause – it is what is creating all the problems. Why? Because it is stopping people from admitting that they have a problem, and it is stopping them from seeking medical help!

Everyone wants to be normal, accepted, loved and lusted after.
Everyone wants a normal life consisting of a wife, two kids, job and a cute pet wombat.

If they are suffering from a mental illness, in the world as it is now, they are being made to feel abnormal because of the problem they have. They are being forced to hide from the world what it is they are feeling because they know that they won’t be accepted. They’re gonna be laughed at, ridiculed, insulted, accused of being selfish, malingering…they’re going to be made to feel like a “lesser human being” merely because they have an illness that people just don’t seem to understand. An illness which people will “label” them with for the rest of time.

Therefore, they have to pretend to not feel what they’re feeling. They have to forget about the pain and problems that they have. They have to bury them, ignore them and as a result do not seek treatment because by doing so will incur the wrath of the misunderstood majority. Ultimately they are forced to suffer ALONE, and if they are, then the chances of them not being able to cope increases exponentially – and this could lead to suicide.

I know – I’ve been there.

You would not expect someone who is suffering from diabetes to fight it by themselves without help.
You would not expect someone who is suffering from cancer to just pretend they didn’t have it and that this would cure them.

So why do people expect those suffering from a mental illness to do the same?
Why are people who suffer from a mental illness being labeled by some, as a lesser human being?
Why are people who suffer from a mental illness being made to feel ashamed of the problems they have?
Why are people who starve themselves, cut themselves, attempt suicide, have breakdowns, and suffer depression made to feel weak for seeking help?

The only answer I really have is because of the huge misconceptions that surround the world of mental health. The misconception that people who suffer from a mental illness do not have control of their mind – that they are people who wander the streets shouting at that invisible troop of gerbils, or are people who sit at home dressed as a badger polishing Mr Pointy, before heading out into the night convinced they are Badgie the Vampire Slayer. The misconception that people who suffer from a mental illness do not even have an illness so should just cheer up, stop malingering and dragging everyone down into their insidious tragedies.

Is there anything we can do to change this?
I don’t know about we, me? I’m trying – because it was this ill-conceived stigma that inspired me to write this blog in the first place. Yep, I am running a huge risk here. I am ripping myself open to the world, lying down all of the scars, metaphorical welts and bruises I have accumulated in the one singular hope that it may – just may – start making people realize what a mental illness feels like. What it can do to not only you but the people in your life that know you.

In the days leading up to the creation of this blog I spent a lot of time in depression and mental health related chatrooms and message boards – and one of the most common things I saw posted were all to do with how people felt alone and misunderstood. How they were scared of admitting how they felt because no-one – including themselves – considered them “normal”, or did not want to deal with the rejection they were expecting. What I wanted to do was create a place that was not just this is how you overcome depression that wasn’t just explaining what mental illness is and it’s symptoms. Yes, you will find those things here, but I wanted to create a place that described in brutal honesty exactly how I feel from time to time.
The thoughts in my head.
The voices whispering in my ears.
A place that may just make someone realize that they are not alone.
A place that may just make people understand mental illness a little better.
A place that comes not from a medical point of view, but a personal point of view.
A place that comes from the heart.

I wanted to create a place where one man, just one tiny insignificant voice in the whole pantheon of mental illness on the internet stood up against the oppressive prevalent stigma so determined to; silence, objectify, malign and destroy those suffering from mental illness. I wanted to stand up to all those people who want us to just pretend we don’t have a problem, who want us to vanish or disappear – and proclaim “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!” and then just hope, that someone will listen, someone will start to understand, someone will change their mind…and that no-one (and I mean no-one) notices that I just quoted Independence Day in the public arena.

So, in conclusion, if those suffering from mental illness are to be physically branded, I would be the first to throw my flesh onto the table before that white hot metal rod.

[NOTE: IN THE ORIGINAL POST THERE WAS AN IMAGE HERE. REMOVED FOR ARCHIVING DUE TO ME BEING RECOGNISABLE]

Yes, I suffer from depression.
It is not who I am.
It is an illness that I suffer from.
In no way does it control or define me.
I can beat it.

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