Stigma is a B*tch

They told me to go.  For years, they urged me.  I didn’t listen.  I refused, graciously accepted the advice but rebuffed the offer.  I promised myself if I’ve hulled this carnage through life so far without help, I can do it forever.  I can’t. Damage is a force that will allow you to pick up the wind-restistance until it can catch you.  After seven years of suggestions, I enrolled in an intensive therapy program.

Walking in on my first day, I thought I didn’t belong with these crazy people. They hadn’t said anything, but I deemed them crazy. We are in the same program, but I thought I was better, more stable, that I wasn’t like them. And then, we started. My peers range from 18-their 60’s, business owners, college students, veterans, medical students, parents, professionals. Mental illness is an equal opportunist.  It does not discriminate on its victims.

I want to withhold information from you reader, but I don’t know how.  This blog is a door without a lock. Often, I contemplate how these digital footprints will follow me, what implications that may have.  This blog is for me. I could wax grandiose and feign that it’s for some larger purpose, but the truth is that I was starving in a landscape of glossy images of illylic lives that never mirrored reality.  I can only exhume my own experiences, only expose my thoughts— drain the sheen I lacquer on as a defense mechanism.  I overhauled my selfcare in the aftermath of a hospitalization by taking medical leave, increasing my medication dosage, and enrolling in an intensive therapy program. This is me not saying sorry. This is me not promising you that I’m not crazy so you feel more comfortable around me. This is me relearning how to live.

I’m still trying to save face.  We all are.  But maybe pride is the very force keeping us from connecting with other people, encouraging us to doubt the humanity in others.  Take my father as an example.  Depression and anxiety are playground bullies still glued to the jungle gym of. my brain.  From eating disorders to suicide attempts, my problems distanced my dad from me.  He couldn’t cope. He couldn’t process the dynamics of my emotions.  I resented him for his unsympathetic, stoic response. I felt like a defective child.  I accepted that he’d never change.  My tears would always be the gunshot triggering his footsteps out the door.  Then, a year ago, depression warped me once more.   He called me on a Sunday afternoon.  My dad always calls me on Sunday afternoons.  iPhone to iPhone, I imploded.  “Dad,” I wept, “I don’t want to be here anymore”.  The words sprinted from my tongue, sloppy and incoherent but irrepressible.   No expectation hovered in the silence preluding his response.  “Don’t talk like that, honey,” He comforted, “please, don’t talk like that”.   He didn’t reject me. He, in his own way, acknowledged my suffering, and in some small measure, we grew closer in a fragile moment.

Not everyone has or will embrace me in these fragile moments.  Not everyone is equip for authenticity.  That is not my problem, even when I feel like it is.  I feel that way a lot.  I want to be liked.  I want to be accepted.  The collateral damage for social standards is sometimes our health.  My pride is not worth my health.  So, here I find myself, babbling on about this delicate plot of life I’m rooted in right now.

You are allowed to perceive this however you choose, reader. These are just words. Stigma surrounding mental health is real. I drown in my internalized stigma daily. I do it on my way to therapy when I run into acquaintances at the medical center. They ask why I’m in the vicinity since I work on the other side of campus.  Unlike my typical business formal attire, I arrive at treatment in casual clothes and barefaced. I play vague. I say I have an appointment, which is true but not everything.

Stigma is a bitch.  Stigma mutes you through shame so you’ll be surrounded by people, only to feel alone because you cannot give breath to everything you want to.  Stigma tells me I am only my depression and anxiety.  Stigma tells me I’m crazy because I am not my mental illness. There are days my mind feels like a vhs tape destroyed by the vcr— an endless mayhem of film.  Those are not the days I define my life by.  We conquer stigma by normalizing where we’re socially conditioned to feel shame.   You owe no one your story.  Do not submit to the pressure of a culture that demands you share everything.  I write this because I need to for me.  I’m typing my way back to the person I was before the world told me who I should be.  Word by word, post by post, I shed my shoulds.  I exist in a world that may remain the same, but I can be different– transparent about my therapy, insecurities, joys, medications, connections, and truths.  Stigma exists.  Stigma is a bitch.  But I’m a boss bitch, and I can take her.

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