Damn You Stigma

In case you are out of the loop, I am currently at the hospital. Been here for almost two weeks now

But not just any hospital.

I’m at the 4 North Mental Health Unit of The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus.

Yes, that’s right. I am in a physch ward.

Now, there was a time when I would rather have died than let people know I had a mental illness. THAT’S THE STIGMA.

I would have not voluntarily gone to a hospital to admit myself . THAT’S THE STIGMA.

If hospitalized, I would have lied about the cause of my hospitalization. THAT’S THE STIGMA.

Well, I know better now. I know there is no shame in having a mental illness. I know that admitting my mental illness(es) sometimes get out of control is a brave thing. I know that reaching out for support when I need it, is not only good great but that is actually the RIGHT thing to do.

That enlightment happened sometime around 2010, and since  I’ve been very vocal about mental health and mental illness, particularly my own on all the various social networks I frequent.

So that is precisely why, when the time came – two weeks ago, that I realized things were way out control and it was not safe for me to stay home, I made plans to go to the hospital. And I carried them out.

By the way, I find that carrying out plans to commit yourself into a mental hospital is a lot better than carrying out suicide plans. Less messy too*!

See how mental I am? I am even eating green stuff

See how mental I am? I am even eating green stuff. Ugh

The first weekend in the hospital found me deeply sedated. But when the new week came and I could type on my phone again, one of the first things I did was to post on FB that I was in the hospital and that it was due to depression and suicidal ideas.

Oh, yes. I did say the bad S word. And I will say it again and again. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

If the mention of it makes you uncomfortable, THAT’S THE STIGMA.

If you feel a great need to pretend you didn’t hear it, THAT’S THE STIGMA.

If you feel you would never be open about you having suicidal ideation or having tried to commit suicide, THAT’S THE STIGMA.

If you can’t stand hearing from a friend or a loved one about THEIR suicidal ideation or having tried to commit suicide, THAT’S THE STIGMA.

Damn you, stupid stigma.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it  just keeps going!

I have been the recipient of a truly amazing amount of support, which is awesome. And ideal.

Some messages are public, like mine was. But most of them are private. So far, so good. Nothing wrong with private messages, right?

Well… yes and no. There is a time and a place for private messages and for public messages, as you all, my very smart audience know. The reason, however for some of those private messages may be faulty. Fallacious. Ungrounded. Misconstrued.

Let me explain:

Almost all of the messages I got start with either one of two ways:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable saying this publicly but….
  2. I didn’t know if you were OK with me saying this publicly so I am private-messaging you…

THAT’S THE DAMN STIGMA talking.

Now, please DO NOT get me wrong. I am not judging those who private-messaged me. Their support is as dear and as healing and as important  to me as the public one. And I thank them from the bottom of my heart as well.

But the stigma is out there, trying to get all of us. In fact, am sure it is quite pissed off I got away from its grip. Not happy with interfering with one’s own treatment and recovery, it affects our friends and family too. It makes them uncomfortable. It makes them secretive.

Here is a very short sample of the messages, reproduced with the permission of their senders. Highlights are mine.

I hope things are going well for you Claudia. As well as they can considering the circumstances. I just caught up with your current situation and regret not having looked into it earlier. People were not comfortable with getting into details at the Monday Blues and I can now understand why, touchy subject right?

Hi Claudia! I just became aware that you had been in hospital for a while, and have just read your beautiful, heart-felt blog, and have an idea of what you have been going through. Having had a battle with depression in my past, I can only say that you are courageous to share your process with such honesty – a gift to everyone you touch, as there, but the grace of God, go any of us! You are doing such a good job of demonstrating that mental distress is part of the human condition and spectrum. Love and respect to you, my dear Claudia..

That’s just two of dozens. I sort of remember seeing others that were also a good example. 

I know of people who -while needing it, don’t come to the hospital for help because -yes, you guessed it right, of the stigma.

I you are ill, it is your right as a human to get treatment for your illness.  It doesn’t fracking matter if you’ve got asthma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve you’ve got cancer or Bipolar disease…. etc.

When people won’t get access to treatment because they are afraid of the stigma of being or having been in a Mental Institution, THAT’S THE FRACKING STIGMA.

By now, you may be asking yourself if I have a fracking point writing all this.

Why yes! I want a world where talking publicly about one’s mental illness is not seeing as courageous but rather not seeing as anything because it is so normal that nobody would blink or think anything of it.

I want a world where talking about my mental illness won’t make my dear friends feel uncomfortable because they don’t know if I am ok with them talking openly about it when some other friend is asking about me.

I want a world where those friends won’t have to debate in their heads whether sending a public message to me is good or bad.

I want a world where my friend won’t feel self-conscious or uncomfortable in any way, about visiting me at the psych ward.

Of course, that world also includes friends sending me private messages. Nothing wrong with private messages as long as the reason for them to be private is the stigma.

It is up to us – each one of us, to make a little change so the picture as a whole changes for everyone.

And remember…

break yo stigma

Related articles

Footnotes

*  Yeah, yeah, I have a weird sense of humour

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46 thoughts on “Damn You Stigma

  1. purplemary54 says:

    I like this emotion. It’s good, healthy, constructive anger. And, yeah, I believe anger can be constructive. I think what you’re doing right now is amazing. This is helping to wipe out the stigma, just a little bit.

  2. Natalya says:

    Good for you for seeking help and not keeping quiet! I admire that. I have been in the mental hospital for depression and suicidal ideation in the past and never thought to make it public. You have more courage than me. I hope the hospital can help you feel better again. Wellness if a lifelong journey. I am still trying to achieve and maintain a constant state of wellness.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      I am very impressed with the mental health program here in Ottawa. They really think of everything and make sure you have the best support once you are discharged. I won’t be just thrown out in the world again. They are sending with a very clear plan to ensure I am reinserted into the workforce only when I am ready, while learning new skills in the mean time. Really awesome :)

  3. strongbrokenplaces says:

    Love this and you! Fight the stigma and mental illness. I know all too well that fight. Am in it daily. I know you can get well. Kudos for checking yourself in! Proud of you!

  4. Laura P. Schulman says:

    I love you, Claudia. You is mah kind of woman. Grab that stigma monster by the horns and wrestle him to the ground, then kick him in his hiney-hoe and drive him out of town!

    I have SO much to say on this topic. I have SO many less-than-positive and downright horrendous experiences with stigma.

    BTW, I’m sure you’re aware that 50 years ago no one could say the word “cancer” because THAT was stigmatized, as if by saying it you could catch it or something???? In fact, here in Israel (and I’m sure other places), certain streams of Orthodox Jews will not say “cancer.” Instead, they say a word in Hebrew that means, “The Illness.” As if saying the word itself would cause some harm to come to the world.

    Actually, it’s the OPPOSITE. By saying the words we take the power OUT of them. We normalize them. We remove the fear factor.

    Claudia, I’m so glad you wrote this powerful piece. Can I reblog it?

    And also: please forgive me, but my memory is even more for sh*t after having yet another head injury recently. I can’t remember whether we spoke about having you do an interview for my series, Breaking the Silence of Stigma: Voices of Mental Illness, that used to come out on Wednesdays before I got hurt. I looked through my archives and didn’t find anything from you. If you’ve already done one, mea culpa and forgive me. If you haven’t, would you like to?

    Besitos,

    Laura

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Hi Laura. Yes I was aware of that trivia about cancer. I thought of it when I was writing that blog post and I almost chose a different illness for the analogy. But then I thought that using an illness that used to have stigma but doesn’t anymore would be a good idea because it would give me more grounds for this fight. It is really a good analogy, me thinks.

      And yes! By saying or reclaiming the words, we are empowered. Please do reblog this post as you see fit. Let’s fight the stigma together!

  5. Cynthia says:

    Dear Claudia,
    You are brave, strong and one of the most wonderful people I know. I have lost three family members to suicide. I battle mental illness every single day of my life as a result of being sexually abused as a child. (talk about another taboo topic!) I have been quite public over the past couple of years but still battle stigma in the workplace. There is much lip-service paid by corporations about how they care for employees and they go so far as to offer employee assistant plans – but in the end – it depends on your manager/supervisor AND on how you manage your disclosure and illness. I think we need a LOT more training and awareness around this
    It was encouraging for me to be at the Royal’s Leaders for Mental Health breakfast earlier this week and see that some employers are really stepping up – I hope this is a trend that continues.
    Every day I will continue to talk, listen, educate and do whatever is within my power to remove the stigma. And – as you well know – I will fight till my very last day on this earth to educate people on the root cause of many mental health illnesses – and that is the sexual abuse of children.
    Thank you for being such a strong voice. And yes- Let’s remove the stigma of mental illness.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Yeah, much needs to change. A lot of training has to be done. A lot of things have to be re-thought.

      But let me tell you, they are doing things the right way here at them General mental health unit.

      Oh, you got to go as well, with Elaine? I wonder why I never heard of it. How did you end up being invited? My occupational therapist didn’t even know about it. And she wasn’t too happy about not being kept in the loop

  6. msmarguerite says:

    Hi Claudia,

    I totally agree with what you’ve said and I wish I could talk openly about my own problems, but as a person at the beginning of a career I’ve always felt that I couldn’t, because being perceived as “unstable” might compromise my employability, which means I wouldn’t be able to pay my student debts, etc etc. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. Mental illnesses are just as real as any other health problem, and like any other health problem we should not judge people who have them…

    I had no idea that you had mental health issues by the way. Don’t know if you picked up on the fact that I do.

    Was wondering if I could reblog this on my WordPress. A stepping stone to my own coming out.

    Big hugs to you and good luck in your recovery.

    Ruby

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      I hear ya. Shame on this society for choosing to stigmatize instead on investing in training people. Human Resources people, managers, Execs, CEOs, and/or any other any other person involved in dealing with the hiring of new team members.

      Yes, by all means, reblog. That is what I ask of all of my friends that believe something must be done

    • Laura P. Schulman says:

      You have just succinctly described the precise reason why stigma is so dangerous. See my post http://bipolarforlife.me/2013/08/page/2/ for a sad example of what can potentially happen when people “stuff” their mental illness and do not disclose for fear of losing their job, opportunities, status in their professional community, etc. I myself found out the hard way: not disclosing lead me into a downward spiral that eventually resulted in my losing my profession entirely (I am an MD). Our bloggie colleague Dr. Chickadee found it necessary to disclose, because she is a smart bird: http://disorderlychickadee.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/coming-out-bipolar-round-1/
      So there you have it. Hiding in the closet can lead to disaster. If you “come out” to your “superiors” (what a stupid word) and they can’t handle it, you may have to grapple with the hard news that you are in the wrong program, wrong position, whatever. This does not mean you have to abandon your profession; it does mean that you might have to change horses in midstream. Remember that this is in every respect a survival issue. Take it from someone whose career was completely destroyed by NOT telling.

  7. Tina Davis says:

    Claudia,

    Just found you’ve been hospitalized, as Leslie Stevenson reposted this blog on Facebook. First of all, I hope you get better, very very soon. Secondly, THANK YOU. For your courage in sharing your thoughts, sharing your fears, voicing your concerns, even unleashing your anger… sharing everything in your heart. There have been so many times I’ve seen something brief you’ve written on G+ or FB and it’s brought a smile to my face or a different perspective I haven’t thought of.

    I wish I had something of value to say to help, but know that there are obviously many folks who are adding their strength to yours, in hopes that you keep fighting the good fight.

    Please count me among them. :)

    Much hugs and love deep down here in Texas,
    Tina :D

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Tina!!! Long time no see. I miss you!

      Thank you for your kinds words. They are very touching. I am getting stronger everyday. Soon – I hope, I’ll be my old crazy self. Wait…. what?

      Big hug to you from the Great White North. And one day, I shall bring you to Ottawa. You’ll see :)

  8. humblepie says:

    I, too, struggle with the stigma of being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I, too, have difficulty talking about things like being at a risk of schizophrenia, eating disorders, and a plethora of baggage. Even we ourselves feel a modicum of shame in admitting these things to OURSELVES, let alone others, because part of the guilt and misery we feel is built into the feelings of depression and loneliness that surround their presence in our lives.

    It’s easier to talk about once we are out the other side, stronger for having conquered them, but we must also remember a couple other things..

    1) We have to create a network of people that will support us and listen to us and prompt us to share about things that scare, frighten, and threaten our health, whether it be physicially or mentally/psychologically. As we get older, and family starts to fall away, this network is only more and more intergral to feel like part of a safe community

    2) Sharing our struggles publicly without fear of judgement from others. This dynamic breaks down the barriers of STIGMA.

    God bless, Claudia.

  9. jmlindy422 says:

    GO STIGMA BUSTING! It’s hard being “out” about mental illness. It shouldn’t be. Thanks and hope you’re feeling better. So glad you’re going home for a little.

  10. ziggyshortcrust says:

    Claudia, I cannot begin to know what this must be like, but I suspect it’s a little trickier to fix than a broken limb. Hope you’ve enjoyed your weekend and I’m sending a huge hug your way x

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Thank you! As you know, we have our ups and downs but it has been mostly ups, thank goodness.

      Oy! No internet? I would truly go mental in those conditions!

      Thanks for stopping by and all the best in your journey :)

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