I have a mental illness. I was diagnosed at 24 years of age. I’m now 56. For the greatest part of my life, I lived trying to hide my illness from the world, to remain accepted by others and avoid the obscure stigma.
It is not a good idea to live this way. There are millions of people that do, however. The fear of being stigmatized, fired, shunned by friends or even family, keeps many people living in hiding. The toll this takes on a person’s mind, life, ability to interact with others is huge. Recently, many people from the entertainment industry have come out to speak up about being mentally I’ll. It’s an important step. A beginning.
A great deal of work remains to be done. In order for a person to enjoy wellness and being able to function as normally as possible it is necessary to have acceptance of the illness, by themselves, and if not society, at least by a support group that can help to serve as a buffer to diffuse rejection, stigma, and social isolation.
In this 30 plus years I’ve learned a lot. I worked for a long while after being diagnosed and experienced peer judgment and lack of understanding. I worked in the government and because I took leaves of absence nearly every year, my co-workers and supervisor thought I was “milking the system.”
I was able to obtain a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English, get married and have two wonderful children, to whom I explained, when they were ready, that mommy’s shifts in attitude, bouts of depression, and crying spells were not their fault, that they had done nothing wrong but that that was part of mommy’s illness.
To achieve a modicum of wellbeing I colored, journaled, read extensively because I’ve always enjoyed reading, and read and wrote poetry. I also worked with a psychiatrist and therapist and was careful to take my medication on time. I watched Baby Einstein with my daughter, my second child, and read to both of them before they started preschool. There were tricycles and mini-picnics with a blanket under a tree and sandwiches and treats.
It was not an easy ride but rather it has been a roller coaster. There were unexpected crises, overdoses, and withdrawal symptoms. I managed to keep myself feeling adequate by reflecting that I could not give them a “normal” mommy, but I could give them all my love. Both my children have told me that all during their lives, my son is 21 and my daughter 15, they knew both their parents loved them with all their hearts. Thankfully, their self-esteem is very strong.
My purpose in writing this article was not to document my life and illness but to show that this is a subject that needs to be tackled, not only by doctors and patients, but by society as a whole. The stigma has lasted long enough. It’s time it begins to be destructed and that takes the work of many people, acting together. It’s a necessity that this be addressed by society as a whole.