MH – Living with the stigma *guest blogger*

This guest post was written by my friend Candy. We met back when I hung out at Psych Central, and she’s one of the few I’m still in touch with. (name and affiliation used with permission) I asked her if she’d like to contribute to my series and I’m so glad she agreed. The following post really gives you a glimpse into what it’s like living with the stigma of mental illness, how off handed remarks about the mentally ill can dig a wound in your soul, how your daily life and livelihood is affected. I’m really glad Candy wrote this for us, and I’m glad she got to have a voice. There is some swearing in the post, just a warning for my younger readers. But I love it since I’m usually so squeeky clean in my writing here. 😉

***

I wrote a column about this once. My editor spiked it. This is my revenge.

I covered courts at my last job. I happened to be doing my morning rounds at the courthouse one day at the same time a competitor was there doing the same thing. Without naming names or gender, let’s just say this person is a well-known doofus.

Under discussion was the case of a 19-year-old girl. I don’t remember what she’d done on that particular occasion, but I remember covering her sentencing on a variety of charges. At 19, this girl had racked up 27 — that’s TWENTY-SEVEN — felony charges, been married and divorced, and had a kid whose father also was in prison.

The doofus mentioned above, who was snarking about this with one of the court clerks, laughed it off by saying “yeah, she’s bipolar or something,” in a tone of voice that suggested “woo-woo, batshit-crazy!”

Sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t. I wasn’t in the mood to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person that day, so I didn’t. But I did write a column about it. Which got spiked. Because, although it would have reached about 30,000 subscribers and untold numbers of others via the Web, and thus been a tremendous public service, it made my editor nervous.

So now, a couple of years later, here I am. No full-time job, but a decent freelance gig. I suggest to my editor that we do something for Mental Health Awareness Month, which is, of course, this month. He puts me off, puts me off, puts me off, then says, “I think we should look at this for June.” I say,“It’s senseless for June. The point was that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s an issue for our target demographic” (roughly late teens to early 30s).

“Oops,” he says. “Sorry.”

Yeah. Me too. Because although I was kind of ambivalent about putting myself out there, I figured it might help someone. Maybe this will do the trick instead.

I’m in a new, smallish town, hoping to get a new job, not at all sure if I should even do the NAMI fundraising walk in case somebody sees me and I have to out myself as a nutjob. But you know what? I am. It is what it is. I’ve been this way since I was 13 years old, which is now several decades ago. All those years I have dealt with people who bitch about my “bad attitude,” or ask if I’m ever happy (fuck you, by the way, you snot-nosed punk who hasn’t lived ANY of what I have and are half my age), or say things like, upon being told I’m in the locked ward of a psych hospital, “Oh, she’s not depressed. I’ve heard her laughing,” or think that because I can show up for work most days, and get most of my stuff done most of the time, that I’m fine.

Do you people not understand that I’ve learned to fake it? I told someone once I was anxious about something and he walked away shaking his head and saying, “Wow. Candy gets nervous.” I can look and act perfectly placid and serene, but I should win an Oscar, an Emmy AND a Tony for that. You have no idea what’s going on in my head, heart and soul. You have no idea how hard it is most days just to sit up and put both feet on the floor, much less move and be and do. You have no idea what it’s like having the side effects of the drugs that are supposed to help you be worse than the disease. (That takes some doing, but one of them nearly caused my death from bone marrow failure, and the one I just started causes me balance and digestive problems.) You have no idea what it’s like to feel your moods switch on a dime. It used to be that I could be fine at 8 a.m. and suicidal by noon. These days, it takes minutes, not hours. The highs are higher, the lows are lower, the cycling’s more frequent, and you know what? It fucking sucks. Being a prisoner of your own brain sucks.

If I had actually told someone the thought that was on “infinite loop” in my head awhile back, I still wouldn’t be out of the ha-ha house. And I was 100 percent conscious of the fact that it was twisted and disordered and plain old batshit-crazy. But knowing that didn’t make the thought stop, or completely convince me that it would be a really bad idea to go through with it. And you couldn’t tell I was having it by the way I looked or acted.

I get told a lot I’m considered “high functioning” — you know, like all crazy people need to be wild-eyed homeless alcoholic freaks. My mental health has cost me every job I’ve ever had, one way or another, but in most cases I’ve been able to move on and get them before they got me. I bathe on a regular basis and only a few pair of my socks and undies have holes. 😉 But because I’m not walking down the street glassy-eyed, pushing a shopping cart and jabbering to myself doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on sometimes. I wish more people understood that mentally ill people are your neighbors, or your teachers, or your favorite local business owner – or, hey, even your favorite journalist. I long for the day we don’t have to hide.

***

This just goes to show that no matter how much we try to make people aware, voices will still get stifled. Here Candy had a good story to write about in a month that is supposed to be about mental health awareness, and it gets rejected for this particular publication. So how the hell are we supposed to get the word out when editors are dumbasses? No wonder there is a stigma, if voices are constantly silenced.

I’m glad I’m doing my part, by providing an outlet, even if it is just on a little blog.

As one of my anonymous posters said, what are you gonna do?

5 Comments

Filed under awareness month, guest blogger, mental health

5 Responses to MH – Living with the stigma *guest blogger*

  1. That really is shocking. It sounds like this womans’ boss was extremely nervous, and didn’t want to hear about mental illnesses. I admit-some of the posts were quite hard to read, not because i’ve been through them, but because it was such a difficult subject. I have said that i won’t read the blog posts, because they are so upsetting, but then i though how else am i gonna become more aware?

    So now i read anyway even if the subject at hand is upsetting.

    Thanks for raising these issues.

    Take care, xx

  2. Jen

    I’m glad your doing these posts Ro, unlike that coward of an editor.
    Candy thanks for sharing. I can’t imagine what your going through.

  3. Ro

    I would be lying if I said doing these posts wasn’t making me emotional. It’s hard to read this stuff. It’s hard to acknowledge what people go through. But like last month’s series, I think it’s important that we don’t turn a blind eye, just because the subject matter is uncomfortable. I’m glad you’re reading and I’m glad I’m strong enough to do this. For me it’s not even necessarily the mental illnesses that are so hard, it’s people’s reactions to them, the stigmas, the attitudes, that are so hard. I think the more we know, the more compassion will be out there, just a little more compassion. The ocean is made of individual water droplets, right? We can make a difference, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

  4. Thank you Ro very much for doing posts every day on this subject this month. I do think it is making a difference.

  5. If you know anything about how the media works, unfortunately it isn’t a shock that what could have been a very useful piece of writing got canned. The sad truth is that a lot of things fall through the cracks because they don’t fit in with the mainstream. If there’s even the slightest chance that something is going to make a sponsor or a segment of the public upset, it probably won’t be seeing the light of day unless there’s more money to be made by running with it. this applies to all branches of media. Newspapers, TV, radio, everything. It’s sad that the media has strayed so far from what its purpose is supposed to be, but making money is more important to a lot of folks than being the objective and informative voice. That’s why blogs like this have gotten so popular while the mainstream media begins to tank. People are realizing that it’s better to get their news and views from individuals and small organizations than from large corporations with hidden agendas.

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