Fighting mental health stigma: a personal journey

I have had bipolar disorder for almost 13 years, along side depression, anxiety, psychosis, hypomania and manic symptoms- which ebb and flow and fluctuate. Now that I am on the right medication these bipolar symptoms are kept under control. For most of these 13 years, I didn’t feel I could speak out about my conditions.

My family and close friends have always been very supportive but I felt ashamed. Ashamed of where my brain could go to when unleashed and its chemistry got confused. Ashamed of why I was either suicidally depressed or hyper and manic to a point of having to be sectioned to a psychiatric ward. Ashamed of my illness, confusing my identity with the illness, which made me worried about others judgement of me.

I was diagnosed at a very vulnerable age- 16 years old and as we know teenagers can be cruel. Although I experienced a lot of kindness and empathy, after a hypomanic episode abroad where I was disinhibited, I experienced a lot of cruel rumours from other teens I knew. Rumours that were stupid but that called me many names and compared me to evil things that I do not want to repeat. What was at the most basic of these insults? In my opinion, fear.

People fear what they cannot see and cannot understand.

People in their teen years do not want to be different- and I was the embodiment of difference.

If people can’t comprehend something and it is threatening- they judge or use name calling to feel better.

At 16, I represented a world of chaos at which many could not understand. Perhaps now they will.

I have spent a long time coming to terms with my illness and what it means, finding the right treatment and medication and the right support networks around me. I have incredibly supportive friends and family.

So what does the above treatment boil down to?

Stigma.

Stigma is according to an online dictionary- ‘ A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance , quality or person’

For so long, I felt this ‘mark of disgrace’ and until I was 25, although close friends and family knew about my illness, I didn’t write blogs the way I do now. This was because I wanted to hide this illness that lodged in my brain chemistry.

I don’t want to hide any more and neither should I.

In 2014, I was hospitalised and sectioned for a severe manic episode encompassing psychosis, delusions and hyperness/ disinhibition.

It was shortly after going through the most traumatic experience of my life that I realised. Life is short. I need to help others. If I can break down the stigma and help others through my writing and other work then I will.

Mental Illness must no longer be a ‘mark of disgrace’ but must be seen as a partly physical illness in the brain, deserving and worthy of good treatment and empathy from others.

This post is dedicated to those friends who asked me to write on this and all my friends for their love and support

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