Just recently I was very lucky and got the chance to blog for Time to Change to help break down the problem of mental health disorder stigma. This is there website if you’d like to learn more about them, they’re wonderful! http://www.time-to-change.org.uk You can also find them on Twitter at: @timetochange and Facebook at: facebook.com/timetochange. Today’s blog post is the longer version of what will be published on Time to Change’s website.
There are thousands of diseases known to man both physical and mental. People around the globe are faced with diabetes, cardiac problems, degenerative joint issues and mental illness. Each one brings with it symptoms that cause pain and suffering, many include a higher risk of death. Normally when someone is faced with an illness or disease others are quick to feel empathy for them, do what they can do help…but with mental illness it’s a whole different ball game. For many people with mental illness it is a daily fear a loved one will turn their back, a boss will terminate employment, even that a therapist will someday “have enough”. The daily stigma of mental illness is a very difficult burden to bare.
There have been many times I have been terrified to tell someone of my post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder. There have also been many times a person’s attitude towards me has changed the moment I divulged my mental illness to them. It is a very sad truth…but it is truth. This really makes me wonder if people even understand the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complex and deep suffering that comes along with mental illness. We are humans with dreams, passions and feelings too…we are humans who against our will fight a daily war. A war where we can’t afford to drop our guard even for a day, if we do we could lose everything. Yeah, sure, I’ve met a few individuals who had a psychiatric illness that made me uncomfortable or swayed me to avoid them, but I’ve also met many people with no known mental condition who were very unpleasant to be around. Just because someone has been labeled with depression, anxiety or something of that nature does not mean they are dangerous or less than human.
I would like to focus on two particular instances that I consider most profound in my dealings with stigma surround my mental illness. The first was when I decided to tell another student at my college that I had feelings for him. I didn’t tell him right away that I have PTSD and DID. I didn’t because I was terrified he wouldn’t even consider getting to know the surface of who I was. This had happened many times before, and I had such strong feelings for this man that at the time I felt it was better to wait. I prayed that if he got to know me at least for a few weeks before I told him he would realize my mental illness wasn’t what defined me and he’d stay. About a week into the relationship I told him after he had seen a diagram on my wall of my alters (other personalities). Immediately I sensed his discomfort and I asked him how he felt about it. He expressed to me he was a bit uneasy with it and that he didn’t understand. I remember smiling and telling him, just keep an open mind and ask questions. You have nothing to fear and I’m an open book.
Things seemed okay for a while. He’d ask a question here and a question there, but didn’t seem to be invested in getting to know who I really was or about my illnesses. I ignored these red flags and clung to a relationship I thought was real. He kept me holding on with hugs and kisses and compliments. He kept me holding on with time spent together and intimate embraces. Soon we discovered I was pregnant. Immediately he pushed me away, he told me he didn’t love me, didn’t want the baby I carried in my womb and that he didn’t think a relationship with “someone like me” could ever work. It was on that day that I discovered how he really felt about me and about my battle with mental illness. I was beyond devastated and rocked to my core with a deadly fear of abandonment. But guess what? I survived. I also learned.
The next instance I would like to talk about occurred within an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Virginia. This happened in 2009 when I was still married to my now ex-husband. I had just gone back to him after his family and friends threatened me, telling me if I didn’t go back to him (being pregnant with his child) that they would pursue taking the baby from me after it was born. I couldn’t take his abuse and I admitted myself to Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center. During my visit I began to have severe pain in my belly, my lower back, between my legs and my nausea became so severe that I vomited frequently. One morning I discovered that I had begun to bleed very heavily. I notified the nurse at the nursing station, told her how horrible the pain was and was met with laziness. She finally took me to my room and made me show her how bad I was bleeding. She gave me a pad and told me I’d be okay, it was normal. It was my first pregnancy, I felt something was wrong, but this nurse was telling me my baby was okay so I listened to her. An hour later my pain was comparable to kidney stone pains, which I am very familiar with and I was now completely soaking pads with bright red blood. I begged the nurse to call my doctor, to take me to the emergency room. She ignored me. She told me I was over-reacting. She told me that my doctor would be in later in the day and I could discuss with him going to the medical part of the hospital. Finally several hours later after I began screaming and writhing in pain on the floor she called my doctor and I was taken to the emergency room.
When I arrived I couldn’t stop vomiting, I was dizzy from blood loss and dehydration and after an exam I was told I was having a “threatened miscarriage” and needed to rest. I was discharged to go home and several days later after being pushed into a wall by my (at the time) husband, I miscarried my baby Willow. Looking back, I wish I knew that in the hospital you can contact a patient advocate if you feel you are being mistreated. Looking back, I wish I had sued the hospital for negligence. Looking back, I should have stood up for myself and all psych patients around the world. That specific nurse, and several I have encountered before and after that stay in the hospital have treated me and other patients as if we don’t deserve to be treated the same way people without mental illness do. We were ignored, laughed at, put into the quiet room for very long periods of time, not taken seriously and because of it our suffering became deeper. This not only saddens me, but it angers me. This is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed and stopped.
If you are facing stigma because you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, please, stand up for yourself. I know it can be scary, it can be hard, but you deserve it and it will help us all to end this terrible problem. You are not alone in this fight!