I have to admit that I do not grasp why stigmas exist. Why are some things permissible to discuss and other things off limits. I wonder about this as I consider topics such as Mental Illness. Discussing physical illness with friends, co-workers, and colleagues doesn’t raise too many eyebrows, however battles with depression (of all kinds whether Major Depression, Bipolar Depression or Seasonal Effective Disorder, etc), and other mental challenges is somehow off limits for public discussion – at least when it comes to acknowledging one’s own unique story.
As I read an article from the Huffington Post regarding Changing the Way We Look at Mental Illness my entire being was moved. I reflected upon those that I know who struggle and also took a moment to remember a period in my life when I was not as well as I desperately desired to be. Though my smile is authentic now and I love to get out of bed in the morning in anticipation of another day, it has not always been this way.
I can remember days of eating badly, using food as a means of self medicating, wearing a plastic smile in order to present the illusion that I was somehow content though I was dying inside. I recalled days when I sat in a quiet dark room and simply starred at the walls, and even during moments when the lights in the house were on physically, on the inside of my soul it was as if I was walking around in a dark room looking for the light, but there were no light switches. My utter despair, and emotional inability to hold on to a desire to continue with life was compounded by an awareness that to honestly discuss what was happening within me was somehow inappropriate amongst many whom I associated. This was no one day feeling down/I have the blues experience – this was a daily, weekly, month after month, unable to pull myself up experience.
I am better now, in fact, I am GREAT now, but the journey to this place has not been easy. In fact the relief that I was seeking was not experienced until I stepped beyond the stigma of being honest regarding issues of Depression such as mine. And in my freedom, I wonder how much better can we do for those around us. Maybe neither snickering at the person on the bus who talks out loud to themselves, or becoming frustrated with the person who behaves in a manner that is not as “normal” as most of our friends is the proper response.
What if instead, we decided to be safe people that individuals can come to?
What if churches were places where freedom to discuss and get proper assistance was normalized?
What if we created environments where it were as permissible to mention mental/emotion battles as it were to mention physical ailments?
What if leaders didn’t just lead organizations, but lead the way in transparency?
Might we see a change? Would shame be a thing of the past? Would people reach out rather than suffer in silence?
I must admit, sharing my story has not come without price. I realize this as I interact with individuals who know my story. It’s admittedly frustrating when they foolishly think that because I shed a tear, have a bad day or have a moment of being angry that somehow they should say “oh-oh, is she going back into a stage of depression?” Being honest means that I have to contend with ignorance from those who mean well, but are nevertheless ignorant. So my expression of emotions are viewed through the lens of “a depressed person.” This is not what I am. I am a person loved by God unconditionally who happens to be winning the battle against depression.