Afraid of the Stigma

Recently a friend blogged about Michael's death (read her blog here). In her post, she shared about how shocked she was to learn that the vivacious man she remembered had died by suicide. As I read her thoughts, I remembered doing whatever I could to help Michael cover up his struggles with bipolar disorder. We simlply didn't want others to know about his mental illness.

When we first learned that Michael had bipolar disorder, we were so embarrassed. We had both thought of people with mental illness as "crazy people," not people like us. What would others think if they knew about this? Michael was a minister -- we couldn't let this darken his image. For years we tried to hide the truth. In hindsight, I realize that this was one of the worst mistakes we made.

Our family and friends saw the mood swings and erratic behavior as rudeness and took it personally. Man quit calling or inviting us over. Perhaps if they had known the truth, they would have been more understanding. Because we suffered in silence, Michael and I both felt very alone. After years of struggling privately, I finally opened up to a few people that we knew and loved and I was shocked by their response --- they loved us anyway!

Mental illness is not a bad case of the "crazies." It can affect anyone regardless of social status, economics, education... We never dreamed it would touch our lives the way it did. There is still a stigma attached to mental illness, and I believe that the only way to combat it is through storying. Those of us whose lives have been affected by mental illness must not be ashamed. There is no shame in being mentally ill. We need to speak out and let the world know that though a person might suffer from a mental illness, that illness does not define the person.

For those who knew and loved Michael and did not know about his illness prior to his death, I am so sorry. I wish we had had the courage to be open about it. His death has given me a platform to raise awareness in hopes of saving lives. Help us attack the stigma by embracing those in your life who struggle with a mental illness. Support them. Love them. Treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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Tears to Joy: Afraid of the Stigma

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Afraid of the Stigma

Recently a friend blogged about Michael's death (read her blog here). In her post, she shared about how shocked she was to learn that the vivacious man she remembered had died by suicide. As I read her thoughts, I remembered doing whatever I could to help Michael cover up his struggles with bipolar disorder. We simlply didn't want others to know about his mental illness.

When we first learned that Michael had bipolar disorder, we were so embarrassed. We had both thought of people with mental illness as "crazy people," not people like us. What would others think if they knew about this? Michael was a minister -- we couldn't let this darken his image. For years we tried to hide the truth. In hindsight, I realize that this was one of the worst mistakes we made.

Our family and friends saw the mood swings and erratic behavior as rudeness and took it personally. Man quit calling or inviting us over. Perhaps if they had known the truth, they would have been more understanding. Because we suffered in silence, Michael and I both felt very alone. After years of struggling privately, I finally opened up to a few people that we knew and loved and I was shocked by their response --- they loved us anyway!

Mental illness is not a bad case of the "crazies." It can affect anyone regardless of social status, economics, education... We never dreamed it would touch our lives the way it did. There is still a stigma attached to mental illness, and I believe that the only way to combat it is through storying. Those of us whose lives have been affected by mental illness must not be ashamed. There is no shame in being mentally ill. We need to speak out and let the world know that though a person might suffer from a mental illness, that illness does not define the person.

For those who knew and loved Michael and did not know about his illness prior to his death, I am so sorry. I wish we had had the courage to be open about it. His death has given me a platform to raise awareness in hopes of saving lives. Help us attack the stigma by embracing those in your life who struggle with a mental illness. Support them. Love them. Treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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5 Comments:

At February 5, 2011 at 6:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael impacted so many lives, and so intensely. He showed a genuine interestedness in people, and this is all the more remarkable and commendable considering the problem he was dealing with. You know I loved him dearly.

 
At February 6, 2011 at 1:11 PM , Blogger Gary said...

Natalie, your message is SO important. I think many are afraid of so-called "mental illness" because it reminds them of their own vulnerabilities. It's as if avoiding the reality of our own imperfections makes them disappear. When people asked how my father died, I freely and easily told them that he shot himself in the head. I was open about that so as to not hold onto the sadness myself. Their usual reaction was shock and discomfort. I'm also very open about my wife's 12 year battle with suicidal depression. More often than not, I find a few people that truly appreciate the honesty because it gives them "permission" to be vulnerable themselves, thus providing a space for their healing. Keep up your good work. Not all will "get it" or want it. But, I suspect, that our work is to speak to those who will listen. [I think that message was in Chronicles and Mathew perhaps?]
@Gary_OmAmani

 
At March 3, 2011 at 9:23 PM , Blogger covnitkepr1 said...

I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

 
At March 16, 2011 at 9:07 AM , Blogger covnitkepr1 said...

I had to return to read this post again. Thanks for sharing and I hope that many can learn a thing or two by the heart felt words that you put to print about bi=polarism. I feel your pain.

 
At June 18, 2011 at 9:20 AM , Anonymous Sara Anderson said...

Such a powerful post!! The love of my life struggles with Bipolar Disorder (along with other illnesses) and I think it is easy to just want to cover up the illness as a "private matter" and try to shove family to the side. I think that is our "gut" instinct. Stigma of mental illness runs rampant in every corner of our society everywhere from the doctor's office to the church (and everywhere in between). Helping lessen the stigma is a huge passion of mine an one that I hope I can do my part to reduce. I look forward to continue to read your blog - keep up the great work!

Sara Anderson
www.thebipolarmarriage.com

 

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