Stigma from the Inside Out

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There are levels of severity to mental illness in addition
to its different manifestations. In this article I will attempt
to convey what I have seen stigma do to people after they
have been diagnosed. I have chosen bipolar disorder
because it’s one through which I’ve seen people robbed of
their personalities, not only by the stigma of others but by
themselves also.
The extreme low of this illness can be dangerous. The
depression is overwhelming and can be devastating. Apervasive
feeling of doom convinces the patient that the only
way out is suicide. Every task takes incredible effort, as
though one is literally wading in the mud.
At the extreme high end, people report feeling invincible,
highly aware, and energetic for days. Fun-loving behaviors
can get out of control. People report staying up for many
nights to complete a project. Ideas that friends think are outrageous
make perfect sense to a bipolar person. Some people
spend money uncontrollably and neglect their bills.
Imagine that you start to have bipolar symptoms and
before you know it, you hit either of these extremes. Your
life is out of control, you are suicidal, or both. You are
urged to get treatment. People that love you are worried and
want you to find out what the problem is. Perhaps you have
broken the law and are ordered to get an evaluation by the
court. Maybe the night you took the pills, someone found
you and rushed you to the hospital to save your life. Whatever
the case, you get a brand new label: Bipolar.
Perhaps you suddenly realize you’re not the loser you
thought you were. You’re not lazy stupid, senseless, selfish
or any of the names and labels that have already been handed
to you. Maybe you thought that your character flaws
were the reason things were never steady. But no – now you
know its not you. It’s the disease. What a relief…well,
maybe for a little while.
Time for medication. Many people require meds to manage
their moods and actions. Some say these medications
make them feel dull, less creative and more boring. But for
many, medication can work well and enable them to lead
what can be considered to be a normal life.
Now let’s look at the issue of stigma from a more personal
point of viewa bit further.You have been told thatmany of
your feelings and actions are a result of your disease. Soon
you begin to wonder which is you and which is the disease.
Are you in a good mood today or are you at the beginning of
an extreme high? That occasional urge to be irreverent – is
this your fun spirit or the illness? Are you irritable today
because you are overworked, or is it your illness?
You find yourself yelling at your children and maybe
your wife, who asks if you forgot to take your medicines.
When you tell someone that you are upset with them, they
ask the same thing. Suddenly you are no longer able to have
legitimate complaints, feelings and urges, or make mistakes
like everyone else; they are always in questioned or minimized
because they can be attributed to your “disease.” You
now look to others to see how to act and validate your feelings.
And god forbid that you show strong emotion!
Have you ever spent too much money? To some, that’s
simply “retail therapy.” For a person suffering from bipolar
disorder, this is part of your craziness and you should be
Have you ever stayed up all night working on a project?
That’s enthusiasm and ambition; you should be proud of
yourself! A person with bipolar may fear another high followed
by a crash.
Have you ever gotten angry with a sales clerk or lost
your temper at work? Well, don’t we all? As a person with
b i p o l a r, you might want to consider a medication adjustm
e n t .
Have you ever had a boss, doctor or a family member do
or say something nasty to you when no one else is around?
You complain. You deserve to be heard and you expect an
apology.A person with a bipolar might be accused of blowing
things out of proportion, of having false perceptions, or
making false accusations. I have personally seen complaints
thrown out without any investigation, simply
because the plaintiff had a mental illness. Who are people
going to believe – the woman that is bipolar or the man in
power who she claims assaulted her?
This is vulnerability. This is a loss of personal power.
This is stigma, a constant companion of those diagnosed
with a mental disorder.

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