Living with a Mental Illness and its Stigma

They judge you from the outside not knowing what they do.

The receptionist gives you a blank look as she tells you your chart is at the wrong clinic so you will go another day of withdrawal from not having meds.

At least you’re used to poor service, your best friend tells you.

They don’t know what they do to you.

They don’t know what it’s like.

Waking up in cold sweats, chills, fever, nightmares, fighting off demons every step of the way, every waking hour another battle of wills. Curled up like a fetus, praying for relief.

They don’t know what they do. They just file you away.

You’re only one of millions, billions, a population out of control.

“How can I help these people?” a frustrated clerk asks, as the ill bang on her window, demanding more.

You’re one of those illnesses people make fun of; not realizing it could be them. You mask yourself in humor, self-depreciating laugh, often poking fun at the very thing society thinks is so funny.

Sometimes you think, “I got sober for this?”

Okay, more than sometimes you think that.

Angry at God, at the world, at yourself. Having held more than 80 jobs.

A friend who says she has the answer writes you a judgmental note.

And you know you can safely add her to the list of those who don’t have a clue. What it’s like to live in your skin, feeling unglued, knowing the joy of drug withdrawal and dependence, required to take pills to be “okay,” meds that stopped working long ago.

The next day you’re at your doctor’s office, tired but with renewed hope. A spark in a long line of misfired cars. Autos like you who have ran their course. You mention a new drug you heard about and the doctor says, “No go.” You realize you can safely add him to the list of those who don’t have a clue.

Later I watch my daughter’s first dance recital video and tears of pride fill my eyes. She glides across the floor effortlessly, smoothly, full of grace. In my dance with life it was me always going in the opposite direction while the rest of the class did their thing. My dad even captured it with Kodak once much to my dismay. I realize then I can safely add him to the list of those who don’t have a clue.

The day before I listened to two old ladies talk about depression. They swear by dressing up their poodle, hanging affirmations, and changing their attitude that that is the cure all and I turn away, disturbed and exhausted.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously,” one says to the other and they nod in agreement and go off in their painted pink world while I sit with the knowledge, the knowing of the ill.

And I realize I can safely add them to the list of those who don’t have a clue.

The help is going away, my friend tells me who works with mentally ill homeless. People shouldn’t expect the help, demand it, or ask for it while I just think why isn’t it a requirement like food and water? Air, the very thing that keeps us moving. Why isn’t sanity a given? I try not to think about this future, this bleak landscape she paints for me. Where no one can get help, the sickest roaming the streets, free to commit crimes, landing in prison for life.

I can’t think about that now. I would drive myself crazier if I did.

My mind goes to other, brighter things – my new home on the horizon, my dog who loves me with his eyes, my daughter’s wide wonder, my cat’s amusement with a feather. Somehow I’ll survive, I tell myself, though thrive I would like instead.

I get a little older now, maybe a little wiser to the fight within me. The rhythm of how things should be rather than how they are.
I have to believe that the tide will turn, that things will work out for me. And the many others like me who just sat down today and realized they have just met another person they can safely add to the list of those who don’t have a clue.

So we all ban together and educate in various ways, some good, some bad but all effective to a degree. And we teach the young caseworkers just getting out of school what mental illness really is, not something to be disrespected nor walked away from but understood, studied, and felt, with a mixture of great compassion.

And understand that most of all, we do not wish or will this fate. We have hopes and dreams like the rest of you but are crippled with our disease, an illness that threatens our very soul, tries to strip our spirit of spunk.

And those of us who are lucky enough tread water for awhile, rising above the tide of uncertainty as we swim to the shore of an outstretched hand.

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