This post originally appeared at Strangely Diabetic on May 22, 2012 as part of Mental Health Awareness Month
Since I have written so heavily about my own battle with depression and going through therapy for the last 6 months or so, you’d think I’d have plenty to say about mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month .
I do and it all revolves around a single word: Stigma
What a word. I was going to add the definition here, but then I noticed the synonyms listed
Now that list seems to cover it so much better than a somewhat sterile dictionary definition.
I’m disgraced, blemished, blamed, stained and tainted for having a mental illness. Hell, I’m often all those because I have diabetes. People with invisible illnesses just don’t “look sick enough” to have special needs or requirements.
How many of you have reading this have felt that way or thought that about someone else? I know I have. That feeling, it goes through our minds and we have no idea where it comes from.
The stereotypes about various things in our societies often form the basis for what we “know” about some occurrence or some condition.
We have to deal with those stereotypes on a daily basis. “If you’d quit feeling so sorry for yourself, you’d see that this depression crap is just you needing to man up” or “You gave yourself diabetes by living a bad lifestyle, so too bad – shut up and just deal with it”.
It gets really fun when you keep hearing that from the media or in the doctors office or even from family members. Their perception of your reality has been formed by the stereotypes.
It’s hard at times trying to be an advocate for conditions with stigmas associated with them. It’s hard at times making sure your “stigmatized” conditions are being treated properly. And it’s hard to admit you are affected by one… sometimes you can’t even admit it to yourself.
All because of a little word: Stigma. How did these five letters get so much power over us? Why do we let them have such power?
And if we are going to address these things we often have to be engaged, empowered, and educated in doing it. We have to strip the power we give that word away. In short, we have to own our conditions no matter whose “fault” they are. If we don’t, then the stereotypes persist and stigmas prevail.
That’s easy to say and oh so hard to do. It’s a lot of work dealing with things that we just may not want to deal with. My blog is about diabetes and depression. Statistics aside, it is something that I and many others deal with. There have been a lot of blog entries recently about depression and diabetes, I’m proud of the people who have posted them. If you’ve merely read, I’m proud of you too. It’s not an easy topic to think about or deal with.
An e-patient brings a lot of things to the table and when working with a doctor willing to embrace that, the outcomes can be phenomenal. A diabetic, in particular a Type 1, is almost an e-patient by the simple fact of the diagnosis.
Your doctor can not successfully help you set up a care plan with out the knowledge you bring with you. I’m not talking about meter readings and carb ratios, I’m talking about the “intangibles”. The things that only you may know because it happens to you. It doesn’t happen to the doctor. You have the real-life, real-world experience needed to complete the plan best suited for your needs. You don’t need some cookie-cutter plan, you need one tailored to your lifestyle, ethos and you have to be an active part of creating that plan.
If you thought there were stigmas associated with diabetes, throw depression, a mental illness, into the mix. Advocacy for it is can be risky, I may have put so much out there on the web that I may never find another job if I needed to.
Again you have to be involved. Yes this medication works but the side effects are brutal. No, this one doesn’t work at all. Talk therapy is even more participative. It’s a lot of hard, uncomfortable work talking about things that you don’t want to talk about. Things that need to change. Change, that’s a scary word because it brings a sense of the unknown.
So for all those who advocate for yourself and for others, those people who are willing to put it out there, I salute you. You have cut a path and shown me that I can be an advocate as well, shown me that my story, my voice is important. That all of our voices are important for those who come behind us and that we are, hopefully, laying a foundation for that next generation of advocates to build upon.
Stigma. Hmmm… it just doesn’t seem quite so powerful now.