Tag Archives: stigma

Stigma… But not the kind you’re thinking of.

I experience mental health stigma most days.

I’m berated for my weakness when I’m exhausted after another sleepless night.

I’m ridiculed because my chronic tiredness sends me to bed at 10pm most of the time.

I’m told to “snap out of it” when I can feel myself falling into the darkest parts of my mind.

When I’m most desperate for an understanding ear and open arms, I’m greeted with a sneer.

When I’m laid low under the weight of the depression that has been an unwelcome guest in my life for nearly a decade; I’m called pathetic and crazy.

Once the pressure eases and the exhaustion recedes, I’m reminded that I’m not really strong enough to meet life face on.

Perhaps I should just give up, give people a break from my neediness.

The voice that repeats these things is loud and stubborn and I can’t get away from it.

Why?

The accusatory voice is my own.

I spend my life fighting the stigma of mental illness in the church and in wider society, but perhaps the place I have experienced the most stigma, is in my own mind.

I cannot recall feeling as worthless and guilty because I had an asthma attack at work. It was unpleasant, yes, but it didn’t leave me wondering if I was capable of doing my job.

When it was a panic attack however, within moments I had convinced myself that I would get the sack because of my incompetence. Everything I have worked so hard for would come crashing down around me because I was clearly mentally unstable – my fiancé would leave me unable to cope with my madness and I would not be able to continue work or be a valuable member of society.

Unsurprisingly, these thoughts did little to ease my panic.

What I feel above all, is hypocritical.

I am not practising what I preach.

I am all too aware that I would never to speak to someone else the way I speak to myself.

The disdain and disappointment is reserved for my ears only.

Much of the advice surrounding depression revolves around the idea of self-care. Of nurturing the mind in the same way that one might nurture the flu-ridden body with box sets and kingsize tissues. The problem is, all too often people suffering with depression don’t feel able to provide themselves with the care they so desperately need.

We will work ourselves into the ground, just so that we can keep our heads above water; punish our bodies to make up for the equilibrium our minds lack.

There is a better way.

In all honesty, it’s a way which is harder too. It involves that little bit of fight, the reserve that we cling onto just in case all else fails.

It’s compassion.

It is, as it says in Philippians “Being transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Easy, eh?

In truth of course, it is far harder than it sounds. It involves holding the thoughts that ensnare us up to the light. It kind of reminds me of the bit in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where the Devil’s Snare begins to tangle itself around Harry and his friends and they don’t loosen their grip until the light forces them to shrivel and retreat, leaving them free.

When we hold our darkest and most painful thoughts up to the light – their power begins to recede.

Light, if we let it, transforms.

If, for example, I hold the thought: “I’m weak because I’m easily tired and have to go to bed early” to the light its power is easily stripped away.

Of course someone who doesn’t sleep is going to be tired; this is not indicative of weakness. Going to bed early is actually a sensible decision designed to make the best of a difficult and exhausting situation.

When you think about it, self-stigma makes about as much sense as any stigma… that is… it doesn’t make much sense!

We all have an internal dialogue, those thoughts which may berate us for scoffing that last biscuit or sigh inwardly at another train delay.

We can rarely help the thoughts we have, but we can hold them up to the light and not allow them to dictate our worth or wellness.

How Can We #HoldOutHope? World Suicide Prevention Day 2015.

For some, suicide crashes into their lives without warning, it tornadoes through families leaving a painful wreckage in its’ wake.

For others, suicide is insidious. It’s the flash of a thought, the ache for an end to the pain.

For still more, suicide is a reminder of the guilt and despair that lingers after a suicide attempt.

Some of the pain experienced in life can be sympathised with; the loss of a loved one, or the diagnosis of a critical illness, but all too often, people touched by suicide aren’t sympathised with.

The man who’s desperately trying to hold on, but unable to escape the the suicidal thoughts which assault him every day.

The teenager whose life ended too soon, whose family are trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of a new normality without them.

The woman in her hospital bed, trying to come to terms with the scars her arms now bear and the reality that she tried to take her own life, her family at home, wondering what went wrong.

In the face of the darkest parts of the human mind; how can we respond?

 

 

Whatever feelings may be at the forefront of our own hearts and minds; hurt, anger, shame (and these are important and valid and must be cared for) the response has to be one of compassion.

Compassion, reaching out to share in the person’s pain can bring hope in the most tangible of ways.

Compassion is what the angel who nourished Elijah on Mount Horeb and it was what empowered Paul as he spoke to his desperate jailer. It doesn’t just speak trite words of sympathy, it’s the gut wrenching cry for someone else’s pain.

It’s an expression of love – and it’s a beacon of hope.

So in whichever way you face suicide, whether personally or professionally; respond with compassion. It can be the brightest light to get someone through their darkest night.

#DontCallMeCrazy

I’ve just finished watching BBCThree’s “Don’t Call Me Crazy”, a documentary looking at the inside of one of the few adolescent psychiatric units in the country. 

My reactions were numerous, but the main, resounding one was the same one I get every time I set foot on a mental health unit. 

“We’ve got to shine in here”

They are dark places. There is little that can be done about the fact that they are places characterised by the fear and suffering of those who inhabit them. 

But there is so much to be done about our attitudes towards them. So much to be done to get the light and unfailing hope we have in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into these wards. 

I’m not talking about a fluffy christian ‘joy’ which ignores the pain and suffering.

I’m talking about the hope and comfort found as Thomas the disciple touched the scars on Jesus’ palms.

I’m talking about the wonder of the men on their journey to Emmaus who thought hope had died. 

The driving force behind  ThinkTwice began on a very dark night of the soul on a psychiatric ward. I never want to forget that, and I never want that to cease being part of my motivation. Because that cry for light in the darkness changed everything. 

The bravery of the young people who agreed to be part of the documentary, and spoke so eloquently of their daily battles are an inspiration. I hope that one day, documentaries such as this won’t be necessary, because there won’t be a stigma. The ethics of showing the acute suffering of some so young is a topic for another day because today – I think our focus should be on how we help. 

You might offer to get the shopping, or feed the dog for a friend with a broken leg – what about doing the same for someone with mental illness?

My heart breaks for those broken my mental illness – not just those with a diagnosis – but those who struggle to navigate another’s darkness often with little or no support themselves. 

Let’s break the silence.

For the sufferers and for those who suffer alongside them.