Today is #BellLetsTalk day.
I know you all know that, but what most of you don’t know is that today, I’ve been struggling a lot with whether or not to make a post about my own experience with mental illness. Even as I write this, I find myself questioning whether or not I should, which is why until now, I’ve just been taking everything in today. So far, I’ve read a lot of stories from people – friends and strangers alike – and I’ve seen a lot of posts and tweets encouraging an open and honest dialogue about mental health.
Anyone who knows me knows that I believe in that.
I believe that it’s time for us to explore mental health in a new way, and it’s time to end the shame, and the fear, and the hurt that comes as a result of the stigma surrounding mental illness. This is why in years past, I’ve talked a lot about the fact that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks, and I’ve shared some of my own experiences with feeling depressed and, at times, suicidal. When I’ve done this, I’ve seen the tremendous outpouring of support that often comes on #BellLetsTalk day. I’ve had people tell me that I’m strong, and that I’m brave, and that they admire my willingness to speak openly about what life is like for me as a woman living with mental illness.
This year, though, I’m going to try something different, so here it goes:
Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I have a personality disorder.
Some of you know that already, but some of you don’t because I don’t spend as much time talking about that as I do talking about my anxiety. I don’t speak about that part of myself in the same way, because even on days like today, the reaction I get is usually very different than the outpouring of support I mentioned earlier.
That’s because we live in a world where people with personality disorders are characterized as violent, scary, manipulative, and bad. Even now, as our society begins to make some progress with respect to reducing the stigma around mental illness, we continue to prioritize some diagnoses over others, which is why folks like me often only feel comfortable sharing PARTS of ourselves on days like today.
So if you want to talk about mental health, and mental illness, and reducing the stigma, then do me a favour:
Let’s talk about how people with personality disorders are not inherently manipulative or selfish. Let’s talk about the fact that folks diagnosed with schizophrenia are far more likely to be the VICTIMS of violence than they are the perpetrators. Let’s talk about how OCD is about so much more than just “being super neat/clean.” Let’s talk about how asking someone who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder if they’ve “ever thought they could fly off a roof” is fucking rude and inappropriate. Let’s talk about dissociation, and about mania, and about psychosis, and all of the big, bad, scary things that SO MANY PEOPLE conveniently leave out on #BellLetsTalk day.
Let’s talk about how women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups are WAY more likely to struggle with mental illness – and YES, let’s talk about how men who do struggle are WAY less likely to come forward. Let’s talk about privilege, and about power, and about how much of that we all must POSSESS – myself included – in order to be able to come out and ID as mentally ill today. Let’s talk about ALL THE PEOPLE who are too afraid to claim the label because they feel like they shouldn’t or like they can’t. Let’s talk about how wrong it is to frame mental illness as something that needs to be “beat” as if those of us still struggling have somehow lost a battle.
I struggle every damn day, but I haven’t lost SHIT.
So if you want to talk, by all means, let’s fucking talk. But you better be willing to LISTEN, too, because I’ve got a lot more to say than just, “turn 😦 into :)”
– Stephanie, ECC