stig·ma /ˈstiɡmə/ —from the Greek, a mark made with a pointed instrument.
I’ve been thinking about the ways in which people stigmatize people with mental illnesses a lot in the past few days. This is not because the idea got stuck on the Mobius Strip in my brain, and I can’t let go of it. Eh, who am I kidding? Of course that’s that reason. But at least I had a couple good catalysts.
First of all, a friend of mine in San Antonio was going on a Walkathon for NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a group dedicated to fighting the stigma of mental illness. She’s a good person, and it was heartening to learn she was doing this.
The second reason was a flood of pictures on Facebook from a former friend’s birthday party. Each time a picture of a current beloved friend embracing this ex-friend came down my feed, and before I could delete it, I wanted to scream, “How could you betray me? Don’t you know how awful this [person]* was to me? I see your embrace of him as a rejection of me.” Then I would jump up and down, pointing and screaming at the computer, “J’accuse! J’accuse!”
[*Trust me, I came up with some pretty good, really descriptive, devastatingly cutting epithets for this person, but upon editing they all seemed as petty as him. So, I just reduced him to generic “person.” Trust me, if I could find something more boring I would.]
Luckily, I had the wherewithal all Sunday afternoon to practice my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While the immediate response going through my head may be that these friends of mine must obviously hate me as much as this [person] hates on me, the more rational response is that people like a party; that they don’t know how this [person] rejected me overnight in the coldest manner possible; and that people can’t be expected to take my warped and crushed feelings into account every time they pose for a picture.
Yet, the stigma of people being assholes towards the mentally ill is not the most insidious kind of stigma. Trust me, I could write volumes on how this [person] (and his boyfriend) erased me from their lives because they thought a coping mechanism of mine –when stressed I find a quiet place to shadow box a wall, a very private action –was directed at them. Or I could write about how another ex-friend –God, I so want to name names here –shut me out of his life after I called him on the phone looking for a friendly voice to talk to during a period of heavy stress, saying that the had to cut me off because he was worried I was too much of a suicide risk. Or, heck, I could talk about the guy a bar last week who, after asking why I was wearing long pants on a warm night, got flustered when I answered him honestly: “My cargo shorts were covered in deadly Cheetos dust.”
“I don’t know how to respond to that,” he said as he backed away like I was stroking a king cobra.
No, the worst stigmatizers are the ones who think they are helping you. Continue reading