Working to end the stigma and discrimination of mental illness.

Jan’s Story

Mental illness is just that: Illness. We often forget that. There is always suffering with pain, but with the type of anguish that mental illness brings, pain takes on a sometimes more sinister feeling. I might suffer some pain if I break my leg, but it will eventually heal and I will walk again without agony. It’s not the same with those of us with “broken” brains. Our brains frequently try to kill us. Our brains tell us messages that are hurtful and scary; or they tell us things that are ridiculous and fabulous, designed to make us behave outlandishly or insanely. We can’t heal our brains and we can’t replace them with new ones. We’re stuck with them. Our illness doesn’t garner the sympathy that diabetes or cancer or leukemia brings in, yet our illness is as fatal as those listed. Once we are given the diagnosis of a mental illness, we are stigmatized. Even in this enlightened day and age, there are adverse reactions to the words “mentally ill”.

I was once on a city bus, listening to a man and a woman discussing their battles with certain ailments, almost relishing their stories of pain and discomfort, indifferent doctors and hospital stays. I thought about what their reactions would be should I chime in and say: “I remember this one time when I wanted to kill myself by jumping out a seven story window because my brain was telling me my life was worthless.” I knew my two-cents worth of input would cause them to recoil and move away from me. That is what mental illness is: A fearful condition to not only those who have it but to those who don’t.

I've lived with Bi-polar II/Depressive disorder for years. Most of my life. Almost all of my life. It was the albatross around my neck. It was the tie that bound me like a prisoner. It was the abusive marriage of insanity and self-medication that led me to finally hit bottom and seek help with addictions. I gave up alcohol and drugs, recovered from the effects of them, and went on to learn about my other illness.

Education wasn't enough. I learned about my mental illness, but it didn't prevent the illness from attacking me on occasion. My recent stay at a crisis stabilization unit is proof of that. I've had to battle suicidal thinking and ideation even into my middle-aged years. There is no rest for the weary.
I do not hide my illness from people, including employers. It's important that they know who and what they are dealing with, and it's important to me that people around me know what I have and what the symptoms exhibit. If I had diabetes, I'd certainly want my fellows to know how to respond to me when there is a crisis.

I bless those of you who work to erase the stigma of mental illness. I'm with you. I shall always be with you. I shall always be who I am.