Project I am Not Ashamed

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If you have a mental illness, you know stigma. There’s stigma in the shame you feel if you say you have a mental illness. There’s stigma in the way people react if you say you have a mental illness. There’s stigma in the way mental health coverage is still something that needs to be fought for. There’s stigma in the way people blame you for your illness as no one would ever blame you for any other illness. When people with mental illness are blamed for every bad thing we can’t do anything about, you know there’s stigma.

We know a lot now about how to overcome stigma. We can see the way people who are gay, for instance, once stigmatized, are now more accepted. When I was a kid I thought homosexual people were strange and unnatural. I didn’t think I knew any. As I got older, and Gay people came out of the closet, I recognized homosexuality was really quite common. I knew dozens and, in knowing this about them, I discovered they weren’t strange or unnatural at all.

The same thing could happen with mental illness if mental illness came out of the closet, if the people who were mentally ill could be brave enough to say, this is a part of me. Then we could see how common mental illness is. We would see that people with mental illness are not raving lunatics, or scary gun-toting maniacs, but ordinary people with struggles. What person doesn’t have struggles? This is just a particular kind.

It is not my job to out anyone, nor is it to reassure you if you are afraid to out yourself. It’s a brave, brave thing to come out of the closet. It some circumstances, it may be dangerous and foolhardy. It may actually be crazy to say you’re crazy. But, for some people, it may be the right thing to do and the only way they can overcome their own shame and self-loathing.

That, apparently, is the case for Ross, a 38-year-old mental health advocate with Borderline Personality Disorder. Ross has come out of the closet to some extent (we, on the web, don’t know his last name). He has a plan to end stigma. Here’s his plan:

On Saturday, August 18th, 2018, we will go to the streets of our own community for 4 hours with a sign that simply reads “I have (your mental illness) and I am not ashamed. Break the Stigma #ProjectIAmNotAshamed.”

This is unquestionably the right thing to do for our society, but you’ll have to answer for yourself whether it’s the right thing to do for you. If you would lose your job, custody of your kids, or suffer any of a hundred other consequences of coming out of the closet, then please don’t do it. Other’s can blaze this trail. But, if the only thing that stopping you is fear or shame, then consider setting that fear and shame aside for a few hours on August 18th. It’ll be good for you.

If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis, but care about those who do, you can help, too. In the same way that family and friends helped to fight the stigma of homosexuality  by admitting they were connected, you too can come out of the closet. Just don’t violate the privacy of the person you’re trying to support.

As Ross says:

This event is not limited to those with mental illness. If you are not afflicted, your sign can read “I am a supporter of those with mental illness and I am not ashamed.”

For more information, go to Project I am Not Ashamed

 

Cleaning the Closet

Old Posts

We are certain to encounter the past.

We are confronted with it if we go back to the old homestead, step in through our childhood door, and walk into our early days. We face it if we unpack memories along with the ornaments for the Christmas tree. Either we choose to spend time the past, or it is guaranteed to call on us. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Specialize in Anything

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I could’ve had a specialty. I did some post grad work in family therapy and some more in substance abuse. I sought for ways to address the desire my clients had to quit using tobacco back in the days when few others were doing so. I ran therapy groups for sex offenders. For almost twenty years I had a caseload full of victims of trauma, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. I sought clients with borderline personality disorder, when most thought they were untreatable. I could have specialized in any one of these conditions and turned away clients without them, but I’ve always resisted specializing in anything.

This is why. Continue reading

The Gumbo of Grief

Old PostsThese days, no one can shed a tear without someone mentioning the five stages of grief. I’m convinced that when people sit with the bereft, they bring up the stages just so that they can have something to say. Anything is better than the delusional denial, the bitter anger, the useless bargains, the hopeless dejection, and the maudlin acceptance that grievers come up with. Anything is better than the silence of the dead. Continue reading

The ACE Study

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It makes no sense, but one of the most remarkable and important findings in recent psychological research hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves and still has not had much impact on the practice of psychotherapy. I’m talking about the ACE Study.

In the 1990’s, the CDC and the health care giant, Kaiser Permanente, teamed up to recruit more than 17,000 adult research subjects, who filled out a short questionnaire, asking about their adverse childhood experiences. That’s what ACE stands for: adverse childhood experiences. They then compared their answers to a list of common ailments. They found a very strong correlation between the degree of adverse childhood experiences and a decline in both physical and mental health for the person later in life. Continue reading

Living with Stress

workshop_6933-1_edited-1You’re not supposed to choose to have stress, but many people do, for good reasons and bad. For many, very many, stress is an acceptable price they pay for values they hold dear.

I’ve known people who are so dead set against having stress that they don’t try anything new because it’ll make them nervous, they don’t go anywhere because people might look at them funny; they continue smoking cigarettes because they’ll feel like crap if they quit; or they don’t get attached to anything because, when they lose it, they’ll grieve. For a while, sometimes a long while, they are gloriously stress free. It looks as though they’re doing well. They don’t give their families any trouble. They are not spending their days in misery.

The problem is that their lives are getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. The day will come when they see the price they paid to be stress free and, guess what? They’ll fall into despair. They will have dug themselves a fox hole so deep, they can’t get out of it.

Contrast that to the person who works so hard at his job that he drives himself into the ground, not eating, not sleeping, not even caring how he feels as long as he meets his objectives. He doesn’t want to destroy his health, but he accepts it because he’s doing something important. Compare it to the wife who sticks with an alcoholic, abusive husband, determined to bring him around to fulfill the promise she sees in him. She may prefer not to be hurt, but she will accept being hurt if it means that she is good. Or look at the performer who endures stage fright before each show. It’s no fun puking up your guts in the dressing room, but the applause makes it worth it. There are people, plenty of people, who do hard things. When you do hard things, you get stress, because there’s only so much a person can take. It’s the cost of doing what is difficult, if not impossible.

Those people might come to see a therapist, too; hoping to alleviate their stress. But their stress isn’t going anywhere because they won’t do what they have to do to get rid of it: quit trying to do what is difficult. The won’t quit doing what’s difficult because only the difficult really matters. This is how they make their lives mean something.

When they put it that way, I don’t blame them.

The moral of the story is that you can put up with anything, even stress, as long as it’s meaningful. Additionally, if you are putting up with stress, it had better be.