One of the most misunderstood illnesses is mental illness. It’s an illness you can’t see. Television comedies make fun of it, and the news programs point it out whenever mass killings take place. Years of stigma have accumulated when we discuss mental illness. It’s hard to see an illness of the mind as a serious illness, and it’s often associated with people who are dangerous or eccentric. Because of misunderstanding and stigma, many who struggle with mental illness go untreated because they fear they will be judged.
Years ago, when I came home to my ex-boyfriend and found he had packed my things “he couldn’t handle me anymore,” I put my hand through a window. He called his mom who then sat at my side, rubbing my back, and telling me if I had treated her son better, he wouldn’t have kicked me out. I was bleeding and crying uncontrollably, and yet he didn’t call my parents until I was taken to the hospital.
At the hospital the doctor asked if he needed to numb me while he stitched up my hand since I was a self-injurer. He assumed I liked pain. He had no idea what self-injury is. I didn’t injure because I liked pain. I injured because the pain on my body relieved the pain in my soul. It was am unhealthy coping technique and a cry for help.
When my parents finally came, I cried and pleaded, “Don’t put me in the looney bin. I’m not crazy.”
I was misinformed by stigma and television. Many refer to the mental health hospital as the looney bin when it is a hospital that treats people with serious mental health problems. No hospital is a fun place to go to, but they are necessary to treat illnesses. Without doctors, nurses, and in mental health hospitals psychiatrists, many patients would suffer and die without proper treatment. Patients in the mental health hospital are not crazy; they are sick. It took me some time to realize that the hospital was where I needed to go to start on the road to recovery.
I took several months off while working on my recovery. My mom helped me investigate places for counseling after the hospital. I had moved back home with my parents in another state. I was just on leave from work and still had health insurance. The common problem I faced was that many felt that I would never return to work, and I would not have health insurance that would cover the costs of my treatment. I finally had to use my sister’s address to join a therapy group paid through by the state. My sister lived in the state. Then my therapist filled out paperwork for me to go on social security disability. She insisted that a person with mental illness could not work. I told her I was going back to work, and I ripped up the paperwork.
After several months off I finally returned to work, but in a different department. It was leaked by another employee I was a self-injurer. I was put in the bakery department and the employees asked me if I were safe to use knives. Then each time I got a paper cut they asked me if I did it on purpose.
One day I made a mistake on a cake order. The manager gave me a long, angry lecture. I went in the back, squatted, and cried. I had a closed box cutter in my hand because I was using it before I got in trouble. I was taken by a manager to an office and was locked in there and forced to talk to a mental health crisis worker by phone. The managers assumed I had injured myself when I did not. When I took it to the union, we met with the store manager, and he said because I had mental illness managers could do what they wanted. They thought I was a danger to the employees and customers. The union did little to defend me and I was labeled dangerous.
What they did not know was most with mental illness are only dangerous to themselves. I never hurt anyone but myself. No matter how many times I tried to educate my bakery manager on self-injury, she refused to listen. Self-injurers hurt themselves in a private place like in their bedrooms or bathrooms. They hide their injuries because they fear what others would think or say. Self-injury is a very private thing. The only time an injurer would do it in public or tell someone is if he or she were desperately calling out for help.
My illness was misunderstood by my fellow employees, my manager, and the store manager. They judged me based on their own lack of knowledge and stigma. I was treated unfairly, and for reasons like this many struggle in silence. There are a lot of people struggling with mental illness who are afraid to ask for help because they fear they will be judged and misunderstood. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, they shouldn’t fear being judged, but they do. Our society needs to be educated about mental illness and stigma needs to be dispelled. Look around you, how many of your friends, family, and co-workers are suffering alone because they fear how they will be treated?
It wasn’t until I started writing this blog that I learned of several people who had been struggling with mental illness alone. Some of their families won’t speak to them because they just can’t comprehend an illness of the mind. No one should be afraid to ask for help. Educating the public about mental illness begins with us, those who have fought the fight and those who are fighting it. We need to tell the world the truth and we need to educate people about this greatly misunderstood illness. It’s our job to fight stigma and pave the wave for those who need help but are afraid. We are humans with a serious illness that in most case can be treated. Many of us can live productive lives with proper treatment.
I educate people with this blog. If you have a story to tell and are comfortable at writing it, let me know and I will help tell your story though this blog. Because I write this blog, I am bringing understanding and fighting stigma one person at a time. Writing my story helps me stand proudly in the light of recovery.