Monday, October 14, 2013

Stigma is an Asshole

Oh boy do I have some stories I need to tell. Soon. Hopefully, I will have time soon.

Tonight I want to talk about stigma. Last week was Mental Illness Awareness Week. I didn't know about it though until mid-way through the week. Probably because I've been so busy the last two weeks dealing with my sons mental illness.

Is it considered irony, or just coincidence, that tonight I write about stigma, when two weeks ago I was afraid to post what was happening to us on Facebook because of the stigma?

Last week in the midst of Noah's mania and my worry that I wasn't doing enough to get him help, I knew I needed to blog. I gave it quite a bit of thought however. I decided it was okay to blog about it, but I wouldn't post it on Facebook. That way only my regular readers would see it.

I mean, you aren't really supposed to post things that aren't flowers and rainbows and unicorns or links to idiotic conservative sound bites on Facebook, right? I've received crap from family (extended) a few times about what I have shared about Noah. Because I keep it real and I guess that makes them uncomfortable.

So yes, I wasn't going to talk about his mania on Facebook. Even though that's not how I typically share our life.

I like to keep our life real. I'm not comfortable hiding the truth. Life is a balance of good and bad, so why wouldn't I share both parts?

But last week was more truth than I was sure it was socially acceptable to share.

Sure, if you are taking your kid to the ER for a broken arm or stitches, you can share away, and you'll get all kinds of comments offering prayer and healing thoughts, and concern. I mean you can relate to that right? What parent hasn't had to take their child to the ER at least once.

People don't really know what to say when you say you are calling the mental health crisis line or taking your child to the crazy people ER emergency psychiatrist. Most people can't relate to that. (I'm glad that's the case actually, I wouldn't wish this on any child or adult.)

I think I've discussed this before, and I'm not saying it again out of the same bitterness I once spoke of it (I've worked hard to move past that part of my life.),

When a child has cancer, or is born with life threatening physical defect or illness, friends and family tend to rally round. Offers of help come from all directions. Maybe someone organizes a fund raiser, or sets up a schedule to deliver meals, or help with child care. They do this because it is all too easy to imagine the same horrible thing happening to your own child. It's a visceral reaction. You can't help but put yourself in the shoes of that parent. And you give thanks to who or what you believe in, that it isn't your child.

But when mental illness strikes a family, it's uncomfortable. No one really knows what to say. Or you receive the offers of prayer and kind thoughts initially, but the expectation is that you won't bring it up again. It's too uncomfortable. Too messy. If it isn't happening to your child you can't relate. It scares you because you don't understand it. You don't want your children around it, even though you know it isn't contagious.

If only people could understand that mental illness is a disease of the brain in the same way cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease are diseases of the body. The only difference is that in many cases those diseases of the body can be cured, the diseases of the brain can be treated, but you don't necessarily cure bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. You hope you manage it.

Everything that is going on with Noah is in his brain. Not just the bipolar disorder.

So stigma.

Stigma isolates.
Stigma hides.
Stigma prevents some from getting care.
Stigma is an asshole.

So help remove the asshole.
Remove the stigma!

If your friend has a mental illness, be a shoulder for them. Give them a hug. Acknowledge their illness. Let them talk if they want to, don't belittle their illness. Offer them help in more concrete ways as well, help them catch up with laundry, or pick up their house, take them a meal. When you are fighting to control your own brain it doesn't leave much energy to do the normal day to day activities like house keeping. Take their kids for a couple hours so they can have some quiet time.

If you have a friend with a child with a mental illness do the same thing. But also consider how it is affecting their other children if they have them. Consider how exhausted that parent might be from fighting to get help for their child while parenting their child who very well could be quite difficult to raise. Take them a meal occasionally, or take the child out for a couple hours. (Noah would be thrilled to have someone take him out to shoot hoops or kick the soccer ball around. He holds it together better with other people, because he feels less safe to fall apart with them.) Or offer to babysit so the parents can go out. Too many marriages of parents with children of special needs fail. (Something like 85%. Rich and I aren't immune to the lousy stats either.)

When you have a child with an illness (physical or mental) it's a rough road. I don't need to tell anyone that. What makes it harder though is feeling like you have to hide one but not the other.

Stop the stigma. 



  1. Kris,you have helped so much today. You are so right that we dont understand. You express so well, that you should do it full time. We need you to walk us through because we havent been there. Always know, we might not know what to say or how to help, but we do CARE. It was helpful to have ways to help (hard from a distance). Mental has been hidden FOREVER. It will take a lot of education,and YOU blogging to all of us what it is to live with it. Feel the hug.

  2. LOVED this. We are in the midst of raising two young boys- 6 year old who spent the first 14 months of his life in an orphanage in china and a 4 year old who spent the first 24 months of his life in a russian orphanage. they are night and day, which we are reminded of daily as we help our youngest deal with anxiety, PTSD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD. So far. we hope there are no more intitials to follow.