Mental Health Stigma: My Story (Article 4 in the Stigma Series)

I get stigma on a very regular basis. This in turn severely limits, or even extinguishes, the support that I need. I’ve learned most people are not even aware when they’ve said something hurtful, damaging, or founded solely on falsehoods. People assume there is enough information in their own uneducated logic to form an accurate picture.

I Didn’t Ask to Have a Mental Illness 
This is the path that I have been given in my life. I know that it is helping me grow in strength, character, and closer to Jesus daily. For that, it is worth it. Plus, I get the blessing of knowing God will use it, and me, for good things; providing that I keep Him at the center of my everything. Nothing I have done or have learned in my life has taught me how to choose these disorders. 

Of all the myths, being told “You’re in a pity party”, “Just look on the bright side”, or “You need to learn to count your blessings. Focus on Jesus” are what other people have said to me the most; or maybe those are just the things that hurt the most. What I hear from that attitude is I am invisible, a failure, unimportant, broken, unloved, and weak. It means I have not been heard. As such, I feel as though my feelings don’t matter. 

Getting and giving support with family and friends is essential. However, some of the most harmful things that have sent me into major back steps in my journey have come from advice from friends. I know this is not their intention; their hearts just want to help me, but it absolutely has not replaced therapy in my life. Even some, who could offer more educated advice have triggered psychological breakdowns. Recovering and repairing the damage done in episodes is difficult and time consuming; if it is even possible to restore.

They Just Don’t Understand Bipolar Disorder 
In a psychotherapy session one day, I told my doctor about three occasions when friends I believed I could confide in without being judged told me I was in a “pity party”, “Carley, you are over reacting” and “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” 

Doc’s response was “That is proof that they do not understand Bipolar Disorder.”
The symptoms I have are consistent with those known to be a part of these health issues I have been diagnosed with. I have physical and psychological issues. They are indeed real, and I have experienced many of them years before I knew I had a specific disorder. 

When my thoughts are racing, focusing on any one thing is impossible. When people say negative things to me, I think “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel wrong things? Why can’t I control my emotions like they do?” That line of thinking can get out of control and send me into a depressive episode; whereas without a stigma-based comment it may not have happened. Outside of a depression period, my thoughts never stop racing; ever. The only questions are “How fast is it going today? Am I ‘driving’ the speed limit on city streets or am I racing over the limit down the highway?”

Overreacting Can’t Be Helped 
The other symptom that tends to bring on a lot of stigma is sensory overload. To live inside the experience that all one’s senses are in overdrive all at the same time; feels tingly, panic, energetic, overpowering, scary, and wonderful. Whether an experience is good or bad, I experience it BIG. The reaction that I have is bigger than others without BPD would have. 

This has caused some huge riffs in my relationships. It has even damaged some in a way that cannot be fixed; without God’s divine intervention. I can get very upset over something that really doesn’t deserve a reaction so extreme. People often do not understand why I am over reacting. When I need more from them than they are willing or capable of giving, they pull away from me. Explaining what is actually happening to me and why it’s happening doesn’t help. 

Those who insist that we are over reacting to a situation could possibly be right. It may not be as big of a deal as we think. However, that doesn’t change the experience we are living; and it certainly doesn’t change the fact that our brain is not functioning properly. Though we wish we could ‘will ourselves well’ and be normal we cannot do that. The experience we are living is not the same as the one others involved in the same circumstances. We can’t not over react. We are reacting equally in size to the situation we are living. If I can offer any advice to those who want to do something to help BPD sufferers, it would be to remember this. 

Stigma Becomes Self-Stigma 
How long stigma has kept me from being properly diagnosed I will never know. What I do know is, it was way too long; I truly believed that if I went to the hospital I would never again be in touch with reality, see the light of day or have any possibility of having a productive life ever again. The scary-movie scene in my mind kept me from getting treatment for many years. Not only am I fighting mental health issues, among other struggles of life, but I have to battle the stigma all around me, including within myself.

I Am Worthy & So Are You 
Treatments, therapy, medications are vital tools to helping us resume a healthy productive lives. We are blessed to be in an age and society where these things are available to us. It is a shame that they have become the symbol of failure. The illnesses themselves are not caused by personality defects. I believe, in addition to the known biological causes that these disorders are in part, at least for some; from chemicals, preservatives, hormones, and artificial sweeteners in our over-processed food supply. 

I believe it is my responsibility to be open and talk about my mental health problems, to help end the stigma. I do not try to hide it because it is not something to be embarrassed about, despite the attitude of a large percentage of society. Does it make my life harder? Absolutely! A Cancer patient would not be embarrassed to have to go for chemotherapy, just as a Diabetic would not be humiliated to have blood sugar levels out of whack. They may be scared, frustrated, angry, or any number of other emotions; but there is no need for shame. They did not ask for these health issues. Having a mental health disorder does not mean that I am broken, crazy or bad. I belong. It is not a choice, sin, crime, weakness, attitude problem, weak faith, or a character flaw. I am trustworthy, loveable, good enough, and worthy. Now, it’s time to teach everyone else that.

by Carley Cooper; Website:; Blogs: Worship Melodies and Tin Roof Sundae. Also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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