The nurse handed me the scrubs and we waited for the doctor to appear in the curtained cubical to address the hives, covering most of my body, from my Chronic Urticaria. That’s when the psych scrubs came into play. She saw my mental illness diagnosis and never saw me. These were the “mental health” scrubs they use to tell us apart from patients with other illnesses. I just put them on without argument.
The doctor came and, confused, asked who put me in the scrubs and I told him. He spoke to the nurse outside the curtain:
Dr.: Why is she in psych scrubs?
Nurse: She has Bipolar.
Dr.: She has HIVES.
I could have given him a wet sloppy kiss right there in the ER. He gets it; he saw me and not my diagnosis. I had gotten used to just rolling over when treated as if I had “The Crazy”. I've learned that, with some medical or psych workers, if you disagree, you are labeled combative. If you smile too much, you are labeled manic; if you are too stoic they say you are depressed. If you feel your meds aren’t working, you are medication seeking. The medical doctor often gets as far as psychiatric diagnosisx and stops right there...you're headache has just been attributed to your mental illness diagnosis. Your hives have become a stress reaction from some episode or flare up of your mental illness. They no longer see you but a label shaped like a human being. My opinions don’t matter, because, you know I'm loopy and have “The Crazy”. I may have “The Crazy” but I'm not an imbecile, I know when I’m being patronized and when someone is condescending.
When I got my diagnosis years ago, I cried for a long time. I didn't want to have “The Crazy”. I didn't want to be “defective”.I didn't want to have to tell people. The label and stereotype of people with Bipolar Disorder was too appalling to my delicate sensibilities...as if I had any. I refused medicine for fifteen years. Without telling anyone how badly I felt, or how scared I felt, I suffered through it because I had been told that my kids would be taken away by the state if they know I have a mental illness.
Then I found out...it is NOT illegal to have a mental illness and have children.
Then I realized...it's not immoral to have a mental illness.
Then I discovered it's biochemical, not a choice.
Then I learned if I need medication to help my disorder, I am not an addict.
I began to see my disorder like my other labels. Such as Mom, Sister, red cheeks, blue eyes...it was simply a description of one facet of me. It was not all of me. Then "outing" myself began slowly and steadily.
Research. Tons of research later, I realized, I don't have to feed into the cycle of stigma. I don't have buy anything that someone was trying to sell me about myself or other people with a psych diagnosis. Becoming knowledgeable about my own illness as well as other diagnosis and medication made me a formidable advocate for myself. Some times we have a less than stellar support network so no one can advocate for us. We have to do it ourselves. Over time, others diagnosed with our illnesses will have it be a natural movement to stand up for themselves because we paved a way for them to do so. I look at my youngest who is also diagnosed with bipolar and want her to be part of a new generation who doesn’t have to work to explain, or prove the need for medication. Someone who doesn't have to evangelize the fact that it's a real medical issue. To be able to just know we aren’t “broken” or have to convince the public of the same.
Today, I am all of me. Most people I know or are close to me are aware of my disorder. I blog about the good, bad, ugly about “The Crazy”...and how much humor about mental illness can reach out to someone or help someone not feel so alone, so shamed or unique. It allows us much needed relief and shows others that being diagnosed doesn't mean our lives have to be covered by a secret. We need each other because stigma and stereotyping is at is worst when we believe it.
HealthyPlace is having a new "Stand Up for Mental Health" campaign about the effect of stigma in our lives, and how it has affected us , and in what way have we personally stood up against stigmas and false beliefs about Mental Illness. This is really important because hiding it makes for a lonely life and not getting the proper treatment.
Please stop by and support this great cause and campaign.
I'm the mother of three children. Two are adults, Shawn and Sammie, and one, Elizabeth, who likes to think she is, but isn't yet. I am a mostly self taught artist, psuedo-writer of two blogs, Losing it...(in SO many ways) and Excitable Gurelle- The Queen of Bipolar. Both Elizabeth and myself are diagnosed with Bipolar and PTSD. She was diagnosed at 10 during a crisis but has always...and I do mean always...marched to her own drummer. She is my contrast kid; all emotions can be present in a day, or in a moment. My parental skills have been stretched and made to be creative living with her and I am grateful for it.