Tag Archives: Stigma Fighters

Coming out

A bad thing happened in October and I’m not ready to write about it yet, but people who have been paying attention will notice that right about the time that I really went off the deep end. (Well, this time around, anyway.)

I have pared my daily life down to the most basic the most and essential life functions because SURVIVAL. I just need to get by. Do my job. Take care of my kid. Sleep. The other stuff will either wait or it won’t get done or it will get frustrated and scream for attention. As the latter has occurred more than once, I’ve been dolling out quite a few explanations and apologies lately:

“I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can.”

“It isn’t that I don’t want to do X, I just haven’t had the time/energy/attention span.”

“Give me time. Please. I’ll get better. I’m doing the best I can.”

Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.
Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.

This Button Poetry video showed up in my Facebook feed. In it, Sabrina Benaim eloquent and powerfully explains to her mother what depression looks and feels like from the inside.  Thank you for those stirring words and images, Ms. Benaim. As I’m sure you could tell from the reactions in the audience, you accurately voiced the feelings of many.

From to her explanation of depression as miniscule and managable one day, then as massive and brutalizing as a bear the next, to her characterization of anxiety as an unwelcome party guest — Sabrina brings it home. After watching that video, I felt like giving her a slow clap.

I grew up in the 90's. I know of few higher commendations.
I grew up in the 90’s. I know of few higher commendations.

Because, you see, my happiness is also a high fever that will ultimately break. That is what mania is. So when someone says to me, “I just don’t know if I really believe that you actually have bipolar disorder — I’ve never really seen you be manic.” What am I supposed to say? Observe: My illness is not so much roller-coaster as it is pendulum, swinging from side to side, and so we shall go from the light side to the dark, and while you will certainly recognize the dark days for what they truly are, you will mistake the light days for health and wellness because you don’t see that I am actually sailing into the Sun. Proof? Really, you need evidence? Ok, here you go, flip through these snapshots of me over the past ten years — I like to call it the “Watch Sarah Gain and Lose and Gain 100 Pounds” Show.

Mania, you fatty bitch.
Mania, you fatty bitch.

If I’m not proving I’m sick, I’m defending my right to self-care: “You know, I feel like our relationship has been really one-sided lately.” You’re right. It has. Because even though I love you and I care about you as a person, right now my head is one big snarly black mess of fluff and lint, and I can’t seem to keep arbitrary things like dates, appointments, or birthdays straight. I love you, but I don’t want to go out –because I don’t want to have fun when having fun just isn’t fun anymore. I just want to sleep and make sure that there is enough energy left in my reserves to properly take care of my child because if anyone is going to be short-changed it sure as shit isn’t going to be her.  It might have to be you. I’m sorry. I love you. I am doing my best. Can you hang on until it gets better? If you can’t that’s okay! Here: have an out: You can hang on until it gets better or you can plead self-preservation in your own right and leave for a while. I won’t be upset. I wouldn’t blame you. You wouldn’t be the first.

I feel like explaining my depression is something like what my non-heteronormative friends tell me about coming out: it isn’t a one-time traumatic release. “Oh thank God, I got that off my chest!” Nope! It’s over, and over, and over, and over. And each time, depending on who I’m “coming out” to, a host of new fears come to the party: will this effect my job? My reputation? Will I lose her as a friend, a colleague? Have I said too much? Is she still going to like me, respect me, want to be around me? Have I frightened her? Overwhelmed her? Will she now turn tail and run?

After a certain point, this whole blog became a calculated risk — people that I know in REAL LIFE read this and will now know me differently! Even if they never bring it up, they have seen behind the mask. My entire adult life I have heard comments like, “You have anxiety? Well, I never would have guessed!” or “You carry yourself with such poise. I had no idea you suffered from depression the way you do.” I am letting that go up in smoke, because I’m willfully telling you: Yes, I am a mess. Yes, I have these disorders. No more compartmentalization and no more hiding. Even if I didn’t know it at the time of inception, that was the mission behind starting the Real Sarah C Project.

But here’s the thing — I fooled you.

For a little while, at least, I fooled you, and now perhaps you will sit back and wonder how many other people in your life are functioning with some form of mental illness — 1 in 5 adults, according to this study — so chances are you know someone. You might even be that someone. And when you consider the masses of individuals coming out and embracing their own non-nueronormativity and fighting to dismantle the systemic stigmatization surrounding mental illness and other disorders, it is plain to see: we are just not as isolated, as powerless, or as dysfunctional as our faulty wiring would have us believe. Perhaps some days, it’s all we can do just to function and to survive, but every so often, we’ll shine.

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A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

Writing through the fear

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If I weren’t afraid, what would I write about?

Creative people sacrifice a great deal of themselves for their craft. It takes a lot of energy and confidence to take an idea, put your force of will behind it, give it lift, give it traction, and make it a reality. And sometimes we don’t have the freedom to tell our stories as we see fit. After all, we aren’t the only characters in our tales — there were other people there, too. Perhaps the artist doesn’t feel the need for self-preservation, but their loved ones do. How will they feel about their story being told alongside yours? I’ve struggled with this often.

We want to fight against the institution of stigma, but have to confront that the wardens of that institution are often those people who profess to love us the most: mothers, fathers, siblings, or friends. Perhaps their unconditional love and support doesn’t cover our attempts to feed our souls through our creativity. To surrender ourselves to living in silence or conducting part of our journey in secret protects their feelings, but also relegates us to living a half-life, unactualized and bifurcated by fear: truth on one side, peace-keeping on the other.

It’s important to recognize just how much power you give to others and if they are using it responsibly. There are those emotional tyrants who would rather you continue to live on the fringes, just so they can save face. They have robbed you of the rights to your own story, merely because they played a part in it and are ashamed of their conduct. And because you are caring, self-sacrificing, and willing, you will allow them to dictate how you live your life and what stories you will tell.

I have been in some abusive relationships. The militant part of me has welled up with righteous anger and the need to strike back, but I have always held myself back. I don’t want to hurt or offend with my writing — I write to feed my soul, and no nourishment is found in words that harm. But it’s more than that — I hold back because my love for these tyrants, regardless of their warped thinking, asks me to be kind. Asks me to put their need for under-rug-swept before my need for transparency. I think that most victims of emotional abuse, even physical abuse, face a similar quandary: how to do free yourself from the stigma of illness and abuse when doing so would harm your abuser, whom you love?

If I were unafraid, what stories would I tell?

All of them.


The quote pictured above was taken from author, Rachel Thompson, from a Facebook status made in June 2014. I invite you to check out more from Rachel here and here.