This post originally appeared at Strangely Diabetic on May 22, 2012 as part of Mental Health Awareness Month
Since I have written so heavily about my own battle with depression
and going through therapy for the last 6 months or so, you’d think I’d
have plenty to say about mental health during Mental Health Awareness
I do and it all revolves around a single word: Stigma
What a word. I was going to add the definition here, but then I noticed the synonyms listed
Now that list seems to cover it so much better than a somewhat sterile dictionary definition.
I’m disgraced, blemished, blamed, stained and tainted for having a
mental illness. Hell, I’m often all those because I have diabetes.
People with invisible illnesses just don’t “look sick enough” to have special needs or requirements.
How many of you have reading this have felt that way or thought that
about someone else? I know I have. That feeling, it goes through our
minds and we have no idea where it comes from.
The stereotypes about various things in our societies often form the
basis for what we “know” about some occurrence or some condition.
We have to deal with those stereotypes on a daily basis. “If you’d quit feeling so sorry for yourself, you’d see that this depression crap is just you needing to man up” or “You gave yourself diabetes by living a bad lifestyle, so too bad – shut up and just deal with it”.
It gets really fun when you keep hearing that from the media or in
the doctors office or even from family members. Their perception of your
reality has been formed by the stereotypes.
It’s hard at times trying to be an advocate for conditions with
stigmas associated with them. It’s hard at times making sure your
“stigmatized” conditions are being treated properly. And it’s hard to
admit you are affected by one… sometimes you can’t even admit it to
All because of a little word: Stigma. How did these five letters get so much power over us? Why do we let them have such power?
And if we are going to address these things we often have to be
engaged, empowered, and educated in doing it. We have to strip the
power we give that word away. In short, we have to own our conditions
no matter whose “fault” they are. If we don’t, then the stereotypes
persist and stigmas prevail.
That’s easy to say and oh so hard to do. It’s a lot of work dealing
with things that we just may not want to deal with. My blog is about
diabetes and depression. Statistics aside, it is something that I and
many others deal with. There have been a lot of blog entries recently
about depression and diabetes, I’m proud of the people who have posted
them. If you’ve merely read, I’m proud of you too. It’s not an easy
topic to think about or deal with.
An e-patient brings a lot of things to the table and when working
with a doctor willing to embrace that, the outcomes can be phenomenal. A
diabetic, in particular a Type 1, is almost an e-patient by the simple
fact of the diagnosis.
Your doctor can not successfully help you set up a care plan with out
the knowledge you bring with you. I’m not talking about meter readings
and carb ratios, I’m talking about the “intangibles”. The things that
only you may know because it happens to you. It doesn’t happen to the
doctor. You have the real-life, real-world experience needed to
complete the plan best suited for your needs. You don’t need some
cookie-cutter plan, you need one tailored to your lifestyle, ethos and
you have to be an active part of creating that plan.
If you thought there were stigmas associated with diabetes, throw
depression, a mental illness, into the mix. Advocacy for it is can be
risky, I may have put so much out there on the web that I may never find
another job if I needed to.
Again you have to be involved. Yes this medication works but the
side effects are brutal. No, this one doesn’t work at all. Talk
therapy is even more participative. It’s a lot of hard, uncomfortable
work talking about things that you don’t want to talk about. Things that
need to change. Change, that’s a scary word because it brings a sense
of the unknown.
So for all those who advocate for yourself and for others, those
people who are willing to put it out there, I salute you. You have cut a
path and shown me that I can be an advocate as well, shown me that my
story, my voice is important. That all of our voices are important for
those who come behind us and that we are, hopefully, laying a foundation
for that next generation of advocates to build upon.
Stigma. Hmmm… it just doesn’t seem quite so powerful now.