Stigma, The Power Of Words, And You

Calling it now- this will probably be one of my least popular posts.

A recent conversation in my comments section is the inspiration behind this post. Thank you Jenny for jarring this particular thought process for me.

Stigma is a major concern for a lot of people with Bipolar Disorder. There’s been many pushes for enlightenment and education to help combat the negativity associated with the Disorder and other mental illnesses. I’m not saying that these pushes aren’t useful. However, the idea that they are undertaken with the goal to eliminate stigma is insane. That’s completely unrealistic and will never happen. Look at any other body of ignorance for confirmation. Anti-Semitism is alive and well even after thousands of years.

Religion is far easier for the average person to understand than mental illness. I don’t believe you can really “understand” mental illness unless you live with it. Book learning and being the victim of a mentally ill person’s insanity give an entirely different body of knowledge than living with it as a 24-7 component of your being. How does anyone reasonably expect to impart that kind of understanding? I don’t think it can be done.

I know I have readers in other countries; so please bear with me through the following. The question that was posed to me after I stated everyone is entitled to an opinion was “when does open expression become discrimination?” The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights covers Freedom of Speech- which is being drastically whittled away at on a nearly constant basis. I’m of the belief that everyone should be entitled to express their opinion no matter how shitty or stupid.

The problem is- who gets to decide what is acceptable speech? Court cases are used as precedence to prove points in future cases. What’s going to happen in 20 years if we legislate appropriate speech? Anyone with whatever questionable motives would be able to point at that case as proof of their point. Granted, it is a worst case scenario; but it’s one that should NEVER be permitted a starting point.

So “when does open expression become discrimination”? It doesn’t. Let people think whatever stupid bullshit they want and work to prevent establishment in policies that prevent you from enjoying the rights and opportunities you would be entitled to without mental illness. (Within reason- I think that we can agree that not having Bipolar police or people with access to military firepower is a good idea.)

I realize that public perception can have greater impacts. I have also seen a number of occasions where people get upset over someone having an ignorant or contrary opinion. My question is- who cares? The world doesn’t give a shit about my or your feelings. It’s on each of us to manage our own feelings like adults instead of holding our collective breath and making everyone act in a way that’s right to us.

This point was especially clear when a recent news anchor made some flippant, offensive comment about Wiccans. Social media briefly blew up to demand an apology. The anchor made a half-assed, utterly unheartfelt apology in response. And then social media blew up again because he “didn’t mean it”. Well, no shit he didn’t mean it. When was the last time you were actually sorry when you were forced to apologize for anything? Pissed off Wiccans were essentially forcing this guy to lie to them to placate their feelings. Which, to me, completely devalues an apology at all. And people wonder why our society is so fake and shallow.

They’re just fucking words. They don’t mean anything on their own. Two examples come to immediate mind. How many women that you know of would be infuriated if I said cunt casually? Because I don’t care about that woman’s feelings and use cunt- does that make me a misogynist? What if I told you that I’ve never used the word in anger at a woman? Or that I am on at least speaking/friendly terms with all of my exes because I always tried to treat them with respect even when I was coming apart?

What about the word nigger? Would you think I was racist? Even though I have a deep respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and identify much of what he said to the same plight of the mentally ill? Even though Tupac Shakur is not only my favorite artist of all the music I listen to; but is also the primary inspiration of why I conduct myself in such a blunt and open manner?

But both words can create severe emotional reactions in the people that hear them. But who’s the one with the problem here? Are you going to let your entire emotional and mental state be dictated by one asshole with a dumbass opinion? That’s a hell of a lot of power to give to someone you may not or barely know.

If you want to combat stigma- look within. Arm yourself with truth and don’t let the people that would talk down to you lump you into that category. You are you. You’re not your Disorder, race, sex, or religion. So, some examples of how I’ve handled these things when they came up.

A person lists off a huge list of wrongs done to them by someone who was Bipolar- “I am sorry that you went through such a difficult time. I’m not that person though, I do everything I can to manage it. If I ever act like that to you, you have my express permission to punch me straight in the face.”

A person spouts off about how mentally ill people should keep it to themselves- “Yeah we generally do. NAMI estimates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans meets the criteria for mental illness in that they have an illness of the mind that prevents gainful activity in the areas required for living and maintaining relationships. We’re an invisible minority and society doesn’t see us until some psychopath shoots up a school. We’re all around you buddy. Always have been.”

Now there is an actual important side to the stigma battle. That is ensuring that asshats aren’t able to legislate discriminatory practices into binding law and companies aren’t able to use our illness against us. (Again, within reason- see Bipolar cop statement above) I personally feel that the most effective way to accomplish this is for as many of us nutjobs as possible to get behind and be supportive of the people in positions of power who identify with or understand our plight.

You will never see an openly Bipolar politician because the other side will use that as a focus of a smear campaign to destroy their credibility. However, there are plenty of (mostly) sane individuals who may have had loved ones or witnessed what mental illness does who are sympathetic. Those people are the key to protecting our rights and interests.

There’s a number of ways to be involved. Voting is the most obvious one. I would also suggest joining and supporting a consumer-ran non-profit organization. In English, they are non-profits that are primarily headed and managed by people with mental illness who have recovered. You may not have the mental fortitude or stability to go toe-to-toe with the world; but if you’re able to provide support and funding to the people that do you’re helping your own position and that of your children. These kind of NPOs are all over. Do some digging on Google.

America is a depressing place in that our society values feelings more than facts. I do not. Facts are facts. They don’t care how you feel. Trying to change the opinion of everyone else in the world is futile and a waste of energy. What you can change is the way you feel about the opinions of others. At the end of the day, they’re just words.

Or as we were taught as kids- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”


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6 Responses to Stigma, The Power Of Words, And You

  1. Cheynne says:

    Being the supporter and advocate for those with bipolat, I completely agree! Awedome words to ponder!!
    Have a beautiful day!

  2. Jenny says:

    Considering that our conversation was a massive learning curve for me last week, I totally agree with what you have said Dennis. At the end of the day it’s all about the expansion and evolusion of oneself. Damaging thought processes are controlled by the ego and negative past life experiences and they hinder positive action. We all have sore spots, and we learn when they are aggravated. Big time!!
    I for one recognised my ego, and negative stigmatising brought me out fighting last week however..our conversation also triggered my ability to evolve this fragile yet strong human soul. So thank you 🙂
    I started looking at other areas in my life that I have experienced stigma.. I was raised a catholic, but no longer practice. Growing up I was stigmatised for being catholic, now I no longer practice my family sort of very subtly in a sort of loving way stigmatise because I no longer practice. Does it bother me? Do I get angry? No. Because I trust and have confidence in myself, the choice I have made and who I am.
    I’m also an astrologer, I don’t need to go into much detail to explain the constant stigma I get for that! But I believe it, have faith in myself, but recognise my limitations as a wee scorpio human and smile at the “Thats mumbo jumbo” comments.
    The key is confidence in oneself, trusting and working on who you are on the inside and not doubting yourself. Unfortunatly the above choices are just that..choices. That I made. I can’t be anything other than a white scottish woman anymore than I can change my wonky lovely scary bipolar brain. It’s just who I am.
    If I can apply the thought processes I use for being confident and happy in the major life choices I MAKE into the dealing with stigma against the ones I cannot, then I’d be in business! 😀

    • Grimm says:

      Life is definitely a continuous learning process, Jenny. And your comments about Catholicism and astrology really serve to buttress the point I think. No matter what you do- someone is going to be pissed off about it. So you are absolutely right in the key being confidence in yourself- which is difficult to do for folks that struggle with depression or self-image issues.

      Fuck, my train of thought completely derailed. Anyway! I’m glad you were able to work and build on that flare up. Find happiness in who you are and life gets much easier. 🙂

  3. Jenny says:

    I hate to add that while this may be easier for the more controlled and stable bipolar, facing stigma at a time when you are vulnerable and unwell is for me, near impossible. My thought processes and confidence are greatly hindered during any sort of episode.. if i’m hypomanic, or manic, my ego knows no limit! If I’m depressed I’m the smallest most pathetic human on the earth. It is hard to think so clearly and to evolve when you have a condition like ours. Some of us can do it, we are all very unique with this condition and greatly evolved because of our wildly swinging moods but some of us are beaten and tired by it, and very very vulnerable. It’s these suffers I fear are at the greatest risk from stigma.

    • Grimm says:

      I completely agree with you. But those of who are well enough to stand toe-to-toe need to ensure we have ourselves in check.

      It may not be incredibly obvious- but the subtext to this post that I’m hoping a more vulnerable person will take away is that- there are mentally ill people who are happy and confident with themselves; that they don’t have to be defined by mental illness even though some will try to.

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