I have been encouraged by the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement and pray it will make a positive change in America and around the world. It is time and it is necessary. Please keep in mind as you read the following words I do NOT want to EVER take anything away from the Black Lives Matter movement. I am listening and I am learning and my heart is bleeding with everyone else during these difficult times all over the world.
Seeing so many people protesting is encouraging to me because after far too many years of oppression for people of color, people of all races are finally listening to the fact that racism exists and must stop now. I see the images of protesting on the news and see them as a symbol of unity and love. The rainbow of races in the crowds is beautiful to me and is how the world should look.
Hearing the many struggles black people face daily from being discriminated against due to the color of their skin makes me angry and at the same time reminds me of each time I was treated poorly because of the labels of mental illness I was branded with. Again, please know I am not comparing the two because I know they are different but at the same time have many similarities.
The stigma of mental illness exists and is the biggest interference in the recovery of mental illness. The stigma of mental illness is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition, illness, disorder or any other word you want to add to mental health. The words are all the same and by no means ever take away from the negativity and bias mental illness carries with its name.
The stigma of mental illness exists and is the biggest interference in the recovery of mental illness.
In my new memoir, SHAME ATE MY SOUL, I share examples throughout my book of the many times I was discriminated against and treated unfairly due to the stigma of mental illness. So, even though I am not black I can relate to the pain and shame people of color experience. I have been discriminated against not because of the color of my skin but because I was diagnosed with mental illness. I know it is different but in many ways the pain and shame it causes are one and the same.
I can also say I was treated unfairly by the police because of mental illness stigma. I share some examples in my book but the one I am going to share with you today is not in my book.
A few years after my diagnosis I got divorced and had joint custody of my two children with my ex-husband. My son was about five years old at the time and was a mama’s boy (and still is). When he was at his Dad’s house, he would call me on the phone repeatedly crying hysterically. It broke my heart every time. One day I felt so sad for my baby boy and was worried about him that I drove over to my ex-husband’s house just to check on him and give him some love.
I was sitting in my car holding my Keagan on my lap when my ex-husband came out to the car and pulled him from me causing him to hit his head on the car as he pulled him out. I was so heartbroken and worried seeing my Keagan so sad, I called the police to check on him to make sure he was okay.
The police officer was very cordial when he spoke to me outside. Then he went inside my ex-husband’s house to speak to him. When the police officer came back outside it was a different story. His demeanor with me had changed and he handcuffed me, arrested me and put me in the back of the police car.
He told me I was arrested because I should not have come over to to the house when it was not my night and charged me with a disorderly conduct. I called the police on myself. What? I was not disturbing anyone or loud or anything.
I was pregnant with my third baby at the time and cried the entire way to the police station. I told the police officer I had never been arrested before.
“What?” Really?” the police officer was shocked.
“Well, no. Never.” I said through my tears.
“Oh. I thought you had.”
I could tell he genuinely felt bad now like he wished he hadn’t arrested me. I wondered why he thought I had been arrested before, like I was a regular. I don’t look like your stereotypical criminal (not really sure what that is, but I don’t think I look that.)
I got bailed out and did not have to stay in jail overnight or anything. My charge was written down from disorderly conduct to a fine/forfeiture but still cost me $90.00. The worst part is that disorderly conduct was on my permanent record even though it was written down to a fine/forfeiture. I could not afford an attorney to get rid of it. It was and always has been humiliating to have to explain this charge and relive the experience every time I interviewed for a job.
Today, I realize I was arrested from the conversation the police officer had with my ex-husband who told the police officer I had bipolar disorder along with many more stigmatizing comments related to mental illness.
So, the sad truth is I was arrested because I had a mental illness. The police officer from my angry (at the time) ex-husband’s comments gained a new and different perspective of who he thought I was from his initial meeting of me, because of the stigma of mental illness and my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His demeanor changed after he spoke to my ex-husband. Nothing I said mattered anymore and who I was didn’t matter. I became a mental illness — the stigmatized version of who he thought people who live with mental illness are.
On a side note — I have a heavy foot and tend to drive fast. Later, I was pulled over by this same police officer two other times for speeding and he NEVER gave me a ticket. My thought was because he knew he wrongly arrested me for NOTHING before. He felt bad and never gave me a ticket.
It’s a blessing to educate yourself about mental health versus experiencing it.
There is stigma and mistreatment that exists with people who have mental illness and police officers, just like there is for people who are black or brown. I know it is not the same or as bad.
I imagine how awful I would have been treated if I had a mental illness and I was black. Actually I can’t imagine.
I also self- stigmatized a lot and sometimes still do. Since I have been feeling well, am psychotropic medication free and one psychiatrist even told me I was misdiagnosed and never had bipolar disorder but had PTSD and was addicted to the Benzodiazepine Klonopin mostly instead, I do not self stigmatize as much and the burden of shame has been lifted. It is a great and freeing feeling.
We can never forget that MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS hugely
and we MUST END THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS today.
We all must continue to share our stories and continue to educate and fight kindly and bravely to end the stigma of mental illness.
Even though there are troubled times for everyone around the world,
WE MUST NEVER LET PEOPLE FORGET ABOUT US: THOSE WHO LIVE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS.