I had this theory when I was first diagnosed last year with Bipolar that everyone would treat me differently and I would be an outcast. That of course was the long held stigma which plagues mental illness talking, or was it? A few months after I was diagnosed I decided that I was going to defy the stigma! I was going to live an open life. Who ever truly knew me would not judge me for some new information they had just gathered. They would judge me for the life I had lived and the personality I had shown all my life. They would love me for me.
Unfortunately I have come to find that in this world stigma can be a very difficult thing to over turn. Some of us literally go out in our Bipolar or Depression t-shirts thinking that walking in the open, unashamed will change the perception of others. We think that if we believe enough and try our best to live as though there is no stigma it will all go away. People will be educated and not judge us for our illness but who we are as individuals. I'm coming to doubt this a bit.
I try my best to always be optimistic but it is well known that however optimistic I appear to be, deep down I'm a cynical person. Most who have this illness do not tell those they work with for fear their coworkers will see them in a different light and begin to treat them as it they are fragile and at any moment could break into a million shards of glass.
Once, I made the mistake of letting my coworkers know and my boss actually questioned if it was safe for me to be around children. How offensive can one person become to another? Can my actions not speak for themselves? Anyone who has had any interaction with me at all knows that I'm wonderful with children. I was born to care for children; they never stress me out. To assume that all those with bipolar are a danger to children is stereotypical. That was the first thing that opened my eyes to truly how deep seeded this stigma is rooted.
Currently I work with someone who is a friend of my husband's. Somehow he found out of my illness and suddenly my boss doesn't think I'm able to be alone in the store. They assume that due to my illness I cannot handle any stressful situation on my own. Typically it's when I'm on my own that I'm not stressed out. It's my day to day dealings with people which stress me out, especially those who question my abilities, something which until I was diagnosed never happened!
I used to manage stores, direct operations, supervise departments. Now suddenly I find myself at the bottom of the corporate ladder with a big brick wall and no way to get around or over it, at least not in the foreseeable future. Due to my illness somehow I'm less capable medicated than I was unmedicated and untreated. It makes absolutely no sense! How can someone who is unmedicated and untreated be more capable than someone who sees a doctor regularly and is well medicated? It's illogical!
I'm considering this summer going back to school to become a graphic designer. Perhaps in a field where you can be your own boss or at least work from home I will not be treated in such a manner. I'll be attending school and working full time, which is something I've done before, unmedicated and untreated so surely I can do it again now!!
Someday there will be a world without a stigma for mental illness, but I cannot see it! Why am I not treated as I was before the illness was made public?
**I thank my husband, grandmother and few close friends who still see me for what I am, simply Jen.**