I always saw stigma as something attached to a shitty truth; something we all know is the case, but mocking or pointing to it isn’t popular at the time.
In regards to mental health, stigma is the word and the movement of the moment. It’s the easy one-word shield behind which all badness that runs alongside, say, a BPD diagnosis can be batted away and forgotten about. Stigma-bashing, or even just mentioning the word in the context of mental health, is the vague moniker of thousands. Especially if you use a hashtag to hammer it home.
I write a lot. I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder which, because it’s severe, means I also suffer a lot. It’s so normal and ingrained that I hardly notice it as anything other than the static position of life; the needle nearly always pointing to empty. I understand how things work. And, yeah, I know what stigma is. Just recently I think I’m questioning that knowledge.
For my part, the stigma I’ve encountered has been restrained to a few badly informed pseudo-friends incapable of understanding much about the things I tell them around my diagnosis. From a simple perspective I guess their stigma is simply just apathy. It’s kind of forgiveable. The worst I ever encountered to my face was an ex work colleague who thought it was funny to talk to me while looking over my shoulder. He thought I’d laugh when he explained he was talking to my ‘mate,’ – the voices. I laughed at the time. Looking back, it wasn’t funny, but it didn’t kill me. It was meaningless. Ignorant. Thick.
But it’s not enough. Stigma apparently now means much more.
I wrote a piece for a mental health website. It was half decent. Few jokes, some ok insight, positive, helpful, I even thought I’d hit the mark and was reaching out with hope and love to others with the diagnosis. It was a piece that wasn’t breaking literary ground, or scientific boundaries, but it was the truth. The piece was refused for ‘being too stigmatising.’
I read it again and again when I saw the Editor’s reply. I couldn’t see why. Then it hit me. I was telling the truth. You aren’t supposed to do that if you have a mental health problem. I was dumb. I should have known. What I was meant to have written was about how ‘normal’ I am, how easy I am to work with, how much of a great friend I can be. I was meant to write that every day of my life is a joyful struggle that I win; that I never want to die. In short, I was supposed to lie.
I thought about it for a while. I worked it out over a beer and some diazepam while it rained outside and huge spiders ran across the floors of my ancient cottage. I was alone in the candlelight – cliche place no263. Whatever stigma I experience/d is wrong – and will always be – but the ownership of it has been replaced by a crusading mental health army of people: all liars. Look at it like this: if life really is as good as you are making it out to be, are you selling the rest of us (the people who struggle day to day) a disservice? Don’t tell me that my BPD experience is fun. It isn’t. I am not fun; I am not good company; I don’t make a good co-worker; I want to die from time to time; I need support; I am sometimes not safe; I am paranoid; I sometimes hear things that don’t talk; I sometimes see things that aren’t really there. That’s the truth. That’s my truth. Tell me anything else and you are stigmatising me as a happy-go-lucky cheerful chappy who makes the best out of bad situations. It’s just a scratch; I’ll cope. I am not, I don’t. Clearly.
My neighbours won’t take this sort of information kindly. I won’t tell them. Imagine if they knew the truth. Stigma-provoking, eh? But on the other hand, if you tell them how cheery and interesting I am they will laugh in your face. Who wins? Not me, folks. Those are conversations with people I have to see face to face that I never want to have. Either way, personal terror like this is information which is hard to get across, though to really challenge BPD stigma it should be common knowledge. Tough stuff.
Fuck stigma into a hole, think of something else, tell the truth in your story: people with moderate to severe BPD are sometimes very odd, and at other times we’re kind of ok, but both are a struggle. Don’t hashtag me and forget the real me. Don’t hide the bad to put a false accent on the good. The normal people out there aren’t all dumb. They can work out a lie when they hear it. Then they’ll come down on us harder than they ever did. Think things are bad now? Wait until a few BPD death statistics hit the news on the back of some famous BPD sufferer killing themselves in a shopping centre. Try skipping around your office the morning that story breaks and see what their reaction is if your colleagues know you’re in the club too. Imagine if all they know about you are happy times; you were always stigma-busting. They will laugh at you, or deride you as an attention seeker who is no more ill than the paperclips on the desk. It won’t help anyone. Be happy, fight the good fight, be well, have hope – much love to all – but don’t hide a truth just because you think the real world won’t tolerate you. Be proud of every time you didn’t cut; didn’t drink; didn’t get high; didn’t die.
Stigma-busting…… No, no, no… Give me the truth. I’m worth that much, eh?
Ha….of course I’m not. #bpdjoke