I have been having a lot of conversations recently around addictions, homelessness, mental health, abuse, and the like.
Last night I went to an amazing benefit concert around mental health and heard some courageous people tell their stories and all I could think was: “We need more of this”
Society continually teaches us that anything that is different is perceived as wrong. That if a person is different- they are wrong, bad, sick, and in need of some sort of intervention…. Be it from doctors, police, or any other embodied institution.
But then it makes me wonder- different from whom? Who gets to define different? And why in the hell is different synonymous with wrong, bad, or subhuman?
I then realized that the reason we don’t have a ton of these stories is that people are continually shamed into silence. Hell, years of schooling around these issues and I still have my own hang-ups around stigma.
Last night, the mc at the event last night said that ‘lying is exhausting’… He was referring to the continual need that those who have experienced stigma to cover and hide and fit in….
He talked about the importance to himself, to live authentically. He spoke of how it comes with a cost…. Sometimes people leave, sometimes people don’t believe, sometimes people may get violently angry…. But why in the hell should we let those people stop us from being us?
He is a radio show host and fucking outed his mental illness….. That takes an extreme amount of courage- but it shouldn’t.
I am good at advocating for things while still keeping a detached demeanor…. But the reality is that others stories are not detached from my own. We all have them, but most of us are too scared, too tired, or too unprepared to tell our stories.
I am going to intentionally try to discuss these issues on here, all the time. I hope you will join in with your own stories or share the idea of challenging stigma with truth.
Facebook came out with a new feature that shows us what we posted years ago, on this date…. Today (Seven years ago) I got a tattoo that says “Survive”…. I want more than that. I needed that to keep me alive- but more than ever I want a rich life filled with stories and friends and laughter, and tears, and just more “realness.”
So I refuse- from this day forward to lie about my life/experiences/feelings. I won’t lie about my feelings to placate someone else. I refuse to lie about my past. I won’t try to cover up the accommodations I have etched out for myself to cope with things. (This of course cannot always happen due to immediate safety- but excluding that, I will not hide).
The richest moments I have had are with most of you and sharing some details about my life. These are the moments I want to live for. To share. To challenge. To incite change. To destroy stigma. To resist. To learn. To care.
Stigma needs to become a thing of the past.
It starts here.
It starts with me.
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Zora N. Hurston
Most everyone I am friends with knows parts of my history…. But I often hide it or try to detach from it. When looking back, it is obvious why.
I have experienced abuse and neglect that led to years in and out of foster care, a couple years of being homeless, and a decade worth of addictions to illicit substances.
I have been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, and re-diagnosed with several mental illnesses that led to 13 years in and out of institutions (often against my will), that amounted to losing about a total of 2 years behind walls, being incorrectly medicated for 15 years (More than 50% of my life), and always fearing that any behaviour or thought I may have that seemed ‘outside the norm’ would become a new diagnoses.
So what is the official diagnoses now? PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. The only one that covers all my symptoms- the only one the needs *ZERO* medication but a ton of support, understanding, and awareness. (Although, there are obviously other things that stem from this like depression, dissociation, social anxiety, disordered eating, panic attacks, deficits in attention, obsessions and compulsions and the like- which need more attention some days than others).
I have been in therapy on and off for 23 years….
Right now, I have been seeing an *amazing* psychiatrist/therapist twice a week for about a year now, who has helped me come a long way- more than the other 22 years of counselling combined.
The difference? She keeps telling me I’m not crazy, my feelings are valid, and that I am allowed to have my story…
Essentially, she has been giving me permission to be me. In a world that continually told me I was lying, crazy, fucked up, damaged, broken, and worthless- this has been invaluable.
I often feel like I have to continually explain my ‘quirks’ or ways of coping…. Feeling like I am being continually judged.
I use my cell phone a lot, to key in info as it happens, before I forget- which happens a lot, but I find I often get criticized for not paying attention when my phone is out.
I forget names. I forget faces. Frankly I have met so many people in all my moves- it is sometimes hard to place someone who knows me.
I dissociate. Sometimes more than others. Sometimes for days at a time and others for months without.
I can sometimes be in a lot of physical pain and sometimes need the disability seating on the bus…. But asking is hell and sitting there is worse because I often get screamed at.
I have been sexually exploited and I have been a sex worker…Two *totally* different things.
About 2 months ago, I finally counted the number of big things in my life over a few weeks of recording things as they came up…So far the list includes:
132: The number of transitions (moves) I have had
23: The number of schools I have attended
19: The number of hospitalizations I have had
18: The number of cities I have lived in
17: The number of years I had been a ‘cutter’
15: The number of years I spent incorrectly medicated
13: The age I was charged for filing a false report on sexual assault, because I recanted my statement out of fear
12: The age I was first arrested (for running away from home- all three times were for this)
11: The first time I was raped by a stranger
9: The number of mental health diagnoses I have had
9: The age my step-father started molesting me
8: The age I first said “I’m gay”
3: My second memory. I was being sexually abused
2: The years I have spent institutionalized
2: The years I have spent homeless
Fortunately, I have had the amazing experience of being found by my paternal side of the family over facebook in my early 20’s…. This has opened me up to an amazing (and crazy!) world of family….
Every time I try to push my zones of comfort and share pieces of me with others- I find that we all share similar stories or have something similar we can relate to….
So yeah- I’m not hiding… at all.
If anyone feels the urge to ‘warn’ me about the dangers of sharing personal info- fuck off. Seriously.
Maybe it’s you who needs to change. To not add to the shame and stigma of things that should’t have shame and stigma. Maybe you need to consider how your actions and thoughts are contributing to others silence. Maybe you need to challenge the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ and then weed out the areas in which you feel you have to deny your story, rather than shaming me for sharing mine.
Don’t like it? Stop talking to me….
Feel uncomfortable? Good. Now we’re getting somewhere.
You should feel uncomfortable. We should all feel uncomfortable. Those who we’ve silenced and made feel alone, isolated, and bad have felt uncomfortable for far too long.
The disabled, the queer, the poc, the addicted, the colonized, the poor, the sex workers, the mentally ill, the unread, the children, the disenfranchised, the elderly, the fat, the exploited, the abused, the neglected….. They’ve all been made to feel uncomfortable and hide themselves to ‘fit’ into a world that the privileged get to enjoy at the expense of others….
So I’m not hiding… If I am going to work in areas of mental health, addictions, abuse, poverty- I need to stop pretending that I am ‘helping’ others from ‘their’ problems/history/story without acknowledging my own.
Hell, I just need to stop ‘helping’ and start a dialogue about difference, about stigma, about privilege, about living.
So instead of saying that this post is brave- I challenge you do something in your own life to make these things require less bravery to talk about.