Abandoning the Shame of Mental Illness
The #metoo movement has released a deluge of once hidden and shame provoking confessions of abuse and assault. The seeming irreparable damage done to those by the abusers is heartbreaking.
Being abused makes it much more likely that one or more emotional, psychological or medical illnesses may emerge, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sometimes personality disorders. Those who have suffered may develop substance abuse disorders. Sexual disorders may be present as well. Poor self-esteem and body image issues, which can result in eating disorders, may arise. The list goes on. Victims of abuse often feel painfully vulnerable and out of control and filled with shame. The following “confession” is an honest, raw and deeply resonating share from a brave soul who grapples with the stigma attached to abuse and mental illness.
I have a confession to make because I’m tired of hiding from judgment. I’m tempted to use the excuse that I have a chronic illness like Lyme disease or MS because I know I wouldn’t be judged for a condition that’s “legit.” That way I’d have an excuse for canceling appointments, not being available, and having lots of hard days and having to hide it for fear of not being accepted. Not without reason: since I was 7 years old (when my mom kidnapped us from our dad and took us to women’s shelters where we were in hiding for a year) I was humiliated, made fun of and harshly judged for my depression which continued until recently. It would have been nice to be cared for instead.
About my life: both of my grandfathers have killed people, one being responsible for my uncle’s death. All 6 kids on my mom’s side of the family are either dead, in and out of jail, alcoholics, on drugs, or suicidal. My mom has borderline personality disorder (she was severely abused by her Dad and would stand in front of my uncle’s wheelchair so that he would beat her instead of him). A tortured soul, she tormented me and my sisters my whole life, brainwashed me, sometimes beat me, but mostly emotionally tormented me until I went literally crazy. I watched her put a gun to her head and beat my dads down to nothing. My dads were shut down and unavailable to support or defend me, and so, I had no single person I could trust or ground into. I’ve been gang-raped, which seemed like a breeze compared to my daily life. I have PTSD visions of scenes in my life where all I can feel is spinning and a feeling of being frozen, in panic. I’ve had nightmares my whole life.
And I’ve had to become a master at hiding my pain to fit in or be loved without being shamed.
Even trauma therapists can’t tell when I’m getting retraumatized because they can’t read my face. This was an adaptive coping strategy, so I could have friends. And I’ve learned to compartmentalize like a pro so that I can offer amazing work in the world.
I’ve been in constant pain at a 3-9 scale for as long as I can remember. My brain doesn’t work the way it should. I’ve had to learn how to regulate and hide this condition in order to sustain friendships and have learned to look “normal” when I’m in extreme pain. I have to measure how many days I’m fun with people so that it’s a greater number than days I’m not feeling well. It makes it hard for me to let anyone close to me unless I know I’m safe, they understand me and aren’t going to judge me.
It is unfortunate that the people who are abused and struggle with functioning even into adulthood are the ones who get less loved and are less accepted. If you knew that I’ve done self-healing work since I was a teen- that’s 24 years of every kind of therapy, energy work, shamanic practices, plant medicines, workshops and trainings under the sun, maybe you’d be less likely to give me advice or question my choices- maybe you’d have more compassion for someone who’s never felt safe. I spent $1000 a month on healing services for the last year and nothing worked. In service of the #metoo movement, I’d like to normalize mental illness. People in pain are not bad people and should not be left on the sidelines. Every day we fight for our health, healing and betterment.
I’d like to see the shame and judgment end, under the truth that all people, regardless of their disabilities, are worthy of love.
This is not a victim story. It is the truth about mental illness- a condition that can be managed, but sometimes we have no control over. I get tired of people asking how I am, so I just start lying and say “good”! so not to get bored or humiliated by my usual reply.
I have good days and bad days. I’m high functioning some days and not so much in others. I’ve been great at building numerous careers and friendships, developed lots of skills, but rarely can relax in intimate relationships. I hope that one day I can feel good in my body consistently, but I also have to accept that that may never happen. ~Rebecca
Help end the shame; tell your story. It doesn’t have to be told to the world, but share it with someone. That someone may be struggling every day to be “normal”, to fit in, to find new ways to cope. Your opening up to them may be just the medicine they need.