Face It – Nobody Is Perfect

Face It - Nobody Is Perfect

Looking at my reflection in a river.

This title definitely sounds better than: “Face it – you have bipolar disorder.” Or: “Face it – you have schizoaffective disorder.” Or: “Face it – you have a mental illness.”

Why? Simply because of the stigma that is attached to the words like: bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or mental illness. We can look at stigma from two sides: from the outer side and from the inner one.

Looking at it from the outer side means how other people treat us. There are many campaigns that fight this kind of prejudice that healthy people have against people with mental illnesses. On the other hand the stigma from the inner side means the shame and the fear we feel, when we are diagnosed with a mental illness.

One of the dangers of the outer stigma is that if people say I am nuts, then I really am. This becomes my reality. However, there is also the possibility of rebelling, which is equally dangerous. If somebody “rejects” the fact of having a mental illness, to him or her that would automatically mean that he or she is healthy. One possible manifestation of this fighting attitude would be refusing to take the prescribed medications. Actually, I chose that path a few times. And then it got worse. In fact, it got considerably worse. Only after I ended in a severe manic episode followed by a prolonged depression phase I figured that rejecting the fact of having schizoaffective disorder was not an option for me anymore.

To repeat, only after that painful experience of practically “forcing” myself into being hospitalized by rejecting medication, I acknowledged the fact that I have mental illness. By accepting the fact that doctors were right about the diagnosis I also accepted all the problems around mental illness and started to deal with them.

And from that point of view, I believe we should also fight the prejudice we have against ourselves, the shame and the fears we feel after having faced the fact that we have a mental illness. In my case, there were many fears nearly constantly on my mind. What kind of fears? Let me name the ones I used to feel most frequently: “I will never get a job. I will never get a boy-friend. People are mocking me. I sound like a lunatic, as soon as I open my mouth etc.” In my opinion these strong and prevailing fears form the so-called inner stigma. A sentence like I will never get a job is a pre-judice, a pre-judgement about the future that is often wrong.

Surely, if someone told me to get rid of those fears years ago, my reply would be: “Easy for you to say.” Getting rid of a combination of fears so strong that we have a special name for it – stigma, is definitely not easy. It would be like trying to eat the whole salami in one bite. Impossible actually. So why don’t we try to slice the salami first? And then eat it slice by slice. That is what I did. I analyzed my fears and got rid of them one by one (see chapter two of my self help book).

Now that the whole salami has been exterminated, I can say that FEAR really stands for F = false, E = evidence, A = appearing, R = real. I have the job I was dreaming about, when I was little: I am a writer. I am happily married. Yes, maybe some people are mocking me, but the ones that I enjoy being with, actually like me. Yes, maybe sometimes I sound like a lunatic, but we all have our bad days, don’t we. More frequently I hear the words: “Thank you for your kind words, Helena.”

To sum up, I basically had to do what the non-mental-patient-people have to do as well. I had to face the fact that I am not perfect. I had to stop comparing myself with others and ask another question instead: “Am I a bit better person than I used to be 1 year ago?” If the answer is yes, you are the winner.

In my case, after I had accepted the fact that I had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I only had to start doing something in order to get rid of my fears. I had to become proactive. And only later on I figured out that being proactive is what can save you a lot of pain.

What is more important or what brings better results? Fighting the outer or the inner stigma? In my opinion fighting on both fronts is the right answer. But one step at the time: if we accept ourselves first, others will find it a lot easier to accept us.

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