Ask anyone who has been bullied, humiliated and shamed and they will be able to recount, in agonizing detail, who said what and when and what scars it left.
As a teenager, I was harassed and ridiculed for my pale skin. No matter how much I tried to soak up rays, my body rejected the sun. Kids in school loved to compare their bronzed arms to mine. They teased me with words like ghost, marshmallow, vampire and corpse. I guess it made them feel superior.
Always one to avoid confrontation, I shied away from cursing them out but it was at my own expense. I laughed along with the names they called me and cried when I got home.
As an adult when I disclosed that I was diagnosed with and getting treatment for Major Depression and Anxiety, it was crushing to once again be made to feel inferior by colleagues, so-called friends, neighbors, and even individuals in the medical profession!
Oh, if only I could go back in time with courage to stand up for myself, I would. I would know what to say every time anyone started a sentence with, “No offense, but…”
Telling me to not be offended by whatever I was about to hear, gave people a free pass to say whatever they wanted because hey, they’d warned me. How I’d love to let go of those memories and erase the painful recollections of feeling shame for an illness I either tried to hide, or needed to defend, due to the ignorance and arrogance of others.
I’m just one among millions who live with an invisible illness of the brain. It took years of thought-correction therapy to build my confidence and self-worth and become brave enough to talk about depression and anxiety with the same ease as when discussing migraines.
Finally, after so much damage was done to my psyche, it came down to me owning my illness — and fair complexion — without humiliation and with dignity. When you take ownership of what makes you who you are, there’s no longer a need to justify or appease those who try to make you feel second-class. Speaking up for yourself means you are fighting stigma, not only for yourself, but also for all of us who sucked it up for way too long.
When you educate yourself about your diagnosis, physical and psychological, you become empowered by knowledge. You can see through the snide remarks from the no-offense-but-people. When you react from strength, not trepidation, you’re helping to erode the fear, misconceptions and stigma that are rampant in our local and global communities.
Since I can’t hit rewind and have no desire to ruminate over my past embarrassments with should-haves, I can use all I’ve learned about depression and anxiety, and how I have come to successfully manage it, as a shield against any unwelcomed comment. It’s actually been a few years since anyone has chastised me for going to therapy or taking anti-depressants. I no longer keep anybody in my life that drags me down. I also find myself meeting people who really do get that mental illness is not a weakness and certainly not a choice.
To all of those haughty types who told me not to be offended, but … therapy is a waste of time; medications are a hoax; if I didn’t get a grip I’d end up in the nuthouse; it was all just a ploy for attention; I should choose to be happy because children are starving in Africa — if YOU happen to be reading this, have you seen the light and corrected your ways?
Self-righteous behavior is a ridiculous reaction to someone diagnosed with mental illness. If you think you are smarter, stronger, better and worth more than those with a diagnosis – you are wrong. If you condemn and criticize others for reaching out for help, you are the one who should be ashamed. Dialogue, conversation, respectful exchanges — that’s how you can be helpful to others. Superiority has no place in discussions about any disease.
This summer will mark ten years since I found the right doctors and treatments for my depression and anxiety. It’s been an excruciating and eye-opening decade, requiring diligence, dedication and courage, so unless you stop with the stigmatizing, no offense, but, keep your thoughts to yourself.