Every one of us has a story to tell. It’s taken a lifetime to write, and has more characters, plot lines, and twists than any other book written. Our stories are complex, and when someone asks us to tell it, we often don’t even know where to start.
So why is that, when we see someone with a certain style of clothes, or type of car, even address?? And why do some fear or shun those that aren’t different on the outside, but on the inside? We think we can sum their story up into one tidy statement?
If there is one thing I know about it is stigma and judgment. Flat out discrimination. Not because I do it. But I’ve been burned by its cruelty far too many times. And I have seen it happen for years on almost a daily basis to others for petty things like just the way someone is dressed.
I’ve worked in the restaurant business for most of my working life. That’s over twenty years. Daily I saw servers prejudge customers in seconds at first sight judging what kind of table customers will be. This would determine which table will get the better service.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those brushes of stigma and discrimination I have come up against in my years with bipolar lately. Why? Because of my recent termination as a result of my bipolar during my previous mixed episode.
In the past I had always brushed them off thinking, “Eh, you’re not worth it.” And to an extent no one is when it comes to treating others that way. Why let someone get the best of you? But then again, why let someone get away with it when it comes to a place of employment? Or if it stands in the way of reaching a personal goal for that matter?
My recent employment loss a few months ago is not my first encounter of discrimination on the job. Six years ago after going inpatient, which disclosed my bipolar, I went from a 40 hr plus over time week to a 16 hr weekend schedule. In addition a couple of the co-workers shied away from me. Eventually I quit because I kept being harassed with false complaints against.
But the worst was when during my own and my current wife’s two custody battles. I’ve written many previous blogs about them. But their main ammunition against me was attempting to convince the judge to take our kids away was because of my bipolar. That I was some violent psycho that could snap at any moment and hurt anyone in house.
I stood standing in front of a courtroom of people as my accusers bad mouthed me lying with some of the worst accusations you can think of laced with mentally ill stigma.
We learn at any early age to make judgments about the world we live in. That cashier that always seems so unhappy and never smiles. The co-worker that is constantly having with problems at work because of his alcohol problem. Maybe a disheveled person sitting in the same lobby and mumbling to no one in particular, babbling words in sentences that make no sense. There is something strange and uneasy about these encounters. We’re put off.
So these people are shunned, separated from the healthy, who create categories, almost another world, for the “others” who don’t fit in normal society.
Anyone looking into the depths of their own mind can become frightened or concerned, but to people with bipolar, we can’t escape our own thoughts which are filled with darkness, gloom, thrill, speed. No matter what else we may be doing, our minds are busy fighting those thoughts constantly. Those of us with bipolar feels everything more intensely and society appears artificial, fake, and phone. We can’t understand why we can’t just cope with the tragic or false world and appear happy like everyone else. Our greatest wish is to just be able to turn those feelings off.
Bipolar is certainly a misunderstood illness. Even to those of who deal with it every day have a hard time understanding bipolar disorder. I don’t completely believe that stigma and discrimination are because of ignorance and lack of understanding. It’s just like everything else in this world. A person can hate something inside and out and still hate it. I think most of it is root in arrogance and self-pride.
Ever have someone right in front of you talk trash about something you have with another but they don’t know you have it? Or make some kind of comical reference about something else to it? I can remember a few occasions when two people were talking about another person when one made the sarcastic comment, “I swear he’s bipolar.” Sarcastic because they were trash talking. Unknown to them, me being bipolar, was standing right in front of them.
If you have a mental illness, one thing you learn is how to deal with people who mock the disorder. Discrimination and stigma are mockery. From strangers to television to co-workers, it is hard to escape those who discriminate people with bipolar and other mental illnesses. The misconceptions surrounding bipolar are many.
As children we are colorblind. We live in a black and white world. But we as adults, live in a world that in some ways, value a distinction between good and bad, between holy and evil, between right and wrong and between normal and abnormal.
But we all know that, whether we admit it or not, that so much of life isn’t easily put into a category. Of course there are default right and wrongs, but a lot of life is difficult to categorize. There are debates about religion, marriage, sexuality and politics and everybody seems to think different.
A lot of grey lives between the holy and unholy, between the good and the bad. Even the normal and abnormal. But we love more than anything to brand one another with labels. To stigmatize and discriminate. We love to drop each other into tidy categories because it feels good and so much of us do this without a thought.
I’ve been betrayed. More than once. Some of those who I thought were friends got a view of one of my episodes. They must have fallen off of the earth. I thought my bosses who had always worked with on issues during my employment had my back. Apparently not when I was terminated during that same episode. They are brutal. Unfortunately these happened throughout my adult life.
When we judge, label, diminish and discriminate each other this becomes the fuel for shame and guilt to fester in our souls. A label says we are unworthy, flawed and unacceptable.
Except that the stickiest ones are in my own mind. It’s a mind that feels a little scrambled. A mind that is a little scared to process through it all on my own, let alone allowing anyone else in on it over the fear that they will run as far as possible. Or judge.
Every stigma and discrimination has helped to encourage me to prove others wrong and seek goals. But on the inside it still causes pain. Eventually my whole perception on relationships changed throughout the past…two words…PROTECT MYSELF. Discrimination and stigma is that destructive.
Every thought, move, decision, relationship has been ran through a filter of being stabbed in the back.
It made logical sense to protect myself. To hold back something in my relationships. To hedge. Minimize risk. I wanted to put the odds in my favor that would go through that pain as little as possible.
But isn’t it a double standard to assume that all or most of all would discriminate and stigmatize? Wasn’t I putting others into a category? I lived in protective mode for a long time.
It’s easy to get angry and hurt when you’re viewed as a scary psycho. Being discriminated or stigmatized against is not about others. It’s about me. It is a choice of how I will respond to these situations. I can close up and shut down or I can learn and then trust again. I can chose to be the better person. It’s not easy, but I’m figuring out how to do that in my own life.