Recently, I am reading some linguistics journal articles about mental illness as my preparation for writing my research proposal. What motivates me to try out researching mental illness from the perspective of linguistics is my history of mental health to do with schizophrenia. My reading marathon started out well.
However, at some points, I felt myself being engulfed by more and more blues as I read the authentic language output sourced from real patients suffering from mental illness. What made things worse were the depressing posts I read while surfing for online forums specifically set up as a social support mechanism for depression sufferers. That was when I felt discouraged and drained of energy to continue my reading marathon. I started to question myself…Am I fit enough to embark on this research journey whereby I need to walk into people’s chambers of depression?…Have I overrated my mental strength to be a psychology researcher?…
By the stroke of divine Providence, I came across a journal article focusing on the stigma towards mental illness. As I read and read, the light has dawned on me that what hurts me the most is not how the society stigmatizes people with mental illness, but my own self-stigma which has clouded my vision towards my existence and life values. I have learned that it is my free will not to allow the existing stigma towards mental illness in the society to become a breeding ground for my self-stigma. At the end of the day, how the world sees mental illness should not be the conclusion for my life with schizophrenia. I just need to distance myself from the societal view that stigmatizes mental illness.
Though I have been on medical treatment for more than one decade, I am doing fine (though, not very great) in almost all areas of my life from career to social life. What I mean is that, at this point of my life, there isn’t any life storm resulting from the stigma by the society towards my mental illness. Although I might hear some untoward comments about mental illness in my daily life from time to time, those comments are not really directed thrown at me. Most of the times, the main targets are mental ill patients at the most difficult starting points of their mental health struggles. Sometimes, the untoward comment can be about a news report on a mentally unstable perpetrator who started a tragedy that has claimed at least one human life.
Somehow, I was similar to these people at the earlier phase of my mental health journey. I wasn’t a bright student. My mathematics teacher considered me to be a slow learner. And, I hardly spoke a word in my daily life even when being around my family members. There were incidents when I threatened my family members with a dangerous tool I found at home. I am glad that my family members didn’t call the police. They had even insisted not to send me into the psychiatric ward after my psychiatrist’s effort in persuading them to do so.
With God’s grace, I have transformed for the better over the years. No longer a incapable student struggling with all subjects, no longer a dangerous person who you need to keep a close eye…, I am now a abled person (though struggling with dizziness and irritable bowel syndrome sometimes). However, my heart has not moved on from the past when I used to be looked at through the lens of stigma by the society at large. I am functioning well at work. I have recently found a few supportive friends who are good for my mental health. I have even completed my Master’s degree. Though single and not seeing anyone, I have more time to manage my own life compared to other people who are attached. So, it’s a blessing in disguise.
Almost everything is going well according to God’s plan, except my father’s worsening health (In fact, I ought to be the hope and support for my depressed father). My mental health journey is not used by the society as the reason to attack my vulnerability. Despite my need for more sleep, my mental health is not really a barrier to my daily goals, thanks to the flexible working hours I have at work. Sadly, I have been allowing the stigma towards mental illness in the society to transmute into my self-stigma that is chipping away at my self-confidence, drowning me in a well of self-doubts, burying me in a blanket of shame, gnawing my flesh of self-worth…
It’s time to clear my lenses so that they are not tainted by my self-stigma. No matter who you are, always remember that the stigma towards the marginalized groups in the society is not real, but unfair judgement. Stigma is like overgeneralization. There might be some culprits among us (the minority), but not all of us. I believe there are far more good things to celebrate in our life as a part of the minority. And, avoid overextending the negative definition for the mentally ills to yourself. It’s not true. It doesn’t reflect you. It is just like how people think that thieves are poor, but in fact there are many rich thieves among our politicians in this corrupted world. Besides, there are many generous poor fellows.
However, if you are at the lowest point of your mental health journey, do not feel disheartened. Reach out to people who can see your goodness. I am sure there are many kind people who can see beyond our human flaws to appreciate our malleability. If it is hard to find one, no worries. I believe that if you are able to surf WordPress and come across my post, you must be from a country that can be considered resourceful. Nowadays, there are many online platforms (Facebook groups, online forums, e-counselling services, self-help mobile applications, suicide prevention lines, etc.) for people like us to seek for social support. That’s the good thing to celebrate about in this digital age. With one click, we can reach people like us or even get the help we need.
Some helpful contact details for the mental health warriors:
Suicide prevention lines: https://www.befrienders.org/