How does stigma affect you? Updated

The recent election has caused some concern for me, but not just for the fact that government is now under one political party.  Now this post is not going to be a rant on the recent president-elect.  I feel everyone is entitled to their political beliefs.  My concern is for an initiative that passed in my state that will take away my right, as person living with a mental illness, to own a gun.  Now, I have no desire to own a gun, but it’s just one more right that is being taken from me.  My problem with this initiative is that had it been written without specifically mentioning “people with mental illness”, I could have voted for it.  The idea behind the initiative was to prevent people who are of harm to themselves or others from obtaining guns, but then they specifically mentioned people with mental illness.  This is not only discriminatory, but extremely stigmatizing.

People with mental illness account for about 1% of the gun violence nationwide (US).  This bill directly targets those of us living with mental illness.  This may be a bit of paranoia speaking, but I feel it is opening the door for further legislation to take away more of our rights.  First, it was HR 2646 that was trying to take away our HIPPA rights…now this.  What’s next?  In either of these two cases, had the language of the legislation mentioned people of a specific nationality, physical illness, or race, they would not have flown under the radar as they have.  I feel as though we are second class citizens in our own country.  I have a strong feeling this is not isolated to just our country.  I could be wrong.  I still have more research to do.

Now to my question:  How does or has stigma affected you?  I’ve tried to explain why the passage of this initiative made  me so upset to others, including my own family.  People just don’t understand.  They care, but they can’t understand unless they are a target of stigma.  So, how would you explain it so that someone could begin to understand it even a little bit?  I would love to hear from you.

UPDATE: I just watched an interview onTF1 with someone that escaped the Batclan 1 year ago. He looked into the eyes of one of the terrorists. That horrible person spoke to this witness and laughed. It made me think back to this initiative. How will this initiative preventive religious and political fanatics from acquiring guns? It won’t.  It targeted the mentally unstable, not the fanatical.  Think about that.

Embrace Bipolar

I’ve been writing this blog from the perspective of the positive side of Bipolar Disorder, at least that was my intention.  There were some times that it was difficult to do.  I feel I have grown  in the past year and a half since the start of this blog.  It hasn’t always been easy to see the advantage of having Bipolar Disorder especially when I’m in the middle of an episode.  I can assure you, though, there is…at least from my perspective, a definite advantage.

Let me start with a poem that my doctor read to me during our last session.  It’s called “The Guest House” by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I found this poem so profound.  It really helped me put together all the work I’ve been doing to try to understand the different levels of mania and depression and how to function within them.  I have been working so hard to not only accept these states, but welcome them.  Now, let me explain that last part.  By welcoming the states, I am able to see the value and advantage in each state.  For instance, I’ll start with mania (that’s usually the easiest one).  When I’m in a manic state, but still in control (and not just in my head, others around can see the controlled state) I am able to be quite productive in work, house work, advocacy work, volunteer work, etc.  I, however, don’t stay in this state too long.  I am an ultra rapid cycler and if I don’t watch it, I can cycle out of control rather quickly.  When I’m in a depressive state, I tend to have more empathy for people.  I may not always be nice depending on the degree of depression, but this is when I tend to do more service oriented tasks.  By helping others, it helps to take my mind off of the depression.  This is when I will start more volunteer projects and usually just on my own…not with organizations.

I’m not saying these things to advocate that you should actively stay in either of your states.  I can just appreciate what I learn from each one.  I do learn something each time.  This goes right along with my “Live life with no regrets” motto.  If I learn from each state, how can I regret having been through it?  The advice my doctor gave me for the next time I’m in either mania or depression is to simply say “hello”.  Actually address it and welcome it.  By doing so, I take its power away and empower myself.  I like that.  The whole idea of the online course I’ve been taking (at least for me) is to empower myself.  To not live in fear of my illness.  To not be at the mercy of my illness.  I have by no means perfected the skills yet, but I practice every day. By practicing every day, I grow stronger every day.

This strength I gain means the world to me.  It spills over into other aspects of my life.  Once you can see the value and advantage in something that was once so scary and stigmatizing, it’s no longer stigmatizing to you.  Does that make sense?  For me, that is very empowering.

The President “Responds”!

Okay, now I support the President, but I’m not a fan of everything he has done over his two terms.  What President has done everything perfectly well throughout their term?  Anyway, he has done tremendous things for mental health.  For instance, he finally fully enacted Patrick Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity Act of 2008.  So, kudos.  I decided to write him and ask for a meeting. Yes, I know I had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually getting that meeting.  If I didn’t ask, then I would never get it.  I knew this meeting was never going to happen, but in that letter I also let him know what it was like for those us living with mental illness. What it’s like navigating the mental health care system.  The stigma we face in the workplace, home, hospital, school…   I thanked him for what he had done so far.  I urged him to continue to do more.  I did explain that I was also an advocate.  How I have actively helped pass laws locally and nationally.  How I’ve worked with soldiers on and off military bases.  How I work with students.  This was the response…

Dear Susan:

Thank you for writing.  I have heard from many Americans whose lives have been affected by mental health problems, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

As you may be aware, in any given year one in five adults experiences a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress, and many others are troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress—especially in times of hardship or difficulty.  They are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and I believe there are things we must all do to help.  As a Nation, we can strive to eliminate the barriers that still keep people from accessing life-changing treatments.  We can also make sure every person struggling with psychological and emotional pain knows that asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking action is a sign of strength.

My Administration has worked hard to help increase mental health services and improve access to care.  We are working with community health centers to expand the availability of behavioral and mental health services across the country, including in rural areas.  And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, over 60 million Americans now have expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections.  This law also prohibits insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions like a diagnosis of mental illness, and it requires most insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services without copays.  Additionally, as part of the BRAIN initiative, we are supporting innovative research that aims to revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works and uncover new ways to address conditions like depression.

We continue to support our troops and veterans.  I signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act on February 12, 2015, which authorized additional steps to address mental health and prevent suicide.  The year before, I announced 19 Executive actions that make it easier for members of our Armed Forces and veterans to access the care they need, when they need it—including a new policy that will ensure the continuity of medication for mental health problems as service members transition to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The VA has also worked to increase mental health staffing, enhance community partnerships, and expand the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line.

To learn more about mental health assistance and health care reform, please visit www.MentalHealth.gov or www.HealthCare.gov.  Calling 1-800-662-HELP is also a free, confidential way to receive a treatment referral or further information. 

Again, thank you for writing.  Michelle and I—like so many Americans—have known people who have experienced mental health problems, and we understand the effects these illnesses have on their lives and on their families.  We must continue to work toward better prevention and treatment, and as caring individuals, we must do what we can to ensure those with mental health issues get the care and support they need and deserve.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

I do realize that the President did not write this email to me.  I also realize that the person who did, obviously did not read a word of the letter I sent.  Yes, I snail mailed a letter…the old fashioned way.  Although I did expect this, I am a bit saddened by it.  As an advocate, I am well aware of all the stats.  I certainly don’t need to learn to go the .gov sites.  I didn’t expect the President to actually read the letter, but at least a staffer would have been nice.  I know I’m no one important.  I don’t have that much of an inflated ego.  It’s just interesting.  Imagine if we all wrote letters and sent them on the same day.  I wonder if we would all get the same response or if someone would actually take notice.  Hmmm.

*Please do not make any negative political comments.  I know not everyone is a fan of the President.