Can you recommend books and other resources to help alleviate the self-stigma of mental illness?
Hi AskMefi! I apologize in advance if I say things that would offend anyone coping with mental illness or a loved one. It is not wholly intentional, it is kind of part of the pain of what I am dealing with now. If you'd like to skip all the text below, I bolded the Q's with numbers. Thanks for your reading and your mental exertion.
I asked a question over a year ago
about hypomania with major depression. Well, after a few months, a dropped class, a destabilizing whirlwind romance and a lost research internship, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. I am currently taking mood stabilizers, and in an Intensive Outpatient Psychotherapy Day treatment program to work on my life skills (attendance and staying on top of things/staying engaged while in the throes of the horrible depression; substance abuse; emotion regulation is also a big one for me), and I am really, you know, "proud of myself" for seeking help. I've been seeing an individual therapist for a year now, as well. So yay, I have sought help and am getting it. Everything is fine and dandy, right?
No, it is not. And I know the expectation is not that it will be fine and dandy, I've learned enough to know that that's not realistic. A lot of it is stuff I need to address in therapy. But there is one thing I am really struggling with and I wonder if you guys can help me out, from your own experience perhaps if you can relate to this. The biggest thing I am dealing with now is very paradoxical considering I want to become a Clinical Psychologist and I honestly feel great empathy for people who have Mood Disorders. It is just very difficult to apply to myself. My biggest struggle, now that I have accepted that I have/have been diagnosed by a doctor with a condition (I don't even like saying mental illness), and have accepted that I have pathologically misused substances (am attending AA though I still don’t say I am an alcoholic, have been sober 60 days, will continue and begin stepwork), is an immense feeling of self-stigma.
I know that there is stigma out there, and even if people say it has gotten better I really don't think that is the case, even within the psychology field, even though everyone in my IOP says, "yeah so many people have depression and anxiety, and take meds". I KNOW that the stigma exists though. And bipolar seems to be...more “crazy”....I don't know, the way people talk about it. Also, I believe I have some borderline traits, while I have not been officially diagnosed; I used to have Rule-Out personality disorder; BPD is even worse when it comes to stigma. Also, I have known for a long time that I am “crazy” and now it has just been outed and I am feeling very uncomfortable and sad and isolated and like I will be alone for the rest of my life. I have pretty much accepted that I will not have a husband and I am mentally preparing myself for the reality that I will become a mother on my own, when I am 36 or so. Even if other people with bipolar have successfully found partners, my self stigma makes me feel like for me, personally, it will not be possible.
On top of that, for my schooling I read about the neuroscience and symptomology of bipolar disorder and it's all "impairment" here and "deficit" there and I don't know...I am really struggling with the stigma and just, the reality of having this "illness" and really internalizing it. I am having trouble even viewing myself as a capable or competent individual, even though I can write papers and get A’s on tests and whatnot. Growing up as a relatively poor Asian American child, I felt very marginalized among all the "normal" kids (even though, I know, everyone has their issues); this was magnified by my mother’s nearly decade-long battle with cancer and death at my early adolescence, and I believe that initially my way of compensating and finding my role in the society around me was to be a very high achiever. Now I feel that even that aspect of my identity is compromised by having a mental illness...like I have an unsound mind ... and yes, it has been very difficult for me to keep a job and that causes me great shame. I know it's RIDICULOUS; I feel like I have an open mind about mental illness except when it applies to myself.
When I bring up these concerns in therapy, my therapist/the group's response is very patient, and they challenge my beliefs. But it just doesn't enter my skin or my brain. Their challenges aren't working. They just remind me how hard I am on myself, I'm too hard on myself and that's a major thing I need to change, blah blah blah. And they gently remind me that my perfectionism is not realistic. It just is not sinking in. I am hard on myself for good reasons, because there is a standard to social behavior and you must match those standards; there are desirable traits and by having a major mental illness, I have a HUGE red flag just waving over my head. I am an emotionally imbalanced person and now I have a label to confirm it...
I mean it's even central to the notion of mental disorder - there is no disorder without an order against which to measure it. I don't know, the feeling of having been measured as mentally, like,... disordered or deficient is extremely devastating to me. Before I sought help I was just on an antidepressant that didn't work and I could just tell myself that I had depression maybe or that just maybe I was a tortured individual but now it feels like I have a severe mental/emotional handicap and I am really, really struggling with that. I am beginning to view myself as more deficient than I actually am, and my therapist has called me out on it; I say that I am bad at intimacy with human beings in general, but she says I am generalizing from failed romantic relationships (with men who have felt that I am emotionally too much to handle... and I am!!); I say that I am incapable at life and she reminds me that a 9 to 5 at something I am not passionate about was impossible for me, and that I have areas at which I excel and areas in which I need to mature, and she tries to remind me to stop splitting.
Anyway, a lot of that was rant that I kind of needed to share, so thanks for reading it if you did; but I do have questions:
if some of you out there have felt the same way, are there any resources besides therapy, like maybe books or movies or essays, that have helped you normalize your self-stigma? I feel like maybe some kind of media would be helpful to me.
even if you just understand and have felt the same way, and can share what caused a change for you, if it has changed. Or even if you understand and feel the same way right now.
If you can think of any skills I can use to address this, and yes I will bring it up in therapy, but you guys often have such wonderful insights, if you can shed any here I would be grateful.
I am feeling self stigma over my diagnosis of bipolar disorder; I feel that it is justified by society and also by my desire to be socially acceptable and even desirable; it would be nice to hear some validating voices as well as suggestions to any resources, books, movies, essays, etc. that might help with these issues.