Diagnosis, Stigma, Loneliness – and Hope

2009 April 4

This is a guest post by Adrienne Lindsay. Adrienne has completed two and a half degrees, a marathon, has run her own business and is a single mother to an awesome 12-year-old daughter. She was initially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but is now diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Too many things have been taken from her because of her diagnoses so she’s using her voice to try to do what she can to combat stigma against all mental illnesses because there are too many people who have mental illnesses who don’t have a voice. She also wants her kid to be proud of her, to live in a better world than she does, but mostly, she’s speaking out because discrimination of any kind, sucks.

For me, the worst thing about being diagnosed with a mental illness has to be the diagnosis itself – not the symptoms. Because of that label – and the stigma attached to it – I’ve lost my partner, friends – even my job. Don’t get me wrong, at times, the symptoms suck too, but more than the confused emotions that come from my bipolar II diagnosis, it’s the loneliness of not having any consistent support or friendship that hurts the worst. I believe this loneliness is not uncommon to those with mental illness and I believe that it has a lot to do with the stigma attached to it.

And I’m hoping that’s where social media can really make some inroads. For one thing, it’s always there – you can post to a blog or go on to Twitter at any time. And when you feel you have no one to talk to, no friend to call, it’s nice to know that you can find whole communities of people who may be dealing with some of the same things as you or even just fellow twitterers to help distract you from what you may be going through.

When I first « came out » as having a mental illness, I was really hoping – almost expecting that I would be accepted, even embraced by those around me. That it would now be easier to get the support I needed – but that wasn’t the case at all. If anything, I felt that people would use my diagnosis against me – in ways that even affected my daughter. Friends, family, colleagues, the government, it seemed like I was taken dismissed as being almost a lesser person because of my diagnosis.

When I started my first twitter account about three months ago, I was worried about what to put in my bio because having a mental illness is a big part of who I am. But I decided to be open about my struggles, and for the first time, I was embraced for it. People followed me BECAUSE of my diagnosis, not IN SPITE of it. If I tweet that I am feeling down, people respond with virtual hugs.

And I have found out about things like the Coping Digitally panel at Northern Voices, MentalHealthCamp and other events, ressources and contacts where I can be be myself, be proud of who I am and – the best thing of all – not have to feel lost, alone or helpless.

My goal for MentalHealthCamp is of course to expand my knowledge of both mental illness and social media, but most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting in person the people I have met online and coming up with new ways to fight both mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it online and off.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 April 5

    Great post Adrienne, thanks for sharing your story!

    Ian’s last blog post..Notegrabs from last night

  2. 2009 April 6

    Recently, I’ve been part of an extensive conversation with some mental health colleagues about the stigma attached to the term ‘mental illness’. To build on your post here, can we all together come up with a better term, one that would avert the stigma and begin to reposition diagnosis away from everything negative about ‘mental illness’ and more toward some language that would allow mental health to be just like any other diagnosis: a condition which needs to be managed and/or cured?

    Michele Rosenthal’s last blog post..PTSD Healing: Symptom Overview

  3. 2009 April 7

    All great points, Adrienne, and told with a very personal voice. The stigma of mental illness – and many other of the invisible illnesses for that matter – is real.

    It’s pretty natural for people to be drawn to healthy, strong friends and family members. So although online folks may be supportive, what our neighbors or family members do is another thing. It’s people who we see more often who seem to feel they “risk” something in establishing or maintaining closer relationships with any of us who have disclosed a mental illness.

    Sadly it’s often the case that they who move away, not forward, in times that we seem vulnerable. When I look at it from a distance, I understand why. Not only are we sometimes challenging to understand without some investment on the others’ part, but it’s also a fact that anything unknown is uncomfortable to people. There’s our double whammy.

    Not fair; not fun; not how I wish life were, but with open dialogue like your article and the work many in the mental health community are doing I have hope for a difference in the future.

    Susan Reynolds’s last blog post..Remembering the Light of Lisa Kelly

  4. 2009 April 18

    Thanks Adrienne. I’m glad you’ve found a way to get some support and hope Mental Health Camp is a blast.

    Your point about the diagnosis itself being bad is a big one I think. This leads to discussions about how we relate to people. In the usual way of diagnosing people are seen through a screen of categories that reduces their individuality. Claude Steiner an early transactional analyst once said that, if anyone called a friend of his a schizophrenic that they’d have him to answer to! How do we organise the time, space, skills and caring so that people can be treated as individuals? I don’t have a neat answer – but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve the approach of the Cost Reduction Organisation (oops I mean Health Maintenancy Organisations).

    Evan’s last blog post..My StumbleUpon: a note to bloggers

  5. 2009 April 19

    I am so glad to see other people being so public and mental illness. I have schizoaffective disorder and have had alot of mixed reactions when it came to friends and family some embraced me others not so much tolerated me to put it nicely. But by coming out i think we are helping others come to grips with there situations with mental illness. You should be so proud of yourself for being honest. Most times the best path isn’t always the easiest. I have found to that by telling people I weed out the ones I don’t need in my life that being the one’s without open arms.

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