(April 26, 2007)

At Living Room tomorrow I’m going to open a discussion on stigma and how it has – or has not – affected us. I’m sure everyone will have stories of when they’ve been hurt or misunderstood.

I believe stigma is the greatest enemy of those who live with mental illness. It often causes us greater suffering than the symptoms of our disease. If we were understood and given love and support, the illness would be easier to bear. And if society did not harbor such a stigma, many more would accept the medical care they need. There would be no need hide their suffering.

I came to terms with the stigma element years ago when I decided to come out and write about my bipolar disorder. I don’t internalize the stigma; I don’t feel shame. At times I notice I’m shunned by others, but I don’t think it bothers me. I accept that this is the way things are…for now. But I won’t accept that this is the way it should always be. We have to fight for a change in attitude towards mental illness. Only then will the lives of those who have to live with it improve.

I lost a good friend when I came out. He thought my illness should remain hidden and not talked about. He now won’t speak to me when I see him. He is a wise and loving man otherwise. We’d always had great talks. I guess that’s what hurts most. But I’m not sorry for speaking out. He is in the wrong. I know that what I’m doing is helping many.

The good thing about coming out is that you end up with nothing to hide. After I started writing about it, my life became – quite literally – an open book. This is very freeing. I’ve never been sorry about doing that. And I’m grateful that my life situation is such that I can afford to be open. Since I don’t have to work I don’t have to worry about employers finding out.

Most of the people at my church know that I have bipolar disorder. Despite that, I have many friends there and receive much love and support. It’s good to know I can tell them when I’m not well and ask for prayer. My pastor has done all he can to learn about mood disorders and attends our Living Room group meetings. On May 6th he will give a sermon about mental illness, something he has never done before. If only all church goers who suffer from mental health problems could get this kind of support!