The Weight and Measure of Stigma

If I could know then what I know now, I would never want to. When I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 over 20 years ago it was still the era of shame and hiding mental health diagnosis. Neuro-diversity was not yet a term and we did not have “days” or campaigns dedicated to understanding or awareness. There was always an unspoken agreement, that I should never speak or admit to it in public and for some I am certain this still remains. This existence in truth created wordless pain in my nervous system, body and soul. The symptoms of the diagnosis are very difficult to deal with by themselves, but then to add endless emotional energy to mask the anxiety and fear of being seen as lesser or in a box of defective just adds to the distress. The culture was one of obtaining a perfect “normal” which in my opinion is driven strongly by a great deal of fear and cultural habits of convenient othering. Generational norms and holding tightly to old, worn out, dated cruelty and divisiveness. What I learned over two decades of being in the shadows and experiencing a great deal of struggle was in truth, to rely on myself. To within my solitude, bravely and slowly excavate the many layers of fear that had shaped my own exhausting habits to be seen as normal or acceptable. This striving, was another full time job after working a full time job and maintaining a marriage and having two children. During these decades of experience, over the many moments, relentless practice, micro-decisions and vulnerability, I learned that the pain was the fuel to fight the very large force of fear and judgement. Stigma is an overwhelming wall. Fear is a torment that steals voice and freedom. As I learned to lean ever closer to vulnerability, I found liberation from my life long fear of being diverse. Now, I am left with the aftermath of a silent war fought alone. The pain of longing, disappointment and honestly some resentment. I easily deal with the resentment, as when I sit with it, I realize every human contains the tendency to be divisive because of the fear of survival and this I can understand. The longing is something more difficult to ease. I work on it within my solitude, to gain healing over the fact that humans often have love for one another, but so often are blocked from truly communing for fear of emotional availability because of their own walled off, damaged hearts. As for disappointment over my fate as a person born with Bipolar or the era in which I lived with it in, I don’t contain it. Though it was a great suffering, I am grateful for it as it gave me a depth of understanding and freedom I otherwise would never have been able to obtain. Moving forward, my advice is that stigma is so strong, but it is built on fear and you are stronger. Have courage and move one breath, one step towards your pain. Remain still and gently feel the truth of emotion in your heart. This is where your freedom will be found. Your desire to avoid vulnerability will be so strong, lean ever closer anyway. This is where authentic freedom and peace resides. This is where your strength and courage are cultivated. With every breath of truth your autonomy becomes more of a reality. This together, is how we will step ever closer to families and communities with relationships built on compassion, non-judgement and understanding. A space where we can be a part of slowing the momentum of the stream of fear and age old loneliness and heartbreaking separateness and thrive and live instead within authentic, available, love filled relationships.

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