May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I Pledge to Change Perceptions and Stop the Stigma

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It’s mental health awareness month and as a result, we should share our stories and own our stuff. According to the State of Maine, I have a ‘mental disorder’ and by law must have a psychiatrist sign off that I am taking medications and seeking treatment regularly in order to keep my driver’s license. At first I was so offended by the whole thing but then I asked the DMV if the police would know that I have Post Traumatic Stress if they pulled me over. They said yes they would have access to that information. I said good. I want them to know I have Post Traumatic Stress so I can easily explain that the authority and blue lights alone give me panic attacks so bad that I tremble, my heart starts racing, and my face begins to sweat. It’s not because I am guilty of any crime; police who pull me over just trigger the symtomology and I don’t know why. I back the blue too.

I suggested to the state that the term ‘mental disorder’ could probably be changed to something a little less stigmatizing. But what would they change it to? Mental illness has a stigma too because we only hear the negative news. Having a mental illness, like Post Traumatic Stress, does take constant management. We work really hard to move along the healing continuum. If I was to drink, do drugs, or not take care of myself, I would end up in the news too. The majority of those who do have the diagnosis do take care of themselves. Some don’t know how to take care of themselves (or may not understand what is happening). And some need caregivers and other assistants to help them manage the diagnosis and daily living skills. It is my hope to educate my friends and even the public that mental illness has a stigma because of the media. Please don’t automatically assume that someone is dangerous simply because of a diagnosis. I am living proof that people with mental illness can succeed and have a good life. It may not go away and healing feels like the cha-cha, one step forward, two steps back, but we continue to progress along the healing continuum and learn to manage the symptoms better with time and a little help from medical professionals (ok, maybe a lot of help from professionals).

I own it. And if someone wants to judge me for a Post Traumatic Stress diagnosis, that says something about them, not me. I am going to continue to have a good life despite the diagnosis and other people’s ignorance, if you haven’t noticed. We should have zero shame for a mental health issue or diagnosis. And those that do downward spiral and fall apart need our help, not our judgement. Those with a mental illness have a friend in me. I get it and I got your back. We are perfect just the way we are and we can do great things too.


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