If there’s anything I’m leaving behind in 2019, it’s the teenaged, damaged version of me. I’m leaving behind immaturity and replacing it with realistic observation and contemplation. I’m respecting the graves of my trauma, enough that I can finally leave the cemetery. I’m not looking for anything in 2020. I will understand myself better and I will reach the potential I’ve always had. I will be turning 25 in 2020.
I started my old blog Mental Truths in July 2015. My last post was sometime early 2019. As I read through old posts, I realized how lost and confused and disconnected I was. It was mental health rants sprinkled with a hint of actual coherent thought.
And what I’ve learned between July 2015 and December 2019 is that the complexities of life are not only beautiful, they are terrifying. I learned there is nothing inherently wrong with terror and fear. I learned we often allow ourselves to be controlled by these primal reactions to life. I learned how our body and mind respond to life is dependent on more factors than neurotransmitters or trauma.
I went from an anti-psychiatry extremist to someone who sees more division within the mental health community than in those outside of the community who move against us or refuse to accept us. I learned Stigma is real and also bullshit.
We self-stigmatize more than others stigmatize us. We hold our struggles against others, as if the entire world doesn’t suffer in some way at some point. As if our personal struggle is so great that family, friends, partners, should put our health before their own, and if they don’t, they’re being “unreasonable” or they “don’t care”. As if everything revolves around us.
As if we must force people to accept us. We don’t.
People won’t accept us until we accept ourselves. Until we stop pretending the experience of voices and visions hold more pain and torment and severity than the experience of anxiety and panic. Until we recognize we all hurt.
This holds true for any inequality. I am mixed race, my father is African American, my mother is Caucasian, with her family having immigrated from Poland. Much of my life has been dictated by a cultural identity crisis. I didn’t fit in with the white kids, I didn’t fit in with the black kids, and I felt like I had to fit in with one of them. I was the only non-Hispanic in a college prep class that was supposed to be specified toward low-income, first generation college bound students. Instead, it was geared toward brown students who had a pretty good home life and high income. It took four years for them to integrate other races. And by other races, I mean two white kids.
And so I was very angry. I was sick of watching movies and documentaries in my college prep class ONLY dedicated toward brown students. I was sick of teachers handing me Spanish instructions for my parents and looking at me weird when I said I didn’t speak Spanish.
I felt erased. I felt degraded. Invisible. Ignored. And this is the result of a culture believing pain has hierarchy. A culture that thinks every little mention of skin color or inequality is fulfilling a racist culture. A culture where “you don’t look/act schizophrenic” is actually a sentence that’s uttered.
I had a right to be angry. But looking back, I placed myself on a pedestal. That “I’m more disadvantaged than you” type of superiority that seems to plague every ethnicity and every culture in some way.
Fear is a strong emotion. And psychological research has shown in countless studies that we often misinterpret our own feelings and signals we receive from our body. What may be fear may register as anger or sadness or even arousal. Looking back, I know now that I feared everything not because I didn’t fit in, but because I didn’t know myself. Sometimes arrogance and superiority becomes a barrier against the world.
And that’s happening in the mental health community. We fear our experiences often, we fear the thought of never “getting better”, we fear rejection and misunderstanding. And so we strive to prove we are sick. We strive to prove we are in pain, that we suffer, and in the middle of that battle we engage in friendly fire.
I’ve spent the last three years working on my fear. I was tired of being a prisoner and being sick meant I was a prisoner. Being “okay against my will” as one singer puts it, meant I was a prisoner. And so I dove into fear and terrified myself. I stopped being okay and in not being okay I became even better than okay.
What the mental health community needs right now isn’t stupid stigma campaigns.
What changes would we see in our wonderfully versatile, talented, and strong community if we were to stop seeing ourselves as the broken branches on the tree of society? What changes would we see if we stopped calling ourselves sick and instead called ourselves varied? Experienced? Raw? If we see ourselves as fully human, fully capable, intelligent, fierce, and in a lot of pain, the world will follow.
The world can understand pain. Let’s not make it any more complicated than that.
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