My Love/Hate Relationship With Stigma
Stigma, the sound of that very word strikes anger in many of us burdened with mental health challenges. It also strikes fear in many others and is one of the more significant factors in stopping many with mental health challenges in actually reaching out for help.
For me I have a love/hate relationship with stigma. Yes I know that may sound confusing and impossible but let me explain. It was my hatred of stigma that motivated me to make my battles with PTSD and MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) public. Going public with my firefighting crew and co-workers was not an easy thing to do but allowed me to move forward on my journey. I have not hidden from anybody, the fact that I have been diagnosed with these mental health issues and have gone so far as to try and educate people as often as I can on the intricate details of PTSD and what it’s like for me living with PTSD day in and day out. Stomping out the stigma surrounding mental health challenges has become somewhat of a passion for me.
During my mental health journey with PTSD and MDD, like so many, there have been many ups and downs. There have been good days and bad days and some very very dark days. It was stigma that stopped me from reaching out and talking about just how dark those dark days actually were when I really should have reached out for help. On my very darkest of days, one specific day actually, when I was completely overwhelmed, feeling helpless, hopeless and desperate to escape the emotional and mental pain that comes with PTSD and MDD, I made a decision, a decision I felt and believed was the only way to escape those feelings.
While I had made the decision that suicide was the answer, I had not actually made a plan just yet on how to carry out that decision. It was over the next few days as I pondered the impact of my decision on my family of carrying out what I had decided, that I developed my love of stigma. Yes it is strange but true! Stigma surrounding depression and PTSD is bad enough, but the stigma surrounding suicide is so much worse. As a society we are talking more and more about PTSD and depression but we are still woefully silent on suicide.
True, had I planned and carried out my decision I would be gone, but my family, my wife, my daughter and my son would still be here and forever burdened with the stigma of suicide. While I desperately wanted to rid myself of the overwhelming, helpless and hopeless feelings I had at that time, I also loved my family dearly and couldn’t bare the thought of burdening them with the stigma of my suicide.
The stigma of suicide, in my case, actually saved my life. True, some will say that it was my love for my family that saved my life, but the fact is, my love for my family has been constant throughout my entire mental health journey even before those dark days.
While I hate the stigma surrounding mental health and will do what I can to rid society of it, I also have to acknowledge that it was the very same stigma that actually saved my life, hence my love/hate relationship with mental health stigma.