Rebounding from the Sting of Stigma

This was originally posted on The Good men Project ( )

“Shattered, shattered
Love and hope and sex and dreams
Are still surviving on the street
Look at me, I’m in tatters!
I’m a shattered
Shattered” Rolling Stones

After years of being shunned, how did I return to feeling like a respected and respectable person.

Last week I wrote about acceptance, rejection, and feeing relevant. One could say it was the start of a discussion on stigma. I often read and hear about stigma. I see people using the word, and with due respect, not everyone appreciates its meaning. I am a firm believer that until you live it, you will not truly understand the impact mental illness and stigma have on people. One can be understanding but not understand it. One can have a perspective but it’s different than someone with lived experience. My family has one, I have another. All are needed for society to address the stigma against mental illness.

When your core group of friends abandons you, you then “get it”. The impact is like having your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth shattered against a brick wall. This happened to me. I was hurt, angry, sad, and shocked, in no particular order, perhaps all at once.

As I felt the complete loss of support, I was in the midst of weekly therapy. This loss became a deep and ongoing discussion with my doctor. She of course was expecting this discussion.

But at the end, as with many issues in life, it came done to a simple, but gut wrenching decision. Do I want these so-called friends in my life? Do I want to hold on to that anger, that pain? Do I want to dismiss them from my life? To some extent, the friends made the decision, they didn’t want me in their lives. That’s a tough one to accept.

I eventually dismissed them from my mind and heart. I came to learn that doing so was healthy. It gave me the space to then address my own needs and seek friendships with new people who understood and accepted my life.
How did I rebound from such hurt, such abandonment? Simple occurrences were the building blocks to overcoming this harsh treatment.

Last week, I mentioned the positive impact the woman of my dreams had by accepting my depression as a factor in the demise of our relationship.

Let’s look at a few things that to most would not even go noticed.

I wasn’t well enough to work or even leave the house, so I spent a lot of time online. I was looking to better understand my life.

I came to learn many people with mental illness have felt the sting of stigma. It wasn’t me as a person who was rejected. I recognized that people ran from my mental illness, not from me, though the effect was the same. I was able to take some solace.

I was offered a job with the Canadian Mental Health Association. I hadn’t worked in eight years. I needed a bank account as my old ones were dormant since I had no money for a few years. Having a bank account with money deposited was huge! To have a bank teller who I knew but had seen in years, say “ Hello, Keith” was incredible. To be able to cash a pay cheque was overwhelming. I began feeling like a full person. I was not my illness.

I walked into the CMHA Offices as a staff member. Other staff accepted me as a colleague. The Executive Director who hired me sought my advice on a number of issues. I was the Project Manager on a national initiative and had discussions with people across Canada. I got to travel a bit. I met people who accepted me, who respected me. Some even liked me!

My life was starting to come together. I could function in a work place and make new friends. It took my breath at times!

Strangers being kind to me, holding a door open at a shop, helped me feel good. A smile as we passed each other on the street made my day better. Not just for that moment, but for the entire day.

I speak and write , obviously, about my journey through mental illness. When I get invited to present at a conference, it provides a true sense of belonging. In fact I am asked to present because of my mental illness. Now that’s something to recognize ! Receiving comments on my writings makes me feel good.

My mind came undone due to mental illness. Now I celebrate my depression that took so much of my life into darkness. My life is better as a result. It’s all about perspective.

We all have challenges. We all know pain. We also know the joys of life. We must embrace all aspects of our lives. Only then will our lives be worth living.

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