An important note from Ruby: These words are not my own. I did not write this piece. I may wish (very much) that I had, but this is something written by Cate Reddell, who has an amazing gift with not just how she puts her words together, but how each one of them is imbued with her beautiful voice, and her beautiful conviction. Some of you may be familiar with Cate’s blog, Infinite Sadness… or hope? If you aren’t, have a look, it is well worth your time.
We’ve never done any “guest posts” on Canvas, and that’s not what this is meant to be at all. This is a piece Cate originally published on her own blog a few days ago. It struck me so deeply that I did something unprecedented. I asked Cate for her permission to reproduce it in its entirety as a post on Canvas. Cate most graciously agreed to let me do so. I have no intention of making this a regular event, we have so many wonderful writers who make up Team Canvas, and who are incredibly talented and dedicated to the project. But this one just got me and wouldn’t let go. You can find Cate’s original right here, should you want to comment to her. I’ll be fielding the comments below, on Canvas.
If your first thought is that this post is going to be about either my sexuality, or someone elses, you’d be forgiven. Coming out used to be about being presented to society, and more recently it’s been about coming out of the closet. Usually the gay closet. I’m not about to do either of these but coming out is something that I’ve been thinking about in terms of mental illness.
Lately I’ve been reading a number of blogs and articles about the stigma of mental illness, and more specifically the stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). And each time I’ve finished feeling a little frustrated, like we haven’t quite hit the nail on the head yet in addressing this problem.
That’s why I started thinking about the way in which sexuality, and more specifically, different kinds of sexuality have been moving toward a more acceptable space in society. I know that there is a long way to go yet for the LGBT movement, to enable all people to feel able to be who they are without being stigmatized. I look forward to the day when we all accept people for who they are.
It’s got me thinking. Head back nearly 30 years ago, in New Zealand there was massive reform going on to see homosexuality legalised in 1986. It was a huge reform which saw many protests and arguments. Actually it was much along the lines of the Marriage Equality legislation that is currently being debated in many countries (including New Zealand).
As a young, (I was 21) heterosexual I could have chosen to ignore the 1980′s reform. At the time I was very involved in a Christian church (as I had been all my life) where homosexuality was frowned upon. Actually ‘frowned’ is not that word. It was regarded as wrong, and as a sin.
For me though, at the time I was working in an office where my boss was an openly gay man, and a co-worker was openly transsexual. It gave me a completely different view-point than the middle-class, Christian upbringing I had. At that time, to be open about your sexuality was a big thing. Not only were my workmates going against the norm, they were also going against the law.
I have to admit that it wasn’t until I knew those people who I realised that actually we are all the same and that no one deserves to be judged by another. At 21, I came to the conclusion that if they weren’t hurting anyone then why should they not be able to live freely the life they chose? I accordingly voted for homosexual law reform.
What has this got to do with mental illness? It strikes me that those of us who have mental illness need to ‘come out’ too. I know only too well that when we’re dealing with mental illness, we’ve got more than enough to think about let alone taking on activism. But it seems to me that it is exactly what had to happen (and still happens) for those of a sexuality other than heterosexuality. They had to come out in order to see change happen in our society. Maybe it’s not fair, but no one can deny that coming out has helped open society to different realities.
In the same way it is those of us with mental illnesses who have the vested interest in seeing the end of the stigma of mental illness. It seems to me that I will directly benefit if there is more openness and acceptance of mental illness in society. For my neighbours who don’t have a mental illness the benefit is indirect.Maybe it shouldn’t have been the responsibility of the LGBT movement to change the thinking of society. In an ideal world, I’d go so far as to suggest as this should have been a responsibility of all human beings. The thing is though, that the LGBT movement were the one’s who had a vested interest in getting laws and attitudes changed.
I’d like to think that everyone in society would want this, but the reality is that there isn’t the same obvious benefit for them, as there is for me. They’re not the one’s who have to think carefully who they admit their mental illness to. I do though, and in that respect I am little different from my transsexual work-mate of 30 years ago.
I believe we have a choice. We can sit and wait, hoping that one day society will magically change its attitude to mental illness. Or we can think about speaking up. Coming out about our mental illness. Because the more people who realise that they have a friend, neighbour, family member or work-mate with a mental illness, the more acceptable it will become.
It doesn’t need to be a big deal. I don’t think we need to list off all our diagnoses. Actually I believe that would be as off putting as if we listed off everything that was physically wrong. We just need to let people know that mental illness exists, and is not the scary thing society has thought it to be. If we can admit to our friends that we have, say diabetes, then why not mental illness? This is exactly what the LGBT movement has done… shown that different sexualities are actually normal.
I don’t for one moment think that this is an easy ask. There is a lot at stake. I’ve simply come to the conclusion that I can’t just sit and wait, hoping that one day things will change. It’s not going to magically happen. But if each person takes a small step, as the LGBT people have done over years, and as other minority groups have also done in the past, then we start to make a difference.
“We learned three crucial lessons from LGBT activists: We had to build a movement. We couldn’t be afraid to challenge our friends in power. And we had to give our cause a human face.”
– Frank Sharry, America’s Voice
“We have got some very big problems confronting us and let us not make any mistake about it, human history in the future is fraught with tragedy … It’s only through people making a stand against that tragedy and being doggedly optimistic that we are going to win through. If you look at the plight of the human race it could well tip you into despair, so you have to be very strong.”
― Robert James Brown
Relevant Reads from Team Canvas:
To Out Thyself Or Not To Out Thyself ~ Always (A Canvas Of The Minds)
Stigma? What Stigma? ~ Always (A Canvas Of The Minds)
Coming Out Bipolar, Round 1 ~ DeeDee (Disorderly Chickadee)
Coming Out Bipolar, Round 2 ~ DeeDee (Disorderly Chickadee)
Helping to Break Stigma ~ Hellosailor (A Canvas Of The Minds)
© Cate Reddell and Infinite Sadness… or hope? 2013. Reproduced with the author’s written consent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
© Ruby Tuesday and A Canvas Of The Minds 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
This is an amazing piece. I 100% agree that things will not change unless we decide to make a change and to not be afraid to talk about our own mental illness. I too have lived my life afraid to admit that I suffer from debilitating panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I have felt crazy, ashamed, frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, so many different emotions and I have always assumed that people will not understand. I’m slowly coming to this same conclusion that I need to share who I am. I’ve done that with my novel and it’s funny because the people who read it, they feel me! Someone who read it recently said to me, in your novel there’s a part where Victoria says, you would not understand me, the crazy insane ravings coming from my mouth make absolutely no sense to you, and this reader said to me, but you are making sense, you are explaining it with your book, with your writing and people can understand you. And I think that is so important. I really want things to change. I don’t want to have to fear talking about who I really am or how I really feel. And mental illness/disorders are a big topic right now in the media. This is the perfect time to express what it’s like to be us, to not be afraid, to take a stand. Thank you for this piece! It’s another reminder to me that I too can continue to share who I am and thereby break the stigma. Because mental illness doesn’t define me, but it’s part of who I am and I’m fairly certain that I’m an awesome person. 🙂
I’m fairly certain you’re an awesome person, too, Victoria!
One of the reasons I really wanted to share Cate’s words was because she said things that I feel so strongly, but I’m coming from a bit of a skewed perspective (as I pretty much always am). Ever since I decided to enter treatment when I was 25, I have been extremely open about my experiences with mental illness. Friends, family, complete strangers even, discussions are had with them all. I felt a huge mix of things before seeking out a psychiatrist (I knew already that I was bipolar, and had for some time), but any kind of shame or fear of what others might think was never among that mix. So while, on a cognitive level, I can understand why people with mental illness hide it, and of course I can empathize 100%, I can’t ever reproduce Cate’s wonderful expressions of what makes her hesitant to talk openly.
And the thing is, while I certainly have experienced some negative reactions, they have been entirely from people close to me. New friends, the baristas I know so well at my local Starbucks, my stylist, strangers I strike up conversations with, all have been emphatically supportive, understanding, and frequently want to talk to me about it, or share stories of their own. And these conversations happen a lot, because the most commonly asked small talk question in the world is, “What do you do for a living?” And to that, I respond with the truth, that I’m on SSI disability for bipolar disorder.
People want to talk about it. People want to know. And I’m educating my own girls about mental illness, so they will grow up knowing there is no shame. We each just have to decide for ourselves how comfortable we are, and how much we are willing to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones to effect change.
Wow,I like your POV as well. It’s great to hear everyone’s experience with mental illness. Surprisingly for me, I have always been more of a hider about it even though I also consider myself to be an emotional spewer. I have this need to speak, to communicate, but that was always one of the things I wouldn’t talk about.
It’s refreshing to hear your take, that you never thought it was wrong to talk about. And it’s not, but for some of us, we’ve always felt uncomfortable opening up. I think you are the ideal, the person who isn’t ashamed of it and not afraid to be open with people, that’s what we need, that kind of openness. If we were all so open and unashamed than how could anyone find fault or criticize? It would be as if people with mental illness were more the norm, and I’m sure there are numbers enough to prove this, more people probably have something they deal with than people who are “normal” whatever that is! Great discussion! Thanks for starting it. 🙂
Thank you so much for your high praise and kind words, Victoria. You’ve pretty well caught the spirit behind the entire point of Canvas itself with your words. We all have different experiences, different points of view, different comfort levels. And through this blog, we really want to showcase all of those differences. We want to show that we all have our own struggles, but we also all handle them and are people you know — you may just not know all about our lives. And, as you say, the more we can be open and educate and raise awareness in whatever way best suits us, the more individuals will realize how the majority of people, even if they don’t carry a mental health diagnosis, will struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives, and this is nothing to try to hide of feel ashamed of. We should be so proud we have survived all we have!
Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts – I love the “coming out” parallel. What it brings to my mind – specifically with the “borderline personality disorder” label – is something I’ve been noticing as I peruse around the internet, most sites about relationships alert readers to the “red flags” and warning signs of various personality disorders. What strikes me is partly how carved in stone they take these personality disorders to be, and what a strong position of “us” and “them”, as in “crazy” and “not-crazy” people is given. And obviously the sites are written for “not-crazy” people telling them to stay away from “crazy” people. I say this as someone who reads those sites and knows I would raise about a gazillion red flags. Anyway. It’s just all a bit black and white. This post made me think a lot – thank you. Kat
Kat, I really appreciate your perspective on this one, because it isn’t one I’ve ever really contemplated. But you’re absolutely right, the terminology, the “us versus them” mentality, and how black and white mental illness is made out to be. You’re either raving mad and must be avoided like the plague, or you’re 100% sane and therefore great to associate with! There are so many nuances and degrees to every mental illness — though I agree that BPD often catches some of the worst of the stigma — people are inevitably surprised when they learn that I am on disability for bipolar disorder (and have been for a number of years), I’ve undergone ECT (though the most common response to that one is, “I didn’t think they did that anymore!”), and all the other pieces of my story. I’m so “normal” — which gives me a laugh, because mental illness notwithstanding, I have never been normal!
But the same people are always so very kind, and want to speak to me about it, and learn more, and I think the main factor in that is they are looking at an individual, not a label. It’s one of the many reasons I hope more and more people will become comfortable speaking up and having open conversations about their mental illness, because it’s much easier to make that “us” versus “them” divide when “them” are not looking you in the face and talking with you.
So wonderful to see Cate’s words reach a wider audience. I am the proudest man on Earth right now as I read these comments and know that others see what I see in my beloved.
She really is pretty amazing, but I don’t have to tell you that! As I said in the preface, I wish I could have written these words myself.
You were spot on to choose to reblog this post Ruby. Cate’s words deserved to be heard and it is good that the Canvas audience can hear them. Thank you Cate for your thoughts and courage.
Cate’s posts are always something very special, Ken. I think you would enjoy them. But this one said something I wanted everyone to hear, in Cate’s lovely melodic voice. My own on the subject would be louder and more passionate — which is not always the best approach, and in this case, I don’t feel it would fit.
Can we reblog further? I’d love to share it on my site too! With Cate’s permission of course…
Sorry this reply has taken me so long. Cate is currently away, but when she returns I’m sure she can talk with you about sharing (if she hasn’t already, not sure how/if she’s monitoring these comments). And I can certainly ask her for you. 🙂
I had pretty much the same reaction! Gorgeous and well-put!
Jennifer, I’m glad it spoke to you the way it did me (and many others). Cate has quite the gift!
Oh thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU! I am so glad you posted this! This is EXACTLY why I started my blog – the irony being, I’ve done it anonymously, because the small town I live in, the family members who still don’t understand, the kids at my daughters school who have been so cruel, the rejection of her by her grandparents …. it can get to be too much .. but I HAD to do something. I had to put the reality of living with mh out there, and showing the world that we’re all the same inside and in our hearts. THIS is why I was put on this earth, so again, THANK YOU for being so brave; both COTM & Cate. I’m always happy to find other blogs by people who get it.
Jane, I understand your frustration with blogging anonymously. I actually only “came out” last year in my “Behind The Curtain” post. Of course, by then the pseudonym had stuck enough that I kept it, it was how people had gotten to know me in the online world.
It has to be much harder with the small town dynamic, and especially with your daughter. As much as you want to speak openly and help destroy the stigma, you have to always think of her first. But you are speaking out and taking steps, and that helps others’ to have the confidence to do the same, so good for you!