Stigma in my family

Friday, 30 January 2015 Louise

Louise recounts overhearing a relative saying something upsetting about her mental health, and why she's determined not to hide her mental health problems.

I’ve always been what some may call neurotic. I’m uptight, nervous and sensitive. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve; if I feel something, you’ll know about it, I just can’t hide it. The one thing I never thought I was, until recently, was weak.

I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and borderline Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for around ten years now, and I do a damn good job of coping with it, even when the conditions conspire to bring me to my lowest ebb. Personal circumstances, combined with a wicked dose of Seasonal Affective Disorder, made for a very difficult Christmas. Just a few days before the 25th, I overheard a conversation that would make me question everything about myself and the people that are supposed to love me.

I always disclose to my immediate family any health issues I’m having, including mental health. I’d been struggling with anxiety since the death of a very close loved one and depression was clouding my mind, making me tearful and not as robust as I usually am. I’d been to my GP and was on appropriate medication, and simply taking each day as I found it. I always believed my immediate family loved me unconditionally, regardless of my “flaws” or my mental health. But it turns out, for one non-blood relative, they were simply masking how they truly perceived me.

“She’s an attention seeker; she just wants all the focus on her. She’s a weak person. She needs to grow a spine. Everyone thinks she’s a hypochondriac.”

I was aghast, my mouth wide open in shock, when these words reached me from another room. I sat there, numb, tears in my eyes, wondering what I’d done to bring about such a character assassination. And I did confront the person, who then took on an attitude akin to that of a moody teenager. I had no idea, that someone who’d been there, supporting me through most of my life, really saw me as weak for having mental health problems. I thought my family was more progressive than that. I thought families were supposed to be caring, accepting, a safe haven from the other people who used stigma and discrimination.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve felt unaccepted by my own family; I was previously told to hide my mental health from prospective employers as according to a certain relative, they themselves wouldn’t hire someone with depression.

I shunned that piece of advice: I’m not ashamed of having mental health issues, I refuse to hide it. Which is why I wanted to write this blog. If I can find stigma in my own family, I’m sure others are dealing with this too. It’s not ok that this goes on in our own homes. It’s not ok to think we are weak. And it’s not ok to keep stigma alive in this day and age.

If it weren’t for my amazing friendships, I wouldn’t have weathered the storm that was Christmas. We can’t pick our families, but we can pick our friends, and when it all comes down to it, I know now who will love me at my best and my worst.

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