It is your cracks that make you stronger.
Stigma is never a good thing. We do it with race, gender, sexuality, religion, and mental health. Go ahead, tell your friends and coworkers that you are crazy. At first they will laugh and then they will ignore it (and maybe even you). That is how stigma works.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. To help others their mental illness, he created the Brandon Marshall Foundation. He compares the stigma of mental health with cancer and HIV:
We stigmatize people whom we think of as “crazy.” As soon as we hear that someone is mentally ill, we imagine a person crashing an airplane into a mountain or going on a shooting rampage. We never imagine the guy next to us on his computer or the woman who reads her book on the bus. Because of the media’s portrayal of mental illness, crazy is explosive and gets attention.
I am crazy and I don’t shoot people or explode things. Seasons of crazy wash over me and I become depressed, anxious and imprisoned in a mind that is at war with itself. Then I feel better and I move on. Months, or maybe a year later, I again face down my emotional terrorist.
Stigma Makes Us Sick
Stigma may look kind or it can be nasty. Some people may seem compassionate and try to fix you, they may wellsplain your experience (offering a positive or simple explanation for a complex emotional experience), some may expect you to stop complaining and just get back to work, and some may simply ignore you. Mental health Stigma makes us sick.
Crazy people are not a danger to anyone, unless if it is dangerous to be honest. When you admit that you experience depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar it can make people uncomfortable. Many people will stigmatize you (30-56% according to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada). A fear of being treated differently can make it difficult to reach out when we are suffering. Please, never stop asking for help even if someone is an asshole.
I have battled with depression since being a teenager, but only began to talk openly about my experience in my late 40’s. We keep quiet and we suffer.
We talk a great deal about physical health and we use words like health, fitness and wellness. But words that come to mind when we think about mental health might be crazy, unstable or even violent. Why do we automatically think that mental health is a negative term that describes a lack of health in our mind or our emotions?
Time to Reclaim our Crazy
- Your cracks are what make you stronger. The original meaning of Crazy is ‘full of cracks.’ If crazy means cracked, imperfect and broken, I will sign up and be a card carrier. I want to live in a world where our cracks make us stronger and are what make us unique and special. Taking your mental health seriously can increase your empathy, improve your ability to self-reflect and live more consciously.
- Your crazy makes the world better a better place. Talking about your experience may make some people uncomfortable. Studies show that stigma subsides when people hear stories about real experiences with mental illness. Uncomfortable is good, because it is the first stage of change. Talking about your mental health is difficult but when you decide to open up, you are fighting the stigma.
- You are stronger when you get what you need. We each need to be crazy now and then. Who doesn’t feel depressed or anxious or stuck in loops of trauma or deal with unrelenting thoughts? Yes, we move through it and go on. And most times, we are not ill. We are normal and this is our experience.
Sometimes we need self-care and perhaps professional care. You and I may need different things at different times. The story you tell yourself is important. You are suffering, you are struggling, you can be strong and you will make it.
Call your sorrow a disease or don’t. Take drugs or don’t. See a therapist or don’t. But whatever you do, when life drives you to your knees, which it is bound to do, which maybe it is meant to do, don’t settle for being sick in the brain. Remember that’s just a story. Gary Greenberg
- Your experience is your art. When you get lost in a task, it can often make you feel better. Tasks where you can invest time and see your progress build different strengths in the brain. We feel grounded and remind ourselves that we are capable. Begin with small building projects, make art, knit, swing a hammer or try writing. Making art may just make you better.
Your madness is what makes you. I call on each of us to challenge the stigma of mental health. Share your story, ask someone how they are doing, share this article and reclaim your crazy.
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Robin Williams
The Good Men Project is a place where you can reclaim your crazy and plant your feet in a conversation that is trying to change things. Join us!
Keep it Real
Greenberg, G. (2010). Manufacturing depression. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. See page 367.
Jamison, K.R. (1993). Touched with fire. New York: Free Press Paperbacks.
Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the World Psychiatric Association Scientific Section on Stigma and Mental Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012). Changing how we see mental illness: A report on the 5th international stigma conference. http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/system/files/private/document/Stigma_Opening_Minds_Together_Against_Stigma_ENG.pdf
Mood Disorders Society of Canada. (2009). Quick Facts: Mental health and addiction in Canada. http://www.mooddisorderscanada.ca/documents/Media%20Room/Quick%20Facts%203rd%20Edition%20Eng%20Nov%2012%2009.pdf. See page 34 in particular.
Szabo, L. (2015). Cost of not caring: Stigma set in stone. Mentally ill suffer in sick health system. Published by USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/stigma-of-mental-illness/9875351/
Photo credit: Rupak Anto