I wear one several times a week and I hear nothing. I walk miles each day wearing it, passing many people and I hear nothing but the vast noise in my own head: my OCD thoughts and never-ending emotional worry. I try to focus on listening to the music through my ear buds, my 90s favorites. As I walk, I receive some smiles, friendly “hellos,” but otherwise silence. It’s deafening. They walk past, children and adults, and clearly read the message on each one. If eye contact is made, they either look away quickly or look past me almost pretending they never read it at all.
I know my expectations are very high. I want to be stopped, told how great the message is that I am wearing, that it’s so important, but, again, there is only silence. I want so much for people to engage, say something, let me know they get it. I want to hear how glad they are I am promoting such a critical message and fighting the stigma of mental illness.
The reality that faces me, however, is a quiet one. People do not comment on others’ messages on their shirts. I know I have never stopped someone to comment and perhaps it would be weird to do so. My passion gets in my way, at times. I know this and I am not naïve about this. Right now, I am feeling pressure, which ebbs and flows over time and that I have written about in the past. I am feeling the pressure of needing to be louder about my experience with mental illness, with multiple diagnoses and multiple treatments. I feel desperate that people will never get it and this is only added to my worry about the never-ending stigma that is rampant in society. I am so sick of it, of hearing about it, of living it. I am sick of hearing about people who have become outcasts from their own family and friends after a hypomanic episode, a psychotic episode or a depressive episode. We need support from those who know us and love us. Recovery simply cannot work without these people who are vital to our living the best we can. I cannot imagine living my life without the support I receive from those who have always loved and cared about me, during the difficult times as well as the better times.
So, I am angry. I am fighting. I don’t really care when someone says, “I am so OCD about…”I simply hope s/he knows or is willing to learn about the reality of someone who lives with the real OCD. I don’t care when someone says, “I am having a bad day and I’m sooo depressed.” Again, I hope s/he can learn what it is like for someone who is living in a major depressive episode. I do care when someone says, “My husband and I had a fight about the laundry and I just want to kill myself because I am so annoyed.” I care because that person had an argument, which we all have with our spouse, but doesn’t mean she truly wants to kill herself as a result of that argument. She is using it as normal everyday jargon and that upsets me. Again, I know I have those high expectations of people, but saying that in front of someone you know has struggled with mental illness and/or has been suicidal or even a complete stranger, immediately stigmatizes not only that person but the term itself.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is imperative that we educate one another, share stories and experiences and support those who are struggling and have struggled. You never know what another is going through unless s/he tells you, but even then, we never share every single thing that we experience. No one does.
When my 8 year old daughter is angry, I ask her to talk and communicate about it and that is what I am doing here. I want people to say something, smile, give a thumbs up…anything to let me know they get it. So comment when someone is wearing any shirt that supports any illness or cause. We wear it for a reason.
My depression is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn’t have to be.