Mental Health Month “Shame”

SHAME

“Shame on anyone who provokes unnecessary shame.”

For those who have never experienced mental health issues, it may be possible to consider a mentally ill person as wallowing lazily in their feelings of elected sadness. This may provoke a feeling of ‘isn’t it a shame?’ a sense that they are wasting their life choosing to act and behave this way.

Many times the mentally ill person will be quizzed;

Do you work out?

Do you eat right?

Do you sleep enough?

Sometimes those quizzes are not kind queries but have the double-headed effect of sounding like criticisms. The implication being; If you worked out (better or more often) if you ate better (your fault) if you slept well (rather than badly, by choice) you’d not be sick.

I go back to my earlier point, barring cigarette smokers, would we say this to someone who told us they suffered from cancer? (And is it even morally right to condemn a cigarette smoker for his/her part in their disease?).

Who the hell do we think we are?

Well … we think we are the well ones, the ones who have the answers to the malady of elected depression and/or mental-illness. We think this because we have no ability to empathize with a different way of feeling, because we have no experience of it ourselves or we do and we ‘got over it’ so we assume everyone else can.

It’s worth noting, there are differing types of mental illness (no shit Sherlock!) and of those, differing degrees and/or cause/effects. By this I mean the following;

If you are raped, you may suffer depression, anxiety, flash-backs and PTSD afterward. If you don’t that doesn’t make you stronger. If you do that doesn’t make you weaker. Those symptoms may go in a short time, they may persist, they may last ages. It will depend upon a myriad of factors, mainly, whether you had a pre-existing mental illness or not.

If you are already anxious and depressed and you are raped, then it stands to reason, it will exacerbate pre-existing symptoms. If you are not anxious and depressed and you are raped, you may have fewer symptoms because you are not adding to an existing list of symptoms. Again, taht doesn’t reflect how strong you are.

See it this way … if you have an auto immune disease like thyroid, you are at higher risk of getting another auto immune disease. That’s because whatever propensity predisposes you to the development of the auto immune disease, makes you vulnerable to others because they work similarly as they have ‘auto immune’ in common.

With mental illness, people with bipolar often experience Borderline Personality Disorder at the same time, and ADHD. People with Depression often experience Anxiety at the same time.

Sounds bad?

The propensity is by no means a death sentence, it’s just like saying if you have red hair you are more likely to get skin cancer than if you have dark skin, but dark skinned people CAN get skin cancer and not every red head does. Propensity is not a certainty as there are other (epigenetic) factors at play as well as our friend CHANCE.

And chance, almost rhymes with choice – bringing us back to the point. Shame is a choice. It’s a choice we as people who experience mental illness can make, to avoid as much as possible, and it’s a choice people who know mentally ill people can make when they deal with them.

You can choose to treat others as you would wish to be treated. The law of karma let’s call it.

Or you can choose to satisify some blood lust within you and make someone else feel very, very bad. Yeah you have that power, you are almost a super hero – not.

Shame is inextricorbly linked with sexual abuse in childhood, rape, molestation, illness, rejection, certain religions, gender, sexuality and other societal conventions that often it appears, seek to remind us we are not good.

As women we are told, we are dirty if we sleep around.

As children we are told, we are perverted if we masturbate.

As loners we are told, we’re weird because we prefer a book to company.

The list goes on. It’s safe to say, it appears a fond past-time of humanity to judge and to shame. And we don’t have to be in 1600’s Salem!

Just because it’s 2017 don’t think this practice has stopped. We can find it in bullying, which incidentally, is the number one cause of teen suicide. We can find it in work-place bullying which owes a distinction because it affects older people and is growing in prevelency world-wide. We can find it in older populations who are ignored, neglected, considered less important and ‘past it’ to be contributors. We can find it in minority groups and ethnic groups, same-sex relationships, gender roles and identity or lack of, and all the shades inbetween.

My grandmother used to say; People don’t like what they can’t understand and they don’t like difference.

So I guess, if you’re left-handed, queer, red-haired, freckled, hazel-eyed and autistic you might feel left out.

Okay so that’s an extreme but how many of us don’t entirely fit in some way?

You only need to be into one thing others aren’t, or not like wearing dresses, or burn instead of tan, or have darker pigment than your other family members, to experience the feeling of shame imposed upon you by a bizzare set of ideals and rules.

In other words it’s modern society or as I like to call it, torture.

Except this didn’t start just recently, it started when we began to communicate with each other (read Vanity Fair the novel if in doubt) we use shame and shaming as a coping mechanism (attack other before we are attacked) a weapon (divide and conquer) and a tool (defeat the others first, win). Society is a battle-field. For the mentally ill they are easy targets, who among us who struggles to get out of bed in the morning can handle much more?

Even when someone doesn’t know it, they can shame others. It is very common place to say things without meaning them in a bad way. Perfectly ‘good’ and kind people can inadvertantly say something that can be taken the wrong way ‘I wish you felt better!’ and pain ensues.

Obviously you don’t want to walk around on tiptoe when talking to someone who is suffering, but at the same time, just as we should be aware of the sensitivity of other subjects we should consider the sensitivity of how we address depression and other mental diseases.

Not everyone who is bipolar is a mass murderer or school shooter

Not everyone who is schizophrenic will kill their parents

Not everyone who is depressed will jump off Golden Gate Bridge

But some may and those tiny minorities are but the extremes. Beneath those few extremes lie shades of grey. The depressed person who cuts themselves, the anorexic who develops heart problems, the BPD who alienates people and ends up alone, the bipolar or cannot read a book, and so it goes on.

Everyone has something. If we remember that, then we can treat mental disease the way it should be treated, as a disease, an illness, but not the sum of a person, only an element of their whole. Something to be conscious of, aware of, sensitive to, without stereotyping the whole.

The best technique in the world? Listen to what a person has to say. You can learn a lot. And by doing this, you afford an opportunity for your friend to speak about things without a feeling of shame or judgement. In the long run this acts much like talk therapy and can be incredibly cathartic as well as a really good way of realizing, mental illness doesn’t define you.

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