Saying how I felt began with swear words. Fingernails gripping the cliff edge. How did I feel? Like crap. Shit. Thanks for your inquiry.
Because swearing is often an image, or a noun, and not an actual emotion, curse words found easier acceptance among my peers than feeling-related words. Why are our feelings hard to express, sometimes?
I washed out my mouth. Then the emotion that didn’t spring from my lips leaked in my tears. I cried unpredictably and I stopped wearing mascara.
I couldn’t find language to explain why I was weeping and that was embarrassing. I felt ashamed that I fitted to a stereotype of being a woman. I didn’t realise that my shame was also a stigma.
I began drinking and being objectionable to hide from my truth. Sharing my feelings would have relieved a burden, but my emotions were hard to separate from my mental health diagnosis, which wasn’t yet fully formed.
I felt like a big mess.
I knew I’d had depression as a teenager and believed that was a simple sadness that I’d grow out of.
My doctor gave me sleeping tablets and not anti-depressants. That side-stepped having a conversation about what depression was till I encountered it again at University.
I wish I’d understood what stigma was before I turned thirty. I didn’t even know the medical word for ‘anxiety’ when I was in the thick of it
I knew opposites of how I was. I was aware that when I wasn’t happy, outgoing, and chilled then I was a special kind of sad.
I knew that when I wasn’t confident, easygoing and relaxed then I was like a monster inside, trapped in a cage. I experienced the ‘fight or flight’ response.
My image of myself as a sad, fearful beast back then is probably influenced by how we used to treat people with mental illness in the past. I only learned to cope with my anxiety last year.
I’m sure if you live in the UK you’ve heard the region specific words used to describe the old mental asylums.
When I was growing up, my Mum used to say, ‘We’ll send for the men in white coats.’ Another common phrase was, ‘You’ll be sent to Bedlam,’ which was the name for one of those old buildings where people who had mental illnesses lived together.
Women were susceptible to being sent to ‘Bedlams.’ And I have experienced mental health stigma in a particular expression because of how communities where I live have reacted to my womanhood. That can be really difficult to explain. What makes me unusual?
"I learned a vocabulary I was grateful for. Words like ‘survivor’ can mean a great deal if you have been through abuse, which I have."
It wasn’t until I got involved in a digital campaign that protests against violence perpetrated against women around the world, and in Wales that I understood that prejudice exists and that it had affected me. I could finally name this too.
I learned a vocabulary I was grateful for. Words like ‘survivor’ can mean a great deal if you have been through abuse, which I have.
In my family of origin when we speak together, we don’t talk freely about emotions or debunk stigma as I would like to. I try and put my point across.
Instead of plain English, we use metaphors and euphemisms. They leave all the emotional energy behind them. I find they exaggerate my anxiety, rather than helping me cope.
I’m glad I’ve found small sanctuaries in my community, and online, where I can break out of my habit for playing things down and tell people what’s going on with me and why that matters.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org