Facing stigma and discrimination from others is a difficult challenge, but what about when the person you're stigmatising against is you?
Many young men and women find the process of maturing into adulthood a difficult time. Pressure exerted on us by others (from bullying to peer pressure to the expectations of our parents) can be cruel hammers that shape malleable young minds into blunt instruments unable to cope with the demands of our society. Modern day issues like cyber bullying make life even more difficult for teenagers.
Sometimes these pressures are only background noise to the orchestra playing inside your own head. When the person who hates you the most is you, your voice is the loudest in a room constantly filled with negativity. How do you silence your own inner voice?
My story of being a teenage boy suffering severe depression is one that is not uncommon. On the surface, everything seemed fine: excelling academically, a small group of good friends, fortunate with good health and supportive family around me. Yet inside I was caught in a cyclone of self-loathing that was getting worse with each passing birthday. It was irrational yet real.
The biggest catalyst for my decline was leaving school. So much changes in a young person’s life during the 16–18 years old bracket. Physically, emotionally, legally... we are suddenly thrust into a different world with different rules, relationships and expectations. One of the biggest changes was the differences between school and college, where I was suddenly accountable for my own education, for making major decisions about my life. At that time, there was less support and guidance easily available or accessible (certainly before the internet took off).
I know now that self stigma is an internalising of negative beliefs based on misconceptions of mental health. Back then, I hated who I was and the way I felt to the point that I did not want to seek help. There was no point. I was broken. Game over.
The voices telling me that I am useless, ugly, unlovable, fat, a failure... all I had to do was learn how to channel that into something positive.
My two suicide attempts were about a year apart, near my 18th birthday. Though I managed to pull myself back from the brink on both occasions, my rationale was driven by wanting others to know that I had suffered, to make a statement of my pain that I could not express when I was alive. It would have been a devastating message for my family and friends to hear, which ultimately saved my life.
I fought my demons for several years. I was referred for counselling before signing myself up with a therapist and spending 15 months undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [CBT]. I learnt relaxation techniques and sought to understand more about my personality, trying to comprehend the reasons for my self-loathing. It was a difficult road and I was lucky enough to have amazing support to aid my journey.
Years later, I self-published a novel which addressed my experiences. The central character – Josh – was a shadow of the young man I had been but the story I wrote still showed a difficult road with a positive destination. I wanted my writing to express the difficulties I endured in those traumatic years while giving readers some hope that it is possible to pull through and find a better place.
Now I am happy, getting married and getting on with life. 20 years have passed since my first suicide attempt. The cyclone of self-loathing subsided and there is light shimmering on the horizon.
And the voices? Well, they never went away completely but I learnt to control them. I studied behavioural theories and personality types, concluding that the voices are not demons inside me. They are aspects of my personality, strands of my emotional DNA that I need to embrace. The voices telling me that I am useless, ugly, unlovable, fat, a failure...all I had to do was learn how to channel that into something positive.
It does work. It can work for anyone.
I am not a teenager any more but I will always be happy to share my story with anybody going through the same journey that I endured. I believe that every story has the power the touch at least one life in a way that can help. More importantly, every challenge can be overcome – even the stigma and discrimination we push on ourselves.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org