mental health

Why One Person’s Opinion Led Me To Be Ashamed Of My Mental Illness

For the past few days, I’ve been feeling a lot of emotional pain and sadness. Why? Well on Saturday night, I was told about someone who had expressed the opinion that I specifically should not have kids because women with bipolar disorder cannot handle pregnancy, childbirth and being a mother. They allegedly “go crazy” and “never recover”. Hearing this felt like a slap in the face. At first, I tried to shrug it off but I couldn’t. It was just so hurtful and opened up some very deep fears about my abilities to be a mother that have been hiding under the surface since my diagnosis. While thoughts of worst-case scenarios around parenting swirled through my head, I could feel my self-esteem crumbling and self-doubt crowding in, replacing the feelings of self-love and positivity that I had been working so hard to cultivate in the past few months.

As I write this, my mood is really low. I have significant physical chest pain, a lack of energy and a general sense of discomfort and restlessness. I actually just feel nauseous and like I want to vomit. I also am experiencing intense feelings of shame, anger, and hatred, all directed at myself. I am so incredibly frustrated that my mental illness is constantly derailing my life and my sense of self. I am just embarrassed about every aspect of myself and the guilt around dragging others into my struggles is overwhelming. I am feeling completely disgusted with myself for opening up the intimate details of my life for everyone to see. I feel like I have opened myself up to judgment from people all over the world, but in particular people I know. I feel so vulnerable and scared to know that my life is being analyzed daily. This fear is manifesting itself into severe depression. I’m sincerely hoping that this is a little blip and I will return to feeling great in a few days. I literally just got approval from my psychiatrist to start job hunting.

While I am upset about the decision to share my experiences with bipolar disorder, I still can’t help doing it because I do know that there are benefits. I have heard from many people that I helped them in a tough spot or inspired them to take care of their own mental health issues. People have also said that they feel less alone. So naturally, I posted on social media about how upset I was because I wanted to start a conversation on the topic of parenting and mental illness. A lot of people were incredibly kind and sent encouraging messages. There was a common theme amongst the message of “haters gonna hate”, “don’t let others bring you down”, “ignore them, they don’t know what they are talking about”, “it’s just one person’s opinion” and other similar phrases.

While these are totally valid thoughts and 100% true, I would like to explain why I can’t simply ignore something someone said, however ill-informed. As much as I want to listen to this sage advice, I also have realized that stigma can be so impactful that one person’s words do have power, at least for me.

Really, it’s not about this one person. Their words were a catalyst for a whole range of feelings and emotions that bubbled to the surface. A friend told me about this Pema Chödrön quote that really resonated and fit in with this idea.

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

What this person said made me feel really alone and isolated. It made me truly understand and experience how people like me can be seen as separate from “normal” society. I am an “other”. It is considered normal for people to grow up, get jobs, get married and have kids. Many people believe we are on this earth to procreate, to contribute to the circle of life like any other animal. It’s what unites us as creatures of this planet. Of course, not everyone wants kids and that’s totally fine. But that’s not the point. In this context, many people believe me to be outside of this traditional human experience. They believe that people with mental illness should not have kids, both because they can’t be responsible parents and because they might pass on their mental illness to their children.

People with mental illness, even still in this day and age of supposed enlightenment, are often seen as dangerous, weak, irresponsible, lazy, useless, and untrustworthy. They are faced with discrimination everywhere – in healthcare settings, in the workplace and even in relationships. Hearing those hurtful words just made me realize that I will never escape the impact of this mental illness. My bipolar disorder will haunt me everywhere I go. Because I choose to be open about it and display it for the world to see, everyone will know. And in every area of my life, there will be someone who will overanalyze my behaviour and attribute normal feelings to my illness. They will treat me differently and they will respect me less. Hearing these words that were said about me felt like punishment for being greedy and thinking it was possible to “have it all’. Hearing these hurtful words made me realize that I still have a lot of self-hatred that I’ve been hiding and that I definitely have a lack of self-respect. I am definitely sometimes the one doing the isolating and the othering of myself. I hold back and hide from people because I fear a lack of empathy and understanding of my intense emotions and symptoms. I am constantly carrying around this weight that affects how I interact with other people. Nervous and anxious, I often retreat to where I feel safe due to fear of being judged for something that is so ingrained in my being.

However, I have also been constantly proven wrong about the nature and goodness of people, after receiving countless messages and comments from friends and strangers alike with encouraging words. It is for those people that I am going to try to fight this pain and anger and continue in my mental health advocacy work. Even if it scares me. As Pema said in the quote above, I will try to use these intense feelings of pain to learn more about myself, my bipolar disorder and mental illness in general. I will explore these emotions and fears about huge concepts like being a good parent, a good partner and a good friend. I really don’t want to live in shame. It’s not very fun at all, nor it is useful or helpful in achieving my goals.

So I will push myself to keep sharing, to keep slowly chipping away at the stigma that permeates our society in every corner. I might need to take some breaks every now and then, but I will never give up. I will continue to believe that the majority of people are beautiful, weird, and wonderful and I will continue to try and see the good in everyone.

Thank you.

19 comments on “Why One Person’s Opinion Led Me To Be Ashamed Of My Mental Illness

  1. Thank you for sharing such a raw story. I could not imagine how I would feel, if I was on the receiving end of that comment. I am sure I would be feel rather low as well and inadequate as a human.

    Like you stated, it is the “dream” right? To get married, have kids etc. While I have not received as harsh statements, it is something that I have thought about many times. I would love to have children one day however, what if I pass along that major or manic depression (now bipolar like you) and anxiety gene down? How would I handle that? How would I handle parenthood, life can be a struggle as is and I share your worry and concern. Outside of mental illness, I have had many physical illnesses as well and many surgeries to go along with it for my 29 years on this planet, including endometriosis which is a whole other concern with babies too.

    I can only offer my love for you and my thoughts – I hope they will encourage you. Yes, these people are uneducated, but like you mentioned, it still cuts deep to hear these things and I am sorry that you had to hear and feel this. Know that you have a strength in you as you are fighting to better yourself and others through a great organization. I feel that you passion that lies here and with that strength, if you were to have children, you would be aware and loving to a point that I want to say, it would over come any of those worries or concerns. You are highly intelligent and awareness is key right? We learn and grow with mental illness all the time (good for you for making this unfortunate incident into a way to continue to learn too!), we are out here fighting these bad days and it only makes us stronger and better humans, not only for us but our loved ones and future potential ones too. ❤ Try to push that comment aside as hard as it will be, keep your strength and rediscover that confidence. I know it is harder some days than others, but I am here for you if you ever need to chat, as well as many others here in the blogging world!

    Shame and self-hatred comes and goes with me as well, it is getting less and less as I get older and continue to educate myself. I feel like other warriors feel this too and you are right, we are the “others” and it can be a hard pill to swallow but that is okay. We are okay and as time goes on, hopefully the stigma will become less and less – I HOPE! Until then, we keep up the good fight!

    Remember my fellow warrior, you are not alone, loved and worthy! ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing. This must have been very hard to do, but I hope it helped to get everything out.

    I too, have been told something similar or asked the question “what will you do if you have kids?” It totally brings me down because although I don’t think I want to have my own, I do want to adopt someday and have children. It worries me though, that I will make my kids like me and everything I am and do will rub off on them and it will make their lives a hell. OCD is so tough as it is, so this totally freaks me out.

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  3. Stay strong Beverly. You are such a rock and inspiration. Do what your heart leads you.

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  4. Bev, I haven’t spent time with you in person in eons but this blog just proves that you are obviously so empathetic, understanding, and tenacious. All qualities that would make any kid lucky to have you for a mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Please do continue your advocacy work. From reading your blog over the past month plus you seem to be a natural.

    My feelings about my abilities and worth fluctuate, but deep down I know I’m just as capable when I add things up as most “normal” folk, even if I’m not yet officially working again.

    Of the people my age with bipolar disorder, I know more that have had kids than have not. In almost no cases have I heard any regret for having children, even if the children themselves went on to have a mental illness. I’m very happy my parents chose to have children. I do value my life, despite my mental health challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. M.J.Neely

    I think your decision to keep talking and to remain open with such negative feedback and stigma present in your circles is very brave. I also think it is exactly what needs to happen to help spread awareness and the reality that people with mental illness can parent, sometimes better than those without it. That we can work. We can be a part of the normality people seek. By keeping on keeping on you’re showing instead of telling.

    I think showing is much more powerful than just saying for sure.

    You’ve got this, and for every negative stigmatising remark that hits a sore spot there’s going to be multiples of people who disagree and know otherwise.

    You’ve got this. Sharing your inner thoughts and feelings on this topic was very brave. X

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so heartbreaking! I definitely relate to feeling like my depression is going to impact everything about my life. I’m not ~as open~ about it as I’d maybe like to be, because so many people have said hurtful things to me.

    I hope you can stay strong and keep fighting the good fight. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

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  8. ((HUGZ))
    There are a lot of arguments about having babies, personally, I think that not enough thought is put into the process. A lot of people will have their opinions about YOU having a kid, but wont hear YOUR opinion about them breeding. Screw them.
    It’s your decision. They can disagree with you all they want. It isn’t their life. It is yours. Mental illness or not. The human race has had mental illness longer than it hasn’t.
    Plus, having a baby might actually balance you out more than you think.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There are so many insensitive people in this world and I’m so sorry this person was a jerk to you. I know hard it’s not to take it personally. I’m glad you did self-care by writing this post. As some who has been battling infertility for 4.5 years, I can tell you people who have never experienced infertility (in our corner of WordPress we call them the “fertiles”) will say the stupidest stuff to women in this vulnerable stage. I hope you never go through infertility when you’re ready for a baby. I see a parallel in this insensitive person’s comment and the comments said to “infertile” people. Every comment stings. Chances are, these people who make unwelcome remakes have no idea what they are talking about. Hugs.

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    • Oh, and typically the fertiles have zero empathy for women who battle infertility, had a miscarriage, failed IVF treatments, etc. They typically don’t acknowledge the pain and they say and do triggering stuff. I’ve seen it repeatedly in my own life and many stories documented on WordPress.

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  10. Beverly, your bravery and determination defines you, not your medical diagnosis. The disciplines of psychiatry and neuroscience will continue to make new discoveries about how the lump of grey matter inside your skull works, but neither of these areas of study can tell you anything about your mind because the nature of the mind is our deepest mystery. The narrative of your life is a waking dream that you have been experiencing for as long as you can remember. It is interwoven with many other narrative strands to form a web of stories that define how we see ourselves.

    If you tell yourself a story where no progress will ever be made by psychiatry and no one will ever support you as a parent, you can draw the conclusion that you will never become a mother. However, if you tell yourself a different story where progress continues to be made in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, and where a circle of family and friends will never let you fall, you can look forward to a time when you will have a child. The mystery of the mind is matched only by the power of the narrative it creates for us. Do not fear it, do not fear yourself, and do not fear the predjuced opinions of the ignorant. Keep writing, keep talking, and keep listening to the worthwhile words of others. Through this you will start to tell a better story to yourself about who you really are. You are not an “other”, you are one of us. We are a collection of imperfections seeking to understand ourselves. Your voice adds to that, so keep moving forwards and never believe the doubters.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Perk up” – How many times have I heard that from people. Those people are still in the dark. Depression is truly an illness that only others suffering with it can understand. I can totally relate to these type of people, that often feel a little attitude adjustment will turn everything around. That’s a little hard when I can barely get off the couch. Don’t people realize sometimes you just can’t choose happiness. We who have this disease have strength beyond what they can ever imagine. Just know that there are others who understand your plight. Thank you

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  12. rainicorn

    The best parents have self knowledge. And mental illness is a spectrum. Plenty of undiagnosed folks walking around. And insensitive one’s to boot, like the person who tried to put you down. It’s true that my biopolar worsened after childbirth, but I went into pregnancy blind, and had I been under treatment, this would have been greatly attenuated. You can do it if you want to, and no one shooting their ignorant mouth off can take your success. Hope you’re feeling better!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am sorry you experienced that and I have to say that I have experienced something similar with my in-laws. I had postpartum depression or bipolar depression after the birth of my second son. My meds were changed and I have been stable for nearly 2 years now with no additional changes. You know what else? I’m a damn good mom and no one will tell me otherwise because it’s true. I try to remember that people who say these things do not understand the illness and don’t see it first hand.

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  14. Hello Bev. I just wanted to tell you how great I think your blog is. I, personally, think it is one of the most helpful bipolar/mental illness blogs on WordPress that I’ve encountered. For this reason I have nominated your blog for the Sunshine Bloggers award. If you would like to participate, you can find the details at https://birdflight.blog/2017/06/18/sunshine-blogger-award/

    Thank you for your interesting, helpful, and informative posts!

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