Helping to Break Stigma

SailorWhen I received the job offer a few weeks ago I thought it over for a few days before excitedly accepting. My new manager arranged that she would send me some paperwork to fill out, and the next week we would meet so I could have a look around one of the branch practices I would be working in.

When I’d quit my previous job a few weeks ago I never expected to land on my feet. My parents were terrified that I had no long term prospects and I was just going to be a temp nurse. Then I found this job in the paper and applied. At the interview I immediately fell in love with the practice (and yes, I can say that, I have Borderline, I easily love things). Thankfully the practice manager and head Vet quite liked me too.

When I received my contract in the mail I was so excited! A new start and an escape from the hell of a job I’d been putting up with for the last few years. I read the contract – higher wage, paid lunch break, more opportunity for bonuses, my own pension! I was soaring! Excited was not the word for it.

Until I turned to the page entitled “equal opportunities”.

Amongst the usual questions of race and religion there was also the disability section. As well as an area for me to write down current medication and the last time I had visited a doctor.

When I’ve filled these out in the past, disability has always referred to a physical complaint so I’ve never bothered to declare that my mental health is far from “healthy”.

As I read through it, nestled amongst the boxes you could tick for “disabilities”, such as asthma, allergies, learning disabilities and hearing problems, was “mental illness”.

Geeze.

At the bottom of the page I had a declaration to sign to say that the information I had provided was correct and if it was proven later that I was lying I could get into trouble.

Fear.

Of course my brain started on the fast thinking thing. If I ticked the box labelled “mental illness” I would be obliged to write an explanation on the other side of the page. How would I explain what is wrong with me to a person, whom I was presuming was “normal”?

Then of course there was the section asking about what medications I was on. Did I have to divulge this? From a health and safety point of view I guessed “yes”. My brain went in to an imaginary scenario that if I got injured and passed out at work, the paramedics would be called out. The manager would go and get my health and safety file, read that I wasn’t on any medications so the paramedics would pump me full of other medications that will react with the ones I’m on, killing me or seriously damaging my liver.

Ok, it probably wouldn’t work out that way, but it could.

Other things started to go through my brain. So what if I had a mental health problem? The whole point of my blogging, originally, was to share my mental health problems and experiences in the hope that I would inspire others. With the support of the blogging community I grew and realised I wasn’t a bad person. Even with a mental health problem I found out I was a good person (although I don’t always believe it). I told my friends of my problems, my diagnosis, my “labels”. They stilled loved the Sailor they knew and didn’t judge. I told a few new acquaintances and most did not blink an eyelid but thought what I’d achieved in my lifetime with these labels was awesome, they thought I was awesome.

If I looked back, although my mental health is a common cause of concern for me and it’s something I’m often quite preoccupied with, the label of being “mental” and the stigma of society saying that you are not able to talk about it, when you do tell people, they often don’t judge as much as you think they are going to.

I also considered that if I did tell the truth about my mental health problems I would be contributing in taking some of that stigma away.

Still the stigma of mental health motivates the “general public” to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate people with a mental illness. In my opinion the media does not help with this as many victims of mental illness are portrayed as “evil”, “criminal” or “dangerous”. The victims of mental illness become even more isolated and hopeless as they avoid socialising or working to avoid the stigma and embarrassment of having a mental health problem. It has become a cycle people are too scared to break.

If I shared my problem, I would help break the cycle. I would also be true to myself and true to my cause – talking about mental health in the real world.

The real problem I had was how to explain it.

I ticked the box labelled “mental illness”. I declared that I have Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar II (yes, I missed some of the others off). I wrote a sentence underneath saying that although I had been diagnosed and I was still receiving psychiatric assistance I did not feel that either of the disorders impinged on my abilities as a nurse, because I had coped with them since my teenage years – this was my “normal”. I wrote down my medications, if they wanted to look them up to see what they were for they could, I guess.

A few days later I went to the branch practice and handed my paper work over in a big, brown, ominous envelope. I was dreading it thinking perhaps I’d made a mistake in revealing my deep, dark secret. Again, my imagination had run away with me and I’d imagined all the scenarios of them telling me they couldn’t take me on with Bipolar. Or they would question what exactly BPD is, because how can you explain that one?

They didn’t say anything.

All that worry, and they didn’t say a thing.

They took all my paperwork, read it, photocopied it and gave it back to me and said “We’ll see you on the 2nd January.”

Not a word. My imagination had been wrong. Completely.

Research shows that the best way to challenge these stereotypes is through first hand contact with people with experience of mental health problems. By speaking out about my diagnosis I may have conquered a tiny bit of that fear that I will be stigmatised and stereotyped. Slowly I am contributing to breaking the stereotype that people with mental illness are violent, dangerous evil criminals that are unable to live normal lives. This is what I have always wanted to do.

I guess they could still change their mind about the job offer. I still have three months’ probation. Perhaps it was a little lie that the disorders don’t affect my ability to work. Well, they don’t affect my ability to work, just sometimes my ability for my brain to think rationally, but I’m working on it.

Love Sailor xox

Want to read more? –

Stigma and Discrimination – Mental Health Foundation

Hiding – Hello Sailor

Ending Mental Health Discrimination – Time to Change

Mind – UK mental health charity providing advice and support

© Hellosailor and A Canvas Of The Minds 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hellosailor and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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24 thoughts on “Helping to Break Stigma

  1. What a great post Sailor!
    And how brave you were in making that decision to disclose.
    I hope your experience helps others in the same predicament to overcome their fear, and thereby help to destigmatize mental illness.
    And I really hope the new job brings you many rewards.
    You’re a star! ♡ (and Awesome of course!)

    • I’m undecided whether I’m brave or stupid for disclosing my illness, but I kind of think, with it’s chronic nature and flair ups every now and again, I’d end up disclosing it anyway. I also worry that even if I am high functioning, I make the non-functioning people look bad because people might think “if she can do it, they all can”. I guess that’s another thing we need to get across, MH problems come in varying degrees but all are traumatic. Love to you!! xox

  2. What a wonderful role model you are for others who may find themselves in the same position……..your actions will surely help break down the stereotypes of mental illness.

    • I think we, as a society, are getting braver, but we still need to speak out more. I just hope I can prove myself and not have too many mental melt downs in the process 🙂 xox

  3. Congrats Sailor. I hope everything will go well for you in your new job and I hope they treat you with the respect and deserve. X

  4. Wow. I’ve never had that box to check, but thank you for sharing your experience. I won’t feel ostracized or alone if and when that box does come up.

    • I’m kind of glad it came up, in a way. I think it is showing more aknowledgement that people do have these problems. I mean, would they stick it there if they didn’t want you to tick it? Twisted logic, I know 🙂 xox

  5. That was a very good thing you did. And brave too, of course. Hopefully, everything will be fine and you’ll get a permanent contract after the three month probation

    • Even if I didn’t get a permanant job and I had done my best, I think I would still disclose my problems in the future. It is actually a weight off my mind that I might have to explain melt downs in the future anyway! xox

  6. Wow! Great bravery. As I read you getting to those sections I couldn’t help but cringe as I’ve feared to check them off. I haven’t been as brave as you. Kudos!

    • I remember putting it off when I signed up for University, but then thought “why does it matter? They are still going to let me on the course!” Like I said to Summer Solstic Girl, any job in the future I’d probably still disclose it. xox

  7. Oo yay, you got a new job! So happy for you Sailor 😀 And I’m so glad they didn’t comment on it, of course this is the right way that it should be dealt with (equal opportunities right?) but just so glad that your worries and imagination turned out to be wrong 😀 xx

    • Equal opportunities, exactly, but I think some places are suprisingly still un-equal on things regarding age, sex and sexual orientation without regard to MH problems! I don’t know if its the same all over, but the Veterinary industry can be quite “cliquey”. And that is all I’m saying…… My imagination is quite often fantastical. And quite often wrong xox

      • You are right, equal opportunities are definitely not always equal!! But still, hope your new job is going well? (I will be catching up on reading blogs soon, I promise!) xx

  8. You’ve inspired me . . . I want to write a Canvas post about the violent stigma. But I’m supposed to be working on my novel. Drat.

    And of course, you’ve inspired me in a more general sense . . . I wish I had the courage to not hide who I am, as you do.

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