How I Dealt with Stigma
by See Change Ambassador, Tim O’Connor
Looking back, I used many ways of dealing with stigma – I think most worked for a little while. I was not usually aware I was using these methods. Things like avoiding situations, trying – and quite often succeeding – in losing myself in my solitary interests, traveling and working around Europe, losing myself in relationships and enjoying those relationships. And most importantly, I read a lot around current approaches in mental health and I have enjoyed working in mental health for over twenty years.
My Experience of Stigma
My experience of stigma was a bit like looking over my shoulder from time to time in case I was “found out”, “exposed” and then fired from my work.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1980s in Ireland. I then went straight back to England where maybe the air was clearer or I could be more anonymous. That was one feeling of stigma – hiding, being careful, suffocating.
Many years later I began peer work in mental health. One reason for this was that I was tired of hiding my diagnosis from employers. But the main reason was to see if I could “give something back” to the mental health area. Professionals in this area had – after all – helped to keep me alive.
Regarding feeling stigmatized in my day-to-day life – socially or with work contacts – the old saying is still true:
“Those that mind don’t matter. And those that matter don’t mind.”
Real friends will not rush to judgement over a diagnosis or repeated hospitalisations.
The Things Which Helped Me Re-Evaluate Stigma
I have always known that there are many, many other sides to me apart from my diagnosis. And all of my interests have kept me going through lonely times. *
I have also developed a thick skin regarding stigma. I have learnt not to be disappointed when former friends have moved on in their lives and careers. I lead a different life to them after all and their priorities are to their families and to their work.
It took me awhile to see that I now have little in common with old friends. I was wrong to take our drifting apart as a personal rebuff or evidence of stigma towards me.
As with all marginalized groups – people with mental health difficulties can come together and learn from each other. And maybe we can see how much of the stigma from society we internalize and believe in ourselves – and how much we can reject.
I have found that turning these ideas over with peers has led many of us to find our own paths. And to mature in our own different ways.
*Samuel Beckett notes drily of one of his characters:
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
Quotations I Found Useful
This is a quote from Viktor Frankl who survived the WWII concentration camps and once he was freed, he continued his work as a psychiatrist and therapist. He said:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
When I find that I haven’t achieved as much as I would have liked – I remember this quote:
“The journey is the destination.”
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following