This Lessening of Me
Written by See Change ambassador Rick Rossiter
Dignity… this word sounded almost foreign to my ears not so long ago, like something spoken about in fantasy movies or a period piece beaming with heroics and self-sacrifices that were no more relevant to me than living on Mars or Scaling Mount Everest could ever be. For a huge chunk of my life this word and the feelings of strength and confidence that should have been there were void and meaningless because of a turbulent life that I lived while going through the literal Highs and Lows of a mental illness call Bipolar Disorder and a tag along buddy called Borderline Personality Disorder or as I would loathingly refer to them in life as “My Darkness”. Both of which made my emotions and actions that much harder to decipher and translate for both myself and for those around me, especially considering how long it took to put a name to what I had and eventhen, longer still for me to figure out how I could function and move forward in life regardless of the barriers being placed before me.
There were many times in my life that I fell, or what is commonly mentioned as having a breakdown. But none were more damaging than and as long-lasting as one that I had at the beginning of 2005, which took close to four years to fully move away from and begin a newer and more fulfilling journey. That one, my big one, totally drained me and left me a shell of who I once was. Dignity was the furthest thing I felt and sadly while looking back, it was one of the things easiest to be taken away and not just at my own hands; there were many that contributed to this lessening of me.
From family and friends who couldn’t understand what it was that I felt or what depth my pain and torment was, which for me was a blessing and curse in the same breath? I was thankful that no one knew personally of how this darkness could take a hold of someone and strangle the life out of them, and then there were so many moments that I wish someone, anyone would just lay a hand on my shoulder and say, “I Understand”.
Then of course there were individuals that worked throughout the mental health field, Doctors, Psychiatrists and a few nurses that either through poor training, personal views or just simply, very bad at their jobs made me feel as if I were just a mere child. These people were incapable of understanding me and so many others that depended on them for guidance and care and placed us on a level a step down from that of a slug… well, let’s just say that is exactly how I felt in that moment.
I could rant and rave about actions or inactions, stupid remarks and poor judgments that can be found throughout my mental health journey that started when I was just a child and going well into my late thirties, but I won’t, too dignified for such things now and for the obvious reason is that I don’t think you wish to read another five hundred thousand words of me explaining my life, oh… that would only be Volume one of “Only God Would Know How Many”.
I will say this though, until we, the individuals that either have a mental disorder or if you are someone involved with a person that has one, whether you are a partner, parent, and friend or co-worker, there needs to be a change in thought as to how to approach, engage and treat persons with a mental health disorder. Firstly, we need to understand what the diagnosis is, not just what it is called and to be handed a prescription with the warning of not to stop taking them or else. Education and knowledge is key to deal with all aspects of an illness. Secondly, is the break away from the norm of psychiatry, no more just walking into an office and go through the same old questions, more often with a doctor you have never seen before and then moved along as though you were on some conveyer belt being shuffled through the system. Real engagement is needed, honest dialog and meaningful conversations. The way things are now is flawed and needs changing. Mental wellbeing should be the most important thing on peoples agenda, regardless of who they are, without it all else fails. Now the third is a hard one, it comes down to people’s perception and ingrained attitudes towards people with mental health issues, which I feel is the entire planet’s, seeing that we all have minds and that we all need to keep a balance in order to live a good life, but that’s just me saying this… even though it’s true.
You see, when it comes to how people think once they hear the words “Mental Health”, can vary from understanding a little to a lot, or from pure ignorance to wildly outrageous notions. Misconceptions and inherent bias are common place amongst society, as are fears, stereotypes and the stigma that follows which is not only damaging the people with mental health issue, they also can and do hold people back from seeking help because of their own fears of how they will be treated and talked about.
Dignity is still a fantasy word to me when talking about mental health, but at the same time, I have seen fantasy turn to reality. Before I joined See Change, an Irish organisation that confronts the stigma surrounding mental health and became an Ambassador I thought it but a mere day-dream to be able to speak up about my own issues and talk about my own journey through my Darkness, all with the goal of helping other through their own journey’s and to help educate more about the issues of mental health. But here I am, not just writing about it, I also talk openly about it with groups of people and on occasions, lend my voice to the air-waves via the radio to open up a much needed conversation on our mental wellbeing.
There a great number of things still to be done to bridge the gaps within the system and the greater community for people with mental health disorders. We have a long way to go and yet, we have already travelled so far. I do see the changing tides of attitudes, do I see the change of thoughts and the acceptance of how important one’s mental wellbeing truly is. We live in a time of many uncertainties and distractions, but the one thing that I am sure of is that not only is there a great need for help, but there are so many different groups and organisations out there that can and will do everything in their power to see that you do get that help and as for the system, improvements are happening and as for word plays and promises from them, they are being held accountable for them by you and me.
In the end, dignity can be found through the simplest of things, the way you talk and treat someone, to the grandest of gestures, like standing up and talking about your own experiences and concerns. We as a society need to come together and not be afraid to talk about and seek help when it comes to our own mental health or for others. We as individuals and as a collective group can change things, improve things and to make sure that with each and every generation that things get better. What could happen if we replace words such as can’t, won’t or try? To words like can, will and do! One word can change the meaning of a simple thought, imagine what could change if we change the meaning of an entire conversation?