Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I have a mental illness, but I am NOT “mentally ill”

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

I have a mental illness, but I am NOT “mentally ill”

I am NOT mentally ill. I DO have a mental illness, but it is NOT who I am. For years as an individual in the mental health system, I learned to define myself by my diagnoses. When people asked me what I was, I said "I am bipolar" or "I am borderline". As if my mental illness defines me as a person. I am so much more than a medical condition.

I am a woman,

I am a lover,

I am a fighter,

I am a writer,

I am a sister,

and I am a daughter. 

For so many years, my life was spent living as a mental patient. Not because I was in the hospital (although I did spend some time there), or because I was in an outpatient psychiatric treatment program. I spent my life as a mental patient because I allowed my diagnoses to tell me who I am. I let my illness tell me how I should run my life.

That is over.

I am no longer going to let anyone put me in a box because I happen to have a medical condition. And, oh yes, it IS a medical condition. It is not a moral defect, it is not laziness, it is not an excuse.

It is NOT something to be ashamed of.

I used to frequent a message board on a cooking website. From day one, I was open and honest about myself, sharing some of the most intimate details of my life with the others on the board. I shared that I had a psychiatric condition. I shared that I was on SSD. I shared the information that I live in Section 8 housing and receive Medicaid. And boy, was I sorry.

The shaming began early. From day 1, I was accused of "stealing" taxpayer money for receiving Social Security, WHICH I PAID INTO for many years. I was told that I didn't act "poor" enough because I had a computer and a TV. I was told that I did not need the subsidized housing or medical benefits, because I didn't have a "real" disability. I was accusing of defrauding the taxpayers.

If I had exposed that I had a PHYSICAL ailment that prevented me from working, I would have received nothing but support and well wishes. Instead, I got accusations of impropriety. I was told I was not fit to serve as a field editor for the magazine by another field editor BECAUSE I shared my experience as an individual with a mental illness.

I asked this woman if she would have been opposed to me holding this position (which is an unpaid, at home volunteer job) if I had chronicled my life as a person with diabetes. She didn't even need to respond, I already knew the answer. My diabetes is an "acceptable" diagnosis. Diabetes is a "real" medical condition. My mental illness offends other people. They believe I should keep quiet and neglect to advocate for myself and others with a mental illness. They want me to hide from the world.

They want me to be ashamed.

Well, I am tired of being ashamed.

I HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS.

IT IS NOT WHO I AM, IT IS SIMPLY A MEDICAL CONDITION.

And as much as people might hate me, I do not care.

My family loves me.

My friends love me.

I love me.

And in the end

isn't that what really matters?