Staring at the Face of Stigma

Recently, I was blindsided with an experience I could not have possibly been prepared for.  I want to share it with you because of my shock and horror in realizing that stigma lives among us, not just from those unaware and uneducated.  Rather people among us who claim passion for our cause.

I have spent the better part of 5 years healing and recovering from an incredibly painful past.  Throughout that journey, there have been peaks and valleys, but mostly it feels like it was all meant for my greater good.  I have worked tirelessly to support an organization that is built on the tenets of what I believe in.  Reducing stigma and building awareness are cornerstones of our common goal in this mental health fight.  Unfortunately, this week my experience was the complete opposite.  An outright attack by hidden accuser(s) among us.

To give my accuser(s) the benefit of the doubt, I will assume some selfish motivation must have precipitated the attack that was waged against me, with zero consideration the effect it might have.  Upon learning of this attack, my initial reaction was to be devastated, circling the drain of a shame spiral.  Instead, I was quickly able to reframe the narrative facing me and realized this was an old, well told story that I had already been completely transparent about.  Repeatedly.  Today, I could stand in a place of complete openness knowing I had nothing to hide and more importantly no shame about it.

However, the damage that was caused is that it opened some old wounds and put me back in a place of having to defend my history.  It was right for me to stand up for this, yet I should not have to repeatedly share my very personal story with groups who may or may not need to know it.  It is my story to share, on my terms.  Not anyone else’s.  We are an organization that claims to celebrate recovery and hope, people among us who should build each other up are instead tearing people down.  Why?

Here is what I know, we all have a story.  Mine happens to be pretty public.  I have been very open about my past repeatedly, but it is my story to tell.  No one else’s.  Anyone can hide behind a weak initiative, a real person(s) of integrity would show up and be completely transparent.  So far, that hasn’t been my experience.  What I would like to understand is:

  • Why would my accuser(s) think dragging my known history into the light make a difference? What was the outcome they expected?
  • Did they even consider what such an initiative might do?
  • Do they realize we are a mental health organization and their disgusting actions were stigmatizing and harmful?

I fail to understand why people hide behind others for an initiative that could have been disastrous.  At a different place in my recovery, this might have ended very badly.  A blatant lack of regard for the people we serve, myself included is mind blowing.  Actually, disgusting.

On a positive note, there were some beautiful gifts that came from this vicious attack against me.  The most important one being an incredible outpouring of support from my constituents.  Their support bolstered my faith in this valuable organization.  I wholeheartedly believe in what we can do as a collective.  It takes all of us to move the needle.  Now, more than ever, we must work tirelessly to build awareness and reduce stigma…especially within our organization.  Those among us should consider this initiative and make the committed choice to join/rejoin us as we lift others up and show them a safe place of support, education and outreach.

Above all else, stigma is a personal choice that each of us can choose to eradicate in any given conversation.  I encourage everyone to remember that words matter, choose them wisely.  It may make all the difference in someone’s success.

Staring at the Face of Stigma