My Internalized Stigma

I am fully committed to my recovery. I can and do live a full life. I am very grateful to have a good job helping other mental health peers find their own paths to recovery.

This morning, I faced the fact that I still carry internalized stigma against mental illness.

I have been experiencing intense but unfocused anxiety for about 3 days. I left work early Tuesday. Yesterday, I went in and started work, but I left after an hour. This morning, I went in, sat at my desk, and immediately sent two emails requesting sick leave. I need to take care of my mental health.

Yet I felt guilty requesting time to take care of my mental health. I felt guilty for having debilitating anxiety.

I feel nothing when I need to take time off for a cold or worse, but this morning, I felt guilty. Something inside me said I need to be tougher. That’s bullshit.

From now on, I will not say I need to take care of my mental health. I will only say that I need to take care of my health. My mental health is just as vital to care for as my physical health. In my situation, it might even be more important.

I have taken an important step toward regaining good health. I have called my psychologist and asked for an extra appointment, and he is checking to see when he can work me in. He told me he will find the time. Therapy is an important tool I use to maintain my recovery. Getting this appointment is a signal to myself that I will do whatever is necessary to care for my health.

I am worth it.

I will continue to tell the voice that says I should be tough and not take leave to care for my health that it is wrong on every level. I am valuable. I am worth having good health.

Invisibility

I have a job now. I’ve been working for about a year and a half. There are two of us in the office I work in, and we are both persons with lived experience with mental illness.

I lived on disability for twelve years. It was a long time, and some days were very difficult. It is very difficult to describe, but for those twelve years, I was invisible as far as society was concerned. I was not a contributor.

Make no mistake. I was not idle for those twelve years. I volunteered at the library’s literacy center teaching English as a Second Language. I was very active in the community theatre group where I lived. I even served on the group’s board of directors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m male, but since I was not being paid for this work, it was not highly valued.

I was invisible.

One payday not long after I started working again, I was holding my paystub, and my colleague in the office, the other person with lived experience, said, “It feels good to be paid, doesn’t it?” I quickly and loudly agreed. It felt quite amazing actually. I appreciated it like I’d never done before.

Today was my colleague’s birthday, and I arranged an office party for him with all the other people from the larger office. It was a pot luck, and everyone gladly brought food to share. It was a real feast. We had much too much food. The office refrigerator is bulging at the seams with all the leftovers.

A birthday party hardly seems like a special thing. On a grand scale, it is very small. Still, I was near tears. All these people were celebrating with a person with mental illness. There he was; I was right next to him. We weren’t invisible. We were considered valuable members of the group.

It’s a very big deal.