A blogging colleague of mine have been talking a little bit about stigma reduction associated with keeping mental illness symptoms associated with the illness itself rather than with the person. For example, the anxiety that I experience is a feature of my bipolar illness rather than some character defect or short-coming of my person. What if we were to try to represent and talk about mental illness symptoms as being features of the illness or diagnosis itself rather than characteristics of the person or the patient? By way of example, we do not think a breast cancer survivor is cancerous. Instead we say she has had cancer and fought it and is still fighting it and/or is in remission. The disease and its symptoms are not synonymous with the patient. In fact with cancer it is the other way around. People always talk about those people who are able to beat the illness cancer — it it not a part of who that person is but rather a fight to fight and to win and to overcome.
So why do we think of mental health symptoms as somehow the failure of the person experiencing the symptoms such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or some form of psychosis? When it’s mental we tend to assign the symptoms to the patient rather than to the illness. This person is anxious. This person is depressed. This person is psychotic. This makes overcoming the stigma of mental illness even tougher.
So what would it look like if we started talking about mental illness symptoms as part of the illness rather than part of the person experiencing them? It might make us more inclined to believe that getting over anxiety or depression or PTSD or psychosis is a matter of the treatment of the illness rather than the integrity of the patient or the person experiencing the symptoms.
What do you think? Do you think mental health patients are asked “to own” their symptoms in a way that cancer patients are not? Do you feel mental health stigma could be reduced if we were to more often disassociate mental health symptoms from the person experiencing them? Could mental illness be considered a challenge to fight and/or to get through like a cancer but not the result of some character defect on the part of the patient? Do we need ways of talking about mental health that include giving credit for actively working to keep symptoms under control and/or having them be in remission for a time? Do we need ways of talking about successes we have had in combatting our mental illness diagnoses even if those troubles still exist for us on some level? What of all this might help to address the stigma of mental illness?
I have been journaling since March 2021 about strides I am making in practicing yoga or walking on a regular basis. A week or two ago, I decided to include journaling about my anxiety in the same log. Once I started writing about my anxiety, it was as if I could not stop.
I called my anxiety a bully in that it instills pain wherever it goes. I called my anxiety cancerous in that the anxiety causes good health to go bad. I wrote and wrote and wrote about anxiety not being a friend but being a bully and how there was no room in my home for a bully. I do not allow bullying to occur in the neighborhood or at school, so why would I accept bullying at home?
I know I don’t always have control over my emotions and that is why I have a diagnosis of bipolar, but it is soooo helpful to be able to call out anxiety as a bully and think of it as something that is pervading my home rather than a feature of the bipolar I just have to accept. It is true I cannot control the anxiety when it occurs, I can only control how I respond to it when it does occur. But calling it a bully somehow helps me to think of the anxiety as “other than” and not me. I am not my anxiety. I am not my diagnosis. I am not my bipolar. My anxiety exists as a bully as part of my illness. I can call it out for what it is and I can tell it off and I can tell it it is not welcome in my person, in my home, or in my relationships with family and friends.
Does anybody else have coping mechanisms for anxiety that seem to help by differentiating the anxiety from the person experiencing it? Is it helpful to you too to think of anxiety as a bully to be kept at bay?
Come the end of December, I will be writing a series of blogs about my time in the workplace and the various responses I have gotten over the years either when I have exposed my bipolar diagnosis or it has been exposed through circumstance. I believe you may find that not too many workplaces are supportive of a mental health diagnosis. I have struggled over the years as to whether to reveal this “secret.” I hope these several blogs will give the younger folks following this thread some indication of the pitfalls of allowing your behavioral health diagnosis to be open or not in the workplace. My sentiments still remain mixed as to whether disclosure is a good thing or not.
Basically in the States we are getting the message that if you are fully vaccinated you are protected against covid-19 and the various variants. The variants seem to be very contagious with worse impacts than the original. Obviously moreso for the unvaccinated. Are we getting it right that being fully vaccinated protects folks against the delta variants and others?
I hate to be a doomsdayer but it feels like we need more data and more reassurance about how protected we (the vaccinated) are from the variants. This comes at a time when most people are sick of hearing about vaccine issues and vaccine effectiveness and vaccine availability. They just want it to be over. “I got my shot(s) — I am fine.”
How will/do the experts at the CDC inform us as to whether to feel secure in the vaccine’s efficacy with the variants? How and when do they get that data? How and when do we know about the booster availability? Not to mention – what are the larger ethical concerns about vaccinating the world population at large?
This afternoon I have had a strange thought. What if I were to visualize all the times I have been anxious about something (like in a bar graph) and compare that with the number of occasions that something that I was anxious about really occurred.
I have not done this exercise before, but I would guess every day I have an anxiety bar graph of at least a 5 or 6 or 7 or an 8 on a scale of one to ten (ten being the worst). I would also bet that there is a one in fifty chance that something I was/am concerned about will present itself as a reality. And that reality if it presents would probably be a one or a two on that same scale from one to ten.
By choosing to create a numeric or visual graph of my anxiety, I am not trying to minimize the anxiety I experience at all, because it can be quite debilitating. What I am trying to do is give myself a visual of how severe the anxiety is as contrasted with whether that anxiety I experience is ever tied with an actual anxiety-premeditated outcome.
I guess you could say I am trying to rationalize my anxiety and put it into perspective in terms of how often the incident I am worried about actually occurs. I hope the result will be that I am able to talk down myself from a high anxiety event by recalling how many times my anxiety is NOT tied with an actual stress induced event. Ie. I would like to keep myself honest as to what percent of the time that I am worried actually results in a prior perceived stress event.
Just out of curiosity, what techniques do you use to talk yourself out of anxiety? Is that working for you? What else is important to consider in trying to mitigate your anxious feelings?
Please be aware this post could trigger child abuse / sexual abuse issues or memories. Let this be a trigger warning, please, before reading further.
I have one memory from childhood that qualifies as sexual misconduct. I am unable to discern if I was “asked” to witness this behavior several times when I was 6 or whether I was “asked” to engage in this behavior when I was 6 or both.
In any case, the behavior in question was/is pole dancing – a visual together with an audio track. I do not recall if I was exposed to such behavior on the television or a home movie screen or when visiting a neighbor. I do not recall whether I witnessed the behavior or was asked to provide the behavior. All I have as memories are a dark room with the figure of a woman or a girl pole dancing and making lewd sounds.
I honestly don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know if I have just “confronted” the abusive behavior and am now freed from its hold on me. I don’t know if I need to further explore the behavior in order to “make sense” of it. I don’t know if there is a slew of stigma now to overcome.
I have googled pole dancing and apparently now for some people it is a form of exercise. This sounds completely insane to me as my experience with pole dancing was extremely harmful and confusing and damaging. I am sorry to share details if these details disturb you. I am just trying to process something that happened over fifty years ago, to make whatever sense of it I can and move on.
I have shared this memory with my therapist several months back and her response was to acknowledge and move on but not to dwell.
Thank you for listening to my story. I hope it does not trigger your issues in any way.
Please be aware there is a reference to potential child abuse below.
As discussed in a prior post, my inner child is like two very different people simultaneously. There is that child who feels hugely responsible for every negative event that occurs going back to my parents’ divorce. This child is about ten years of age. Then there is that child of say maybe six who is seemingly ahead of the curve of regular events in time who may see things more in terms of circular time. I continue to seek to find this six-year-old child within and nurture her. My goal in seeking to find this child within is that by understanding her and nurturing her and her relationship to the ten-year-old worrier, I will have much less anxiety when there are situations outside of my control.
Over the years, I have been in the process of discussing this six-year-old child within with my therapist. I am not sure technically what it might mean if I have a six-year-old and a ten-year-old child within.
I have spent years focusing on the ten-year-old child within who is often consumed with worries for the future. I have focused on the typical feelings that the child within may feel responsible for negative events like my parents’ divorce and that this may translate some 20 years of illness forward to feelings of responsibility for terrorist threats (real or imagined).
Only since my daughter turned ten have I begun to focus on that six-year-old child. Until now, the six-year-old child within has remained relatively undisclosed. I am currently mid-process in finding out about her and what she is concerned about. So far, what I feel is true is that the six-year-old child within is not plagued by high anxiety and is very carefree. She believes in “magical outcomes” much like any child of six years. She loves to think about match-making for people who are alone or appear to be alone. She loves to think about patterns and how numbers and colors organize themselves in and around patterns. She is generally a happy child and does not feel abandoned by divorce since the divorce “has not yet occurred.”
How this six-year-old child relates to the ten-year-old child within will be a designated focus for me in my on-going spiritual journey. My goal will be to honor that younger child within so as to perhaps relinquish the feelings of blame and responsibility for all things negative held tight by the older child. I am not yet sure if this approach is supported by current therapy directions but I will plan to review in the months ahead. Perhaps the reconciliation of the six-year-old and the ten-year-old will be the focus of a next text I will write.
Ironically, the ten-year-old child within likely has the ability to “tell time” in the linear and logical sense of the phrase. The six-year-old child appears not to be able to “tell time” but experiences time more in terms of circular time or dream time and appears to be largely unconstrained by the realities of linear time and linear events.
More recently (in the past two years) I have come to believe that there is a reason for the child within at age 6 and at age 10. I am convinced some fifty years after the fact that I was sexually or otherwise abused as a child of about 6 years old. I believe I was targeted by one or another neighbors. My memories of this experience are largely blank, yet I feel that I endured something terrible at that age. I will continue to explore feelings of abuse as time progresses. This may help to explain the split between the child of 6 and the child of 10. The six-year-old exists prior to the time of abuse. The ten-year-old somehow feels responsible for that abuse as well as other painful events including happenings such as my parents’ divorce.
My daughter and I were having strong symptoms of the common cold beginning last weekend. I was worried that it might be COVID. We got the non-rapid release COVID test done since it was supposed to be more accurate. We both have now tested as negative for COVID-19. Praise God! It was a scary couple of days! Apparently, colds and other similar illnesses are on the rise since most people have been mostly indoors for the last year and a half and are just now beginning to expose themselves to germs that may create the common cold or other similar symptoms.
Please, stay well!
I accidentally took my morning meds two or three hours later than usual yesterday. This sent me into an anxiety tailspin. I had no idea my reaction to my meds would be so time sensitive — that a two or three hour delay would have dire consequences. Well it did. I went into a full blown panic attack and in the process extended my anxiety to my lovely 17 year old daughter. This is so totally not fair to her. BIG lesson learned for me is that schedule DOES MATTER when taking psych meds. Also BIG lesson learned is that I need to forgive myself and ask for apologies from my daughter for extending anxiety toward her instead of the love and support she deserves.
Have you ever forgotten to take meds on time and suffered the consequences? Did you have to forgive your self in the process? And ask others to forgive you too?
I remember being taught somewhere along my mental health career that thought precedes emotion, but it always struck me as being the other way around. I feel emotions first then from those emotions thoughts are formed. If the emotion is a delicate one, my thoughts might also be delicate. If the mood is a good one, the thoughts that follow are generally positive.
Honestly, I don’t believe the entire communication process is rational and therefore governed by thought. I believe that the emotions we experience lead us toward certain thoughts.
If it is true that thoughts precede emotions, all we have to do is change our thoughts. What resonates with me on the other hand is the need to improve how we feel in order to get the feel-good thoughts to occur and stick.
Anybody want to weigh in on this discussion? I honestly cannot remember what setting I was in where this idea was presented that thought generated everything including emotion. But still I feel it’s the other way around. What do you think?