The stigma that hurts the most is the one we put on ourselves. All too often I hear my mentally ill peers shame themselves for their symptoms or treatments. When it feels as if the whole world is against us, it’s more important than ever that we take a stand for ourselves.
When a good friend of mine needed to seek inpatient treatment, they expressed it as if it was some personal failure on their part. I just didn’t see that as the case. To me my friend was ill and needed to get medical treatment. Would it be failure if it had been the flu? Or how about a broken bone?
I simply said that if you break your leg, you’ll need a cast and crutches. Now the choice is completely up to you, and you can certainly go without those, but how far are you going to get? And it’s probably only going to exacerbate the situation, as well as take far longer to heal.
What I see in my friend’s decision or any person’s decision to go inpatient for mental health treatment is proactivity about taking their well being into their own hands. Someone can faithfully take their medicine, regularly see a therapist and even attend support groups, but sometimes all of that just isn’t enough and we need a higher level of care. What’s the shame in that? Especially if said person recognized the depth of their symptoms before they got beyond the point of being able to make the decision themselves and took action. To me that shows a high level of self awareness, responsibility and a dedication to their recovery.
Now if someone is beyond the point of being able to make that decision for themselves, I still see no shame, because sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening right in front of us as clearly as someone on the outside who knows us well can. And how fortunate are we in that case to have someone who cared enough to make sure we got the help we needed.
I have been inpatient for my mental health a total of five times, most recently February 2015. Three times it was not my decision, twice it was. It can be a bitter pill to swallow realizing I do not have the capability to take care of myself. However, like any other medical condition out there, this is the entire point of medical professional and hospitals. They are there for a reason and a resource none of us should feel ashamed to use.
The road to recovery is not linear; someday I may end up back in the hospital. My level of wellness today may not be my level of wellness tomorrow. And that’s okay, I am at peace with this. Each day I will do the best I can in each way I can to move my recovery in a positive direction, and that most definitely includes inpatient hospital care should that be what I need at any given point.
I think the real danger in self stigma is if we end up shaming ourselves to the point of not getting the help we need. That would not only be harmful to ourselves, but potentially to those around us as well. A NAMI mentor of mine often says, “Having a mental illness is not our fault, but it is our responsibility.” So isn’t seeking the various levels of professional medical care up to and including inpatient treatment part of that responsibility? And to me being responsible for our recovery is not something to be shameful of, but rather proud. It is not easy to recognize you need help, seek out the help you need and openly receive that help once offered to you.
To my friend who felt shameful about needing inpatient care, look at the strength it took to make that difficult decision and how much better you are for having made it.