The Stigma of Mental Illness - Part 2

What is it that makes us fearful of the unknown? The strange? The other?

It makes sense that most of us are frightened of large predators, poisonous animals, deep bodies of water, and exceptional heights. All of those things could cause us significant bodily harm, or even death.

But why be afraid of another human? We share 99.9% of our DNA with one another! The answer lies in our evolutionary past.

We are naturally fearful of what we cannot see. We descended from hunter-gatherers who assumed that every rustling sound in the bushes indicated the presence of a bigger, badder animal. We did not descend from those that thought, “I’m sure it’s nothing.” Because those humans were eaten.

“Did anyone else hear that?”

“Did anyone else hear that?”

Today, most of humanity can reasonably assume that they are not at risk to being lunch for a saber-tooth tiger. The fear of the unseen did not go extinct; it developed into the fear of the unseen in others.

We humans are equally adept at crafting stories and placing blame. As a result we found differences and exploited them to feel safe:

“Dear me… that one thinks he’s Napoleon!”

“Dear me… that one thinks he’s Napoleon!”

There is a deep-seated, human reason for calling “other” people names. It allows us to immediately declare that WE are not THEM. As a result, we feel safe, superior, and entitled to take liberties.

When I go off the rails
I hurt my self not you
I curl up in my bed
A snail within the shell
When I am depressed
I don’t rise up off my sofa
Let alone become a danger
Manned with an axe
To chop up you
When my brain is racing
From one thing to the next
I haven’t the space or time
To bother anyone other
So relax
When I’m up
I am creative
Making, painting a must
I become one possessed
But not with you
Stigma wielding man
My juices too precious to waste
On hydrating your prejudice

I have an illness
It is not contagious
And not the all of me
So if you cannot accept
Or treat me with a little respect
Then at the very least
Zip your mouth
Don’t tell me what’s best
Or simply to pull my self together
I am not curtains
And I do not care to be patronised
By your ignorance
Yes I’m talking to you
The uninformed jury
Assuming fear as fact
Remember one day it may
Be your reality too.
- Rachel Blake

Germans became “Krauts”, Japanese became “Japs”, Russians became “Reds”.

Mentally ill becomes “crazy”.

Schizophrenic becomes “dangerous”.

Depression becomes “lazy”.

Anxiety becomes “weak”.

We are wired to be afraid of that which we believe is different. Stigmatizing something or someone is a natural, human activity.

That said, we should feel comfortable relegating that urge to the dust bin of history. We are growing out of our childish understanding of the world. If a child in middle school can comprehend the basics of atomic structure; surely that child can also be taught that .1% is insignificant when compared to 99.9%.

The real question is, will we grow out of the childhood of our species or will we follow our baser instincts?

Keep Walking

I bartended the summer before my sophomore year of college. Legal to do in Georgia, as long as you were over eighteen. It turned out to be the perfect job for me, even though I considered myself socially awkward and anxious in most social settings.

Why would bartending appeal to me? Well, I had three feet of granite separating me from everyone else, and the more drinks I served, the funnier and more charming I became to my patrons.

keep_walking.JPG

I operated in a safe environment that alleviated my anxiety, and I could practice interacting with people. At the end of the summer, I decided to get a new tattoo. This time of Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man with the company’s tagline: “Keep Walking” below the logo.

As you will see in the gallery below, the advertising campaign was of the Striding Man walking in a straight line, far beyond a variety of earlier obstacles.

The word “stride” means to, “walk with long, decisive steps in a specified direction,” or to, “cross an obstacle with one long step.”

I always took this to mean that action, movement, and incremental forward progress will always create a measure of distance from previous struggles. This is supremely practical advice because everyone can relate to the feeling of being stuck in a situation.

“Caught in a rut” is another familiar phrase that encapsulates how frustrating it is to feel as if you are trapped. I think this harkens back to our evolutionary past. When our ancestors risked exploring new environments because wherever they were living, was no longer sufficient to their long-term survival.

Whether we evolved to move, or we moved and then evolved is beside the point. We feel better when we act, and we feel confident when we act with purpose. My purpose is to live a disciplined life, and share the methods I use to move from living with an affliction, to living well with mental illness.