This is such a huge issue for anyone with a mental illness.
You are shunned for your difference. You don’t even need to say what is wrong with you. Your distinction is noted; maybe you can’t hold eye contact or perhaps like me, you need too much eye contact; you possibly don’t say the right thing at the right time; maybe you have difficulty comprehending the complexity of the superficialness that is around you. Whatever it is about you, something sticks out like a sore thumb, and people react.
They react instinctively to a something they cannot see, but only sense; something they cannot understand. They withdraw, pull into themselves. Pupils constrict, smiles become tight and tense; the muscles around the mouth yellow; the hairs on the upper lip stand up; the breathing pattern changes and they either stare at you as though you have grown a second head or if you don’t leave their presence, gaze fixedly upon anything but you. Busy themselves suddenly and intently as to avoid conversation; turn their backs. Sure, they will speak if directly spoken to, but with curtness, off-handedness and sometimes outright hostility.
I have been asked whether I suffer from depression or anxiety when attempting to socialise; both of these are serious mental health issues, but more widely understood and accepted in the community. This is a question asked with genuine concern, however, the moment I admit that yes, to a degree that is true but there is something else, all sympathy disappears and it is replaced by immediate withdrawal. People don’t know what it is; I can express in here, but not out there when the reaction to my presence is becoming increasingly unfriendly.
The kindness disappears; replaced by curt grilling, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you do X? Why don’t you just go and be with your friends? Oh, you’re going now, good.”
Even in a community that prides itself on being inclusive and open, my feelings of rejection are increasing. “Oh hello, you’re back. What do you want? A takeaway? Good. Bye.”
I find myself tentatively walking into places now, unsure of my position, feelings of anxiety increasing with every step out into this world. I have to fight and use grounding techniques all the time. I smile and attempt to communicate. I am beginning to be able to do this; I need to practice. It is vital for survival, so I persist. Some people are friendly and welcoming, but key people are not. I have been courted and vetted for my suitability to be a part of something. I have failed the test, and it is thrown in my face repeatedly. Off-hand remarks, belittling words, derogatory tone, back turning, ignoring, intense floor staring when I enter a premise.
When people can’t make out what you are, then they assume; they judge; they gossip. The gossip always gets back.
Shunned; ostracised; stigmatised. For an unknown difference.
Ignorance and fear rule the mob, and the kings and the queens of the cliques are those that lead the charge.
It is not paranoia; it is not over-reading; it is not warped perceptions. This is the norm for the mentally ill. We all feel it. Others may not see it for they judge by how they are treated and how they see others; the normal, the unafflicted, those with a physical illness that are well-treated, supported, helped and cared for.
Our senses in this area are acute. Far too many of us are falling through the cracks. The health system is buckling under the pressure of a constant stream of socially unacceptable isolated, suicidal individuals screaming for help; for inclusion; for acceptance; for recognition that we are of value; that we are worthy.
Physical illness is seen and understood. Mental illness is not. Illness is illness full-stop.
The cancer patient will die, cannot be saved and truly needs and deserves help and support. The suicidal patient can be protected, but too often is not.
We all need support; we all need companionship; community and friendship. We all need a sense of belonging.
For the mentally ill, this is withheld.
The system is breaking under the strain.
The system has to do what the community will not.
Mob mentality rules; the pack rules and us, perceived as the weakest, yet are truly the strongest among you get shunned for our unknown difference.
Community is a myth when you are mentally ill.
Wouldn’t it be great if community leaders, would lead by example? Show courage; show leadership; step up to the plate and make a difference? How many lives could be saved if leaders became leaders of the community instead of leaders of the pack?
Rejection, stigmatisation and and social isolation are killers for those with hidden mental illness – it puts us at risk.