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How to Overcome Self-Stigma & Stop Tearing Yourself Down
I’ve been treated most of my life as if my medical conditions (ADHD and anxiety) are either an excuse or a punchline in a joke and many other inaccurate and demeaning things. Instead of being treated like the serious and complex medical conditions they are.
These and similar things shape the way we view ourselves and affect our self-worth and how we relate to others and also ourselves.
Especially when we don’t have the coping skills for properly dealing with and understanding those things. They have the potential to be very damaging and can have a life long negative impact on your life and at times can seem very overwhelming.
Even when you have the courage to ask for help, many people are not very supportive. In fact, most people actually can be downright abusive and extremely apathetic. Which is why many people are hesitant to ask for help or don’t ask for help at all. Due to the fact that they are terrified of how others will perceive them.
Stigma is a very real problem in the world and can come from anywhere. One of those places is from within ourselves. This is due to things such as:
- Our personal values and beliefs
- Various forms of media
- Our friends and family
Regardless of your age, sex, nationality, religion, economic status or whether you have ADHD, anxiety, depression, BPD (or any other mental health condition) they all have one thing in common: stigma. We’ve all either experienced stigma or will experience some form of stigma throughout our lives.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to lessen that stigma:
When you are hesitant to ask for help
If you feel alone remember there is always a person who cares and don’t stop looking for that person until you find them, because you’re worth it.
I know from experience how other people can make you feel worthless at times. Especially when you feel you have nothing in your life. I was in that place and I know it can be really dark and lonely.
Many provinces have various things such as distress centers you can call and speak to a qualified professional. I used to work as an emergency dispatch operator and I had so many calls where the caller would apologize for being a burden.
If you feel like you’re a burden, call anyway. People who have a psychology degree or who are mental health and addictions support workers have a passion for helping others and want to help.
CMHA is an incredible resource, as well. The CMHA has an amazing peer support program that is incredibly helpful. Where people who are not only trained professionals but have also lived through similar experiences help you with your recovery.
When you blame yourself
I believe in taking ownership of the things we are responsible for in our lives. I also firmly believe that if you are not responsible, don’t blame yourself. When people around you start holding your medical condition against you, that’s an issue with them, not with you. Remember that.
A great way to look at this is from the perspective of this quote from the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
When you feel shame and embarrassment
Having a medical condition like ADHD taught me to be very selective when being open about it. This is because when you hear things like “Aduhh” or “What are you stupid” or “Did you take your pill today” or “You’re so bipolar,” – these types of remarks negatively reinforce you and make it very difficult to open up to other people.
Statements such as these can feel incredibly painful. I’ve heard them all and I’m guessing you have, as well. Remember that you have absolutely no reason in any way whatsoever to be embarrassed about it.
It takes an incredibly strong and courageous person to deal with those things, and it takes a weak person to mock you for treating those things or being open about them.
Here are some more tips you can work on with your therapist or peer support worker:
- Understanding your core beliefs and behaviours and how they correspond with each other
- Building healthy relationships and boundaries and not letting toxic people and things into your life
- It takes intelligence and courage to say “I don’t know” and seek help from a qualified medical professional
- Acceptance isn’t giving up, it’s figuring out where to start
- Educate yourself about your condition and your health in general
- Remember that the more your doctor or therapist knows the more accurately they can diagnose and treat you for your condition
- Practice critical thinking and not cynical thinking
- Also, it sounds corny, but sometimes it’s ok to not be okay
- Understanding the difference between mental health myths and mental health facts.
In closing, remember the following: “A person who puts in the time and effort to overcome their struggles and metaphorical demons is: Strong, resilient and courageous and not weak.”
The late great Carrie Fisher put it best when she said: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”
About the Author
Sandy Pace is a mental health advocate from Calgary, Alberta and also the author of Your Mental Health and You (Austin Macauley USA in NYC).