stigma

The Magnificence of Lifting Our Voices Together

I’m not into sports. I have cheered my kids along in the sports they’ve participated in and I can be interested in the games which are of interest to my friends, family, and associates, but I will probably never be a fan or truly “get” what it means to be passionate about and have allegiance to a specific sports team, say, like the Seattle Seahawks, the new NFC champions who are heading to the Super Bowl on February 2, 2014 for only the second time in their franchise history.

Why do I know this collection of sports trivia? Because of all the voices around me, figuratively speaking, who are speaking up in passionate support and pride of this team. As a matter of fact, the “12th (wo)man” fans of the Seattle Seahawks have raised their voices and joined their enthusiasm together twice since 2011 to cause seismic events to register on the Richter scale.

There is power in lifting our voices together, especially when those voices are in agreement. Have you ever attended a concert, conference, or some other stadium event where the people in the audience were invited to sing the words to a song or anthem they had in common together?

When voices are raised in unison and harmony, it doesn’t matter if each individual voice is pitch perfect. The combined power of shared emotion, meaning, and experience unifies and transforms the disparate, individual voices into a singular, powerful, and magnificent voice that lifts and carries the hearts, minds, and imaginations of all who are participating.

The combination of unified action merged with unified voices can tear walls down according to the Old Testament tale of the Conquest of Jericho found in Joshua 6:1-5 – Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

An army marches around the fortified walls, steps falling in unison, sending powerful vibrations from their steps into the ground, day after day for seven days. On the seventh day, that same army marches seven times around while the sound vibrations from seven ram’s horns are continuously being played. Then, a prolonged blast of the horns and the combined voices of every member of the nomadic nation of Israel in a mighty shout causes the walls to crumble and fall.

So often that story is relegated to myth. However, after seeing how rowdy football fans can cause a minor earthquake, it seems less mythological and more plausible to me.

Today, in the USA, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. A flawed and human man who had a dream to end the prejudice and stigma separating and oppressing people because of the differences in the color of their skin and their genetic origins. There is still a very long way to go in achieving that dream. Fifty-one years ago, he raised his voice to share his dream for us to not walk alone but to march ahead in unity to overcome oppression, prejudice, and injustice.

His speech was specific to the experiences of “The Negro.” However, I have little doubt that if he were alive today, he would be fighting against the stigma and prejudice that oppresses and marginalizes those who are neurodiverse and experience a spectrum of “disorders and illnesses” of the brain, as well. Especially, considering the increasing numbers of mentally ill overrepresented in the prisons, jails, and caseloads of probation officers. The National Institute for Corrections reports:

In a 2006 Special Report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated that 705,600 mentally ill adults were incarcerated in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons and 479,900 in local jails. In addition, research suggests that “people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in probation and parole populations at estimated rates ranging from two to four time the general population” (Prins and Draper, 2009). Growing numbers of mentally ill offenders have strained correctional systems.

An NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet identifies Racial Disparities in Incarceration:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

A report on Gender, Race, and Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System by Melissa Thompson, published through the National Institute of Corrections in the Corrections & Mental Health indicates that there is an inequality and disparity in psychiatric evaluations and mental health services received by African-American men who are incarcerated or supervised in the criminal justice system.

Using federal and local statistics on the hospitalization and/ or incarceration of mentally ill persons, this article finds that psychiatric need is not the only factor criminal justice decision-makers take into account when seeking psychiatric explanations for criminal behavior. Instead, demographic, family, economic, and criminal factors are all important in predicting which defendants will be the recipients of psychiatric evaluations in the justice system. In this context, gender and race are important considerations. Violent women, for example, are more likely to be evaluated for psychiatric conditions, while African-American men are less likely to receive psychiatric evaluation.

I can’t stress the importance of using our voices to share our experiences enough. I don’t know what the true statistics are, but for generations people have been taught to suppress the “crazy,” ignore the “down,” to hide the “different,” and to be ashamed of being weak and wounded. We are increasingly criminalizing and marginalizing those who are experiencing cognitive, developmental, and psychological impairments and damage, criticizing them for not being able to pick up and put together their broken pieces. For every individual who speaks up and shares his or her story, hope, strength, courage, and truth is shared with others who do not yet have a voice. If we raise our voices of experience together, we can drown out the voices of stigma, ignorance, and hate.

Please visit The Official Blog For Mental Health Project

Blog For Mental Health 2014

For more stories of Magnificence, join the Creative Buzz Hop #34, hosted by Michelle Liew from Muses from the Deep and Tamara Wood from PenPaperPad.

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Apparently I’m an ignorant, hopeless, victim . . .

None of these things are really true and I have had so much encouragement and support from all of you who leave me comments, as well as the friends I have in my real life and the professional service providers I am engaged with. There are plenty of people who have actually met me, as an adult for more than a few minutes at a reunion party, who have offered encouragement, support, and understanding as I have struggled through the Eyoreness of being me.

Yet, one comment, and my defensiveness kicks in, and despite my best effort to maintain equilibrium, I found myself in conflict with someone WHO DOESN’T EVEN MATTER IN MY LIFE and I couldn’t let go of the icky feelings of woundedness, and the reversion to my desperate need for the acceptance and approval of another, “Why can’t I make them like me?”

There are a number of truly wonderful, caring, open-minded, big-hearted people who, despite their own mental and physical health issues make a daily choice to reach out, encourage, inspire, and offer beauty to others who are suffering. So many of these people are experiencing the slow deterioration of health for themselves or loved ones, have experienced recent death of or separation from friends or family members, are facing seeming insurmountable financial and material challenges, and/or are coping with the needs and demands of family members whose needs and damage are worse than their own. These are people of faith, strength, courage, perseverance, and fortitude. If I’m being honest and accepting my own truth, I am these things too, despite how I feel about me most of the time.

We are in a period of our lives and what feels like a moment in time in the world around us that, despite the beauty, truth, honor, love, grace, mercy, love and forgiveness that we KNOW exist, has us exhausted and weighed down because the hits just keep on coming without a break.

The murder of innocent schoolchildren in the US and the knife attacks on other children in China. The wars, the genocides, the systematic and persistent rape culture, and other heinous social injustices around the globe can sometimes feel like they outweigh the positive of Good Samaritan holiday efforts, men and women working in their own communities a world away from our insular lives, and a female president in South Korea who may be a peace bringer.
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Then I hear the news that a dear friend who has struggled and won the battle of cancer, suddenly lost a dear friend to cancer, and all she can ask is, “Why?” Another dear friend who shares in some of the physical and psychological challenges I do, but has so much more direct responsibility on her plate, finds out that her potential respite person is in an accident where her pregnant daughter was seriously injured as well. Everyone is alive and going to be okay, but this dear friend of mine is not only not getting the respite she needs, is feeling helpless to be available to her friend in this time of need. Closer to home, Jerry’s mom was informed at the beginning of this month that she was to vacate her home due to foreclosure, after months of trying to do everything to keep the home and then look for another place to live to have no one rent to her because of the foreclosure that happened as a result of her husband’s death. Other family members are experiencing separation from loved ones, broken relationships and and more financial devastation. The list goes on, and I’m not the only one with these kinds of stories or who has people with these kinds of stories in their lives.

Dark humor abounds and there’s so much to cope with, sometimes you want the world to stop, so you can have a rest. I decided to put it out there, mostly because I knew I wasn’t alone and wanted others to know they weren’t alone either. Perhaps I should have put it on a photo of a grumpy cat, or re-captioned a cartoon. Instead, I just used my own words without embellishment:

Not to be a Debbie downer or anything, but let’s be real. How many of us really, kinda, sorta, hoped we were wrong and today was the end and we would finally get a chance to rest? Show of hands by clicking “Like”

Six friends like this

Dissenter: Sick

I almost left it alone. I should have left it alone. Why in all that’s good and gracious, did I not leave it alone?

Me: There are a lot of really good people who have been going through a tremendous period of trauma on top of trauma, who recognize and understand there is still good in the world but can’t see an end in sight for the things they are experiencing. Tired, not sick.

Dissenter: Well u have given up hope.. So.. Without hope you might as well….

Me: No, acknowledging how tired I am isn’t giving up hope. I’m still here, still reaching out still doing what needs to be done.

Dissenter: But to think of it.. Head is shaking

Me: I’m happy for you that you haven’t experienced the illness of the brain and body in conjunction with the kinds of things that can cause some of us to be sick enough to have these thoughts and feelings. I know how hard I’ve fought and how long I’ve battled against things inside of me and outside of me which regardless of my thoughts and efforts and all the feel good, positive mantras that exist. To experience these thoughts is not a crime, to acknowledge and be honest is not a sign of weakness. So, please, do not measure or diagnose my wellness or capacity for hope on the basis of one status.

Let it end there please, Just. Let. It. Go. ~ speaking both to myself and to Dissenter. But no. Now I get a private message:

no assume anything about me.. you do not know me at all… and alsow my comment was towards the whole you were disappointed in todays outcome.. you know what… Im tired of poeple whining wimpering and playing the victim. you are a victim if you choose to be a victime…

Have a happy holiday and hopefully you wont be too tired in 2013. I have deleted you as a fb friend.. and other recently for ignorant comments..

Compulsively feeling the need to continue defending myself and . . . whatever . . . I respond, even though I know it will probably never be read:

I wasn’t intending to assume anything. Merely stating that whatever it is you have gone through and the way your brain and life elements have functioned together have enabled you to be the happy, motivated, engaging and inspirational person you seem to be. You’re absolutely correct in that I know nothing about you and the things you have moved through and overcome.

The reverse is also true, yet it was somehow okay for you to call me sick and tell me that I’ve given up hope.

I’m sincerely sorry if I have offended, that was not my intent. I was trying to point out that you can’t ever judge or measure another without truly knowing their story.

Then the knowledge that he’s friends with another dissenter who recently summarily unfriended me because she didn’t like how I advocated for mental illness supports as part of the response to a local shooting and another conversation where I came to the defense of those with a manic depressive diagnosis, started circling and cycling through my thoughts. I couldn’t shut them off. My heart rate felt like it increased, I got tunnel vision, my stomach felt nauseated and the tension in my body started increasing and tightening up.

ONE dissenter v.s. SIX supporters. Why is it the only one whose voice I could hear was the one?

I know what kind of person I am. I know my heart. I know my values. I know that I am progressing and moving forward in my journey. I know what I have come through and how I have changed and what I have committed to in order to sustain that change and build on it. Why is it that that self-knowledge was not stronger than the hurt and self-doubt of feeling judged and rejected by this one person?

FYI – expressing a dark humor thought and admitting that the end of the world might not necessarily have been a bad thing in light of all the overwhelming, pain, sorrow, struggles, and destructive relationships and attitudes that exist and that having this all end would mean an opportunity for rest and something different and new, is NOT acting like a victim or giving up hope. Thankyouverymuchbye.

Did I get it out of my system yet? Am I done? Can I move on and get through this? Not quite:

Oh, and if I make a statement on my status update that you find offensive, ignorant, sick, or wrong, and you feel the need to leave a judgmental comment about it, expect that I will push back and call you on it. There is NOTHING wrong with being truthful and honest about where you are inside of your own life and reaching out to let others who may be experiencing similar things know they are not alone. Admitting “sickness” or “weakness” associated with depression or going through difficult experiences is not playing the victim or being hopeless. We get tired. We admit it. We reach out to others. We set ourselves down and catch our breath then get up and keep moving forward.

For people who have gone through tragedies, injuries, and life circumstances, but not have dealt with mental illness like chronic depression, bi-polar, personality disorders or other such things, to tell us that we are sick and have given up hope, because they managed to make it through their challenges and come out happy, well-adjusted people doesn’t make them better, it just means they had a different experience.

I find it offensive that people can post all kinds of hateful and derogatory memes, cartoons, quotes, and pictures targeting groups of people based on their politics, their religion, or even their preference for a teen singer or sparkly vampire, but I get called an ignorant, hopeless, victim for stating a semi-humorous dark thought about the end of the world that had nothing to do with anyone or anything other than myself.

I guess I’m done now, except to say, I know I still have some co-dependency work to do. Oh, and nine people liked the last one. 😉

Thanks for sticking with me through this.

Photo Credit: Bridge City Community Church, Youth-led sympathy project in response to Sandy Hook Elementary deaths.