The Illogic of Stigma

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The perfect way to reduce the volume of a candid, fun-filled, noisy crowd to a frozen awkwardness is to just drop phrases such as “my therapist was saying .. “ (Who???) or “my OCD has been ..” (Your WHAT???) or “my last bipolar episode..” (Questions cease. Utter silence!). Try being candid about your mental health status and every other candid interaction jumps out of the window as if it has seen a ghost.

So what is this devil called Mental Health? Simplistically put, it is the wellbeing and healthy functioning of the Mind that enable us to lead an emotionally balanced, fulfilling and purposeful life. Sounds ideal, easy? Not quite. Too often, now more so in our superfast-paced stressful environment, our sense of a fulfilling life and free-flowing joy are blocked and marred by nagging and much real symptoms such as depression, despair, anxiety, panic, stress, burn-outs, dissociation bouts and all sorts of neuro-psychiatric complications – all ultimately taking a massive toll on our physical health too. Yet, we choose not to dismantle the taboo but to continue suffering in silence.

Recently a professional contact communicated his referral of me for a project, with this ending note, “But be sure not to speak a single word about the (mental health) issues you struggle with!  You’re going there as my reference.” I chose not to bother debating it out with him, mentally smiling and being certain that this blog, almost ready for launch by then, would anyway soon throw the much required cold water on his enthusiastic unsolicited wisdom. Perhaps on my project approval too. Yet, that’s the price I was and am forever willing to pay to fight the rabid stigma the subject of Mental Health regularly faces.

Human mind is one of the complex virtual machines this universe has got. Famous writer Eckhart Tolle writes, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.”* May I safely add to that – if not nurtured and regularly taken care of, it turns unmanageable and soon destroys every other aspect of our lives.

And yet so much taboo and pressure to keep Mental Health issues a closet topic. Hence too often we ignore our Mind and try bandaging over the peripheral symptoms . We take sleeping pills for insomnia. We overuse addictive pleasures like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex – and tell you what – even apparently justifiable workaholism and clingy, needy relationships as distractions. We drown ourselves in the constant and loud background noise of social networking sites and the television  just to hear the voices in our own heads – all because we have been conditioned by the society to falsely believe that it is better to shut up and keep it a private struggle than be recognised as ‘mad’ or ‘mentally diseased’. So we shut up and look away and instead attempt every other possible way out. Unfortunately it never works! It never will!

Mental issues aren’t blanket “madness” or “insanity bouts”. Chronic blues or frequent panics and even death-wishes need not necessarily be tagged a ‘disease’ or ‘disorder’. At the most, the word ‘disorder’, as far as to only mean a machine gone a bit out of order with overwork or negligence and may need opening up, peering inside, cleaning the corners, oiling the parts and if need be even boldly calling in a mechanic to help us get all this repair work done. Ever felt shame in owning up that your car carburetor isn’t working alright or in dialling for your AC mechanic? Ever felt ashamed to consult someone if another machine, your heart, showed signs of weakness or malfunction? Why then this shame and denial in case of the most complex and brilliant human machine part called the Mind?

Why suffer in silence? In shame? In dark, nightmarish closets? The more we hide behind social stigmas and pressure to pretend all is well inside our mind and live in forced-upon denials, the more people – we and our loved ones – will live with festering invisible wounds. The Only solution is to be aware and unabashed about it, be absolutely OK to stare our mental discomforts or struggles straight in the eye, acknowledge its existence first to ourselves and then to others we trust and if need be even to professional caregivers who are there to help see us through these onto our recovery and mental and physical wholeness.

So – let’s grow together in awareness. Let’s spread the awareness. Let’s bring ourselves and our loved ones who so far have been suffering in silence, out into the sunshine and onto a path of holistic healing and a fulfilling life.

Take care, dear Mind.

Author &  © Nivedita Dey, 2016

Citation :
* Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, Yogi Impressions, Mumbai, India, 2001

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