Blogging Against Disablism: Mental Illness, Stigmatisation, Coming Out

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2008 This is going to be short because if I try and make it a grand narrative I might chicken out of coming out.

I am disabled. My disability is invisible. I have a mental illness. I have a disorder of affect, a mood disorder, of the type commonly but simplistically known as manic-depression.

For many years I was diagnosed as chronically depressed. I tried many anti-depressant medications which merely made me emotionally numb and left me with undesirable side-effects. I did not keep taking them. When I was finally diagnosed with a mood disorder by a clinical psychologist and prescribed appropriate medication, my condition drastically improved.

Unfortunately after several years on that medication it stopped working so well. Indeed, I was experiencing side effects which I attributed to an old musculo-skeletal injury – I only realised that it was in fact my medication when I ran out while my GP was on holiday, decided “I can manage without for a few days” and discovered that my various aches and pains radically resolved once I stopped taking my meds. So, I didn’t ask for a new prescription. I’m now having insomnia problems, for which I take a sleeping tablet about every third night to get at least some decent sleep. I’m managing.

As a political blogger, I kept this secret until now, because of the way in which mental illnesses are stigmatised. It’s easy for those who oppose your opinions to dismiss you if you have a mental illness. But having a mood disorder does not make me incapable of rational analysis and commentary. It has affected my life profoundly in many ways, but my intellectual capacity is not one of them.

OK, if I try and write any more I know I won’t hit that publish button. That’s it.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, health, social justice

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49 replies

  1. *offers general supportiveness and hugs*
    *also offers pictures of David Tennant* 😉

  2. Thanks, Beppie. Especially for the David Tennant pics! (although I got an access-denied with a nasty rebuke for bandwidth stealing on the last link) 😦 – any chance of a page link instead of an image link?
    The main problem I have to deal with is self-doubt, which leads to the Hideous Procrastination Pile into which are hurled all the tasks which provoke the self-doubt. If it were actually a corporeal pile it would by now present a hazard to low-flying aircraft.

  3. Ack! I couldn’t find that last one again, but here’s another accompanied by the wonderful Catherine Tate (there are not enough words to describe her awesomeness).
    And yeah, although I can’t know exactly what it’s like for you in your situation, I do know about the horrible links between self-doubt and procrastination; I can only imagine what it must be like when that self-doubt is accompanied by the unfair stigma associated with disability (whether physical or mental illness).

  4. I’d just like to say I think you are awesome. You just are.

  5. Well done, Tig.
    I periodically consider discussing similar topics on my blog, but I haven’t found the gumption yet. So cheers, and thanks.
    Brooklynites last blog post..I like the internet.

  6. I’m still a bit shaky from having posted this. Thanks for the support.
    Hey, Brooklynite: the new upgrade of commentluv fetches LJ posts now. Excellent.

  7. But having a mood disorder does not make me incapable of rational analysis and commentary.

    Au contraire, AFAICS.
    As for self-doubt and procrastination, I always thought that they were both just symptoms of being female. It’s never occurred to me that they were connected, but you’ve just explained something to me about my life that might make it much easier to manage from now on.
    Pavlov’s Cats last blog post.."Never mind the boring old spelling, grammar and punctuation, kiddies, just be creative": the aftermath

  8. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen a lot of posts recently that start like yours then end up with “and medication didn’t work for me, so NO-ONE should take it, EVER!” I’m really glad to see a post say “It didn’t work for me”…and then continue to discuss the issue at hand, which is your own health, and what works for you.

  9. You are awesome, Tigtog, as Mindy said. I often come here and find a knotty issue untangled before my eyes.

    Hugs from a dysthymiac (Not THE Dysthymiac :), just a common or garden one)

  10. In the past year or so, for the first time in my life, my real life friends and colleagues have learned about my similar condition. I was very shocked at their accepting attitudes (basically “Man, that sucks.” followed by moving on and continuing to treat me just like they did before). This is partially of course because they’d known me for awhile and I had proven myself to be more than competent, but I wonder if it’s also somewhat a function of age (I am mid-twenties, as are most of my friends and colleagues). (I don’t know your age, but if you’re older, that could mean it would be different for you.) I think for my generation, it’s just expected that many of the people you know will be medicated for mental illnesses.
    One of the reasons I kept it from everyone for so long was straight up advice from several psychologists, who were, unsurprisingly, a good bit older. Their outlook was basically that if I was good enough at hiding it to be successful, I should hide it.
    I’m currently unmedicated, and I think, at least for the moment, that’s really the best choice for me, but if you haven’t already done so, I would strongly urge you to talk to a good psychiatrist who’s up on all the most recent research. There are new drugs available, some of which have fewer common awful side effects. If unmedicated is working for you, of course, that’s awesome… but you sound more like you’re resigning yourself to this fate. (I don’t know you very well at all, being a new reader, so you probably have already talked to lots of good people, but just in case you hadn’t, I thought I’d suggest it.)
    hecatelunas last blog post..vanity.

  11. I’ve seen a lot of posts recently that start like yours then end up with “and medication didn’t work for me, so NO-ONE should take it, EVER!” I’m really glad to see a post say “It didn’t work for me”…and then continue to discuss the issue at hand

    No one medication will work for everyone, it’s a matter of persevering to find one that works for you, and accepting that in most cases psychotropic meds won’t keep on working for anyone forever – your system eventually doesn’t respond as strongly to them any single med and you need to find something else.

    If unmedicated is working for you, of course, that’s awesome… but you sound more like you’re resigning yourself to this fate.

    I’m giving myself a 3 month trial of unmedicated. I’m about 6 weeks in. I want to give my body a chance to flush any lingering metabolites of my old medication – they can hang around in the liver for ages.
    Then I’ll hie myself off to a good mental health practitioner.

  12. Given that a significant proportion of the population suffer from a mental illness (of varying degrees of seriousness) it’s quite amazing that the stigma still exists.
    So it seems the pills that you were on at one point helped a lot, which is good to hear.
    I remember writing about suffering from depression when I was a teenager and was told by one person that nobody wanted to read about my teenage angst (I wrote about it as an oldie). It was “interesting” to have my experience dismissed so readily. I use to self-harm back in those days as well, but better not mention that.
    It’s tough, but I think there will be a ton of people reading this blog who will say thanks for your honesty for the every one or two who finds it a reason to point a finger and make a jibe. Sometimes those pointing a finger and making a jibe are also saying thank you deep inside.

  13. Congratulations, Tigtog.
    Deborahs last blog post..What’s a white woman to say?

  14. Awesome post, thank you.Incidentally last night on ABC2 they repeasted a 2004 Catalyst epsiode that looked at ‘Brain Switching’. The researcher interviewed, Australian neuro-scientist, Jack Pettigrew has Bipolar Disorder and in the research on brain switching made some interesting discoveries about his own condition.
    Its nice to see research coming from this angle rather than the ‘cure it or damn it’ approach.
    Brain Switching
    Grendels last blog post..The Tamper – Part One

  15. Thank you so much for having the courage to be so honest.
    I’m sure you will feel a million dollars after doing this. I know that once I started to become more honest about my own issues it has been a huge weight off my shoulders. I’m sure it’s also made some people I know uncomfortable, but I don’t really care. If it makes people uncomfortable then they are uncomfortable with me; I shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable with myself on behalf of other people.
    The freedom to be honest about our “imperfections” puts them in the correct context as something that is a part of us, just like the stronger parts. It rules us more when we hide it as if it is something to be hidden.
    Welcome to the “out” world!
    madeinmelbournes last blog post..A new timewaster

  16. My dad was diagnosed bi-polar about 4 years ago, he also has an anxiety disorder. I see hints of some of his symptoms in varying degrees in myself, my siblings and my children. I too am familiar with the procrastination thing. Thank you for writing this.
    mimbless last blog post..Menu plan 28 April 08

  17. What Mindy said! Good on you tigtog. You’re an ornament to the blogosphere.

  18. Don’t have the energy to say what I’d like at the moment due to my physical/mental disabilities wearing me out, but Yay!! for you having the guts to write and posting this! A little more chipping away at the stigma. 🙂
    Book Girls last blog post..How is it possible…

  19. cheers, all
    I don’t have any especially good links to offer people, although I know that many must exist. I’ve found reading about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and having some myself has been useful. I don’t particularly want to name medications, because everybody’s different and what worked or didn’t work for me won’t necessarily be anyone else’s experience. I learnt while studying physiology that a ballpark for most psychotropic drugs is that they work extraordinarily well for 10-25% of the population, work moderately well for another 50-60%, and may as well be sugar tablets for the rest of the population. (edited to add – forgot to mention the proportion of the population who find their symptoms exacerbated, sometimes tragically) Most of these meds have side-effects that your GP won’t necessarily tell you, and many of them interact really badly with hormonal contraception. So find a diagnostician who really knows their stuff.
    I know that the upswings of my mood disorder have been one of the major sources of self-doubt: I don’t have stereotypical dancing on tables mania, but I do tend to get very enthusiastic about things and take on way too much, and then I don’t complete things and then I feel horrible for letting others down. My major coping strategy at the moment for dealing with this tendency is to Just. Say. No., but then I feel bad for not doing things for/with people. Then that pushes me into a downswing.
    If this describes you, but you’ve concentrated more on your down-periods, be aware that you too might have bi-polar elements to your mood disorder, and that may mean you need an entirely different medication than the standard anti-depressants.

  20. Hi, my name is Sean, and I’m undiagnosed but pretty damn sure I suffer chronic depression.
    As you are aware, it’s something I’ve not completely shied away from mentioning, but I don’t do nearly the volume of blogging you do, and I greatly admire and support your openness.
    Having dealt with my sister’s bipolar depression for many years, I know very well there’s no shame inherent in these things. I also know very well there is a stigma, and I applaud heartily your bucking it.
    Best wishes and mucho hugs. Email me any time you want to talk.
    Sean Willards last blog post..Any venture capitalists out there?

  21. Yay! General whooping and hollering.
    The stigma around mental illness kills people, and I’m so glad to see someone writing intelligently about it. Good luck with the drug free period. If nothing else it’s always nice to have a break from remembering pills.`
    For anyone who’s thinking they’ve been Not Quite Right lately, have quizzes for depression, postnatal depression and bipolar disorder. Obviously they’re not going to fix anything, but if you’ve been putting off going to the doctor thinking you’d get better soon, they might give you the push to Make An Appointment.
    kates last blog post..Random weirdy meme thingo

  22. Darlene said:
    I use to self-harm back in those days as well, but better not mention that.

    I’m glad you did. I used to as well. Nice to say “used to” about that particular can of worms.
    Antidepressant meds have always left my on a low altitude plateau. No troughs, sure, but no peaks either and an overall so-whatness that was unpleasant. I do without them now.

  23. Late to this thread (Dr’s appointment, and working on my own procrastoloop with my BADD post!) Tonnes of virtual *hugs* and admiration from this quarter too.

    But having a mood disorder does not make me incapable of rational analysis and commentary.

    Ain’t that the truth.
    Lauredhels last blog post..BADD: The radical notion that people with disabilities are people, and Australia’s 2020 Summit

  24. Thanks for the insight, tigtog. Best of luck with the journey.

  25. Great post.
    I’ve suffered from depression for many years now, but luckily I am in the part of the population for whom modern anti-depressants work superbly.
    As a political blogger, I kept this secret until now, because of the way in which mental illnesses are stigmatised. It’s easy for those who oppose your opinions to dismiss you if you have a mental illness.
    Stuff ‘em. They aren’t the ones you have to convince – it’s the giant army of lurkers and watchers that your arguments might have an effect on who are the real audience.
    I read an interesting post on the UK Socialist Unity blog a couple of weeks ago about different treatments for those who hear voices – the post is in part another personal story that may interest people.
    David Jackmansons last blog post..Brisbane Culture: Trash Video Cabaret Benefit Call For Performers

  26. Everyone’s path is individual. Experiment until you know what works for your. Trust your body, trust yourself.

  27. As a major depressive who refuses to hide I deeply sympathize with the fear of stigma, I’ve seen and heard it all:
    From people who will go out of their way for you as though you are an emotional invalid, to people who pretend they don’t know, to the contemptuous and dismissive. Here are some examples, I am sure fellow sufferers will be familiar: Dismissal of suicide attempts as “a cry for help” or “attention seeking”. Angry accusations of selfishness after suicide attempts “how could you do this to us?” (as though there was nothing wrong with you). Asking loudly and in company how your “depresso drugs” are going, and whether they are working yet. Jokes about borrowing your prescription medication “to pep me up, I’ve had a bad day.” Being told you are no better than a heroin addict or alcoholic because you have a “chemical dependency”. People tip-toeing around you as though you have been recently bereft. Accusations of “putting it on” to get out of commitments or obtain prescribed uppers. The list goes on…
    Recovering from depression would be much easier without having to cope with the attitudes of thoughtless and ignorant people. The people I am most grateful for are the pragmatic ones. They accept that I am sick, satisfy themselves that I am getting treatment and ask if there is anything they can do. Unfortunately, they are the exception.
    Good luck with it. Thanks for coming out 🙂
    PS I’ve been lurking on this blog for a while, I really like it!
    Emmas last blog post..Contribution to paid maternity leave discussion at The Age.

  28. I just wanted to say how great it’s been to read the comments on this post. Thanks to all of you.

  29. I never ever ever ever write about my mental illness on my blog.
    Too many people on my flist already roll their eyes in disgust when I talk about social issues that matter to mee. To add “oh, and I have a mental illness” to the mix?
    I get dismissed enough as it is.
    I *hate* the stigma against mental illness. I tell people often to out themselves as being mentally ill, but so many of them refuse because of the backlash, and I can’t exactly blame them, being that I won’t do it either.
    Thank you. You are braver than I.
    Annas last blog post..Blog Against Disablism Day: A Place to call Home

  30. Hey Tigs,
    late to the party, but big hugs to you.
    I understand this, having been half of a parenting couple suffering from undiagnosed PND, and often teetering on the edge of depression myself. Mostly I’m Tigger, but sometimes Eeyore seems to be winning.
    The ‘experiments’ that have helped me, strangely, are creative. My (three? Four?) weblogs, a short story, a bit of poetry (that one is about depression and someone who helped me a lot).
    But I can always feel it there. Lurking. The dark cloud on the horizon.
    Again, virtual hugs.

  31. Congrats for opening up Tigtog. 36 years ago I suffered post natal depression bordering on Psychosis and I learnt to keep that very quiet but now doctors and mothers discuss it every day. Hopefully the time will come when we can discuss any mental disorder openly.

  32. Good on you tigtog, a gutsy thing to do.
    “But having a mood disorder does not make me incapable of rational analysis and commentary. It has affected my life profoundly in many ways, but my intellectual capacity is not one of them.”
    You prove this over and over and over and over and over again.

  33. But having a mood disorder does not make me incapable of rational analysis and commentary.

    Preach. it. sister.
    (Also, congratulations and welcome.)
    Maudite Entendantes last blog post..Somewhere between pride and prejudice

  34. What a wonderful post! Kudos to you, tigtog, and all best wishes for your future.
    Not recommending or pushing anything, but I find taking valerian herbal tablets for my (very occasional) bouts of insomnia helpful. They’re very mild and make me sleepy and relaxed rather than knocking me right out, which usually leads to me dropping off. (Recommended to me by my Australian friend and co-writer Lutra.)
    Jouless last blog post..

  35. Thanks again to everyone who’s offered their support, and special thanks to those who’ve shared their own mental illness experiences.
    This has been a very positive experience. I procrastinated less today than is my usual practise. I’m fairly chuffed. Ta.

  36. Hugs and cheers, tigtog. After a series of misfortunes, my husband had a severe “breakdown” and was diagnosed as a rapidly cycling bipolar with OCD. I had always noticed things hit him much harder than they did me, but I didn’t know what to attribute this to. It took many months, but eventually medication moderated his moods and now he’s looking forward to things again and making plans. And you know what? At no time has he had hallucinations or what his psychologist calls a “thinking disorder”–he’s got a mood disorder. His breadth of knowledge, memory, analysis, language, etc., are quite brilliant and always have been (he was classified as a gifted and talented child). From reading up, we’ve concluded bipolar is a very broad term and that bipolar persons have a very broad range of functionality, many of them being extremely creative (writers, entertainers, etc.) and intelligent, and some of them literally being empire-building businesspeople. Well, I could go on, but I just want to stress to you that your diagnosis is in no respect an invalidation of your thinking, judgment, and personal moral authority. All power and grace be with you.

  37. I’m another of the “invisible” disabled (or maybe differently abled is a more accurate way of putting it?). I have a mental illness as well – chronic, endogenous depression. I’ve been affected with this for approximately the last twenty-three years. I started taking medication for it about seven years back.
    Oddly enough, since I started acknowledging the depression was here to stay, and that it wouldn’t go away if I ignored it long enough (I figure sixteen years was more than long enough!), it made things a bit easier. I was able to admit “I can’t ignore this any more” and go to a doctor (terrified to the core of being thrown straight into the locked ward of the local hospital and left there to rot). The doctor handed me the tissues, and a prescription for an SSRI-type antidepressant. I switched medications after a year, since the first one heightened existing anxiety issues, but other than that I appear to be in the lucky section of the population for whom these drugs are wonderfully effective.
    Oh, and my three least favourite things about being depressed:
    1) The people who respond to me admitting this with “well, why can’t you just be happy?” or “cheer up, it’s not that bad” or some variation on this. Trust me, if I could “just be happy” or “cheer up”, I would. I’d love to be able to manage that. But I can’t. It’s on a par with saying “breathe water” – I’m happy to do it, but you’ll have to explain *how*.
    2) The people who seem to have the impression any mental illness immediately renders the sufferer both imbecilic and deaf. No, I can hear you just fine, and I can understand the big words you use, too. I may be depressed, but I can take medication. So far I haven’t found anything they’ll prescribe for bloody-minded rudeness.
    3) The people who treat me as though I’m going to break down screaming any second, or treat me as though I’m made of glass. I have a theory: people who have depression are actually a lot tougher than the usual sort – after all, we not only cope with all the everyday stresses, but also the things our own damn minds fling at us. We’re durable, not breakable.
    Honestly, I can cope with the salesdemon for suicide who lives in my head – although I dearly hope I cost the little wotsit a promotion. I can cope with the days when doing anything at all feels as though I’m moving through chest-high treacle. I can even cope with the days when the only damn thing I want to do is hide in bed and inhale whole cheesecakes. But dealing with people? Well, that’s starting to get tricky these days.
    Meg Thorntons last blog post..Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargggggh!!!

  38. With you all I am home. Let me tell you, as an addiction counselor and radio show host as well of editor of a small newspaper I fight Stigma any way I can. I am an Advocate and I am all about educating the public and stigma-busting.To my surprise, I have evoked hatred as well as love and support from outside the MHC community.
    I mean I am really victimized by some people — for coming out on 10,000 watts, and soon community television. A macrocosm of the prejudice and stigma I have had to deal with all my life (first hospitalized at 15) because of chronic recurring mental illness, which I never hid, and which has cost me a lot. Now I am making a career out of my disability. My second book “The Last Minority” will be out in a couple of months; I think you’d all enjoy it.
    I know statistically mental health clients are more likely to be victims of violence of all kinds than perpetrators. But I never expected such venom!There is a particular group/gang of people who already hated me for calling CPS on one of them, and now regularly not only harass and malign me but literally threaten my life!!!As if my illness didn’t give me enough to deal with!….I was just fifty-one fiftied FIVE TIMES in the last two months because of delusion and terror fueled by these threats. Finding out about my mental illness gave them more ammunition, and a way of denying they do because they are quick to say I’m sick and delusional and it didn’t happen.
    We are the last group of people it is legal and acceptable to ridicule and discriminate against (especially in getting jobs. I am lucky, I work in a Wellness Centre. Can you imagine blacks or Latinos or women as a group, any group, putting up with this discriminatory crap? That’s why I all us “The Last Minority”.)Anyway this is getting long but go to the conferences, take every chance to tell your story,read, send letters to your Reps about mental health registration,write letters to the papers when they use unacceptable terms or intolerant rhetoric.The motto for my small non-profit Advocacy is “Grow strong. Reach high. Choose.”
    Never be ashamed, no more than yu would be of an ulcer or a missing limb.Never be ashamed! I know Courage is a lonely place, believe me. But we should all, in Alkan Colmes, “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER”. No, it’s not easy, but we do it for the sake of our kids and the next generation. Shalom. Mael…

  39. A little late to the party due to travelling in the internet-deprived top end.

    Most of the mood-disorderless should envy you your capability for rational analysis and commentary. And also your courage and honesty.

  40. You are an amazing writer. Having a disability is simply one of many characteristics a person has — not the ultimate override.
    I’ve tried several medications too… against my will, really (the medication I tried the first time worked perfectly — but my insurance didn’t want to pay for it, so they dictated that I try several other sorts before they would pay for mine again — that was a fking miserable several months). Most medications are not going to work well for any given person — that’s just probability. Sometimes a person has good fortune with certain kind(s), but sometimes medication simply isn’t an aid for a person. There are any number of treatments available.
    I find the same for my fibromyalgia. Actually, up until ’04-ish, there weren’t any medications that were truly effective on FM — period — there were tricyclic antidepressants, which did a very small bit, and then narcotics, which aren’t optimal for chronic pain management for obvious reasons. Then Lyrica and Cymbalta (and milnacipran, which fell through in phase III I think) came about, and now medication *is* a good option for fibro — although again, not every person will react well to them. Light exercise, good sleep habits, and an overall balanced amount of physical activity in one’s life are also good treatment. CBT has been found to be somewhat effective as well.
    Becoming familiar with all that did help me understand my anxiety much better when the blinders finally fell off when I hit about 20. During my early teenage years, I went through the “no medication what-so-ever!” phase, and crashed and burned pretty severely, several times over. So I was open to medication from the start, while also aware that I could increase its efficacy if I was open to therapy (of whatever sort).
    I do find it somewhat funny that I was the kid who refused to even take a single Tylenol until I was writhing in pain and now I’m taking over a dozen pills a day, minimum. I wonder what my young self would have to say for me. 🙂
    I know this experience is difficult. In coming out to the public, you are also coming out to yourself — acknowledging that what you deal with is quite real, but that it is not a personal failure, and not something you should have to keep hidden. I do hope it is easier for you going forward.

  41. Thanks again for the latest comments, everyone. I don’t have much more to say at the moment, but I truly appreciate all the kind words.

  42. Yeah, what you said. What everyone else said too. I’m pretty new to blogland but I get happier every day finding new blogs like this one. And I add my kudos for your “coming out” bravery. I hide my mental illness – couldn’t we come up with a different tag? I mean “mental” disability, “mental” illness – crap, the word does make it sound like there is something wrong with the intellect – it’s a disabled intellect ahhh, grok! What would work as a label? We used to call physically disabled people all sorts of horrid things – we need a re-naming movement. Or am I just off the wall today? lol 🙂

  43. A ton of people in my family have or had this disorder, so I know a bit about what you’re going through and will go through and wish you all the support you can use — including better drugs! Good for you for coming out, especially on BADD. As daunting as the prejudice and loss of privilege is, I think visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have to combat disablism. It’s not easy to throw yourself into the fray, though.
    Thanks for the post. 🙂

  44. There are so many mis-diagnosed patients . It’s up to us as individuals to push and push and push until we find the answers.
    Undiagnosed Illness Forum

  45. Good for you for coming out. I’m starting to come out about my PTSD a bit more openly and it can be hard. Mostly I get afraid people won’t respect me anymore, when in fact they should respect it more that I’ve been able to get this far despite it.

  46. Bit fat hug from someone (another someone amongst many) who cares.

    As Laura said, you are an ornament to the blogosphere. A very brave and tough ornament on the day you posted this, and a person really valued at all times by the community you have spent so much heart and intelligence building.

  47. Thanks again. I thought about revisiting this for a year later type of post for BADD this year, but once again I just didn’t have the time to do it justice!


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