The pain of a stigma


I’m no different than anyone.

I’m a girl. I love music. I love nature, painting, and photography. I scream at concerts, and laugh at my own jokes.

I fear so many things. I lose hope sometimes. My mind–my mind gets the better of me sometimes. It tells me lies.

But I’m fighting the lies! I am fighting for my life against the thoughts that say I’m nothing. Put rocks into your pockets. walk into the river. 

I won’t stop fighting it. I won’t stop saying back to them.  No! I won’t. I’m worth something! I know I am!

With time I’ve learned to fight back against my mind, to fight against the part of me that wants to give in. But it’s hard enough to fight the battle inside of myself.

Who am I?

Am I monster? Or a victim?

Did God make a mistake when he formed me? Did the devil make me for some hellish joke or some evil work?

No! No! The chaos makes it hard to see. But I know, I know my life isn’t a mistake. I know the pain I feel has a purpose. To better me as a person. To make me able to help others. To give me compassion. To teach me to be brave. To show me that no one should have to be perfect in order to be loved.

I fight to realize these things.

I only wish others saw it too.

For so long I’ve felt shame to tell my family and friends about my struggle with depression and anxiety. I hid from my friends, and put on a smile for my family. But when it came to the point when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I drew back from relationships rather than telling people the truth. I remember one situation when I was in university I had been struggling alone for so long and secluding myself. Then one day I revealed to a friend that I had been seeing a doctor and had been diagnosed with depression and that they thought I might have OCD. Her response was one that I can never forget. I was crying and ashamed and just wanted someone to tell me I was okay. That it didn’t change who I was. That I was still me! The girl she had been friends with. But instead of assuring me of that, she nodded as I spoke and said she had to go. She had promised to meet with someone else at the library that night. Over the next few weeks that I remained in my room, leaving just once every other day to get a meal from the cafeteria, she never came back.

It hurt at lot at the time, and looking back I can still feel those hints of rejection and judgment. I know that’s why I have lost a lot of my old friends. I was too afraid they would do the same thing, and think that I was strange, or crazy. That if they knew why I had cuts on my arm they would think I was dangerous and disgusting.

Unfortunately that stigma really does haunt sufferers with mental illness. Many who need help and support from a doctor or psychologist, don’t seek it, because they are too afraid of the negative impact that revealing their struggle might have on their life. The article I have linked below explains the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and why it has developed. It talks about how the media promotes a negative identity onto those who suffer with various mental illnesses. It also goes on to say that these stigma’s make families with loved ones with mental illness, and mental illness sufferers live with a false understanding of their loved ones and of themselves.

For so long I had heard the lies told to me by society that it wasn’t okay to have a mental illness, and that mental illness was something that weak people suffered from. I was aware that they were portrayed as “crazy” and in all my perfectionism I couldn’t imagine people thinking of me that way.

I don’t want to feel ashamed!

I want the stigma to break!

I want anyone with a mental illness to speak out! Talk to your friends and family! Tell your story! Because that’s the only way we can overcome the false persona that the media has put out. It haunts all those with mental illness and makes recovery so much harder, as many people will not seek help.

I am hopeful because of what I have read from others. People are speaking out! But I want the message to go even further! I don’t want another young girl or boy to have to sit alone in his room, ashamed of the thoughts in his head. I don’t want anyone to fear they are unlovable, or that their mental illness changes who they are.

It doesn’t change them!

They are so important, and so amazing! Please, don’t be ashamed!


55 thoughts on “The pain of a stigma

  1. I had one of those experiences where someone dropped off the grid because of my depression not long ago. It really is an acute, emotional pain to feel so discarded. And despite my best efforts, I can never help but look inward and blame it on my flaws.

    I hope your message does spread. The world could stand to be a bit more forgiving.

  2. I know that stigma. People think you are weak and lazy if you can’t just “get over it” or “buck up you have so much to be grateful for”. Then those voices speak from inside. When the darkness comes hopelessness seems insurmountable. What good am I if I can’t find my way out on my own.

  3. Beautiful! I hope that stigma is something today’s society will one day look back on and wonder why it existed in the first place. Stigma affects not only those who struggle with MH issues, but their families and loved ones as well. It’s a shame. You are doing a brave and wonderful thing.


  4. touching. i find myself in tears.

    “No! No! The chaos makes it hard to see. But I know, I know my life isn’t a mistake. I know the pain I feel has a purpose. To better me as a person. To make me able to help others. To give me compassion. To teach me to be brave. To show me that no one should have to be perfect in order to be loved.”

    i have a basic grasp that this is true. in the past, i knew this me true. today, in the depths of my depression, i find it hard to wrap my mind around it.

    you did inspire me, though. there is and upcoming nami walk in my area. i’m going to register and ask people to sponsor me. guess that means i’ll have to “come out of the closet” so to speak.

    thank you for touching me. i’ll try to pay it forward.

    • I can relate to your struggle. It is easy for me to write that now or on a day when I am feeling alright. But it is so hard to see that, and believe it on a day when I am in depression. I can really relate. That’s why it’s good to try to fully grasp those truths any moment you can and look at them even when you find them hard to believe. Because they remain true always.

      That’s amazing! I am so happy to hear that! You are an inspiration! I can’t wait to hear how it goes! you are so brave! my heart goes out to you!


  5. There was an article written a few years ago called the Myth of Mental illness. There are those mental health disorders caused by chemical problems with the brain which in reality is no different when you think about it, than a diabetic who is not producing insulin, and requires medication to regulate things. The only real difference is that one affects the brain, and the other, the blood sugar. The other mental health disorders not caused by a chemical problem are not about someone being “crazy”. They simply do not have the resilience or coping skills to deal with life’s slings and arrows, and need extra support. There indeed is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as unfair and cruel judgment. Walkt tall. There isn’t a human on this earth who hasn’t felt overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point in their life.

    • “They simply do not have the resilience or coping skills to deal with life’s slings and arrows”. Can I just point out that this isn’t necessarily the case. I don’t have a chemical imbalance, I have Borderline Personality Disorder. It doesn’t mean I lack resilience or coping skills; it means my brain literally works differently from “normal”. It doesn’t have a cut-out switch for negative emotions, so I end up over-reacting. I don’t want to do it. It’s not that I don’t have coping skills. I just can’t control how my brain works; much in the same way as someone with an acquired brain injury. Personality Disorders fall into that horribly dodgy middle ground of mental illness. You can’t “cure” it with medication; you can only provide therapy and education.
      I just wanted to point that out in case anyone was reading this and felt offended (again, a negative reaction us Border-heads can’t regulate particularly well).

  6. Beautifully written. Here’s the thing: mental illness is an ILLNESS. Nobody would say they were ashamed of having cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or congestive heart failure. Nobody would use that word. My husband felt shame, and that’s why he wouldn’t seek help, and that’s why he’s dead.

    To anybody who is feeling shame about anything, I recommend reading or watching Dr. Brene Brown. She gave a TED talk that went viral talking about shame and courage. I’m reading her book “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Wasn’t) and it’s such an inspiring and empowering book. I’m trying to live by what she says, and to write by it on my blog. You are doing it too. There is power in that.

    • Yes! thank you for saying that! my heart breaks when I thin of your sorrow, and of your husband. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel. You are so brave and strong to be saying this! I am in tears. I will check out the book you suggested. It sounds amazing!
      I wish the best for you! bless you!

      love Emma

    • i would counter that it is not an illness. as you so aptly stated, it’s no different than cancer, MS or congestive heart failure.

      it’s the societal misconceptions about mental disorders, caused by ignorance, that causes use to hide or feel shame for noting more than a medical condition. why don’t i freely share about my medical condition? because i might be outcast or shunned.

      societal misconceptions sadly make the problem mine, and other people, like me, who suffer with mental disorders. in reality, the problem is societies for the general lack of knowledge. there is no way i can pass along my disorder. you will not become bipolar by talking to me or shaking my hand. it’s a genetic problem.

  7. Hi Emma, I wrote the following on February 4 2013 on my Facebook Status and I thought I’d share it with you. I had to edit it a bit because I talked about the role of my Christian faith in my original statement. I thought it prudent as I didn’t know what your spiritual beliefs are. If you want to read those extra comments, no worries, just let me know.

    I am recovering from a severe mental breakdown in early summer 2012, including severe depression and anxiety. My mind cracked because of excessive life events happening in my life combined with poor cognitive training along with a brain chemistry deficiency. My breakdown was the end product of cumulative issues not a one off event. Mental health issues are so encompassing of the whole person. Not just the mind, but the body and the heart/soul. Each section &issue needs to be dealt with.

    I am on the road to recovery now, in every sense of the term. It will take time and I am blessed to have the use of a great well informed GP, a great counselling Service and a very understanding circle of friends. Many others do not. This is where we the sufferers not want but NEED you our families, friends, and colleagues to respond and help.
    More often than not, we just want to express the workings of our mind. To get out what’s floating around up there.
    You Listen. Don’t comment. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just listen. Be available to them. Give us some your precious time, please! I don’t go to see my GP on my own, I am accompanied. I think that is a very useful service. If possible offer to go with us to the medical professionals or other services/appointments. If possible see if it can be arranged that we are not alone too often, especially at night. Need not be in the same room but the same building will do sometimes, it’s just to know that we can reach out to someone quickly. This benefits us by being a visible sign of support and helps us to relax, to get the rest we need.

    To read you story and to see countless others out there, drowning in silent screams, I think is a very sad indictment of humanity today. We rush to shun, criticize, ignore, mock, disrespect, those who stumble or are different and even worse we’re doing so through the different forms of media. There are some paranoid ignorant arrogant people out there spreading misinformation. To them I say “Hang your head in shame. You have done more harm than good by your superstitious ignorant ranting. “

    We fear to use the word “love” in relating to other people, in case they get the “wrong impression”. Our default seems to be one of scepticism, doubt, hesitant, with no emotional bridging. We must change that default to one of love and acceptance.
    Don’t just say love, Show It.
    I know that one by one our silent screams will be heard no more.. I know this to be true, because 12 months ago, I couldn’t even think about writing this.

    • Thank you so much! that is an amazing status! you are incredibly brave and caring!
      I am so glad you think we should really show more love. I agree with you whole heartily! “Dont just say love, show it!” That’s beautiful! I know I am going to try to do that more and more and I hope everyone does. I am happy that you have recovered so well! I pray you will have only peace and joy in the future!
      Thank you so much for supporting me!
      I would love to read the extra comments! Thankk you so much for being so kind and thoughtful!

      all the best,

      • The extra comments :- My breakdown was the end product of cumulative issues not a one off event.Each section/issue needs to be dealt with. While the health professionals dealt with the medical and emotional/cognitive issues, there was also for me, a need to acknowledge my wrongs in my relationship with God. Areas where I had not acknowledge His Sovereignty.
        Let me be clear, God did not and is not punishing me.
        By not letting God have authority in some areas of life, I sowed and reaped the fruit of those decisions. Some of the issues & situations were out of my control and some were not. But how I reacted to them all was down to me.
        My Choices, My illness, My fault, My Sin
        God’s Way, God’s Healing, God’s love, God’s forgiveness
        It will take time and I am blessed to have the use of a Christian GP, a Christian counselling Service and a very understanding Church.Many others do not. This is where we as the body of Christ need to respond and help. For me to know this is incredible. To know that when I am low, that there are those who know exactly how and what to pray.

        At the start of this little speech, I noted the ignorance of this issue; this is especially true within the Christian world. There are some paranoid ignorant arrogant people out there spreading misinformation. To them I say “Hang your head in shame. You have done more harm than good by your superstitious ignorant ranting. In fact by your deliberate lack of Godly love I would challenge the statement that you are a Christian. How can you claim to be something then act totally contradictory to a fellow believer, just because you’re ignorant?” Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for being uncharitable.

        You, You Listen. Don’t comment. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just listen. Be available to them.

        I don’t go to see my GP on my own, I am accompanied. I think that is a useful thing to offer. If possible offer to go with the person to the medical professionals or other services/appointments. If possible see if it can be arranges that they are not alone too often, especially at night. Need not be in the same room but same building will do sometimes. Just to know they can reach out to someone quickly. This benefits them by being a visible sign of support, but you are also better informed to pray specifically.
        I have those same thoughts, that we the mentally ill all share. But I also know the mindset of God. I know what it is he calls me to be and whom He wants me to be. The Christian church, YOUR job is to help me do that. To share the yoke. To uphold me in prayer on the altar of Christ. To be my shield and my armour when I cannot protect or fend for myself.
        I heard someone say one time, cannot recall who or where, but it was said that “the Christian army is the worst army to be in, as we’re the only army that shoots it’s wounded”. We rush to criticize & ignore those who stumble or behave differently without trying to gain understanding and knowledge.
        Whether you believe in God or not, this much I know is true: I am responsible. You are responsible. We are responsible.
        Don’t just say love, Show It.
        I am willing to share more in private messages if needed or if you’re local, we could talk. Thank you for the time to read this.

  8. It is sad when people leave you because they do not want to put the effort into being around you because you have a problem. I have problems and many have came into my life and left. I like the writing!

  9. This is awesome. I can relate to it 150%. Also I have an older sister who’s diagnosed with Bipolar and drug addiction. It pisses my mom and I off SO much when people are ignorent and say dumb things. My mom always compares mental illness to cancer. She often will say “if you had cancer you wouldn’t be ashamed of getting help!”

    • That’s exactly right! thank you for writing that! I wish all families understood that and stood up for their kids and sisters and brothers like that! you are an inspiration!!!!! i mean that!! thank you!

      love emma

  10. My primary care doc put my serotonin imbalance this way: “if you had diabetes, I’d give you insulin. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you didn’t do anything to cause it.”

    Emma, thank you for this post. Thank you for working to break the stigma. I remember how fully I stigmatized myself after that doctor visit, even though everything he said made logical sense.

    • I can remember how I stigmatized myself too! it’s so hard to get out of that mind set and to just realize it is an illness. I am glad your doctor told you that, but i know how hard it can be to believe! it’s so true though! never doubt it! =)

  11. Hi, Emma. A couple of things . . .

    You recently expressed concern for one of my twins suffering depression. I thought later that anyone who can think of someone else’s concerns – no matter how dark a place they might be in themselves – has something of real value to offer the world. Try not to doubt your value. Just look at the number of your readers who care.

    And anyone who walks away from you was never a friend in the first place. Some people just seem like they are. They are no loss, trust me.

    Best wishes, D.

    • Thank you so much for saying that. I have tears in my eyes. your kindness means so much to me! =) thank you form the bottom of my heart.
      I will keep fighting against the lies that say my value isn’t anything. You have helped me so much! and so have so many people who have written to me and read this and been so kind! i am overwhelmed!
      thank you! Bless you.

      love Emma

  12. Hi Emma, firstly you are stronger than you think, most people suffering from depression are. You stubbornly refuse to give up, and that is not a bad thing. I battled with depression for 10 years, made many mistakes, and come out the other side stronger than ever – and so will you. I never felt shame, I was angry, angry with myself as if somehow I’d let myself down. However, my greatest tool throughout those 10 years was talking. All my friends and family know about my depression, my employers, work colleagues, neighbours, even my landlord knows about depression. I never felt judged, probably because I was the harshest judge of all. It took me a long time to accept what was happening to me and move-on and upwards with my life. Regarding your so-called friend who walked out on you with some lame excuse, forget about her, there are so many other people out there who will love and support you for who you are! Stay strong you are not alone – from someone who has been there, twice, and done that!

    • Yes, that’s the terrible part is that people already judge themselves so harshly. I am sorry you were so hard on your self and to hear of your battle. But It really inspires me that you have been brave throughout it and had a great support system available to you! I wish the best for you!!
      thank you for the kind things you’ve said! I will try my best to stay strong!
      love emma

  13. Bother…I just wrote a really great reply and then my internet cut out and lost it.

    Summing up briefly (before my computer misbehaves again): Stigma is very real and very stupid. During my time in hospital, I encountered discrimination from people I’d considered friends. Worse, staff members. Nurses who didn’t believe in mental illness.

    I’m hopeful that one day, people will truly understand that mental ill-health is not our fault. It’s why I write my novels. I live in hope that somewhere a publisher, perhaps someone who’s battled with depression or anxiety, will read my work and spot a gap in the market for them. I want to end the stigma. I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve gone through. I wish I’d spoken to someone 11 years earlier than I did, because then I wouldn’t have spent those 11 years being depressed. But I thought it was “just me not coping”. I now know that I wasn’t coping, but there was a good reason for it (BPD)!
    Good luck in your own journey

    • I’m so sorry to hear of the discrimination you faced even from medical workers! that’s terrible! you are a very strong person! thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry your computer cut out! so frustrating! anyways I am sorry that the stigma held you back form getting help for so long! I am glad that you eventually did find help, but it is had to believe that something so serious could be denied by people and that those with it feel as though they have to hide it and live in shame! i am so sorry! thank you for everything!

      best wishes,
      love emma

  14. Emma, your blog has really touched me. I am the mom of two wonderful daughters, one your age and the other 21. My youngest struggles with some anxiety and OCD and is getting help from a psychologist when it gets too hard to deal with by herself (even though we are always there to help her through whatever she needs, we are not always enough to get her through…university, friends, etc.). My eldest has just come through a horrendous battle with an eating disorder. I wouldn’t say she is over it completely, I don’t think she ever will be really, but she is able to understand and deal with her disorder now and can answer back when ED shows up and tells her lies. I think I understand where you are coming from, at least from a mom’s point of view. Please know that you are a valued and beautiful member of society. You have nothing to be ashamed of and I think you should be so very proud of yourself for being able to be vulnerable and honest. Brene Brown did two amazing TED talk on vulnerability and shame as well as several books that I have read and if you have not watched or read them, please try to. Surround yourself with people who value you for the amazing person you are, people you can lean into when you need too, and people who you don’t feel the need to be anybody but yourself with. You are important, you are enough, you are loved. Thank you for sharing your story. I am honoured to have read it. xx Sheila

    • Hi sheila,
      Thank you so much for sharing that. Your love for your daughters shines through with every word and it brought tears to my eyes. I will have them in my thoughts and I wish the best for them in their struggles. I am so glad they have such a strong and understanding mother like you to help them through. You are an amazing gift to them, and you have also been a gift to me. I feel so encouraged by your words. Thank you so much! I got my first nasty comment today and it had me feeling down about what I have been writing, and just sad that someone could be so mean. But reading your comment has cheered me up and helped me see that the majority of people have been so kind like you. there are so many wonderful, caring people. Thank you for showing me that again!

      I wish the best for you! you are an incredible person!
      love emma

  15. I too continually deal with depression but I find I can fight it off with vigous exercise like doing gym and lap swimming and writing, yes writing because it keeps the mind focused; reading too if you’re really into what you’re reading; if not find something that will focus the mind and btw thanks for following my blog. I hope you find it mainly upbeat

    • I do find it quite up beat! =) thank you! I got a bike and have been tryign to excercise more. I know how helpful it can be. Riding a bike also makes me feel less afraid. it has been great all around =)

  16. Wonderfully insightful post! I have pushed more people away than I care to remember, either because I thought they just wouldn’t like the real me or because I didn’t want to bring them down. I have had to be myself lately though for sheer survival so for better or worse the world is seeing the real me now…

    • I am glad the world is seeing the real you! I hope you know that it is a beautiful sight! I wish for strength for you! you are brave and so kind! you have really touched me! thank you so much!

      love emma!

  17. Thank you for writing this. As you can see from all the comments, you are clearly helping a lot of people out there and I hope you raise awareness among people who perhaps have no idea about mental health issues too.

    A few years ago, talking to a friend about depression I advised her to just tell her new boyfriend about her struggles straightaway. I find that people either understand (through having experienced mental health issues themselves) or they don’t. If he didn’t understand, then he wasn’t going to be the right person for her.

    I hope very much that the number of people who can be understanding without needing firsthand experience will grow, so thank you for speaking out and helping to raise awareness.

    R xo

    • I hope for that too! =)
      That is great advice that you gave your friend. I always hid my struggle whenever I entered a relationship and then I would push them away when i felt like i couldnt hide my struggle anymore, just because i was afraid they would not like me, if they really knew me. You are a wonderful friend =)

      Thank you for your support! You are such a kind person!

      love emma

  18. Pingback: Welcome to a new friend: Emma Henly-The pain of a stigma | Before we could talk | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  19. Awesome!! I can relate to you, fighting every day the fear that you are not worthy, not good enough, the fear of rejection. Thanks for coming to my blog and I am now subscribed to yours and will be reading your posts as I get updated. I can tell you ARE worthy and a beautiful, sensitive, thinking human being.

    • Thank you! I wishyou the best in your fight against the lies that tell you your not worthy or good enough! you are so special and very kind! thank you! I am touched by your bravery. =)

      love emma

  20. Pingback: Gentleness and Stigma – Believer's Brain

  21. Monster? Victim? No! You are one of the most beautiful human being I have ever met. I understand the pain of being dismissed by so called friends. Or after being told of my issues they use it against us. Mental illness or not we are human. Our hearts break, we feel hurt when treated badly by others, who instead of learning about our problems and how to work with us and along side US, they dismiss us. Most of us walk a lonely path. But that’s not to say there aren’t people who don’t care. There are. We just keep looking. I would like to tell you about one celebrity who earned my respect on this issue. Jim Carey, the comedian, started dating Jenny McCarthy. They had met several years before, but Jenny was reluctant to date due to her son. Her son is autistic. When they began dating and Jim found out about her son, he started doing research on the subject. He wanted to do the right things for the young boy. He wanted to understand his reactions to things. I read that Jim and Jenny’s son became great friends. I saw a pic posted one time in people mag of the two of them playing on the beach. They aren’t dating anymore, but I think the friendship with son continued for a while, may still be there. So there are great people out there, we just have to dig through the trash to find them. A true friend is one that accepts us as we are faults and all. God bless you, Emma. Keep letting the world know who we are and giving voice to those who still hide in their room. God doesn’t make mistakes and he didn’t make them US. He just gave us harder challenges. I am Angie and I have a mental illness and together we stand!!!!!!!

  22. Pingback: Youth are de-stigmatizing mental health | Knowledge For Growth

  23. Pingback: Psychology for Growth » Youth are de-stigmatizing mental health

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