‘Coming Out’ as Mentally Ill?

Right, so here goes with the “not just article-y type stuff”!

I’ve had a great day today. Firstly, I met a lady who is going to help me get some work experience in chaplaincy, we had a nice conversation and she seemed to like me, which is always good. She also mentioned possibly getting me to research something about disability at work, which was good. I told her that I am particularly keen on the idea of chaplaincy in mental health, but I did not tell her that I have myself been a user of mental health chaplaincy.

I think that, on a first “getting to know you” meeting it would have been inappropriate. What I don’t want her to do is to decide that my illness means I am less capable than others, that I am indulging some private madness, that I might be subject to disordered thinking and therefore not represent her organisation very well. I want her to get to know me and see me in operation, ie see me behaving like a normal person, before she knows.

I am in a bit of a quandary about letting people at church/pub know that I have a mental illness too. In one way I would like to be like Seaneen Molloy and be completely “out” about it, to stand up and make a positive statement- I have mental health issues but I am not weird (much) type of thing. So on the one hand I would like church in particular to know, to accept me as I am as a whole person, including my illness, but on the other…I worry that people will judge me negatively, that they will see me as “disturbed”, as “broken”, as somehow less than themselves. I worry about stigma. I worry that someone will say, how can you help people when you still suffer yourself and can give no guarantees that you won’t become floridly ill at some point in the future? I worry that they will view bipolar as the result of some sinful act, that they will look at my scars and think I am an attention-seeker, occultic or dangerous.

I have – and will explain more in another post – experienced discrimination based on my mental health. Not so much outside of the workplace, because my church in London was pro-mental health, but in work. I have been ordered to resign, once, because I disclosed my illness and then took two weeks off sick. All of a sudden I had become “incompetent” even though this had never been mentioned before. Another time I was bullied by my manager, who held me to rules no one else had to follow and constantly harassed me, telling me my job was incredibly stressful and also made me do the work that was supposed to be done by two people. She also, charmingly, sent me on my very first day at work a copy of an email conversation she had had with HR saying she wanted to rescind the job offer she had made me, after discovering that I had a mental health problem. Kind of her!

So I have experienced negative views. Outside of work I have heard people tell me I am “not really ill” and the usual stuff about pulling myself together and being positive as a cure for the bipolar. On the other hand the people I knew back in London were aware of my mental health and did understand that, most of the time, I was ill. There were just a few who thought that, in the lighter stages of depression, that I was putting it on. And I didn’t care so much for those people anyway.

It is a dilemma. I would like to fight stigma and have all of me accepted, me as a whole person not just the well and well-behaved part. I also think my mental status would be an asset in mental health chaplaincy. What worries me is that, once it is done, it cannot be undone, and if the people I know at church turn against me, or condescend to me and do not support me in my hopes for the future then I could have a fairly major problem.

I also don’t want my family to know. Obviously my parents are aware of all that, as I live with them, and they provide an important element of care for me when I’m not well, as well as being able to spot that I have become not-well when I can’t see it. I mean the wider family, aunts, uncles, cousins. I am no longer particularly close to them since my grandparents died last year, I haven’t really seen them, although my parents do. But there is a bit of a trend to needless anxiety and almost hysteria about medical conditions in the family. I think – and so do my parents – that my family would treat me as someone incapable of doing anything, a poor unfortunate who needed to be looked after (and possibly told everything very slowly) or else they would think I was uncontrollable and liable to hurt them, people they know and damage their property. I think myself that they would plump for the former option, but I don’t fancy that either.

So I am a bit conflicted here. As for the pub, I went in there in short sleeves last week and someone asked what was wrong with my arms. Well I knew it would happen sometime. I have scars all up and down the underside of my left arm, most of them thin ones, and little normal skin left. But I don’t actually think that is what he saw – they are quite white and flat, mostly and I don’t believe they are that noticeable. Even when I was a healthcare assistant and wore short sleeves all the time only a few people ever noticed them at all, and I was right up close to them so I don’t think they are that obvious unless someone is looking. I think it was the spots. Unfortunately I have developed a bad habit of picking at any little spots or marks on the skin of my arm until they get enormous, weepy, and look like cigarette burns. Now the tops of both arms are riddled with spot-scars. I seem to have developed this as I started self-harming less frequently. I really have to stop. Anyway I was able, with a clear conscience, to say that these were spots and it was fine. I worry about telling folk there though – where I live is a small, quite conservative town where they haven’t accepted gay people yet! so I don’t think they are clued-up on mental health either. So, I dunno.

Just throwing this out there anyway, anyone with any advice would be greatly appreciated! *Hint, hint*

Back to my day…after meeting with the nice lady, I went off to meet Little Feet from Chaos and Control, Katie from Giant Fossilized Armadillo and Seeking Myself. They, too, are nice ladies! I had a great time, it was lovely to put faces to the handles and meet in the flesh. This is the second time I have ever met bloggers (I bumped into Seaneen at the Hardest Hit march in London last year) and it was definitely cool.

So, a really good day, done some thinking, got some stuff sorted out for the future and met people I’ve been tweeting and reading.

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