I know it all too well.
The comments overheard at parties, work, school… “It’s because they have a mental illness. That’s why…”Each time I heard this, watched the accompanying eye rolls and felt the undercurrent of fear, I shrank into myself. I would smooth out my hair, stand a bit taller and put on my ‘normal’ smile to hide the truth.
That I have been diagnosed and living with a mental illness for most of my life.
Social stigma is the biggest killer of possibilities for those of us living with a diagnosis. It has been for a long time however recently the conversation has changed. It isn’t simply wacky or disruptive behaviors or self-inflicted wounds but acts of extreme violence that are catching the eye of the nation and adding more stigma to the diagnosis.
It still astonishes me. I’m watching the news, morning with the nation as yet another mass shooting has occurred. Then the conversation turns to the gunman’s mental health – or lack thereof. The feeling of connection I had moments ago with the nation sours into the dread of ‘Am I like them?’
The utterances; “He was bipolar” “Suffering from social anxiety” “Paranoid behavior” bring up those deep seeded doubts. The inexplicable psychic link to these strangers based on sharing a diagnosis is a dangerous thread. In some weird way you see a similarity to them. You allow yourself to be grouped in with them. You start to see their choices as yours, even though they are not.
It is only a handful of people with mental illness that slaughter innocent people. There are millions of Americans living with and overcoming mental illness on a daily basis. They delicately balance their inner worlds with the stresses of life. They that are making conscious choices daily to heal, be productive and find their feet in life.
What if those individuals were the trend setters for mental health – not the few who create violence and grab the headlines with body counts?
And what makes us stand apart from those that allow their mental angst to turn into violence against others?
Our choices create our life and our future. It is the choice on one’s part to seek out help when needed, to be vigilant in our self-awareness, to embody and gift kindness and to seek ways of building peace in our inner and outer worlds that make us different.
These gunmen made a choice. One for destruction.
What choices are you making? Can you acknowledge your difference?
Please do not let the actions of a few classify you as less then you are. Do not let the label you were given box you into behavioral traits that can be changed when you choose to move beyond them. Do not allow the social stigma, fear or misunderstanding of others keep you from living your life.
Stand apart with your choice to be you, nothing less, in all your beautiful uniqueness and to actively create the world you love to live in.