Stigma (Passions Profile Challenge #6)

If you have been following my journey through The Passions Profile Challenge, you will be getting an impression of the types of things that are important to me, along with the things I hate.  Stigma is one of those things that I hate, and would passionately desire to be stamped out.  Why?  Because there is no reason for it and it is totally unfair.  Why can’t we all just accept each other?

Stigma, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means:

noun (plural stigmas or especially in sense)

  • mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person:
    for example: the stigma of mental disorder,
    to be a non-reader carries a social stigma

I also saw it described as a stain or reproach on one’s reputation (1.); a mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach (2.); or when people disapprove of something (3.).

So I take it as something that isn’t liked about one’s character.  And that’s where I have a problem.  Who are we to judge another’s character, qualities or anything as unlikable or disgraceful?  My belief is that I do not have the right to judge another.  I guess for me, that belief is based on my Christian beliefs and regardless of what you think of those, I’m sure you will agree that most religions tell us not to judge another man (or woman) in some form or other.

Here’s some truths about me, for you to judge, should you so wish:

  • I am a woman
  • I am white skinned (in New Zealand I am known as a Pakeha, meaning ‘white skinned person’ in Maori)
  • I am attracted to men (so far)
  • I am of average weight
  • I follow (most) Christian beliefs
  • I am child-less
  • I am HIV negative
  • I have a mental illness
  • I am not in paid employment
  • I have invisible illnesses (Fibromyalgia and Graves’ Disease)
  • I take psychiatric medication and am probably addicted to pain killers

There are probably other aspects of me I could list there but hopefully I have the main elements, from which people might choose to dislike me, and see me as disgraceful.  That’s even before I open my mouth.  Go ahead.

But why?  How does the colour of my skin affect who I am?  And how does my sexuality affect who I am?  You didn’t know from reading my earlier posts what sexuality I am but I wonder whether now you know, whether it has affected what you think of me?  I really don’t see why it should.  I haven’t done anything but label myself.

In my previous post Normal, I talked about the need to accept mental illness as something that can happen to any of us.  I didn’t expect it to happen to me and struggled with something called self stigma.  I was embarrassed to have that mental illness, so straight away I faced criticism from myself.  And actually it is probably the worst I have faced.  I have also faced personal discrimination, another form of stigma, by people who didn’t want to know me because of that illness.  On a cultural level, it has been presumed that because I have Borderline Personality Disorder, that I am beyond help and am a drama queen.  How dare they decide that on the basis of a label.  The last type of stigma I have faced because of my mental illness is an institutional stigma.  I get that from the health sector surprisingly because they don’t take me seriously as a fibromyalgic patient with a mental illness.  Because of my mental illness they won’t treat me with medication that they  say they can’t ‘trust’ me with’.  They are using my actions of over 14 years ago when I was very unwell to make that judgement.  And my insurance company refuses to accept chronic mental illness as a valid expenditure. (4.)

That all makes mental illness stigma seem pretty crazy but what about other stigmas?  How about if I tell you now that actually I am gay, morbidly obese, and am HIV positive?  How does that change your view of me?

Remember I still haven’t opened my mouth to say anything, nor have I done anything.  These are just labels used to describe me.  If I say I have dark skin, am a single woman with five school age children?  What then?

I don’t deserve to be judged as unacceptable, disgraceful or even embarrassing because of these things.  They really don’t tell you accurately what kind of person I am.  All you can do is use assumptions and generalisations to make your judgement, and I would suggest that you will not be accurate.

There are lots of things about each person that we may decide we like or dislike.  We do that all the time by the way someone is dressed, by the car they drive, by the job they have, by the volume of the children with them.  But I don’t accept that as a fair way to make a decision about anyone.  And I don’t accept that it is my right to judge anyone.

For me personal experience taught me some very useful lessons.  I had a learning experience when I worked with a person who was going through a transgender transition.  The person I knew as a man at work , I also knew that outside of work she lived as a woman, and eventually as part of the transition this person was going through, their sexual identity in the workplace changed.  It might seem crazy but suddenly someone I knew as a man, was facing me in the women’s toilets.  Actually that was what woke me up to realising that she was a person (who was going through hell) and I had no right to object or disagree.  She was a person.  She deserved my acceptance and compassion.  End of story.

Some of my friends thought I was being ‘too liberal’ or ‘too broad-minded’.  They said it wasn’t right.  I disagreed.  The best thing I could do for both her, and for me, was to accept her as she was and support her, just as I would support any other friend going through any other life change.

Easy.  As we might say in New Zealand, it’s just not worth getting your knickers in a knot.  It’s so much easier if we simply accept.

“The opinion which other people have of you is their problem, not yours
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Whatever gets you through the night” 
John Lennon

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21 thoughts on “Stigma (Passions Profile Challenge #6)

  1. Dorothy

    I absolutely love your writing here. Eye opening and yes, I feel the same way too but you have said it so much better!!

  2. I like what you have to say about accepting others and not judging. Re MI, I have one (it’s been changed many times over the years) but I never stigmatized myself, yet when my son got seiously ill, I had to fight embarrassment over his behavior; I still find it to be a challenge. I have found religion also to be a problem with judging. Certainly religion can be a blessing to many, yet I have been told I will go to hell, by a few people, when I told them I don’t follow their particular belief, making me wary to speak on the subject. There have been more wars over religion, I think, than anything else.

    1. Thanks for your comment. And yes, I agree that religion can be a really big one. It is so sad because it clouds the good that it can be in our lives.

  3. I have a MI and never stigmatized myself, yet when my son got ill, it was a different story, and I have to fight the grief and struggle with “why aren’t you perfect, the way you were supposed to be?” Re religion, I am glad to hear you are accepting. I have been told, on occasion, that I am going to hell by people when i tell them I don;t follow their beliefs. I think there have been more wars fought over religion than anything else.

    1. Go for it. It’s meant to be over 10 days but I know everyone who has done it has spread it out over longer. I have found the Challenge a really good one, it’s made me really think about these thngs… but it is hard at times. Good luck with it and I look forward to reading about yours. 🙂

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