Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stigma Remains Alive and Well

My wife and I were standing on the front porch the other day looking out over the yard. It was covered in dandelions and small wild violets. I thought the color they added to the green made the yard beautiful and said so. She replied that most people who care about their lawns would not think it was beautiful. I think she thought it was though.

I understand it is not normal to want what people consider weeds in your yard. In fact, they sell chemicals to control and stop the growth of anything but the grass. My yard is not normal, but to me it is beautiful. It is what is naturally there and the color brings a smile to my face.

I have never been considered a normal person. My mind has always been full of weeds. I take chemicals to control their growth. I am not saying I should not try to control the madness of my mind, but sometimes I wish that the chronically normal people of this world saw more beauty in me and folks like me.

Those of us with a severe mental illnesses are not welcome in most places just like the dandelions and wild violets are not welcome in most lawns. Even places like mental health centers and hospitals, where people are suppose to be trained to work with us, have a hard time learning to treat us with respect and dignity. I spent years in south Florida doing what they call “consumer sensitivity training” trying to help professionals see us as fully human.

You may think I am making a big deal out of nothing. You may think that the stigma of mental illness has almost been done away with by all the education done by groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. You would be wrong. Ask most people with a mental illness or their family and they will tell you. Stigma is strong. It remains alive and well.

My prayer is that someday we will be welcomed in faith communities, at schools and in the workplace with the respect and dignity we deserve. That we will no longer be considered weeds, but seen for the beauty each one of us have no matter how different we may be. That day will not come too soon for me and my fellow sojourners and their families.


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