Stigma (n) – “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something” – Merriam Webster dictionary
It is outrightly distasteful and dishonourable to take pleasure out of someone else’s suffering.
It was with disbelief that I read news today of the Lad Bible’s apology for trying to publicly shame actor Wentworth Miller via a meme on his past weight gain.
Of course if you’ve seen the news, you’ll know that the Prison Break and Legends of Tomorrow star silenced his detractors with a fitting response.
“First and foremost, I was suicidal. This is a subject I’ve since written about, spoken about, shared about…But at the time I suffered in silence. As so many do…The extent of my struggle known to very, very few.”
What Miller was saying is true for so many people who live with mental health problems.
I too know what it is to be called names, to be laughed at and ridiculed for illness that I did not choose. We do not choose depression, or anxiety, or complex-post-traumatic stress disorder and the whole lot of it. Some of us are more vulnerable to getting mental health problems because of genes, chemical imbalances and traumas so unbearable that living hurts.
It could be you
The thing is it could be anyone in this situation. 1 in 4 people live with a mental health condition; and hurting people directly and indirectly (stigmatising), laughing at their trials and suffering causes more pain. It makes it more difficult for those of us suffering in silence to step out of the shadows and get the help we need. And so many of our friends have ended their lives because they were unable to bear the criticism, and the pain. I know, because I’ve been there too. You’re hanging from a fragile thread, ready, wanting and willing to let go and then someone opens their mouth to ridicule you or hurt you just because they can.
We suffer more than the internal wars waging inside us.
“I’ve struggled with depression since childhood….It’s a battle that’s cost me time, opportunities, relationships, and a thousand sleepless nights” said Miller.
We count so many losses because of this fight. And it hurts.God it hurts. And it’s a bloody shame! that people can actually get joy out of other people’s misfortunes. What if it was your mother, sister, daughter, son, brother, uncle, aunt, friend? I know so many people who have been cut time and again by their so-called loved ones for having mental health problems. In fact, 9 out of 10 people say stigma and discrimination negatively impact their lives.
In the end, Miller’s story reminded me of an all important truth. What our critics mean for bad will be turned around for our good.
“Long story short, I survived” he said. “So do those pictures.I’m glad. Now, when I see that image of me in my red T-shirt, a rare smile on my face, I am reminded of my struggle. My endurance and my perseverance in the face of all kinds of demons. Some within. Some without.Like a dandelion up through the pavement, I persist. Anyway. Still. Despite.”
To the outside world, people with mental health problems might seem weak, perfect candidates for bullies…but in actuality, we are stronger. Stronger than our worse critics will ever be. Because as we walk against the tide of mental health problems, battling the many consequences they bring, we also fight the negativity, the stigma, discrimination…the shame…”
The thing to do
Many friends have said to me “Alisha I think any other person would break by now.” It is why I no longer hide my scars. They remind me that I survived when I thought I wouldn’t make it. Through the fires of pain I’ve emerged steely and more connected with my humanity. And I can help someone else when they need a compassionate, empathetic friend. And oh how we need empathy. The world can be such an ugly place, that some of us must deride others for a laugh.
It is easy to laugh at someone else. From the school to corporate bullies to senseless media critics. But could you walk a mile in that person’s shoes? Don’t be so quick to judge until you’ve done so. The Lad Bible has apologised after the fact. We’re not unforgiving. But you can’t take back words. You can retract an article, a quote… but words…words stay. And they dig deep into us, long after the ink has dried on the paper. Of course, if in doubt, the obviously wise thing to do is simply, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then keep quiet.
Gentle hugs x