What to Do About Mental Health Stigma 

STIG-MA (noun):

a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person:
“the stigma of mental disorder”

synonyms shame, disgrace, dishonor, ignominy, opprobrium, humiliation, (bad) reputation shame, disgrace, dishonor, ignominy, opprobrium, humiliation, (bad) reputation

Source: Oxford University Press

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I just realized something: Mental Health Stigma is not killed through lecture. Sure, I can sit and talk about how mental health stigma hurts, but I can also offer some tips to combat it. Research is fairly sparse on the topic – how to combat mental health stigma – but I’ve been looking at it anyway. There are a few tips to consider:

1) Combat internal stigma: Internalized stigma is not really your fault. It’s instilled in you by your family, your friends, the media, and even strangers. You might want to think of your mind as a sponge – if it sits in the dirty water of stigma, it will eventually absorb the dirty water of stigma. Get yourself away from those who are living in the dirty water as much as possible; however, we are talking about cleaning out the dirty water you have already absorbed. Here are a few things to consider:

-Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder are real medical illnesses. Why are they published in medical journals if they’re not?

-See a therapist if you can. I know that often, people are

-Don’t self-medicate. Using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to make yourself feel better often leads to addiction, and a troubling condition called Dual Diagnosis. I don’t know much about this condition, but bringing on multiple conditions is not recommended for anyone. It takes you the rest of your life of taking care of yourself to live well with mental illness; it takes just as long to recover from addiction.

2) No Name Calling: From one “Crazy” or “Nutjob” to another, those words hurt. They are just as derogatory as racial slurs, and calling something “gay” when you mean stupid. As far as I’m concerned, this name calling is hate and discrimination.

3) Praise for Seeking Help: If you don’t get that it’s good to get professional help with your brain, I’m here to tell you this. It’s good to get professional help for your brain. Your brain is a complex medical instrument that often requires a professional’s expertise to get it working properly. If no one tells you this, know that you are a good person for seeking professional help. Remember, you are not Superman.

4) Take Care of Yourself: I cannot stress this enough – self care is essential. What people do not get about self care is that it is not always the glamorous bubble bath most people picture it to be. Self care is taking your medication even though you gag on the larger medicines. Self care can be the bubble bath or treating yourself, but it’s other things, too. Self care is seeking help if you need it. Self care is resting when you need it. Self care is getting to your therapy appointments. Self care is learning that you can still live a full and productive life with your state of mental health. Self care is not self-medicating.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If others want to contribute tips and tricks for combating mental health stigma, by all means, tell me.

The Cold Within, by James Patrick Kinney – A 1960s Poem For Our Time

Read this poem, take it in. This is the political problem for our time – cold, hard hearts ON ALL SIDES.

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The Cold Within  – by James Patrick Kinney

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.[1]

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I’m not asking you to change political beliefs. I’m asking you to open your heart.

America needs a hero.

Boxed Up

Now, for some strange reason, I get troubled by shows with fat women. Why is it, when a woman in particular is cast who has a little weight, that weight is her defining characteristic? What about her interests, her favorite teams or hobbies? Do they think fat people have no hobbies? That’s insane. I will give TV shows more credit in the 2016 viewing season. Katy Mixon and Chrissy Metz-two plus size women on TV, with more to name, I’m sure. Although I consider it a baby step, it’s a step in the right direction. It also looks like the viewing public likes women we, the American Public, can relate to. This does not trouble me. What troubles me, in fact, is the fact that weight is a major issue for their characters. I mean, not only is it a major issue, it seems to be the box that the person is put in has little room to move, or even breathe, except for the way the box defines.

I have always had trouble fitting into the boxes society has had for me. Short, white, autistic, fat…it seems that no matter what box you go in, there is only one way to fit inside the box. Most of the time, though, I cannot fit inside it. Take autistic, for example. For some reason, the box of autism’s rules are like this:

-No talking

-No popular special interests

-No relatability

-No girls (Yes, some girls miss out on their paper diagnosis due to the fact they are girls)

-No individuality

Do you see the problem here? According to most people, I stopped being “autistic” according to the box’s rules at various points in my life, maybe even at conception. That is not fair! That is not fair to talking autistics. That is not fair to autistics who like popular things, like Pokemon and NKOTB. It is not fair to autistics who can relate to non-autistics. It is definitely not fair to autistic girls. It is definitely not fair to autistic people, because they are very individual. I have not met one autistic who was too much like another autistic, or too much like anyone else.

This particular box-placing and box-busting can be applied to any particular “box” or “label” that people are put in. There are black people accused of not being “black enough” for various reasons. The various sexualities abounding have their own stereotypes and breakable “rules” that they must contend with. I don’t like boxes. Stop putting me in them.

The Blessed Lady Autistic

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? The “blessed autistic.” How do I justify being a blessed lady autistic? Because I got my autism diagnosis in childhood, that’s how. I was semi-diagnosed at three. My mother got the confirmation at eight. I did not know it then, but I am lucky. Most women receive their autism diagnosis in adulthood, when they have lived a large portion of their lives being misunderstood, targeted and most likely raped and abused.

Here is my story: “She’s one of ours!” Was the exclamation one doctor called to the other when they were examining me. Of course, I was on the other side of the one-way mirror. Anyway, it’s a hard road I traveled, but consider this: I was confirmed different. I did not realize this through the teenage years, but being different gave me a freedom to be weird. If I did not understand people, it could go back to my diagnosis. If I acted weird, it was explained by my diagnosis. Sure, I may have to fight for my rights, but there is a freedom to having an explanation as to why. So, why are we not getting these diagnosis to the women who are autistic until they have lived maybe half their lives in pain?

Here is the problem: most of my fellow lady autistics do not receive their diagnosis until adulthood, sometimes late adulthood. Susan Boyle revealed her diagnosis at 52. I assume she had got it recently, but my mother and I could spot it almost immediately. I have also heard of diagnoses being delayed until 68 years old for one case. Most of the bloggers who claim autism and are female are self-diagnosed, and have yet to receive their paper diagnosis. I say I am blessed because I had a woman in my corner who wanted what was best for me, fighting against people who did not want to put a stigmatizing “label” on me. So, lying to me and tossing me out to a society I do not understand to be raped and abused is better? You people throughout my childhood who fought doing anything for me, you absolutely suck.

So, what is the problem with getting a diagnosis to a girl in time to help her? Why, sexism of course. “You can’t be autistic! You’re a girl/woman!” Is a common statement made to autistic women who are trying to get their paper diagnosis.  That above statement defines the textbook definition of something wrong. You can be autistic and be a woman. Ask me. I think there is not enough study, training or education concerning autistic women. Besides, the study of autism is definitely skewed towards the most privileged individuals in society – the rich white male. Also, there is a false theory that the autistic brain is masculine. Perhaps there has not been enough study of autistic women to help find the members of autism’s lost tribe.

Why did they not study me, if I was such a rarity? I got some study and tests in elementary school, but besides standardized testing, it stopped there. Why not track my interests? Why not study my behaviors? What, is there not enough money, or not enough priority? I suspect that John Lennon’s statement “Woman is the ni**er of the world” is also the same with autism. This is the textbook definition of  intersectional prejudice. Autistic women are ignored because we are not male enough, or neurotypical enough. Until we value women and neurodiversity, I suspect I will be one of the few blessed lady autistics to get her diagnosis in childhood.

About that “High-Functioning” Thing…. 

TW: Use of “functioning” labels as assigned by NT parents

Stop. Don’t leave yet. I’m not going to throw a bunch of junk at you on how I’m supposedly better than those who are lower functioning or whatever. So, I can pass for neurotypical in some circles. I guess that’s an asset for someone like me. But is that supposed to make me “better” than anyone? I must confess: I have recently struggled with this question: If I was lower functioning, would I still be loved?

It haunts the mind of the autistic, no matter where they are on the “functioning” scale. Many people dubbed “lower-functioning” are often thrown into group homes where they are not treated with basic medical care, let alone human decency. Often, love for the autistic, no matter how they fit on this “functioning” scale, is denied.

My mother just said to me, “I love you for who you are. I will always love you for who you are.” That is very comforting to me, because I have struggled with my worth as of late. I don’t know why I do, except maybe I do know why I do. I am told that the autistic is unfit for society in many ways – even more so since I am a woman, and can pass for neurotypical.

So what? I do not think I am better than the “lower-functioning” autistics. Far from it. Perhaps they are much smarter in this autism thing than me, perhaps not. I do not say I speak for them, either.

Autism’s “functioning level” does not conclude a person’s worth.

Do Autistic Lives Matter To You? 

I finally had to speak about the shooting of Charles Kinsey, who was trying to care for his autistic charge and got shot in the leg. What troubles me more is that they felt they had to shoot somebody. The officer said he was trying to kill the autistic subject. Seriously? Are police that trigger happy? Do they worship guns and power like a god? Is that supposed to make people like me feel better?

I wanted to talk about fun stuff, but issues like trying to kill autistic and black or brown people for not acting like servile Uncle Tom types scares me to no end. Are some police such cowards that they have to hide behind the gun? I think the answer is yes. Of course, I am wondering if I am, in someone’s mind, unfit to live.

I am autistic. Let’s see how I am portrayed in the media, followed by my reaction to the stereotype:

1) A Budding Mass Murderer. Why would I kill anyone outside of self-defense?

2) Fit for Murder. Here’s the reaction.

3) Useless. I usually do the cooking, cleaning, and general running of the house, as a caretaker for my disabled mother, as well as doing things for my aunt and uncle, who are also disabled. Would you like to call me “Useless” again? Many people with autism contribute to society in many ways. If they are taught and accepted, who knows what could be the limits of their potential?

4) A Sociopath / Psychopath. This is a common characterization, usually untrue 

5) Unemotional/Unempathetic. Have you read my last article?

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This is by no means an exhaustive list. I wonder how much fear and loathing I would strike if I wore a puzzle piece T-Shirt or article of clothing? It scares me.

But by no means am I talking about all of the police officers out there. The truth is, I don’t think we have “bad” policing as the culprit. What we have is a system of fear, hate and continual subjugation in the name of “order” and “power” on the side of those who have power. Also, I would point to poor training in the police departments. This is 2016, people. Not everybody is going to react to the police in the same way all the time. Why are police not trained to see and handle autistic people, as inferred by the shooting of Charles Kinsey, or should I say, the attempted shooting of an unarmed autistic man?

Blonde Dolls Everywhere 

Now, let’s talk about real systemic racism. The systemic racism that exists in your toy box. I am writing from a position of privilege, so bear with me while I tell you what I see.

When I was a child, the lead character in any given cartoon was always blonde-and she still often is today. Let me give you a few examples from my era: Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, Jem (You KNOW she’s blonde under that pink dye!), Barbie and Skipper, Sailor Moon…need I go on? It was easy for me to find a doll that looked like me. You see, I was a blonde. The trouble is, I don’t think I had a lot of dolls that looked like my friends. That, to me, was troubling.

You see, I grew up in Southern California, among a group of friends that did not look like each other at all – and that was life. People looked different, people acted different, people even spoke different languages! But then and there, it was all acceptable, because it was life. I actually miss that part of Southern California. It’s the part I miss most, the diversity. I like learning about different things, and different people. Fascination and curiosity are great things.

Trouble is, there was not a lot of diversity in the toy box. If you were a brunette or a redhead, for example, you were relegated to sidekick. I had to specifically ask for redhead dolls to include my redhead friend. I even got blowback and freakish looks from my parents for asking for diversity in my doll kingdom. I mean, all my real friends are different, so why not have all my imaginary friends be different too?

What really hit me hard, though, was going into a store with Spanish-speaking owners, in my twenties, and seeing blonde dolls in Spanish-language boxes. At the time, I had just learned about various kinds of Eurocentric beauty standards, including Asian eyelid surgeries made to look more Western-which seems to be an Asian code word for European. Coming from my position, it still baffles me that they want to look like me, and not their beautiful selves. Anyway, back to the dolls. They looked nothing like the dark-haired beauties I normally came across with Hispanics. Blonde Hispanics do exist, even in natural states, but they are literally praised for “passing” as white somehow. I find all of this disturbing, that a person could hate their genetics so much. Of course, I am currently a size 18 in my clothing when the average model is a size…what is it now? Zero? So I can relate somewhat. Don’t even get me started on dolls in wheelchairs. Maybe they ought to exist, too?

Maybe celebrating differences would be better than making a uniform case that the leader is one uniform look, which could possibly be unnatural to the group of people supposedly represented. (I’m looking at you, Sailor Moon.) Perhaps make the brunette the leader, or the dark-skinned girl every once in a while?