Unfriend Your Stigma, Not Your Friend With Mental Illness

05/12/2015 11:05 am ET | Updated May 12, 2016
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In some scenarios, I met them and didn't tell them.  Then when they found out, they were angry that I didn't feel comfortable telling them.

In some cases, I met them and didn't tell them.  Then when I did tell them, they stopped talking to me and claimed to be busy.

In some cases, they were dealing with their own undiagnosed or untreated mental challenges and did not want to admit that they existed.  In order to avoid their own diagnosis, they needed to rid their lives of me because I was going to keep reminding them that mental health is important.

In some cases, it was merely an inconvenience to accommodate a person who occasionally must cry for an entire day.

In some cases, my mania made me say or do things that were quite odd and so they could not handle the intensity.

In some cases, they believed stereotypes on television that depict people with mental illnesses as unsafe or likely to commit horrendous crimes.

In some cases, they wanted desperately to help me but did not realize that telling me to "cheer up" when I have a disease is like telling someone with cancer to take an aspirin.  Their codependent desires to be needed just could not accept the fact that they were not qualified to deal with it.

In some cases, one could assume, they were concerned with their professional image and did not want to be associated with someone such as myself.

In some cases, they knew that others knew about my condition and they did not want to be affiliated with it.

In some cases, they simply were more interested in a life that was not so serious.  They had a lovely life with lovely things in it and did not want to be inconvenienced with the life of a person who struggles openly.

In some cases, they had a diagnosis of their own that was exactly the same as my own yet they had a difference of opinion about how to seek treatment.  Or they believed that people with mental illnesses should stay quiet.  That having stigma against yourself is acceptable and that mental illness SHOULD, in fact, be kept a secret.

In some cases, my mental health really did stand in the way of my ability to have a good relationship.  I was not capable of loving back.  I was not capable of commitment.  I was not capable of spending time with them.  I was not capable of laughing.

In some cases, they were told I wasn't safe to be around their babies or kids because my moods could not be predictable.  And then they believed it.

In some cases, they wanted me to believe that my mental illness was a minor struggle and they didn't want to know the details of how terrible it felt to be me.  They just wanted a surface level friendship and didn't want to work very hard.

In some cases, I was afraid that these things would happen again.  I believed they were not just happenstance but that it was a guarantee they would happen, it was just a matter of time.  So I distanced myself.  I backed away from the relationship because I predicted that my depression was coming back and that they would reject me anyway.  I thought it was best to spare them the trouble of having to unfriend me and it would cushion to blow to my own soul.

So having a mental illness is not just about the symptoms of the actual illness.  The stigma against mental illness is deeply embedded in our culture.  Many of the people I mentioned were, in my experience, college educated and trained in fields like Counseling, Social Work, Sociology, and Psychology.  In fact, I would say there is a trend that people who are educated in those fields keep a safer distance than others.  I've become accustomed to these patterns in my life my faith gets me through because I know I have a creator that loves me and has a plan for my life.  I believe that I am beginning to heal from past hurts and that I am moving towards a path where I can allow new relationships to form and existing ones to grow in a healthy way.  I hope that in the future more people will come to know the hurt that exists in the world outside of the medical diagnosis.  And I hope that others with mental illness speak out.

Thank you to those friends that stayed by me, even when I have been very difficult to be around. Thank you to those friends that knew when it was a good time to step back and let me have some space. Thank you to those friends that learned when I explained to them that certain things are not helpful. Thank you to those friends that took the time to read the brochure I gave them, then put it into action. Thank you to those friends that sought to understand and were open to the idea that a mental illness is just like a physical illness.

This post first appeared on my blog,