This is the conversation that matters: Kitten makes me think {trigger warning for suicide}

This weekend is one of terrible memories, and beautiful, loving memories, and pain and joy and confusion and grief for my friend. Talking to her today, reminded me again that there is no correct way to grieve, and absolutely no one way to grieve a suicide. The only thing I know for sure, is we need to be and feel freer to talk about suicide. We need to be more open about this thing that robs so many people of their lives and people they love.

We need to stop talking about selfishness, and weakness and giving up. We need to start talking about fear and vulnerability and pain. We will always be afraid of suicide. It is complex and terrifying, and to think about a person being in that place, where it makes sense, where it is the only option, challenges everything we know about life. The thing is, that is even more reason to talk about it, to drag it out of the shoe boxes and closets we hide it in. We need to take our fear about this kind of death and bring it out into the open, where it can be poked and prodded and explored. We can’t let our fears jeopardize the life of  that person, in that place, who needs some kind of contact, or some kind of love or lack of judging, or whatever they need.

A veteran died a few days ago, in a particularly horrific and documented way. He posted pictures of his suicide in progress to Facebook. Obviously this just magnifies the terror and pain that his family feel, but somehow he wanted people to know. He wanted people to understand that he could not do this any more. He needed to share what was happening to him. You can never go back and change how things happened, but I can’t help thinking that maybe, if there had been space and understanding, he could have talked about it before he went into an alley and ended his life. If he was so desperate to make people see what he was doing, it makes me think that perhaps he had wanted to talk about it before, but didn’t know how, or didn’t think anyone would listen or understand, or just didn’t know who to go to. After this happened, his friends and fellow marines started posting messages to each other that they were there if anyone needed to talk. They were offering support to each other, at any time, in any place. Maybe he did not know that that was available to him. Maybe suicide was so shameful to him (as it is for many people) that he didn’t think he could reach out. Maybe his death will mean that one man or woman will be able to find someone to talk to. Maybe even in a climate where suicide is a topic not to be discussed, these veterans will provide the service to each other that the government and the military cannot seem to provide.

My friend wanted to know if I thought she whined about her loss too much, or that people thought she talked about the person she lost to suicide too much, and I thought, how can you call your grief process whining? How can you think you are doing this wrong if you are still going on with your life, and still breathing, and still loving people? Even if you aren’t doing all that well, how can your process of grief be wrong? My friend is being open and honest and refusing to put her sister into a hidden box. She is bringing the love and the tragedy out into the world. She is refusing to buy into the shaming and hiding that surrounds so many people lost to suicide. By her actions, she is breaking up the layers and layers of stigma and deception that cover up so many of the lives lost this way. She is forcing us to have a conversation about suicide, one that is long overdue.

I told her that maybe her openness would create the space for that conversation, and maybe just one person will feel like they can talk about what is really going on in their head. Maybe she can make it safe for just one person to open up to someone. It is cheesey and clichéd, but so damn true, that maybe she can prevent just one person from dying like this, and that would be worth more than any thing I can think of. Maybe life is a gift that she and her sister can give to someone else.

Maybe that can be what the veteran gives to us, and to his brothers and sisters in arms. I hope that his family choose, as part of their grieving, to be open, to share, and to work toward advocating for support for people like this man, who needed so much more than was available. I hope that the marines who posted messages of support to each other keep talking. I hope they are willing to act on their suspicions and ask a person they think is in trouble if they are ok, if there is something they can do, if they can be there to listen. If they can’t do this, then I hope that their grieving helps them, because it is not their responsibility to fix this. I just hope that some people will be as brave as my friend, and will make this something that we can talk about, that this becomes something that people can be open about, and that we lose something of our fear that talking about suicide will make it worse.

This is a hard time for my friend, but what she doesn’t know, is that in dangerous times I have thought about her, and the real implications of what I wanted to do, and that I then chose not to do it. I told someone what was in my head, and I got love and acceptance and support, and some pretty swift action, and that somehow penetrated the layers of crap I was under. I asked and I got help, and I know that is ok, and that it can be the start of living. I want other people to know that too, and that they can ask the person they think is in trouble too. I want people who ask and answer to have the  resources they need, to help, and to be OK themselves. There is no way to stop this every time. We need to understand the reality that this is sometimes a fatal illness. Some people don’t make it, they are worn too thin, but there are moments, and windows and opportunities, and if we shut up with our fear, we will miss them.

Thank you to my friend, and to everyone who is having this conversation.

Now what?

I applied for a loan from a fund that helps people with mental health issues start businesses. The really cool part was that they offered mentoring as you start and to help you succeed. I got turned down. Mostly because the scope of what I want to do doesn’t match what they usually fund. I kind of knew that going in, but for some reason I am totally crushed.

Maybe I just don’t handle rejection well. Actually, I think it is that this project suddenly seems huge, and scary, and overwhelming, and I don’t know what to do. There are federal and provincial grants and loans available for people starting small businesses, but I’m suddenly afraid that I won’t be eligible for them either. Then I think about how fundamentally insane it is for me to start a business. Then I think about the fact that there would be competitors. Then I think about how bad it would be if it failed. Then I cry a little.

I really want to do this. I can’t find work, and I know there are people like me, and I could employ them. It is a good idea. I’ve run it past several people, and they thought it was less crazy than I did. I am just currently bent under a wallop of self-doubt and a crisis of confidence.

I have to call my elected representative’s office. I wrote them about my idea, and they said to call. I am supposed to talk to someone at the Inclusive Design centre here later in the week. They would be a competitor, but I think my plan is different enough that it might work. There are still things going on, but today I feel like crawling under the blanket on my couch and playing phone games, and pretending that I never put myself out there.

I think healthy people feel things like this too. In fact, I know they do. I just can’t get out of my head that I am overreacting because “CRAZY”, or that somehow I won’t be able to handle doing this because how could someone as broken as me do anything of substance?

Am I going to spend the rest of my life being afraid? I’m afraid of strong emotions. I’m afraid of being overwhelmed. I’m afraid of failing because I don’t know how I will react. I’m just generally terrified of getting sick again, and then that scares me that I won’t ever try anything. Super.

She has a birthday today.

Today I got a Facebook notification of a birthday. It really sucked.

Several years ago, I lost a friend for the second time. This is mostly about me, because she’s not here, and it hurts every year. I had lost touch with her, again, as you do with people who are consumed with beasts and needles, when you have your own things to fight. When we were kids, and I thought I had lost her the first time, I remember feeling so strongly that there was something I should have done, some place I should have stepped in, some thing, any thing that would have come between her and the beast, but I was 17, and beasts don’t work that way.

She was gifted. Which is a corny way to say she could write. She never wanted to publish, because she didn’t want anyone to actually read her stuff. She just wrote to get the hell out of her head, and sometimes it worked, and always it was brilliant.

She lived through more crap than I can really wrap my head around. She came to school one day with a tooth knocked out. The school called Children’s Aid, and they went to interview him, but he told them everything was fine, so they went away. She got a little more scarred every weekend.

I finished school, and she didn’t. She took the money he gave her and paid for a little one-room apartment downtown, where she would gather up little girls from the street, to keep them warm and safer, because they trusted her. The money ran out, because it does when you spend so much a day to cope, and things deteriorated fast. She called me at university, completely out of it – please, just lend me a little. I still love you.

The last time I saw her, was in a dive bar, just south of the university. She knew I would be there. She could barely stand up, with her missing tooth, and the bruises and messed up eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I gave her money, and then regretted it, and then wished I had taken her home with me. 17 year olds are very rarely equipped to deal with shit like this, or at least I wasn’t.

Then she was gone. The phone was gone. The apartment was gone. She was nowhere. I didn’t think there was any way she could have made it, she was so sick, so I grieved. She was gone from me, at the very least.

When she came back, after I had mourned her the first time, she had moved away, found a life, and some purpose. When she found me, I was so happy, in a simple, naive way. She had found life, and joy, and was away from the things that made her life so shit in Canada. Everything was cool. FB was my friend that time.

When I found out she was gone the second time, I knew that the beast had followed her, and was just waiting for her to trip, but none of that changed what I knew about her. There was a news report, from a hotel in a far away place. The name was right, and her cousin verified it. I’m not sure which time I was more crushed, but I felt it again today when I saw the notification. She’s gone. She’s dead. She will never call me again. She will never write another word. I still love her.

She was, and always will be, the only person who came to my 14th birthday party. She was the one who faked an asthma attack to sit with me in the dark while the rest of the class ran laps in gym class. She was the one who told me, there is something wrong with you, but it doesn’t make me love you any less. She was the one who wore her mother’s pink cotton prom dress, that she had to keep hitching up over her non-existent boobs, and danced with me, when some guy named David told me I was ugly and stupid, and I believed him. She was the one who made me feel like sticking around. She was the only one my mother would let smoke on the back porch in high school, because we were afraid she would leave, and we never knew if she would make it back this time.

She would have been 42 today. If you need help, please ask, please tell someone. There are ways to feel ok again, and ways to fight beasts, and you don’t have to be alone. There are people who you have made better, and people who will miss you for the rest of their lives, because you are awesome.

Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, or, yes, I made it to the kitchen today.

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.” 

There are pretty much 6 people who read this blog. Once you realize how long this post is, that may start to make sense.

When I started it, I just needed a place to write. I really needed a space, but I didn’t really need an audience. I get a little jump when someone comments, or I get an email saying that someone follows this, but this was primarily a little place for me, and I had no fancy paper notebooks to work with, and my handwriting sucks. Really, it does.

I wanted to write this post, as part of the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, because I think that while it is great that all sort of celebrities are announcing their mental health status, I don’t know that that really helps people on a day to day,  oh god how am I going to get all the way to the kitchen, I’m so tired my teeth hurt, basis. In my experience, the only thing that really does that, is knowing people who have lived through that, made it to the kitchen and lived to tell about it. Today, I made it to the kitchen. You can do this.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1992, after a not very successful trial of anti-depressants made it fairly obvious that I did not have unipolar depression. I spent 8 weeks in hospital getting used to lithium and also getting used to the fact that there was a name for the thing that caused me to lose my marbles on a fairly regular basis, and that that name was not just “tired” or “energetic”.

I spent my 20 year “crazy” anniversary in the hospital too. I’ve been hospitalized seven times in 20 years, which is pretty freaking low, given how things have gone. I have had good treatment, mediocre treatment, and downright horrible treatment. I had the best possible psychiatrist, but then she retired last year. I have taken at least one of almost every class of medication that has ever been even hinted at for BP, including one that is supposed to be for Parkinson’s Disease (that one, for the time being, is working).

I fought an uphill battle with self-harm. Mostly, I won. There are occasional skirmishes. I don’t beat myself over the head with them anymore.

I have significant kidney damage from medication, and it probably won’t get any better than this. I know where every public washroom in the entire city is located, and if I don’t know, I can find one. It is my superpower.

I wrote cranky blog posts about things I found completely unfair about living with mental illness, days when I really wished I could shuffle off this mortal coil without disturbing anyone, and things that are awesome (like peer support and friends).

In and between all of that, I did the following:

  • Got bachelors degree in physical anthropology and human evolution
  • Got college diploma in Early Childhood Education
  • Got bachelor of Education degree
  • Taught elementary school for 8 years
  • Got master of Educational Technology degree
  • Got married
  • Worked for an educational company designing online courses
  • Gave lectures to mental health professionals about lived experience
  • Got unemployed
  • Made really good friends in the physical world and online
  • Learned cross stitch
  • Knit a whole bunch of socks

(Resume available on request. I really need a job, just in case you were wondering. I’m not really trying to advertise.)

Being bipolar is not all of what I am, but it is a huge part of how I became this person. This has been with me my whole life, and it has shaped every decision I have made, and influenced all of my choices. I learned (slowly, and with great reluctance) how to be self-reflective. I learned compassion. That was supposed to apply to me too, but I have not quite got the hang of that yet. Further updates as events warrant. I learned that not only do I have a voice, but I really want to use it. I learned how to be kind. Again, not so much to myself, but I have to leave some startling growth spurts for my 40’s, right?

I also learned how incredibly cruel ignorance is, and how ignorant people really are. I learned what it is like to be marginalized and humiliated for something that is beyond your control. I learned how privileged I am to be a white, well-educated woman, from the right kind of family, when I interact with the mental health system. I learned how dangerous it is to be part of a minority against whom it is still socially acceptable to discriminate. I learned that stigma is a Human Resources issue, and discrimination is a Legal Department issue. I learned that fighting stigma is probably a good thing, but that fighting discrimination and harassment is more important. I learned that people change their behaviour when they have to, and not because you have a good argument.

Other Things I learned:

  • The whole “baby steps” thing is infuriating, but sometimes it actually works.
  • If you can’t get out of bed, put one foot on the floor. Then, if you drag it back under the covers, at least you can say you accomplished something.
  • Practice forgiveness, not in a religious way, but in a “I can let go of this thing I am beating myself over the head with today” way. It is liberating
  • Accept help. No one is so awful that they don’t deserve help. There is no way you are that undeserving, no one is. Humans are worthy, just because.
  • One of my favourite quotes is from Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess, read it. No, really read this blog, and also read Hyperbole and a Half). She says depression lies, and she is right.

Things I like:

  • online virtual worlds
  • Science fiction
  • DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
  • coffee (not the best thing for someone with an anxiety disorder, but there’s decaf, and that doesn’t suck as much as you would think)
  • Twitter
  • Politics
  • My cats

Things I know now:

  • I’m a pretty decent person
  • I can be useful
  • Panic can only last so long
  • I am 100% successful at not dying so far

If you made it this far in the post, I am truly impressed, and a little bit grateful (ok, a lot grateful). This is not something that people can do alone, and having someone read what you write is both scary and empowering. The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project is incredibly important in that respect, and I hope that you go and read a whole bunch of stuff that people have written, and scare and empower them.

When I turned 32, I was probably having a worse day.

10 years ago today I left work to go to the hospital.

I left plans for my students, but I knew if I didn’t go, I would not live out the week. I went back, for a year, but ultimately didn’t really return to teaching. I left my career, my pension and my health insurance for a chance to live. I’m not sure, today, if it really worked.

Today I’m 42, which is the answer to the ultimate question about the meaning of life, but I’m left feeling empty and more alone and broken that I have in a long time. My mom called me to tell me the story of the day I was born. As soon as she got off the phone, I started crying. I’m not what they were hoping for. I am so full of unrealized potential, it probably explains why I am overweight. To be fair, I’m not actually hallucinating evil spirits, so I guess I am one up on my 32nd birthday.

I have no job, for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly related to the fact that no one will grant me an interview. My resume is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of anymore. I don’t really have much of a life. I feel so separate from my friends, with their careers, and their holidays and their homes and all of that. I even feel completely estranged from the community of mental health advocates I was part of in my city, because I rejected their med-free, all psychiatry is evil orthodoxy.

I get that I am just feeling sorry for myself today. Birthdays are either wonderful, or a super opportunity to ruminate on all the things that have not really worked out for me. I’m not actively sick. I haven’t been in months, which I think I should feel grateful for. This is the down-slope of recovery. I’m not sick, but I am bent under the weight of the consequences of living with serious mental illness. This is the baggage portion of the program. The airlines lost everyone’s luggage during the ice storm, could they not have lost mine?

6 year old me: It’s my birthday!!!!! Are we having cake? Did I get new markers? Yay!

32 year old me: Screw this. I’m done.

42 year old me: Both of you, shut up. I have no idea what I am doing here.

When you are really sick, the focus is on getting you past the point where you might die. Hospitals, doctors, therapists and your family just want you to ‘be well’ and get out of the acute phase, which is a good goal. Dying makes getting on with your life more complicated. Unfortunately, there is not much after that. I’m well, I’m just miserable because the fallout from being ill makes for a really depressing life.

Part of me thinks, stop whining. You have food and shelter, and a computer and internet. You have cats and a husband and a Christmas tree (that really needs to come down, come to think of it). I just can’t stop wanting. Wanting to go to work. Wanting to have purpose. Wanting to be something. Wanting to be able to answer the question “so, what do you do?” with something other than “I read a lot of news”. I wonder if this is just me.

I will be charming at dinner tonight. I will tell funny jokes for my friends. I will pull off looking good in public. It’s what I do.

I just wonder, on my 52nd birthday, how am I going to look back on today? Was it the end of a bad period, or the start of some fresh new hell? Was it just a day in a long line of really depressing days? My 32nd birthday was momentous, in that my whole life changed. I went from being a teacher to being a crazy person, full-time. I don’t want to go back to being a teacher, given that I really wasn’t that good at it, but I do want to be something.

Oh, that was a really loud siren. Two fire trucks just went past my apartment. I think at this point, I have to say, objectively, someone is having a much worse day than me.

I will pull myself together and bake birthday blueberry muffins. In times of need, acquire carbs. It is really the only sensible response. Wait, maybe the unrealized potential is not the only reason I don’t fit into those pants…could also be the drugs. Really, is nothing simple? Muffins. Yes, muffins. When I turn 52, I will remember the muffins. My muffins are that good.

Happy Birthday to me, Simone De Beauvoir, Dave Matthews, a fabulous woman in a Facebook group I’m in, and all of the other people, born today, who are awesome.


This depression feels like weight. It is some kind of lead blanket tied to the inside of my chest, pulling me down, crushing my organs. Maybe it’s supposed to protect me from cosmic xrays or something. Or maybe it just sucks. I can barely hold my head up. When I walk the heaviness pulls my shoulders down and I slump. I’m sure it’s wrecking my back, but I don’t feel like thinking about long-haul anything, so that’s nothing more than an idle thought to add to the pile of ways I am screwing up.

The suicidal ideation is back. I’m not actually suicidal, but I wish I could be. I wish I didn’t care so much about the people I would leave. My husband would be on his own in the world. My mother would die. Maybe not actually die, but some vital part would. I’ve already messed up enough, I can’t do those things too. So basically, there is no way out. There is no way to stop this.

I’ve had a bad cold for a couple of days, and some rational part of my brain is telling me that the depression is probably just an artifact of having been sick. That happens sometimes. But the parts of me that count, the cold, emotional, vicious parts, know it is not that. It is the manifestation of whatever it is in me that is rotten, decaying and harmful. So basically, lying to me, but I buy it. Why is it so much easier to believe that I’m a fundamentally damaged waste of time and space, than to accept that three days of fever and not being able to breathe through my nose have pushed my mood down?

A blogger I read says she has maybe 3-4 days a month where she really feels like she has her shit together, and is worthwhile. This is clearly not one of my days.

I’m suffocating under the weight of all the stillborn accomplishments, all the failed starts, all the disappointments and the let-downs. I’m crushed under the heaviness of my ineptitude and my inability to do anything with my life. The worst of it, is how ordinary and commonplace that sounds. I’m reduced to cliches about depression. I can’t even be miserable in any special way. I’m just depressed. There is nothing romantic, or tortured about it. Just a sucking pit, and a lead blanket to push me down into it.

I accept that most of what happens to me is chemical. I know my brain chemistry is the kind that punishes you for your wrong moves. I know my response to stress is not to take on the challenge and thrive. It’s more of a retreat and try not to take anyone else down with me thing. I am vulnerable to depression, in the same way that I am vulnerable to the highs that push me into overdrive, goad me into bad decisions, and exhaust everyone else. Knowing that doesn’t actually make anything any better though.

When I am a refugee, stranded on the couch, it doesn’t really matter that much where it comes from. What matters is that the effort to overcome the weight and get oxygen into my lungs is not something I am really interested in doing.

They don’t talk about this part much, the physicality of depression. They don’t really give you photocopied handouts to manage the feeling that your body is failing, that your limbs are so heavy, they might rip the skin and come free of your torso. When they say, pull yourself together, I imagine the ridiculous situation where I would be trying to pick up my unattached limbs from the floor, and somehow, without hands, graft them back on to me. I feel like my hands will leave dents in the table. I have them on the edge, trying to brace myself, so I won’t fall on the floor. The floor would be safer. You can’t fall off the floor, but I feel like the tonnes of me would leave a depression in the floor boards. Yeah, I know, physics. That isn’t actually going to happen, but some part of me is borderline delusional today, and so I can see it. I can see my lungs shrinking in capacity because of the blanket pushing down on them, and I can feel the skin around my shoulder tighten from holding the weight of my dying limbs.

Oh hey stigma, wasn’t expecting to see you there.

You know, I’m pretty lucky. I’ve surrounded myself with people who get me, more or less, and people that have learned from being around me. I have a decent little support network of friends and family who treat me like a human being, and who see me as more than the bipolar girl. In some ways, I’m isolated by their support from the worst of the stigma, and the worst of the discrimination that comes with being mentally ill.

I get it when I apply to jobs, and my spotty resume won’t get me in the door, and I get it in doctors’ offices when their whole tone changes once they see my list of meds. I once went in for a breast lump, and the doctor was all sympathetic and calming. He spoke quietly to me, and said we would figure out what was going on, and that even in the worst case scenario there was a lot that could be done, so don’t panic. Then he saw my meds. Suddenly he changed his tune. I was probably overreacting, you know because crazy people feel breast lumps differently (apparently). He made me feel like I was wasting his time, and I had probably made the whole thing worse by – and I quote – poking at it too much. Tell me that any woman who finds a lump in her breast isn’t going to poke away at that sucker? Turns out it was a blocked duct, but I was humiliated and angered by his behaviour toward me.

So what was the point of this? Oh, right.

I went to a business meeting today. It was a little stressful, because there is scope creep already in the project, and we haven’t even really started yet. The project, which was small and manageable, has been taken over by people with agendas of their own, and, well, that is always a little stressful. Nothing I can’t cope with, to be fair.

So we were discussing the nature of the business, and this is the conversation that happened:

1: So I’d hate to have a bipolar client, you know, and send them back to work, and have them not take their meds or something and then have them kill someone. You really have to have someone handle them that knows what they are doing.

2: Yeah, absolutely. I would hate to have a bipolar teacher working for me (laughs). That would be awful.

1: God, that would be a nightmare

2: For sure.

There are a couple of really obvious things wrong with this conversation. First, um, you do have a bipolar teacher working with you. That would be me. Second, we are not really very likely to run off and kill someone. Research, and common sense, say that bipolar people are a lot more likely to either be killed, or maybe, worst case scenario, kill themselves. So there’s that bit of brain-numbingly wrong thinking. The other thing, is that these people are talking about a program to educate professionals in dealing with people on disability, for physical and psychological reasons. I’m not really wild about them being in charge of the education of professionals if that is what they really think about people like me, and honestly, I wonder what else they are thinking.

I was going to say something, something non-identifying but clear, but thought better of it. The last thing I want to do is be out to people like this. I need the work, and I can imagine all the strange and insidious things that would inevitably lead to my not getting the contract, or that my role would gradually be phased out. I’ve been hidden about who I am at work before, and while it is a bit soul-crushing, I can do it. If it gets to be a pattern, I may end up opening my big mouth, but I’m going to have to prove my worth to them first, or get so far into the project that they can’t do it without me before I take a risk like that. Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

I forget how pervasive the stigma of mental illness is sometimes. I forget how dangerous it is. I forget that many mental health and disability specialists think we are all on the verge of forgetting one pill and then going on a rampage. I forget because my life is protected, and then it rears up and hits me in the face at a meeting of educated, privileged, socially responsible women.

To her credit, my boss, who has known me my whole life, looked like she was going to kill someone, but she bit her tongue, because she didn’t want to risk outing me. She wrote me a very wonderful email from the other side of the room (smartphones have some serious advantages). She was shocked, but after the original sting was gone, I realized I actually wasn’t. This is much more representative of how people see individuals like me. I had just forgotten, safe in my little bubble of people who see me as I really am.

I have the choice to be hidden. I have the option of avoiding stigma at business functions because, these days, I can pass for a sane person. I can quickly suck back an anti-anxiety med and get through any stressful business meeting. I can put on grown-up woman clothes and hoist my laptop on my back, and go off and play normal person for as long as I need to. I’m very privileged that way these days. The meds are doing what they are supposed to, the therapy is working, and for the most part, I am just living my life.

There are a lot of people who can’t get away with what I get away with. There are people who can’t pull their act together right now, and can’t put on a happy face and go to a stupid meeting. Not because they are any different from me, but because they are at a different point in their recovery, or they are deep in a messy place, or a dark hole. I’ve been that person too. For them, the stigma, the misconceptions, the ignorance and the flat-out hatred and contempt, are pretty life threatening.

Being seen as an inherently violent person, or someone for whom dangerous crazy is just one pill below the surface, puts you at risk. People call the police. The police overreact. People get incarcerated, formed, and sometimes shot. It sounds like hyperbole, but once you have people in authority who assume you are a physical threat, anything can happen. In my city, there have been a string of mentally ill people shot to death by the police in the past few years, and most recently, a disturbed teen armed with a pen knife was reportedly shot 8 times, and then tasered, on a streetcar. In the same time period, a sane man, armed with a loaded gun was disarmed by the police, and lived to tell about it. The stigma surrounding the disturbed, the mentally ill, and the generally unhinged, is not something that just makes life a little more difficult.

So maybe I should have said something in the meeting. Maybe my fear of being outed, my fear of losing a contract, was cowardly. I’m not really sure. Maybe I let an opportunity to change someone’s mind slip past me, out of fear. Maybe the stigma actually prevented me from doing the right thing. Maybe those people, at that meeting, will continue to blindly wander about in their ignorance. Maybe one of them will fire a mentally ill person, on some trumped up charge. Maybe one of them will not invite a relative to a gathering, because there will be children there, and you can never know what those people will do. I don’t know.

All I know for sure, is that I was unprepared to deal with stigma in that meeting. I wasn’t expecting it. I had this false sense that people who work in human services know something. I was wrong. I should have expected it. I let down the team. It won’t happen again.