Let’s Talk About STIGMA…

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I’ve been wanting to write about this one for a minute now, so I’m gonna just dive straight in.

I’ve literally only been blogging for two weeks, and there has been quite a big outburst of support which I am more than grateful for, but I haven’t mentioned any negative, which gives the impression that it doesn’t exist. Let’s talk about it…

I’ve received messages from old school friends, from complete strangers, from charities and much more, and the love has been amazing. I keep saying that I just started this to vent, and in all honesty, I didn’t think about anyone else possibly going through the same situation, but in my community, and in the black community especially, some of the stuff I’ve spoken about seems to affect other people, but we just don’t speak out. Why?

My family have been supportive for the majority. I’m someone who’s not a very great talker. Don’t get me wrong, in real life I’m loud as hell, I play a lot, and can be quite childish, but to talk about serious topics, like how I am coping, my mental health, Zariah’s disability and other serious stuff, I just can’t get it together. I brush everything off as if it’s all great, and I sometimes come off as emotionless. It’s hard for me to talk to my friends. Sometimes I avoid serious conversations with my boyfriend too, it’s just a habit of mine to turn everything into a joke. My writing is probably the most honest open platform I have. But when I shared it with my family, my granny said I should “keep this kind of stuff within the family”. My ex partner said “I shouldn’t put his business out there for everyone to see”. I mean I’m not mad, but it’s this kind of broken mentality that keeps people drowning in depression.

I love how much things have changed in the past few years regarding mental illnesses and opening up, but we still haven’t reached all communities. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with a personality disorder and suffered with episodes of psychosis, as well as frequent self harming. People around me were freaked out by my arms. People thought I was sick or crazy. I mean I was always someone who was outspoken and was confident enough to speak up against bullies, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Even in me saying that I can’t say it’s 1000% true. I was confident only to tell strangers. I didn’t care about the opinions of people who didn’t know me, but I cared about the opinions of people who did. I didn’t tell my family I had a mental illness until I was 20, 3 years after the diagnosis, and the only reason I ended up telling them was because it was a condition imposed by social services for me to come home with my daughter. Can you imagine? I kept a massive part of my life a secret from the people who have known me the longest because around them I felt embarrassed. I felt that they would look at me different, or think I “wasn’t quite right”. I did stints in secure psychiatric wards as a child and as an adult, and didn’t tell one member of my family. It’s quite poor really, but I understood the stigma.

When I had to tell my family, I had two of my aunt’s, my mum and my grandma crowded round my living room with a social worker and a bunch of flyers, and this lady was explaining my diagnosis. I just felt shame. But why should I feel ashamed? Why should I be embarrassed? Why aren’t mental illnesses treated like any other illness? If I said I had diabetes, the room wouldn’t act shocked or start treading carefully around me? Why is a mental illness any different? Why shouldn’t I speak up? We’re taught that we shouldn’t need psychiatrists, social services should never step foot in your house, people outside shouldn’t know your business, but everyone needs help at some point. Young men make up the highest portion of people who commit suicide. Because we don’t talk. We teach our children that “boys shouldn’t cry”, we emphasise the importance of the “man of the house” in our cultures, and expect men to always be the providers. This kind of mentality makes it seem like men should never need help. Our society makes men feel shameful when they can’t provide, when they need to cry, when they ask for help. “It’s not manly”. That’s not the message we should be sending, and the reason why I wasn’t too shocked to hear my grandma’s opinion is because she has been raised to believe that this is something shameful that you don’t bring out the house. It’s enough. I have a voice that I am not afraid to use, and it’s time we start changing minds, changing stereotypes, and eradicating stigma.

I saw this at work the other day. All of the ideas on here are really simple, but they really do make a difference.

And it’s not just mental health. It’s our relationships too. It’s sex, it’s choices with our bodies, it’s finances, it’s disability, it’s literally everything!

Nobody is perfect. Not myself, nor anyone I know. When I had my daughter, I isolated myself and didn’t tell anyone outside my family and two friends about her diagnosis. I wasn’t ashamed of my daughter, I thought she was the cutest thing ever, but I was ashamed of the stigma. That people would look at me different, look at her different. I’m not ashamed to say I had no idea what cerebral palsy was before I had my daughter. Quite bad really, but what I’ve noticed is that unless someone in your family or close friends has a disability, you’re not really aware of what is outside. I wasn’t educated on stuff like that, I only guessed people were disabled if they were in a wheelchair or “looked different”. If I’m honest, I was quite ignorant before Zariah, and having her really opened my eyes to how much I didn’t know, and how judgemental I may have been towards others as a child.

With my relationship too, having an abortion at 18. I was ASHAMED. I still look back and feel ashamed. Ashamed for making that decision, ashamed for finding myself in that position, ashamed for going against my values, my religion, my culture. Ashamed for allowing somebody else to pressure me into making decisions. I couldn’t tell my mum at the time. That stuff is unheard of! Me? A black CHRISTIAN NIGERIAN girl? lol no. I couldn’t tell anyone in my family like that. I ended up relying on my two friends. It’s so crazy that this goes on quite commonly, but nobody wants to start the conversation. People are quick to judge you, quick to disown you and condemn your decisions, and things like that are hard enough so why would I come out and tell someone just to be made to feel worse? I didn’t skip down to the woman’s clinic with a grin on my face, most people don’t. It was a hard decision for me and a large number of people I know. The stigma is soo bad that a lot of girls I knew lied, and say they had a miscarriage (there’s less of a stigma attached to that, people seem to sympathise with you), and some people would keep absolutely everything private. Imagine being at a turning point in your life, where you need more support than you have probably ever needed before, but feeling like you have no one, because everyone is going to look at you different, or make you feel worse, or speak ill of you. It’s not the response that people need.

We as a community need to do better. We need to become better listeners, better friends, better support systems and better people. We have all made mistakes in our lives, and nobody has the right to pass judgement. This is all of our first times on this planet, I don’t think any of us came into earth knowing how to do everything. You may not agree with decisions for religious reasons, cultural reasons or anything else, and that’s OK. It’s never by force you must agree to something you don’t understand, but let’s lay back on the judgement. Be an open ear, you never know how far that can take you and how much just being there to listen without judging can do for someone. Let’s learn to accept people’s differences and learn to love. It doesn’t cost a thing. If you are religious, please let’s also remember that even if God condemns an act, he still loves the person.

Learn to Love. Goodnight all. x

P.S. Everything I have said in previous blogs still stands. If anyone ever wants to talk, to rant, to cry, to shout or just needs an ear, feel free to message me. Whether you have a special needs child or not, whether you are a parent or not, my ears are always open if you feel alone. Let’s talk. (IG: embtp // Facebook: Esther Marlsey-Burkson)

P.S. (Again lol) If you haven’t already, please check out my last blog about our hunt for a “special” school. Share, comment or message me if you know of anyone, or know someone who knows someone regarding childcare for my beautiful 2 year old. We’re on the lookout!