Anger Is an Appropriate Response to Stigma
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “snap” as:
- to grasp at something eagerly; make a pounce or snatch
- to bark out irritable or peevish retorts
- to undergo a sudden and rapid change
I wanted to make sure that is, in fact, what happened yesterday toward the end of my run at the Naval Academy.
My husband and I were talking about my giving up the role of playing a “political correctness” cop on the online depression community I host. Someone wrote to me irked that a wrong term had been used to describe a certain diagnosis. Instead of being my people-pleasing self, I said I was really sorry that she was offended, but I couldn’t censor everything on the site.
“But you had the same defensive reaction when your sister called someone ‘cray-cray,’ this past weekend,” my husband said.
I’m not sure why I snapped this time and not when my sister said that a few days earlier. I figure my brain is like those quarter machines at an arcade. You think you just need one more to tip over 20 quarters. But the quarters hang on — tantalizing you until you put another one in. Finally, five bucks later, you hear that divine sound of coins falling.
“Do you have any idea of how many times I put up with insensitive talk about depression and bipolar?” I asked him in response. “I’m going to say the average is about three times a day that someone insults me and I have to keep my mouth shut.”
I don’t leave any room for him to comment.
“Let’s take this week,” I said. “Remember when Ellen was over for dinner and she said that her friend told her he was on Lexapro, but he had not told a soul because he’s ashamed of it. It was this skeleton in his closet.
“My God,” I said, “Why should he tell anyone? We all know taking Lexapro or any such happy pill is for weak, spineless, cowardly people. Hell, for taking the easy way out and popping that antidepressant, he rightly should lose everyone’s respect!
“Do you remember a few days before that, when Terry said I should go to this chiropractor-healer woman, but that I would have to go off all my psych meds, because the healing can’t be done while a person is medicated? Do you know how that made me feel?
“Did you know at a lecture I went to last week ON THE TOPIC OF COMBATING STIGMA, I was one of THREE people who stood up in a crowd of 300 when the speaker asked those of us in the audience who battle a mood disorder to rise. Everyone else was too ashamed to admit they were depressed or anxious. Mind you, we’re talking about a room of mental health professionals, the ones who are supposedly telling their patients that they have a legitimate illness!
“When we were watching ‘Wayne’s World’ last night, did you catch all the times Michael Myers said, ‘She’s gone mental!’ It must have been at least 30 times.
“I forget if I told you I switched hygienists at the dentist. The one kept asking me if I was ‘still on all that stuff for my emotions’?”
I was getting angrier with every example, and I was just getting started …
“Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to simply exist so much of the time?
“Do you know what it’s like to have to fight death thoughts 24/7, trying like hell to make new neural passageways in your brain like the Buddhists and neuroscientists say you can do, but having to constantly detour all the brainstorming your mind automatically does on ways you can get cancer or how many days you think you have left until a natural death finally gives you some rest?”
I started shaking, and yelled as loud as I could, “It is SOOOOOOOOOO HARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I took a deep breath and then repeated. “IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HARD!”
And a third time for all the midshipmen who were running by us: “IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Then I broke into sobs.
I thought about the mom of a friend of my daughter’s who thinks about new patterns for her scrapbook in her spare time, and I wailed, “I WANT HER BRAIN!”
For the record, I don’t snap very often. For a person with a severe mood disorder who can’t chill out on a Friday night with a glass of Merlot (because she is addicted to everything she touches), I think my quota is pretty impressive. I’m good at keeping it inside. Too good.
In high school, a teacher once told me that depression is anger turned inward. I know it’s much more complex than that, of course. We have a few problems in the wiring patterns of our brains, a loss of volume in the hippocampus, and possibly some brain inflammation — among some other possibilities of causes. But anger turned inward definitely factors into it.
Depression is the only illness in which one of the symptoms is self-loathing and self-doubting. I mean, I’ve suffered from a host of other conditions — and have nursed friends and relatives fighting breast cancer and heart disease and arthritis — and none of the illnesses besides depression causes a person’s thoughts to turn on her like a bitter old boyfriend who wants revenge … to humiliate her and to put her down so often that she can’t help but question herself and feel entirely and utterly pathetic.
Add on to that very painful symptom the stigma that exists today — even, as I made the point earlier, in crowds of mental health professionals! Throw the brain getting attacked from the inside — the sour boyfriend tearing you down at every chance — into a conversation where any mention of a mood disorder happens in the context of embarrassment or scorn.
“He takes Lexapro!?! He better not run for politics!”
“She’s bipolar … you know, ‘cray-cray.’”
“Sorry, no healing is possible if you’re on psych meds.”
“She’s gone mental!”
“Are you still on all of your, you know, stuff for your emotions?”
All of those comments get processed somewhere in me. They are quarters stacking on top of each other. As much as I try to let them go, they accumulate, waiting for the random coin that spills over the mass.
And I snap.
But that’s not all bad.
Because the anger has to get out.
And I am right to be angry.
Continue the discussion on ProjectBeyondBlue.com, the new depression community.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
Angry woman photo available from Shutterstock
Borchard, T. (2018). Anger Is an Appropriate Response to Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/anger-is-an-appropriate-response-to-stigma/