x118 (stigma)

Last night at the church’s choir rehearsal (I’m back to church; I’ll discuss that in a later blog post) we discussed what would be appropriate to present to folks who are interested in joining the choir at our open house. It occurred to me momentarily to suggest a brief on how the choir is disability friendly for people who might feel they would be held back by being differently-abled. Certainly the choir isn’t friendly to all disabilities – in fact, at a first glance, it might appear that with the steps leading up to where the choir sings or the fact that we rely so much on auditory clues might mean that we’re not disability friendly at all. And while I have struggled a lot with my choir attendance, due in part to spiritual conflicts but also because of my social anxiety, I feel that it’s overall a good place for people who struggle with mental health conditions. As embarrassed as I am to be attached to the hip with my phone, I’ve never been reprimanded for sending a text when I was in crisis. No one has asked questions as I surreptitiously pop an anti-anxiety medication. Certainly it was awkward when it was discovered that I was holed up in the bathroom having a panic attack that reduced me to tears, but I was able to have the space to cope with what was going on. As I said, my attendance has been shoddy, but I’ve been allowed to come and go depending on how I’m able to cope with my social anxiety at the time. There’s never been any pressure to 100% commit or otherwise don’t come at all. 

But of course, I never suggested anything of the sort. Even as I’m working on this blog post now, I’m close to tears. If we were discussing a physical or visible disability, of course this sort of discussion would be welcome. But because of the stigma attached to mental health concerns, nobody wants to hear about how a small church choir can be a good social outlet for someone who can’t work and who gets nervous around large groups of people. I know that by not speaking up, I’m perpetuating that stigma and I’m not making it any easier for someone who’s in a similar position. It’s similar to the way I felt after Robin Williams committed suicide. I had an acquaintance post on Facebook that she had bipolar disorder and was on medication to help cope with the symptoms, and that it was important to be open about this sort of thing to reduce stigma and have less cases similar to that of Robin’s. And while I would feel comfortable posting something like that on my (relatively) anonymous blog or my even more obscure Tumblr, I didn’t have the heart to take that step on Facebook. I have friends who are able to post about personal things, and maybe because of the online community they have cultivated, they are supported by their friends and family. Posting a link to my own blog posts or something written by someone else carries the bonus of being one step removed from the information. But too frequently discussing my mental health struggles on a platform like Facebook? I just don’t think anyone wants to hear about it. It’s one thing to post an image saying “Keep this on your wall for one hour if you support those who struggle with depression or anxiety”. It’s quite another to open up about your own personal struggles with these things. 

Certainly if someone were to ask, or mention that they weren’t sure they could handle the pressure of joining the choir, I would be open. But I’m not yet brave enough to take the first step myself. Perhaps someday. 

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