In thick files, there are strings of letters following my name. Not PhD. or Esq. or anything like that. My letters are BPD (borderline personality disorder), C-PTSD ( complex post traumatic stress disorder), ED (eating disorder – bulimia). There are debates about whether I’m bipolar type II or whether I have major depression with psychotic features (currently bipolar disorder is winning). There are notations about my anxiety disorder, the repeated sexual abuse, the severity of my SI (self-injury), the suicide attempts/ideation and how “difficult” I am to treat because of the time span of my “problems.” (As if it’s my fault I wrote my first suicide poem at the age of nine and thought I was “fat” at the age of six.) Every set of letters comes with its own hellish set of stigmas. Because just having a mental illness isn’t enough evidently; they need to make it more judgmental and stigmatizing.
Those letters follow me everywhere I go — including in my own mind.
A former therapist told me I should say “I have …” instead of “I am …” because he said I am not my illness. But if you look at my file and all those letters that add up to a hellish picture, it’s hard to believe that I’m not my illness. When people (including family members) think it’s okay to call you “psycho” as a nickname (“oh honey, we’re just kidding”), it’s hard to believe I’m not my illness. When a licensed professional tells me that my problems are “too complex” for them to treat and dump me, it’s hard to believe that I’m not my illness.
But I am not. There are other letters you could use to describe me, like c-r-e-a-t-i-v-e. Or i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t. Or l-o-y-a-l. I can be loving and funny and full of joy. There is more to me than those thick files could ever hold. So all I ask is that you don’t judge me solely on labels. Erase the labels and see the person. Get to know me in all my moments of normalcy and madness.
People are more than arbitrary letters. Please remember that. End the stigma.