Last week I was on a red-eye to Florida and overheard the most incredibly frustrating conversation. I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping, they were sitting in the row right next to me. So it was difficult not to hear.
Part of me wishes I hadn’t heard it. But the other part knows I overheard it for a reason.
In the middle seat to my left was a Mother and Grandmother from California, who’s son was about to become a minister that very weekend in Florida, and who’s daughter is currently in school to become a behavioral therapist.
Next to her in the aisle seat was a professional woman from Florida, approximately 45 years of age (based on her conversation).
The lady next to me was very talkative about her family and upon mentioning that her daughter was in school for behavioral therapy, the other woman asked her what that is. She briefly explained that its therapy for kids with autism and people with mental disorders, but before she could fully explain, the woman at the aisle jumped in with a story that absolutely made me cringe.
“I have a friend from school. She’s 45 and her mother committed suicide and was schizophrenic. Her dad, who is a doctor, is a hoarder. You should see his car all piled up with newspapers and food. Its terrible.
And she’s just checked out of life! Can you believe that?! She won’t shower or leave her house. And her dad just gives her money for rent and food. I mean he’s spoiling her. Would you do that as a parent? He’s enabling her. She says ‘I’m sick’, and I told her ‘You’re not sick! Sick in the head maybe!'”.
At that point, the mom/grandma next to me just shut down and stopped talking. And I did not say a word.
I feel so guilty and ashamed for not saying something. In my head I was screaming, “SHE CLEARLY HAS MENTAL ILLNESS!” But it was midnight and the lights were off and everyone around us was sleeping or on their way. I wanted so badly to speak, but just couldn’t. I don’t know why. It made me feel so sad to witness such blatant stigma and ignorance and not say a word.
I almost feel like I need to apologize to the universe for not saying what I so very much wanted to say.
It really touched my heart and made me think. Is that really the way most people see a person with mental illness? Is empathy really so dead? Is ignorance so prevalent?
Here was a situation that was so VERY clear to me. I mean seriously, her mom had schizophrenia and died by suicide AND her father is a hoarder. How could anyone miss that she absolutely has mental illness? How could an obviously educated woman with means not see what is glaring her in the face?
Most of the time, I don’t feel the stigma. Or rather I choose to ignore it. I have the confidence to know that if someone looks down on me because of my mental illness, that it doesn’t matter because they’re not worth my time. I don’t need them in my life anyway.
But it truly made me think. Are people talking about me behind my back? Do they think I’m faking? Or being enabled? Or choosing to be depressed or manic?
I truly am not ashamed of who I am. But I was ashamed that I didn’t say what I should have said. I pride myself on my passion for mental health advocacy and presented with a situation I didn’t do it. My fear, shyness and anxiety took over. And again, I must apologize to myself and to you for that lapse.
Its a moment in time I will never forget. And I recommit to you right now today to fight stigma every way I know how. And if that means speaking up even when I’m fearful, I’m going to do it. I know now I must.
Have you ever overheard blatant stigma and ignorance about mental illness? What did you do?