Stigma, unfortunately is everywhere in today’s world. People have stigmas over race, religion, gender, hair colour, mental health. You name it, there is probably a stigma for it. It’s a huge part of the reason that we’re years behind where we should be as a society (accepting of each and every living being) and the way things are going it’ll be a long time before stigma does become a thing of the past.
We all have stigmas, or at some point in our lives have had them towards something. It doesn’t necessarily make us bad people. A lot of stigma is plain naivety, lack of education, ignorance. The simple fact is a lot of people just don’t know any better. Of course there are people out there who do know better and refuse to see it, but they are another story.
I’d like to talk today about the stigmas that I have placed on myself, which I think is something that we all do, whether intentionally or not. Whether it’s due to societal pressure, pressure from family and friends, even imagined pressure, I think to some extent we’ve all put stigmas on some aspect of our life and try to hide them away from the world. The need for a house to be tidy for guests is quite a common one, when most of our guests couldn’t care less if our coffee table is covered in junk. If they are truly our friends, then they came over to see us and not to check out the state of our house.
I used to have a stigma about my mental health. I was ashamed, felt useless, abnormal, afraid and I didn’t want anyone to know. I told a few people that I trusted, but that was it. I tried to hide it by over compensating. I had an old workmate discover my blog and email me to tell me that in the two or three years they worked in the same office as me, they genuinely had no idea how much I struggled and that I hid it well as for the most part I seemed exceptionally happy. I thought I didn’t know anyone else who suffered from depression (at the time I didn’t know my constant worrying was anxiety) and even though my doctor, my counsellor and ads on TV said that I wasn’t alone, I truly believed I was. The most ridiculous thing was that I had a lot of friends who were also suffering in silence, I just couldn’t see it.
Obviously, since I am out and proud as far as talking about my depression and anxiety to anyone taking the time to read my posts, I am no longer ashamed of my mental health, in fact I am proud of it. It has helped shape me into the person I am today: Far from perfect, but willing to constantly work on myself, do my best to help others and with a drive to get mental illness into the spotlight in the hopes that one day, stigma towards it will be a thing of the past. Of course this isn’t something that happened overnight. I hit rock bottom and could no longer deny what was going on with me and also started seeing people talk about mental illness more. It was and still is a hugely stigmatised issue, but people bravely opening up to the world gave me the strength to talk about my experiences publicly. I hope that my sharing gives others strength to share or reach out for help also.
For years I had a stigma about my weight. I was the chubby kid at school and this continued into my adult life. I’ve blogged about it a lot, the endless self hate, the endless diets that started on Mondays and finished on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, the mornings spent crying before work because my uniform was getting tighter every day. I judged other larger people as well. If I hated myself for my weight then they deserved my disdain also. It was stupid. Some of my best friends were overweight and I used to obsess over whether or not they were bigger than me. I know some did the same to me. We would swap clothes and it would lift my spirits hugely if a girlfriends clothes were loose on me. I had some friends lose weight and while I was happy for them and proud of their achievements, I also found it difficult to hide my glee when most of them inevitably put the weight back on.
Let me say this right here and now: This is not something I am proud of. It is a thing of the past though. Last year when I lost all the weight and kept most of it off until becoming pregnant (I make jokes about it, but pregnancy is not and never will be fat, despite the bump insecurity I experienced earlier on in my pregnancy), I learned a lot about weight that I was blind to. I learned that part of the reason I was overweight was because of my diet and some of my conditions such as PCOS, but the most important lesson was learning that I was overweight was because of my attitude. I held myself back with all the stigmas I put on myself and others. I wasn’t mentally capable of putting in any real effort towards losing weight. I also learned that being healthy was more important to me in the end. Sure, I loved that I was smaller, loved the compliments I got (didn’t so much love the jealousy I received but I probably deserved it based on how badly I had treated people in the same boat in the past), but most of all I loved how amazing I felt, inside and out. I was healthy mentally and physically something I’d never been able to say before. Once I have my baby I do intend to lose the weight again, but this time it’s about staying healthy and fit so that I can be the best mother to my child instead of about fitting into that pretty dress I haven’t worn for months.
My current stigma towards myself is about my pregnancy. Something in me needs people to know that this baby was planned. Not an accident. I can’t explain why, simply put, I don’t know. Yet so often when people talk to me about baby, I will bluntly state that we planned this baby. I don’t however have a stigma against people who have unplanned children. I know plenty of people who have had unplanned pregnancies who are now some of the best parents I know. I have family members who weren’t planned and I certainly don’t judge them for it. I’ve read articles about girls who fell pregnant at 16 and are now making their mark in the world years later because they took full responsibility, raised a wonderful child and also got an education themselves so that they could provide the best possible life for that child. Some of these women are better role models than parents who planned their children after buying a house and getting married so the reality is, it makes no difference whether a baby is planned or not.
And yet I still often find myself telling the story of how Zombie and I decided together that we were ready to start trying and that our little Asskicker (our babies nickname, after Judith on The Walking Dead) was 100% not an accident. I often even talk about how we set a date to start trying so that we both had time to prepare ourselves. It’s not that I think people even care, I just have this huge urge to make sure that everyone knows. I’ve made countless mistakes in my life and I’ve been judged to no end for it. I had a reputation for getting myself into sticky situations for a while. I guess subconsciously I just want to prove that I did something right for once, that it wasn’t just another typical Katie stuff up. Because of course I’m the only person who’s ever made mistakes and I’ve never done anything right. All ridiculous and completely untrue reasons, but I’m pretty sure that Anxiety has a hand in all of this.
Like all my previous self-imposed stigmas, I don’t how to get past this one. I do believe I am handling it better than my mental illness, weight or other stigmas I’ve put on myself over the years, because I am not dehumanising others to make myself feel better this time around (yay for growing up), but of course I still would rather not have this stigma at all. I so often remind myself that nobody cares that my baby was planned, they are just excited for me and yet the words ‘we planned this’ come out of my mouth so often. Focusing on what’s important helps, I know my baby is healthy and developing well, I know that Zombie is going to be an excellent father, I know that Asskicker is going to be loved by many, family and friends alike. Like I mentioned above, I have a feeling Anxiety is sticking it’s oar in to give me this stigma so I’m hoping that like all the other worries Anxiety has given me over the years, this one too will fade away.
Smiles and Sunshine