The Stigma of Remission

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Today, I am in remission.

I know that ‘remission’ is not a word often associated with mental health. But I think it should be.

Remission is defined as, “a temporary diminution of the severity of disease or pain.”

I am still on medication. I see a therapist and GP every week. I see a case manager every fortnight. I see a psychiatrist every month… But the pain? The severity of the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and worthlessness that accompanies depression? It is temporarily diminished. And for today, I feel the most fabulous I have felt in 12 months.

Even if you argued for some absurd reason that the medical definition of remission could not be applied to mental illness, then perhaps we can simply utilise the British definition, that is, “the reduction of a prison sentence.”

Equally as applicable.

But whilst I may be, and feel, on the road to recovery once more… I am acutely aware that the battle is far from won. I don’t want to take medication forever. I want to upskill my mind to be able to better cope with my illness. I want to regain control over my body. I want to develop my own brand of military operation, to fight this war within me.

My world has not changed. Not really.

What has changed, is that those spikes around me that penetrated so deep before, have been numbed. They are still there. I just don’t feel them so much, thanks to a colourful cocktail of drugs.

But what happens the day I stop taking the medication? What happens the day the anaesthetic wears off and I am to face the pain in full force once more?
I am terrified of that day.

And I am not only terrified for myself. I am terrified for my little family, for my husband, for my sister… I am terrified that I will once again become a burden, a lead weight, in their world. I am terrified that I will once again, be flooded with guilt, because this illness bears a burden of responsibility… a burden of healthy, until proven ill. And even then… it seems that the words ‘medical condition’ become synonymous with ‘measured choice’.

I saw a new doctor the other day. I have been referred from the intake team at the outpatient clinic, to a longer care team, and have subsequently changed case manager and psychiatrist. The appointment, I assumed, would be between this new psych and myself, however, I walked in to a room with four spectators. Two students, the new case manager, the new psych, and me.

The word ‘ashamed’ would be an incredible understatement when considering how I view my own mental health and current situation. In the space of two years, I have lost a decade long career. One of which I was proud of, and that made up such a huge portion of my sense of identity. I have been hospitalised for my illness. Whilst I am glad to have shared my story, and firmly believe that mental illness is in desperate need of awareness, I am not immune to the stigma associated with depression and suicide. I am not unaffected by the hushed comments, sideways glances, and subsequent shame. I have pushed away the people closest to me, to protect them from the toxic state of this ailment.

I am sure you can appreciate my reluctance to disclose intimate details regarding my condition to this audience of four. I found myself stifled by stigma.

Stigma that I wasn’t even sure existed.

Stigma that had been so prevalent, for so long, in the arena of mental health, that it had almost now become a symptom in itself. A perception of how I was viewed in the world. How I was defined.

My ‘remission’, the remission of other patients who are recovering and winning their fight, would always be at risk of being out shadowed by the lingering aroma of shame.

This battle is not an easy one. Not for anyone involved in the fight. It is long, and drawn out. It is isolating, and cold. It is frightening, and there is a very real risk of this illness killing it’s victim.

We have to start celebrating the survivors. We have to start celebrating those in remission. We have to make sure that every person donning the armour and marching into battle knows that they have the full support of the medical community, and we need to remove the self-administered symptom of stigma, and subsequent guilt, shame, and handicap.

Because the third, and final definition of ‘remission’?

“The cancellation of a debt, penalty, or disadvantage.”

I am declaring my debt cleared. I am declaring my sentence over. I am declaring my pain diminished.

I am, as of right now, in remission.

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