At least once a week, I stand up in front of a group of people, most often strangers, and say, “My name is Gabe Howard and I have a mental illness.” Sometimes I mix it up, to prevent my own boredom, and say I have bipolar and anxiety disorders, but the single message is always the same: I publicly confess to having mental illness, which is a disorder most people not only don’t understand, but actively fear.
I have been called brave and people shake my hand, give me hugs, pats on the back, and tell me that I have given them valuable insight, hope, and understanding. It is a wonderful feeling, and one of my primary motivators, but even with all of that, it doesn’t come close to erasing my fear about living with mental illness.
Perhaps the single most ironic part of my life is that in order to fight my fear of being mentally ill, I have to be brave. As a person living with mental illness, I am afraid. I fear for myself because the reality of relapse, pain, suffering, and even death is very real. (I have made the comparison that Mental Illness is an Asshole)
Fear of how Society Reacts to Mental Illness
When you consider the very public debate of involuntary treatment, the undermining of privacy rights, and the elimination of due process, it is easy to see why I am afraid. The outcomes of these debates have very real, and potentially negative, consequences on my life.
Society openly talking about what is best for me, as if I have nothing to offer the conversation, is frightening. There are countless stories of people just like me being denied jobs, services, freedoms, and opportunities because of an illness we didn’t ask for and absolutely don’t want.