Society is comparable to the mythological hydra, with heads that revile, ridicule, scorn, belittle, mock, ignore, and all too often abuse anything and anyone that does not fit into their preconceived ideas of what is normal, beautiful, worthy, useful, or deserving of common decency and respect.
Those unfortunates who suffer physical abnormalities…who do not fit into society’s categorization and concept of physical acceptability…who do not speak as society deems proper and acceptable…whose words convey thoughts and ideas that society deems abnormal…or those who suffer mental or emotional disabilities…quickly become targets of that hydra’s venom and attack.
I can speak these facts with both knowledge and conviction, for I myself have always been one of that hydra’s victims.
From as far back as I can remember, I have been more or less shunted aside, ignored, and often mistreated.
My own mother began the cycle when she chose to push me aside in favor or my sister.
My earliest memory was of pinching my sister to make her cry because my mother spent all of her time interacting with her and ignoring me, often speaking sharply to me or swatting me when I attempted to garner her attention…I wanted revenge, for I felt my sister was to blame.
When my other siblings arrived, it simply gave my mother more cause to ignore me. Her attitude did not change even right up until the day she died.
Because I had trouble learning and absorbing some things and staying still for any length of time unless whatever I was studying totally and completely held my interest and attention (it was discovered later that I suffered from “ADHD” or “Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder”), I did not do well in school.
My sister, though, seemed to excel at everything. In my mother’s eyes, she could do no wrong. There were many times that I myself was punished for something that she was guilty of. And the rage slowly built, as well as the feeling of having no worth.
School life was no better. The other children delighted in teasing me, not only because it did not take them long to learn that I was different. No matter how many schools I attended due to my mother up and moving every two or three years…I did not seem to be able to get much more than barely passing grades, I did not seem to fit. In their eyes, I talked crazy due to the way I perceived things and expressed them.
The fact that I was very plain, chubby, was forced by poor eyesight to wear ugly, often too large glasses and never seemed to be good at interacting with my peers, as well as stuttering when I was tense or upset did not make things any easier in being accepted and all too often made me the butt of teasing, mistreatment and, in some cases, actual physical attack and abuse.
I became so accustomed to being told I was stupid, ignorant, unworthy, and unfit for decent company that I actually came to believe it and began to start telling myself that these things were true, that I deserved no better than I got from my mother, my peers and the world.
But the mistreatment did not stop with my peers-oh no-it extended to include the teachers themselves.
My most humiliating school memory is of the Christmas that one of my teachers gave me a gift containing a D cup bra, a package of feminine napkins, a box of condoms and a package of birth control pills to open in front of the entire classroom.
What made it even more humiliating-and cut far deeper than the laughter and crude comments of my classmates-was that there was a note on top of the contents of that package…a note the teacher forced me-on pain of punishment-to read out loud, and the words of which I still remember to this day…”Here’s a little something for your hope chest so you can follow in your mother’s footsteps.”
My mother, as I grew to learn as the years passed, had a “problem” when it came to men…and the result was that not only were none of my siblings full ones, but that none of them had the same father. In looking back, I have come to think that that was why she moved us so often, her reputation caught up with her.
I think it is also why, as I grew older, the boys began to try to touch on me and to make crude and hateful remarks, but they were not nearly as cruel as the girls, they made my life miserable with their catty little remarks and innuendos.
I learned several lessons early…I learned jealousy through my mother’s treatment of my sister…I learned the pain of rejection not only at her hands but also at the hands of the world itself…and I learned that if I was too survive I would have to cut myself off from the sources of that pain as much as possible.
And I learned to believe that I had no worth, no right, really, to even exist.
I withdrew into the worlds within my mind, drawing comfort from the worlds I created in which I was accepted, wanted, and most importantly, loved.
As the years passed, the more I learned that I simply did not fit, no matter how hard I tried. I always seemed to be different somehow and that difference always seemed to set me outside of acceptability.
I have always been highly emotional and extremely sensitive to the opinions of those around me, often to the point that simply their words could upset me to the point I would get physically nauseated and ill, but it was not till 1995 that I was to learn that there were deeper reasons for those differences and that extreme reaction to any form of high emotional stress.
For it was at that time that I learned to my horror that life had dealt me a final losing card…I was diagnosed with bi-polar/schizo-effective disorder, adhd and severe agoraphobia.
That was the last year I worked a regular job, the same job that fired me due to the fact that I had begun to not only lose focus more and more often but that I had begun to react aggressively to any form of criticism or even mildly derogatory or ridiculing statement made by my co-workers and the staff.
The day I almost hit the boss when he came up behind me and touched me on the shoulder was the death knell for my job with them. He immediately told me to follow him to his office.
I spent over an hour while he talked to me, telling me that he had been following the gradual deterioration of both my job performance and my ability to interact with my fellow workers, and that even though I had always been a relatively good employee, very conscientious about the quality of my work, seldom if ever late, and always one of the first to offer to work overtime if needed, he had to let me go.
He told me that based on what he had observed of my behavior, he recommended that I might need to seek counseling. I guess, in a rather odd touch of irony, he just happened to have a friend who was a councilor.
He called his friend even as I sat there in his office. He explained the situation to the guy and made arrangements for me to go see him. He even talked the guy into doing it as a favor to him so that it cost me noting.
Long story short, I saw the councilor, he ran scads of tests and diagnosed me as being, at that time, bi-polar 1, suffering severe clinical depression.
Two years later, after getting on medicaid and medicare, when the symptoms began to change and I began to have problems with outbursts when I was highly emotional, I was diagnosed with bi-polar 2, hyper mania and severe depression.
It was then that I began what was to become a five year journey of adjusting to various medication regimes in an attempt to control the symptoms, which, over those five years, became so bad at times that I was hospitalized six times during that time, four times of my own free will and two of which I was not even aware for several days after the hospitalization even where I was.
At first I was not faithful about taking my medications, for I resented the fact that the rest of my life, if I wanted to function in a way that would allow me even a modicum of independence, I would be forced to take them.
But it did not take me long to discover that the alternative was not one I wanted either. So I learned to accept both the taking of the medication and the reason for which I was forced to take it.
The day I accepted the reality of both my illnesses and the fact that I needed the medication, no matter how much I might resent being dependent on it, I believe was the day that I realized also that I had it within my power to fight some of the symptoms through not only faithful adherence to taking the medications, but also through learning as much as I could about the illness, about my medications, and how to form and utilize coping skills to help to deal with the symptoms.
There is an old adage that states that “knowledge is power”, and in this instance that statement is all too true, the more one known about ones illness, no matter what it is, the more one gains the power to cope and live with it.
The reason that I am sharing these memories, some of which are still very painful despite the passage of time, are two-fold:
One is to let those who may read this message and who also may suffer from an emotional, mental, or physical difference that sets them apart from the rest of society know that they do have worth, that it is not their fault, but most of all, that there is hope,
The second is to let the world at large know that those of us who do suffer these things are also human, that we, just as they, also have hopes, dreams, disappointments, fears, and very definitely emotions, despite the fact that some of us cannot think beyond the worlds within our minds in which we are entrapped, and others who think too much, but of things that, when we try to convey those thoughts and feelings to others, are not accepted.
And this goes for those with physical abnormalities as well, for the body is but a shell that houses the mind and soul. Just think on this when meeting or staring at someone with a physical disability or abnormality…the mind within that body might very well hold a celestial masterpiece within it.
The plain and simple fact remains, no matter what our disability, we are, first and foremost, human, and therefore deserving of just as much respect as those who do not suffer the things we do.
And this I offer to those who do suffer a mental, emotional of physical disability…despite what society tries so hard to make us believe, our conditions are not something to be ashamed of nor to feel guilty for, and we have just as much worth and are just as deserving of kindness, respect, and yes, love, as those who are not afflicted.
Just as a person suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, hereditary obesity, tremors, epilepsy, or any other illness of the body, mental and emotional illnesses originate in the body, just as do physical abnormalities.
In the case of bi-polar disorder, for instance, the illness stems from a shortage of certain chemicals in the brain that control the way that the brain handles input and output from the brain receptors that control a person’s emotional responses. It is somewhat comparable to a car engine…when the spark plug misfires, the engine does not work properly.
Many people who suffer emotional or mental disorders can lead functional lives, as long as they take their medication faithfully, see their mental and emotional health doctors, councilors and help personal, and learn to recognize not only the symptoms of the illness but also any symptoms that their medications may not be working properly.
Some of the key things to living with and managing a mental or emotional illness for a sufferer who is mentally and emotionally capable of utilizing them are as follows:
One of the most important steps is to accept the illnesses reality…until the sufferer does that, they cannot begin to accept that they need help in the first place…and therefor continue to get progressively worse;
Seek professional help…just as a person suffering heart trouble-diabetes-high blood pressure-or other life threatening or life affecting illnesses needs to seek professional help, so do those suffering from a mental or emotional illness, once they face the fact that something is wrong;
Adhere faithfully to any and all medication regimes…this means not only taking the medications but also learning what they are, what they are for and what their side effects are in the event that those side effects should occur, and also knowing what other medications-or even foods-might cause a bad reaction if taken in conjunction with certain medications;
Work closely with councilors and medical personal…the sufferer should always be honest with any doctors-both psych and medical-about any unusual or out of normal character behavior or feelings or responses they may experience as a result of the illness they suffer or the medication regime that they may be on;
The sufferer needs to learn to recognize what the symptoms are so that should they occur again, the can either get help or begin utilizing coping skill;
The sufferer needs to learn to develop various coping skills to help them get through an episode and remain in control;
All of these things are necessary for a person suffering an emotional or mental illness to learn to do and to follow, as long as they have the mental and emotional capability to recognize the symptoms and to know when something is wrong.
We can lead a somewhat normal life, but we need to accept the reality of our illnesses and believe in ourselves enough to want to take the necessary steps to stay well.
The only way that we can “confront the hydra” that is society’s view of us is to try to function and fit in as best we can, and the biggest way that we can do that is to use the following weapons:
THE SWORD OF TRUTH: When you become aware that something is going wrong, do not deny it, rather turn and face that fact boldly and bravely, for only in doing so will you have the strength to seek help;
THE ARMOR OF KNOWLEDGE: The more that you learn about your illness and your medications, the more you will not only learn your enemy’s weaknesses, but also the weapons that you can use against it…just remember, knowledge is power;
THE SHIELD OF AWARENESS: Learn to recognize the onset of the symptoms so that you will know when to use your coping skills or strategies;
THE ARROWS OF COPING STRATEGIES: Use these faithfully, stay aware of which ones work, which ones that might need “their points sharpened”, or even which ones might need discarded and new ones created;
THE BOW OF BELIEF: Believe in the fact that you have worth…that you are worth fighting for…for often this will prove to be both your greatest strength and your greatest weapon.
In closing I will state this, I do not post this information, nor share these tiny pieces of my life with the world in the search for sympathy…only for understanding and acceptance…
Not only for myself, but for all who are different for whatever reason.
Blessings to all who have taken the time to read this,
MARANTHA D. JENELLE