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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Discomfort by a disabled person from the silent stares received in public

Solid Stigma

We have shared thoughts and compared experiences about how the chronically healthy view those of us with obvious disability. This is about discomfort, the silent stares or averted eyes as a wheelchair or even a walker come around the corner and into view. But then there are our brothers and sisters, friends with a different disease, those who face pure discrimination each day.

Mental illness is just another chronic condition, plain and simple. It is no different from MS, lupus or Crohn’s Disease. Except diseases of the mind are dramatically different and have been demonized in books and films, even from the pulpit throughout our history. How the mentally ill are treated provides a useful frame of reference for dealing with the world around us and coping with our own conditions.
I wrote about Larry Fricks in Strong at the Broken Places. His adult life could have become a movie. Larry traveled in and out of psychiatric lockups and jails. He communicated directly with God, driving his car into his house to kill Satan. He swam across a lake to rescue children he believed were buried in a landfill and attempted to fly to South America to confront the major drug cartels.

And on and on. Larry lost a marriage and all his financial resources and descended to the depths of depression. He not only survived but found help and with extraordinary strength of will, pulled himself up and out of a deeper hole than I, for one, expect to ever know. Today, Larry is a rock of stability and leader in the mental health movement. But along the way, he has paid a price, both before and after recovery.

As with all of us, Larry has had to deal with the world around him. “How people view those of us with a mental illness may be worse than than the disease itself,” he told Today a few years ago. He called the common attitude, “the soft discrimination of low expectations.” Larry went on to say that people have assumed his brain is broken and he cannot be trusted again. “Look,” he told me, “the stigma is unbelievable,” adding, “people fight a psychiatric diagnosis because of what comes with it.”

So, I say to say to fellow soldiers fighting any neurodegenerative disease, think twice before feeling put upon or judged harshly by the world. I have to frequently say that to the guy in the mirror. We are but a piece of an extraordinary tapestry, not the center of the universe. We should look up and see all the stars in the sky.

the story written above is by Richard Cohen.


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