A few days ago, the website xoJane posted a piece titled, “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing.” The words that came to my mind as I read it would be completely inappropriate to share here, but in a G-rated way, I was disgusted, angry, upset, sad, defensive, etc. You get the picture. Basically what this woman said in her piece was that a former friend, who had developed schizoaffective disorder, was better off dead.
First she noted how “a mental illness took demonic possession over her” friend. She also says that who her friend became over time wasn’t the “real” her. She describes how her friend’s apartment was “filthy and her bedroom had clothing strewn about everywhere.” I could name countless people who do not have a mental illness whose homes need a good cleaning. Big judgment there.
The judgments continued in the piece—she judged her friend’s parents as she couldn’t “understand how a parent would let their child go on like this.” She goes on to openly state that her friend’s death was “inevitable,” that “her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.” She added that “this girl had nothing to live for.” In just four pages, stigma, misinformation, judgments, and miseducation abounded.
As we draw an end to Mental Health Awareness Month, I am deeply upset about what was written. As someone who battles depression, I cannot fathom someone placing a value—or lack of value—on my life because I have a mental illness. After reading it the second time, I actually triggered myself to the point of feeling so anxious I needed to take one of my “as needed” medications to calm down.
And now, just a few days after reading the article, which has since been taken down and replaced with an apology, I still feel very angry and misunderstood. I know that piece has nothing to do with me, but at the same time, it has everything to do with me. The writer states that her friend’s life was worthless as a result of her schizoaffective disorder. That’s taking a huge step backward in terms of fighting the stigma of mental illness.
This past weekend when my family and I walked in our local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) annual walk, my steps felt heavier due to my anger and anxiety related to this article. I thought I would be walking with purpose and hope, but that took a backseat to my negative feelings. I put a lot of energy into using my coping skills to manage my anxiety and negative feelings due to something that was written by someone I do not know, describing someone I never knew.
I endured a lot in the past two and a half years as I struggled with two back-to-back severe depressive episodes. At my lowest points I contemplated my own life’s worth and the ugly thoughts that ran through my head terrified me—I cannot imagine someone else thinking such thoughts about my life. No one has the right to measure my life’s worth, as no one else is living it. Even stating to someone else who suffers from depression that “I’ve walked in your shoes” cannot be the truth. We are all individuals.
While I am upset about what was written, I am focusing more on ending this month of awareness with positivity and hope, not only for myself but for everyone living with mental illness. No judgments or assumptions will be part of this process for me, and I hope and pray that more people will educate themselves about mental illness and help to end the promotion of stereotypes and stigma that continues in our society.