I have experienced a great deal of self-stigma resulting from having bipolar disorder, and I still do from time to time. For those who might be unclear as to what self-stigma is, here’s one way of thinking about it (from our webinar Stigma123):
Self-stigma happens when a person with lived experience internalizes negative stereotypes about mental illness. This can cause behavioural, cognitive, and emotional changes in that person.
I’ve recently felt disabled because of my bipolar. Technically, it is considered a disability, but that’s not really what I’m referring to. I’m talking about feeling incapable, incompetent, and weak. Logically, I know that’s not true — but it’s still how I feel sometimes. The trick, I believe, is turning that self-stigma into self-love. So here is a three-step process I’ve used that I hope may be helpful for some:
Keep a mood diary
Everyone who has bipolar is told to keep track of mood in some capacity. From my mood tracking, I’ve often found that my self-stigma correlates very well with dips in my mood. This might seem obvious, but self-stigma isn’t equated to depression from a research perspective (more of which can be found in that webinar at the top). From there, that has allowed me to “connect the dots” in terms of finding patterns of thoughts that lead to self-stigmatizing. Thinking “I’m incompetent” starts with not being able to complete a task on time, for example (thank you perfectionist tendencies). When I see those patterns, I can find the right self-care routine that works for me.
“Fake it until you become it”
I watched this TED talk based on the idea that we often say “fake it until you make it” in our careers. The idea that I abstracted out of that TED talk is faking self-love until I have self-love. So, for me, that means engaging in self-care until it becomes a routine I don’t even have to think twice about. For example, those feelings of incompetence often arise out of needing to take a reduced course load in school or take on less work than I want to. When that happens, I know my baseline is off and I need to “reset,” so to speak. But that doesn’t mean I stop being capable of doing life. I might not be doing work, but exercising is work and so is cooking healthy meals for myself.
Self-stigma to self-care to self-love
Self-care has often been a chore for me. It can be difficult, it’s not always fun, and it challenges me to love myself. So I think about it as a transition from self-stigma to self-care to self-love. I might start out thinking about how incapable I am, but I know that’s an irrational thought courtesy of self-stigma. So I ask myself, how can I take care of that thought? I’ll exercise more frequently and try to take a detour from body image issues. Ignoring those thoughts is challenging, but I have a mantra that goes something like this:
I have no excuse not to love myself. Not loving myself is stressful and that’s not good for my health.
Do I believe it all the time? No, but I fake it. I’m burning it into my mind so that one day it will be a passive thought that no part of me questions. So let’s end this on a happy note: