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Jun2
2016

No One Brings Flowers When Your Brain Gets Sick

By Alyse Ruriani

I grew up in a small, tight-knit community. If a crisis happened, the phone would ring off the hook. If someone in your family was sick or died, an endless supply of food would arrive at your house. Whether it was flowers or cards or casseroles, there would always be a visual sign of support when it was needed – except when it came to someone struggling with mental illness.

This is not uncommon. Society often pretends that the brain cannot get sick. And if it does, society tells us it’s a secret that must be kept. That is stigma.

During my several stays in inpatient hospitals or at treatment centers, I saw this play out firsthand. No one called my mother to make sure she was OK, if she needed any dinners prepared, or if she needed a ride to come visit me. No one asked what they could do to help. Some family members and close friends didn’t even know what was happening because my parents didn’t want people to find out I was struggling with mental illness.

To be clear, I’m not blaming people or calling them out for failing to support my family. I’m calling out stigma. Because stigma is to blame.

It was stigma that made my mother feel uncomfortable telling her family that I was having a mental health crisis. It was stigma that made my father tell me that I shouldn’t be telling people about my hospitalizations. It was stigma that made people avoid the whole thing rather than talk about something uncomfortable. It was stigma that did those things.

Thankfully, there were people who fought against that stigma.

There was the friend I met on Tumblr – someone I had never met in person – who sent me flowers to make sure I knew I was loved.

There was the family of a high school friend who sent a card to tell me how much my life mattered.

There was the girl from my parish who sent a typed, 12-page letter detailing a weekend retreat I loved but had had to miss because I was in treatment.

The weight of stigma can crush someone’s hope. It can make them feel as though their story doesn’t matter enough to be told or heard, that there are chapters “too personal” to be shared or that there is darkness the light cannot touch.

But that is a lie.

This is the truth: The entirety of your being matters. Your experience is important. All things heavy and light in our lives deserve to be listened to, deserve to be seen, and deserve to be understood. When life gets tough, we should be there offering support, not avoiding the reality because stigma tells us we should.

So I’m asking you to challenge stigma. I’m asking you to challenge yourself: show up, make a card, or ask about visitation.

There are a million ways to support someone. You just have to choose to do it.

Those times when people broke through that wall and showed their support stayed with me even years later. Those times showed me that hope shines brighter than fear. Those times convinced me that we can defeat the stigma that says we can’t talk about mental illness.

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Comments (20)

  1. Bellla

    Bravo. Couldn’t agree more. Every type of suffering deserves support and compassion. Love is an action!
    God bless

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  2. Stacey

    Wow. This is so relevant to what I have gone through. Thank you for putting it into words.

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  3. Anne Jackson

    So well written and true! Mental illness needs to be treated like any other illness. We are not untouchables just because our brains are sick. We and our families need care just like anyone else who is ill. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

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  4. Gayle

    When I came out of the hospital I received flowers three times with a card saying “you are loved”. To this day I do not know who it was but it meant the world to me.

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    1. Leonie

      Once a month, I sent a postcard to an unknown person who’s in the hospital. I don’t know if it arrives and what their reaction will be. However, I think that I can give people a smile this way! It makes me feel great :).
      Enjoy your day, cheeeers!

      – The Netherlands –

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  5. Roy Sim

    Coming from a traditional family, I went through the same thing when I was diagnosed with my mental illness. It’s been 4 years and things have only gotten worse, but now I’ve chosen to value myself for myself and not other people, and with that I release myself from the shackles of ‘their expectation’.

    I submitted to the fact that people, close or far, are always going to hurt you. And that they will always , at some point, do something to let me down or make me feel pain, but I can choose not to suffer from it.

    Stigma is truly the root of this societal facade tree, the need to always having your ‘shit’ together. I refuse it and I reject it. People don’t have to suffer in silence anymore and all of us, every single one of us, can save a life with a kind word or a compassionate act.

    Thank you so much for your insightful, personal and truthful sharing.

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    1. Shereeetta

      Thank you Roy 😀

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  6. Mark Ziolkowski

    Well done. I ‘came out’ 15 years ago about OCD and depression. I found many friends who understood….some who asked if my words in an open email about dark thoughts was ‘a joke’, and a few who simply cut me off. But I have a stronger and richer life than ever since going public.

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  7. Lorrie

    That was beautiful

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  8. Niki

    Thank you. I will certainly share. And I’m guilty of carrying the stigma too, afraid my estranged will use it against me somehow re custody. . Afraid the school will call CPS. There’s a term called the Udentified Patient. My ex has been diagnosed with narcisusyic personality disorder. And he is extreme. When he talks about me to my kids, he refers to my dramatics ( that means I caught my don drinking and gave him a consequence which he didn’t like. So rather than the problem begin with the problem, my sins substance abuse, that part of the story is edited out and it begins with my dramatics. Its also the language that fuels the stigma. When my ex says to my three teens that I’m obviously not taking my meds, that languages becomes part of their lexicon. When my son punched the 5th hole through my bedroom door and I locked myself in, and sent took us all to a family action group, rather than be supported by their father, he told him to just ignore it, be cool; you know how mom gets, just don’t tell her about “whatever” or you know she’ll overreact. I’ve become the Identified Patient. The scapegoat, the whipping boy. This is complex..

    I checked myself into a rehab in 2008. And I got sober. But that act of self help is used against me.
    I stand up for myself now. I’m well educated and spend much time researching. I can not control how my ex divides the family apart, I can only try to manage it, or let it go, to the best of my ability. And two people reached out to me in and post rehab. But the overs infancy if food I got when my twins were born 16 years ago was alarming. Flowers. At home pedicure, you name it. Addiction and mental illness are so demonized. I’ll read comments on an article about the heroine epidemic, for example. It is frightening to see the majority of comments suggest the work would be better off if they took an extra dose. Or regarding depression; you just have to think positively. Be grateful . Be grateful? There are no people more grateful for the submitted of life than recovering addicts or those who have spent a fair amount of time in the dark side. It’s ignorant insulting, but well intentioned. We just need to use our voices . I will share this piece. It’s important. Thank you.

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  9. Emily

    I am so glad you are opening up about this. My father lost his battle with depression and anxiety almost two years ago and while we were blessed to have nothing but love and support after the fact, not a lot of people knew he was in treatment 3 times before he died by suicide. And by that I mean he didn’t want us to tell people, especially people who normally we would seek or assistance in times of need, like our church community, our local family and even his friends. He was so ashamed that his brain was sick it kept him (and us) from getting additional support during those difficult hospitalizations. If he had been hospitalized 3 times for any other ailment, I could hazard a guess that by hospitalization #2, there would have been visitors, a meal team support for my Mom and a gofundme page. We have come far in the fight against stigma for mental illness, but clearly we still have far to go.

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  10. Becky resucan

    I’m feeling your pain because off myself mother.

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  11. Sharon

    Beautifully said💝 Thank You💝

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  12. Beth Clark

    I have a teen wuth autusm(asbergers), various people I know who suffer from bipolar and a son dealing with depression.you need to be understandibg those in our lives who are dealing with mental issues. Be a constant in their corner.

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  13. Hollie

    Beautiful-

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  14. Sand

    Help me

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    1. Claire Biggs

      Hi Sand,

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with us.

      TWLOHA is not a 24-hour helpline, nor are we trained mental health professionals. TWLOHA hopes to serve as a bridge to help.

      If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page. Please know that we also respond to every email we receive at info@twloha.com.

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  15. Rosi

    We can all help. Sometimes a hug, note or phone call or saying nothing-just being there. Listening to the others telling their stories and feelings or just knowing someone cares about you.
    Our stories are our lives-good and bad. Thanks to all the listeners who make the time to listen and to care, we are here to help.

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  16. Denise

    The stigma you explained is very evident in our society. Physical illnesses have long received public support and outreach. It is time society realizes that, when it comes to the total health of a person, physical and mental health are equal parts of the equation. A physical health hospital is very different than a mental health hospital. A physical health hospital is full of people offering hope and support. A mental health hospital is full of people offering judgment and rules. Thank you for your blog. Let’s stop the stigma.

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  17. B

    “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam reinforced the shame for the families of mentally ill children. “Daddy didn’t give attention, to the fact that Mommy didn’t care.” Admitting your child is sick means, for many people, admitting you’re a horrible parent and person, as if your actions or inactions caused the illness.

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