No…I mean stigma.  Stigmata is that other thing, what with the hands and the feet and the blood and the froinlavin.  Good morning dear reader(s), or morning in the PST, but good whatever time of day it might be where you currently are viewing this amazing blog-type-thing from.  Is it good?  Is that any of my business?  Does the fact that, so far, my morning is good (thanks to finally getting some good sleep last night) matter in any way?  If I was having a bad morning, and it was in a string of bad mornings, would that make me any worse of a person?  Would you feel compelled to flood me with a bunch of memes about how a positive attitude can determine my life and all I have to do is ask the universe for happiness and I will receive it?

Regular reader(s) of this here blog-type-thing will know that I am a cancer survivor who is currently very damaged from the cancer, the stem-cell transplant I underwent to get rid of it, and the complications from it and the chemo.  Let’s say I was feeling fatigued from it (I am), would you tell me that all I have to do is ask for the energy from the universe and be a bit more positive and I will have the energy I need to function like a normal human being?  Or let’s say I still had my cancer, and was still getting daily blood transfusions, and my white cell count was at 0.  Now, let’s say that I had sepsis as I did four times.  Now, pretending that I was lying in the hospital bed with very low blood pressure and requiring a ventilator (as happened), would you come into my room and tell me that I can change the course of my illness with positive thinking or “The Law of Attraction”?

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Mental illness is a physical illness where something happens in the brain that causes real, not imaginary, not made up, not controllable with happy thoughts symptoms.  There are actual changes that take place in the brain.  There is nothing that the depressed, schizophrenic, bi-polar, PTSD afflicted, etc, etc… can do to prevent it.  Sometimes, they can keep it at bay with treatment, but it is an illness they suffer from, all the same.  Some depression heals completely, and no longer needs treatment, some doesn’t.

But do you know what isn’t treatment?  Telling people with mental illness to “snap out of it” or “cheer up” of “ask the universe for what you want”.  That works about the same as walking into a cancer patient’s room and telling them the same things.

My positive attitude may have kept me going, the support from my friends and family may have helped, the positive energy could have possibly affected something (though that is just seriously unknown at this point), but make no mistake…it was the doctors, the nurses, the medicine, and the procedures that saved my life.  The way to cure an illness, or to treat the ones that are incurable, is with treatment.  If you can’t understand that perhaps you are mentally ill.  (Oh, do you see what I did just there?  That is how prevalent it is to ostracize those suffering from mental illness in our society.)

“That person is crazy.”  “Those homeless people are just a bunch of whack-jobs.”  “All those people with PTSD are just weak-minded and need to be slapped across the face with Patton’s glove.”  It is a common refrain.  As you push your government for spending cuts because you think your taxes are too high, then complain about all the homeless people you have to step over and your way to work, you ignore that the vast, vast majority of the people you ostracize are sick.  And when you get to the office, you log into your Facecrap account and share the picture of the bald child in his hospital bed asking for “likes” and “shares” before his illness takes his life so he can feel like people care.  Then you go to the water-cooler and joke with a co-worker about the crazy guy on the bus who was screaming at nobody, oblivious to the pain that person must be feeling.  Would you joke about that little kid’s pain too?  I bet you might even donate to St. Jude’s or something.

But hey, those kids with cancer just need to cheer up.  Why can’t they just be happy?  Why do they have to be down all the time?  That person with AIDS over there, I’m sure she must be weak or sleazy to have allowed herself to be raped and have the disease transmitted to her.  That kid with Autism is such a spaz.  You wouldn’t do that.  Would you?

And yet, the crazy jokes fly out of your mouth like your saliva after a sneeze.  You post those memes and tell your friends who are suffering that they are just being too dramatic.  It isn’t right, and you know it.

I suffer from PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I used to have Social Anxiety Disorder but whatever happened during my cancer fight destroyed that obsessive worry about what others think of me, as you can probably tell by my eagerness to challenge perceptions.  I’m not ashamed of my mental illnesses.  They are illnesses, just as my cancer was an illness, just as the pneumonia, the infections, etc…

You try going through what I went through and come away from it without damage.  Then, if you do, feel free to tell me to cheer up, or stop obsessing over things, or not to worry.  Tell me just to get out there and live.  Tell me how easy it is once I ask the universe for what I need.  I dare you.  Or better yet, go up to a combat vet (you know, the people trained to kill) who saw something so terrible they are suffering from their own form of PTSD.  Tell him to get over it.  See what happens.

So, I hope everyone is having a good morning, or day, or evening.  But if you aren’t, that’s okay.  I hope it gets better and you heal.


Author: Josh Wrenn

Cancer survivor, wanna-be artist, musician, author, and all around good guy.

39 thoughts on “Stigmata”

  1. Thank you so much for this! I can say in high school my best Frenemy loved to tell me depression wasn’t really, that it was all in my mind. When I sought treatment in college my college roommate wanted nothing to do with me since I was “fake” happy?! It was a difficult through adolescence, but I can say that in adulthood (in retail) and in motherhood I have met so many that understand finally. Is it a change in the times? Or a change in maturity? Or maybe I have drifted to those who are depressed? But thank you for this, so aptly put.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad it resonated with you. I just wish people would realize that there is a difference between just being sad, and being ill, and it isn’t their place to try to determine the difference for people.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully not too similar, though the idea of trying to get rid of the stigma associated with mental illness isn’t exactly an original one, is it? I hope people read your paper, because it is likely much better written and sourced so maybe it will get through to people.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My grandson had brain cancer at the age of two. He survived but I empathize with you. It is a hardship that is unbearable. Good luck and if you wish to read about Michael, my grandson, let me know.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a poignant piece. I am writing a blog about this very thing for children with chronic illnesses who often suffer from mental issues and Invisible diseases that cause the same harassment. I would like to reblog this post on my site, if you don’t mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agree with you whole-heartedly. I have written, on and off, about what I call the Tyranny of the Positive, which is what you are describing (in part). The Internet is rife with all these treacle-sweet, so-called “wise” sayings that serve only to make the idiots uttering them feel better about themselves. Thanks to Robert Goldstein for reblogging your post. (And here’s something I rarely do, but if you are interested in my little rant on the topic: and one by another blogger: ) It is nice, or reassuring, or something, to read posts like yours that stand up against these things.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. *applause* Thank you for speaking up. I have PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder. If people aren’t telling me to get over it, they’re avoiding or ignoring me for “over reacting” to an emotional trigger. I appreciate this post so much. Wishing you a peaceful and swift recovery!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Too many suffering from mental illness are silent, either by choice or because they can not find their voice. I have struggled more than half my life with my mental illnesses. Struggle to understand, struggle to accept, struggle to build a wall that protects me from people who tell me to get over it, or I am a broken record and words that have gutted me time and time again.
    So with deepest sincerity, Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Brilliant post I cannot add to it. I have some experience being married to someone who has had clinical depression … I fear it raising it head as it does occasionally, and I feel very low at times too but then I should just snap out of it…. Yes? Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent! You voice what many feel. I have chronic depression, GAD, PTSD, arthritis, degenerative discs, spinal stenosis, and fibromyalgia with the sleep disorder that accompanies it, and if one more person tells me to cheer up or think happy thoughts, etc. I will slap him/her upside the head. I tell my doctors it’s like telling an amputee to walk it off, etc. Don’t they realize we’ve tried all that nonsense? Hope you’re doing better, but I understand the merry-go-round is still twirling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m very glad you enjoyed the post and that it resonated. It does get awfully annoying. And thank you, I am doing a little better, you know, good days and bad, trying to savor the good more.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I find that the people who tell you to “get over it” are the ones with their own problems they have to deal with. It doesn’t take long until you hear about things that are just as upsetting or annoying to you. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean their problems aren’t, well, really problems.

    My issues are largely mental, although there’s a physical component that has prompted a referral to a neurologist. I try to do what the organics treatment-kind-of-folk encourage. Cut out caffeine, don’t eat chocolate, stay away from processed sugar, cut down on carbs and eat more veggies… but I continue to have the issues I have. It kinda sucks, because it took a while for specialists to understand the gravity of the situation. I’ve never been fired from a job, and when I make a transition, I was at the previous place for at least a year and a half, so references wouldn’t say my problems interfered. But they actually really do. I can’t have proper relationships with people, I’m highly distrusting, and I’m always very angry. But apparently I have to be on the street with multiple criminal charges to be taken seriously, I feel. Frankly, if my work wasn’t based on numbers and meeting quotas, I’d have a hard time gaining supervisors’ support.

    I think what you do, in the face of your challenges, is very brave, and I’m glad that you opened up this dialogue. I was one of those people who thought you had to fight a war to get diagnosed and treated with PTSD. But there are many types of trauma that debilitate.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I would never simply tell someone to “get over it.” That’s for when you complain about the restaurant service for the third time. I would never tell someone to simply “Think happy thoughts” or “ask the universe for joy.” I do believe that we all have great power in our minds instilled by God and that tapping into that energy and that power can go a long way to helping us restore our lives. Reading books such as “Conversations With God – Book 1” by Neale Donald Walsh and many others has helped me overcome many, many problems I had had my entire life. There is a difference and you should get angry at someone who simply pushes you off with “get over it.”
    I hope you can see the difference, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I respect your beliefs, it isn’t for me. And yes, I am glad you see the difference. Those things make sense for someone sad, but not with an actual illness. Sadness is different from ill.

      Liked by 1 person

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