Me, Rob Ford and the stigma of mental illness

Rob Ford ReflectionWritten by: David Templin

I have to admit I have experienced some guilty pleasure following the escapades of Canada’s crack-smoking, not-so-wise-cracking Mayor, Rob Ford. It has been like watching a Jerry Lewis slapstick movie, you never know what mess the rascal will get into next!

So imagine my surprise the other day, when I was looking into in my metaphorical mirror of self reflection and I saw Rob Ford’s infamous rosy face staring right back at me!

I am not a mayor of a large metropolis, I do not make an ass of myself in public on a regular basis, and if I did, my picture wouldn’t get displayed in every newspaper and comedy show around the world. So where is the resemblance?

As I watched and read each new bit about Rob Ford, I could not help but wonder, “why can’t he see he needs help?”  It is a puzzling question, but I think I am starting to understand.

It is almost 4 years now since I took early retirement from my job as a project manager. I had been suffering from work related anxiety and I needed a break. I left my job and sure enough the anxiety lifted almost immediately. My plan was to take some time off to relax, reevaluate what I wanted to do, and then maybe at some point get a job somewhere where I could enjoy work again.

In the meantime, I have been surviving quite well on my savings and a small pension and keeping busy doing a number of little projects. One of them has been helping Trish with this blog.  I have really enjoyed it. It has been fun and it has made me see mental health issues in a new light.

Lately Trish and I have been corresponding about another project. Using cartoons and humour, we would like to shed some light on the stigma attached to mental health issues.  If we could attack the stigma, then perhaps we can do something to help reduce the pain and fear surrounding psychological ailments.

I know the stigma is everywhere, but where specifically will I find it? I could not help but think of Rob Ford. I believe the idea that he might have an addiction or any other psychological issue is an anathema to him, something he just cannot accept. Now I can’t read his mind, but his outward actions seem to suggest it fairly strongly. Isn’t he in a constant state of denial? He makes mistakes, very publicly, but he says he has it under control.  He can’t seem to face the fact that he has a problem that he cannot solve on his own.  I think the stigma lives very strong in this one! There must be a cartoon or two in that!

And that is when something unexpected hit me. I started thinking of my own situation. Four years out of work, was not my original plan.  I looked myself in the mirror and I saw Rob Ford! Maybe I have some unresolved psychological problems! And, I thought I had everything under control. The notion that after 4 years I still had an unhealed wound from my days at work didn’t fit with my self-image.  How could I be so weak? Indeed the stigma lives very strong in me!  Clearly, left to my own devices, I had not properly addressed the effects of my anxiety. It was easier to ignore it and pretend it had no lasting effect.  It was as if I was taking a selfie, purposely choosing a profile that hides what I consider an ugly scar, from myself.

I needed to ask for help, but I was afraid. It was not so much what others would think of me.  It is my own perception that was the problem. This was something new to me.

It occurs to me that my mental illness stigma is not simply a social thing. It runs deeper than that. I might not be alone with this problem. Is it possible that as soon as humanity was capable of self-awareness, it also was endowed with the exquisite ability of self-delusion?  We seem to have the ability to form a self-image and stick with it despite all the evidence that it may just need a make-over. I think, sometimes we need help from outside to help us see ourselves more objectively.

I have a number of advantages over Mr. Rob Ford.  When I enter a public place, I don’t see a hundred cell phones come out in anticipation of some misbehavior. My self image, carefully crafted over my entire life hasn’t been molded and simplified by handlers helping me get elected. If that image receives any criticism, I don’t have followers and advisors telling me that it is politically motivated.

Indeed, I have been blessed with family and friends who are helpful and supportive, who are not looking for any political payback. I have had the great privilege to be involved with this blog.  The contributors to this blog, all have very different stories, but they have all had to face stigmas, created both internally and externally and for the most part have come out ahead.

So, if the stigma is strong in me, I also am in a better position than Rob Ford to see it.

So, I have decided to seek professional help.  I haven’t yet started the sessions, but I feel lighter already! Thank-you Rob Ford for helping me see myself more clearly, scars and all, and prompting me to ask for help!

I am interested in what you the readers think. Do you think the stigmas associated with mental illness are primarily social or come from deep within ourselves?  Who knows, it may inspire a cartoon!

 

Cartoon by: David Templin

 


David Templin Bio PicDavid Templin is a retired systems analyst from Ottawa Canada who enjoys eating, sleeping and other even less demanding activities.

He keeps busy by volunteering to help seniors and helps organize an annual dinner to feed well over a thousand less fortunate people on Christmas Eve.

His greatest joy in life is when he successfully makes people smile and laugh.

He is a regular contributor and editor at MHT.

View all posts by David.


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Comments

  • Rachel

    Both! I think that we internalize perceived social stigma (whether it’s really there or not). Just like you said, that makes it really hard to even consider the possibility that seeing a professional might be useful. Thank you for this article!

    • David T

      Thanks Rachel. I really appreciate your comments.

  • Cindy

    Thanks David, I was feeling a bit guilty following the Rob Ford program especially the late night shows. I think maybe with Rob Ford he may feel if he admits he has a problem that people will look at him like a failure and his career will be over. For me I work for a big corporation and was told that they felt uncomfortable with mental health issues (shocking in this day and age) and if you show any signs of having any mental health issues they basically sabotage you and make your life miserable. So, to me it is taking a risk for Rob Ford, (you may be right though he doesn’t want to admit it to himself) but I do believe good people have an understanding about mental health and how it can hit anyone. Seems we still need to address it more as from my own experience when people treat you funny because you are having anxiety, panic attacks it makes you feel ashamed and afraid of being judged. I loved your article and cartoon:) Thank you.

    • David T

      Thanks Cindy,
      The stigma we see from other people is so difficult to deal with because we have so little control over what others choose to think. We may have more influence on how we ourselves feel. Being aware of our own prejudices and self judgement is a necessary first step.
      It does not amaze me that your corporation is uncomfortable with mental health issues, it amazes me more that they admit it! maybe there is some hope in that!
      Thanks again for your comments and encouragement!

  • Bob Brotchie

    Excellent piece David.
    I think I too can resonate with you!
    I ‘retired’ prematurely, due to orthopaedic issues, but also due to a very long period of suffering stress. I mention this because for the next two years I was on cloud 9! I felt very sure I was recovering from the decades of emotional, physical and mental ‘abuse’ I had indulged in to ‘earn a living’!

    It’s year 3 now, and although I am in recovery, helping others still – thankfully, I am wondering if I am being exactly who i want to be? I’m certainly returning to ‘doing’, rather than the healthy ‘being’ type life; though I try to maintain vigilance.

    Your question!

    “Do you think the stigmas associated with mental illness are primarily social or come from deep within ourselves?”

    I believe, as an advocate of mental health awareness and stigma reduction that it is social AND familial culture and conditioning that prevents us being seen as ‘needing compassion’, rather than something to be ashamed of – or as a failure.

    It is worth remembering, the few (less unwell) high profile people who are on this planet who surround themselves with guides of all descriptions to maintain equilibrium. Why would us mere mortals deny ourselves this self-same support from a guide of our choosing?

    After all, there is no-one more important than YOU!

    • David T

      Thanks Bob!
      What better thing to be than a ‘mere mortal’? To be and not just do. Now there is something to aspire to!
      Thanks for your encouraging words!

  • Karen

    Hi David,

    Excellent post, had me smiling, I believe the stigma is both. I also “retired early” due to my mental illness, I also did not expect it to last as long as it has (2007). I sadly say I feel useless, and unproductive. I worked my whole life. I also have feelings of shame, and embarrassment mostly when meeting someone for the first time, I have been asked “what do you do”? which is a normal, conversational question, I always hesitate, do I say “I am retired” (I technically am, and it’s the truth…but age wise people look at me puzzled) If I say ” I am on disability right now” people look at me because physically I look fine. ..so there is uncomfortable silence, and honestly I feel horrible. I also have written for Trish, and she is wonderful, I try to keep busy with blogging, etc. and working on getting myself healthy, knowing that I still have a life to live and contribute to others, I have 2 amazing adult children, who I love.
    I am glad mental health issues are being talked about, it’s not easy, it’s better, but the stigma is still out there.
    I wish you all the best, and glad you have a strong support system, that is so important.

    • David T

      Thanks Karen,
      I guess I was lucky that so many of the people I meet for the first time think that I somehow I made so much money that I can easily afford to retire early. For some reason I do not feel the need to correct that impression. There are a few things however I do miss about work, for instance, sharing a feeling of accomplishment with co-workers, but also the pay check that I felt was “earned”. I understand now that there are many ways to be productive and contribute to society that do not need to pay me back in cash. I hope you get that sense of contribution and satisfaction in all that you do.
      Thank you for your comments Karen.

  • Cindy

    Hi Karen,
    I am on Long term disability at work because they basically just put people on it since it is such a stressful environment. I normally only share my information with people who I feel comfortable sharing it with, if I don’t want people knowing, I just say I work from home. Yes, they say the stigma is worse than the illness, I myself have always worked but the stress from work has been unbearable. I know a social worker told me once you don’t have to tell anyone anything it is no one’s business. I don’t like lying to people but I don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Yes, it is great that there is so much talk about mental health I am sure there are many people who do not seek help because they don’t want people to judge. I think there needs to be even more talk about it, I am sure many people aren’t working because of the stigma. Take Care:) Hope you didn’t mind me putting my 2 cents in:)

  • Mark

    Thanks for another excellent and courageous post, David. I think the evidence is pretty clear that at least part of source of stigma is “out there.” So the remaining question is whether any of it comes from within.

    From my personal experience with chronic depression, I am certain that much of my experience of stigma was generated, as you put it, deep within myself. How can I be so sure? Because I have the perspective of having been in and out of depression many times, with very healthy stretches in between. The symptoms become very clear after a while.

    Most people have heard about the sadness that is part of depression, and some think depression is just a very deep, prolonged sadness. But in my experience, sadness is just one of many symptoms, and not even the worst one. Other symptoms include feelings of fear, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt. And of course, shame, which is where the stigma comes in.

    Even when there was no reason to be ashamed, I still felt it. Depression is not rational that way. And so I was ashamed of my own depression, ashamed to admit it to anyone else for fear that they would know how weak and worthless I was. The belief that I was worthless was all a lie, of course. But that too is depression. At least, that’s been my experience.

    Good luck with your sessions, David. May they be a source of both healing and solid cartoon material.

    • David T

      Thanks for your comments and encouragement Mark. I really appreciate it!

  • Karen

    Hi Cindy,
    I don’t mind at all you putting in your 2 cents, honestly, it made me feel better. Your social worker is right, it really is no one’s business. Excellent point.
    Yes, definitely progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

    Thank you Cindy..you take care too 🙂

    • Cindy

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your kind reply….it is difficult, this is the longest time since I was 17 that I haven’t worked, it gets scary because you wonder will I ever be able to work. I am getting how hard it is…..yes, you don’t need to share with people that may not make you feel good, no one knows how it is unless they have been in your shoes…..I always try to remember I don’t need to tell people my situation so I kind of keep it in my circle not because I am ashamed I would love one day to do something that promotes more awareness to mental health, people who have not had issues do not know or understand…God Bless, keep your chin up, and don’t feel you are not doing anything you are:) Take Care too:)

  • Marie Abanga

    Hi David,

    I feel you and l remember quitting my promising career as a Lawyer after just 3 years at the Bar because l was ‘fed up with life’. Mental illness did not click to me then and my society stigmatizes that term well and proper. l mean even you would not want to look into that possibility until a big trigger takes you by storm. For me, it was my brother’s bipolar and etc diagnosis that led me to start researching mental illness and look at myself in the mirror over again. I published my book last March on my crazy journey so far, it is called My Unconventional loves… but now, l am looking forward to going see a psychiatrist. I blog openly about it and do all l can to stigmatize stigma. It doesn’t, Marie go well with my ‘family and friends’ (some) but that’s fine with me. Cheers

  • Ellis

    I’m hearing you David, stigma is a large part of mental illness. A vicious cycle, at the heart of any diagnosis, there is a lack of self worth, whether it be triggered by childhood abuse, controlling parents, rejection, or any other cause. By labelling people by their clinical or perceived diagnosis only adds to a feeling of inadequacy which in turn exacerbates the illness.

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