Thursday, June 20, 2013

Honesty Alert: Stigma

Opinions are like noses. Everyone's got one, but some are prettier than others.

The past 2 years I have had the blessing of working with multiple non-profit organizations through various capacities. As a VISTA, my primary goal is to combat poverty in it's many manifestations. Last year, it was domestic violence, an issue not confined to families in poverty but stressers such unemployment and economic hardship have been shown to be triggers. This year, as a VISTA Leader in a nationwide non-profit with many community partners, I've seen many, many different service fields and challenges. Hunger, homelessness, mental illness, physical illness, weight issues, addiction, lack of affordable housing, lack of insurance, lack of education... SO MANY.  Do you know what I've found to be the most common struggle in all of these things? Stigma.

People don't want to tell anyone they're being abused because there's a stigma. People don't want to reach out for help to feed their families because there is a stigma. People won't reveal that they are struggling with addiction or depression. Why? Stigma.

That darn stigma is a tricky thing. Essentially, when we refuse assistance or support in order to avoid a stigma we are saying we are more concerned with another's perception of our well being then we are with actual well-being. We're worried others will think we are lazy, or poor, or whiny, or stupid, or diseased, or any other number of undesirable adjectives. You know what these challenges really say? We are human.

It makes us fell better when we hear of someone who's situation is worse than our own. We think "At least I don't have to do that." or "I would never get that desperate." I'm guilty of consoling myself that way. I don't mean to say we are not entitled to a healthy dose of personal privacy or that we need to share all of the grizzly details with everyone in order to embrace them. Please, feel free to keep your private life private. I can be a terrible listener sometimes. On accident. Especially if a game show is on in the background. BUT I am encouraging you; don't let the conceptions of others be what that prevents you from  getting the assistance you need to rise above whatever circumstance is plaguing you. Avoid self-stigmatizing and holding yourself to a standard others wouldn't even force on you. I have my struggles. I'm sure you have yours. I have things that I'm ashamed of. I would assume you have those as well. But giving power to a stigma is like... it's like... I don't have a metaphor, okay, it's just a bad idea.

Again, I am not at all qualified to give you the care you need in any of these circumstances or others you may be struggling with, but know that I don't judge you for it, regardless.  And I'm positive people who are able to assist won't judge you for it either. If they do, sucks for them 'cause I'm pretty sure you're an awesome person.

One day, you could be the person in the position to lend a hand. Without a stigma.

Sheila :)

PS. Art by Rhonda Johansen. Text added. 

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