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Facing the stigma: I have a mental condition, so what?

Though I do cry myself to sleep every night, vomit every meal I eat, have multiple scars all over my body from self-harm, and constantly question the purpose of going on, I do mask it daily with my bubbly personality and obnoxious actions. I am, in a way, the family clown. Which I guess, I understand why many people just won’t take my mental health seriously. How can I be so upbeat, yet struggle to accept how I look and the will to stay alive? It just doesn’t register.

So, one afternoon in the dining table, I was acting silly. Everyone was laughing and having a blast, then across me on the table, my mom laughed and said: "hahaha this girl is mentally ill".

I stopped what I was doing, my smile turned to a frown. In my head, I was telling myself to just breathe and not say a word but a part of me just couldn’t understand why she would say something like that.

“Mom, do you remember what I told you about using 'mentally ill' like that? You can’t throw that word around as a joke,” I said nicely.

I saw everyone’s faces changed, especially my mom’s. The tone became serious and mom became defensive, "You see this girl? maybe you really do have a mental illness, can't even take a joke. You aren’t be able to make friends like this—If you can’t take even a joke, how can you be successful if you can’t even socialize?".

I sighed and stayed quite the entire dinner. Everyone knew I was upset, including my mom. I just couldn’t even look her in the eye. I was just angry, frustrated, offended and very very disappointed.

"Let the stigma stop in my mom’s generation."

In her defence, when she called me 'mentally ill', she was technically just stating a fact but it was the connotation of how she said it.

That because I have a mental illness, I am an idiot.

That because I have a mental illness, I am less than.

That because I have a mental illness, I can’t take a joke.

That because I have a mental illness, I will never be able to achieve the goals I set in life.

This is not unusual because the stigma of having a mental illness is still so prominent in Indonesia. It hinders many from accepting and seeking help.

To say that it was easy for me to accept that I am bulimic would be a lie, in fact it took me years to get over the guilt of having a mental illness. I was in so much denial that it took me an emergency room visit to realise, that I needed to get help. I am blessed to have a great group of friends who encourages me and supports me with my mental health but I know it is not the same for many others out there facing bullies like my mother.

I know and I hear you, that in a perfect world, it would be nice to have the people that you are supposed to be able to rely on—like a mother, be a person that you could rely on but the world is not perfect and even though multiple people, myself, my doctors and my siblings have tried to constantly educate my mom regarding mental health, she still seems to take it lightly.

Sometimes you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but what you can do is make sure that future generations are educated enough not to joke about mental illness like that so that we can have a more supportive environment. Let the stigma stop in my mom’s generation.

Learn more about mental health at Seribu Tujuan