Stigma Fighters: Billie Ann Zahir

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Stigma Fighters: Billie Ann Zahir

I’ve been promising for too long to submit my story to help stop the stigma against mental illness. The reason it has taken me to so long to finally do so is not because I lack passion for the cause. In fact, the opposite is true. Honestly, I have started writing my story for the project many times. Each draft has been off the mark, in my opinion. The exact reason why has eluded me until the night before I sat down and started writing this draft that I sent. My epiphany was triggered by my boyfriend hearing what I consider “therapeutic music” for my month long depressive state. He got mad because he found the music dark and asked me if I was trying to make myself depressed.

I won’t lie, I was angry and hurt that he would suggest I would choose to be mentally ill. I expressed my anger and hurt; however, that resulted in me expressing my feelings in an unhealthy manner wherein I called him every name but his own. When my “anger tank” lost all its gas, my “hurt tank” kicked in, and I tearfully explained exactly why the music was therapeutic to me and pleaded with him to understand I did not want to BE bipolar. Because he does care for me, and did not intend to hurt me with his words, he said he was sorry and knew I was not trying to make myself depressed, but he still could not understand how that music could be therapeutic. I told him he did not have to understand because he had no idea what it felt like to be depressed.

It was at the ‘be’ that I had my epiphany. In my initial drafts, I was writing in hopes that others would understand what it was like to be mentally ill. I wanted them to be more accepting of how I am because I have mental illness. I wanted them to be proud of me because I survived having PTSD and being bipolar.

I am not famous, rich, or successful despite showing potential many times throughout my life to acquire these adjectives. When employed, I tend to get promoted quickly. When in college, my professors praised my academic efforts. Taking stock of my life, there is no doubt that my mental health issues are the primary reason I am not classified as a “successful person” in today’s society. I always start jobs, relationships, projects, etc. with grand intentions, fueled by hypomania, and try my best not to allow my depression to lower my production. But I eventually end up hitting a wall. How can I ration any blame for my burnout to my employers when they were unaware my mind kept working even when I was off the clock?

Even my relationships tend to fail because of my mental health issues. When my husband came to see me in the hospital after a suicide attempt he, in front me, turned to the doctor and said he did not know that woman. Who could blame him when I kept that part of me hidden? When I neglected to sit down and discuss my mental health issues with my daughter while she was growing up? How can I blame her for seeing my attempt to self-medicate my depression with meth, when she was seventeen, as abandonment by her mom?

I have lived my life trying to be the normal I observed around me. Before I was diagnosed as Bipolar, I believed I was a failure. When I was diagnosed, I was relieved to know the cause because I could fix it and be normal. After I tried hard to fix it and discovered that I could not, I believed I was a failure. Now, after all these years, I realize I have to learn to live with the reality of being Bipolar and suffering from PTSD. I have committed myself to be an active participant in medication and behavior modification treatment. If you are unaware, neither one of these treatments are easy. There is no one pill that makes any mental illness go away. Behavior modification is more than establishing and following a regular daily routine. I had to learn my reality is not everyone’s reality, so I have to make allowances for other’s behavior. An example of this is: how I feel that if I am late for anything, others will believe me to be uncaring and disrespectful; therefore, I used to think if others were late for a meeting with me, then they must not care about or respect me. This extreme black and white thinking of mine caused me a lot of pain and was unfair to the other person who did not intend to hurt me.

I have never claimed to be sane. I have never denied the validity of my Bipolar and PTSD diagnoses. Granted, I don’t take pride in having these mental illnesses as part of my medical record. But, truth be told, I do take pride in how well I function in life while coping with them daily. Essentially, what I had to learn to do is constantly analyze every emotion and thought I have to determine if what I’m feeling and thinking is rational so that I can act accordingly. Do I fail at times? Sure. But I’m still better off than I was before learned how to cope. Therefore, I forgive myself for those few times I don’t succeed.

I’ve come up with some rules that I try to live my life by:

1. Never ask how a person is if I don’t really CARE.

2. Do not allow others to steal my JOY.

3. Always see WHY people do what they do despite my resulting feelings.

4. Remember, my NAME was given but the meaning it has for people is determined by me.

5. When I fail I will LEARN from my error.

6. When I cry I will not say I’m SORRY.

7. It is ok to feel angry but I will not act angry until I take TIME to make sure felt because current situation and not because of past.

8. Tell people, “I LOVE you because _.’ Instead of the generic “I love you.”

9. If I have opportunity and reason to tell person something POSITIVE I will do it right then and not wait till later.

10. I am allowed to say NO.


Billie Ann Zahir will be 40 in January and wants to make the next 40+ years her own. She will continue to be a mom, sister, and friend to all those she holds dear. She will continue to cope with her own mental health issues. She will write whenever and in whatever direction her spirit commands. She will be a mental health advocate because the stigma has to end. Everything else in her life, before right now,is excessive weight and being left behind. She is looking forward to the adventure. You can email her at

By | 2015-02-17T11:44:32+00:00 December 26th, 2014|Categories: Brave People, Uncategorized|23 Comments


  1. Carrie Baughcum December 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    The moment like you had take hold of you and in those instants their meaning is clear and suddenly we are filled with words and feelings. I am so happy you shared yours here today. You are so very brave to work so hard on yourself, to accept yourself and to share your words and journey here. Your rules are beautiful and wise and words we can all learn from and use.

    • Billie Ann Howell-Zahir December 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm - Reply


      Thank you so much for takng the time to read my story and commenting your kind words. I’m am so happy Sarah pushed me to write my story and pushed me to give her what I got when I feared my words were not just right to be effective fighting stigma.

      • Carrie Baughcum December 26, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

        Sarah certainly has an amazing you just can’t say no way about her 😉 She is just so fiercely brave and beautifully encouraging.

        • Stigma Fighters December 29, 2014 at 7:42 pm - Reply


        • Athena Moberg, CPC June 1, 2015 at 11:58 am - Reply

          Indeed Sarah does embody that characteristic and I love her all the more for it! It is in part because of her being that way – that I had the courage to speak up and share more of me. LOVE HER! And love you ladies & gentlemen here!

  2. Kitt O'Malley December 26, 2014 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Billie Ann, for taking the time to put your story in writing for Stigma Fighters. Life with bipolar disorder can be a struggle, and not everyone will or can understand what it is like to live with our brains, brains that often fail us in spite of our best efforts and compliance with treatment.

    • Billie Ann Howell-Zahir December 30, 2014 at 7:07 am - Reply


      Thanks for taking the time to read my story. I believe the first step in ending discrimination in society is telling our stories publicly and not hiding our reality. I’m optimistic that doing this will help us see there is a bunch of people who love us and accept us as we are and the few that still choose to think less of us will eventually see how ignorant they are.

  3. TLanceB December 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    I related to every word. I just spent Christmas Eve with my immediate family who view me as the black sheep for not only being bipolar but writing and talking about it publicly.
    Why would we choose to be crazy?
    Thank you for writing this. You are braze and a total bad ass.
    Lance aka @lanceburson

    • Billie Ann Howell-Zahir December 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      I love being considered a Bad Ass. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Athena Moberg, CPC June 1, 2015 at 11:56 am - Reply

      YES! You are indeed a total bad ass! : )

  4. HaroldAMaio December 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I do not direct “stigmas,” I do not trust anyone who does.
    I do trust people who address prejudice and discrimination, the actual issues.

    • Stigma Fighters December 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Right… Stigma isn’t an “actual issue.” I refer you to the 1963 Goffman text Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. This is still considered a seminal work in the disability field…

      • HaroldAMaio December 29, 2014 at 6:35 pm - Reply

        Goffman validated the term “”stigma,” popularized it.
        My definition of a “spoiled society” is any society directing a “stigma,” that society that creates an us and a them.
        Always within any society are those people who will not validate the expressed prejudices of that society. Sometimes their efforts prevail over the prejudices, though it may take many years.
        We celebrate those who do, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. The Women’s Movement led to societal changes.

        • Sarah C December 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm - Reply

          Hi Harold,
          I’m wondering if you would extrapolate on your position a little bit, because the language you are using seems to be somewhat specialized and a little unclear. What precisely do you mean by “directing stigmas” and why should any society that is subject to stigmatization then be deemed a “spoiled society”, if those same individuals whom you are championing did in fact fight against various forms of systemic social stigma and with the help of many others, eventually effect societal change?

          • HaroldAMaio December 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm

            Thank you for the note.
            Directing the term “stigma” into minds, no matter who does so, and no matter their rationalization is an act of prejudice. “I am against it” is one way of directing it into minds. “I want it ended” is another way.
            The spoiled society is that one directing prejudices, not those fighting those prejudices.
            Both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi fought societies that diminished groups. The Women’s Movement did. We honor and respect each–now. We did not before. We were in those instances a spoiled society.

            When people direct the term “stigma,” they ignore the actual issues, prejudices leading to discrimination.
            No law protects people against the claim of stigma, many exist to protect people against discrimination.
            A claim of “stigma” is one way of not bringing those laws into play. History has shown us It is an effective method.

          • Stigma Fighters December 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm

            Thank you for your feedback.

          • HaroldAMaio December 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm

            You are welcome
            Writing about mental health issues is difficult, so many of our prejudices exist in our language.

          • Mark Oldham December 30, 2014 at 6:08 am

            Harold, what are your thoughts on the word “moist”?

          • HaroldAMaio December 30, 2014 at 4:34 pm

            Likely the same as yours.

          • Sarah C December 29, 2014 at 8:21 pm

            Harold, I think it has been made abundantly and repeatedly clear that we are communicating on two very different wave-lengths.

          • HaroldAMaio December 30, 2014 at 1:30 am

            Not sure how my not directing a “stigma” puts us on different wave lengths. Do I assume from that that you do direct “stigmas?” How do you choose which ones?

    • Billie Ann Howell-Zahir December 30, 2014 at 7:02 am - Reply

      Harold, Initially I was unsure how to take your comment. I felt there might be a chance you were being negative and didn’t want to put myself in position of defending my personal story with anyone. I know what my reality is and feel there is no need for me to defend it to anyone. In addition, sharing the story was hard for me because I feared saying something to hinder the cause. After shamefully allowing others to respond to you and seeing your responses to them I have a better understanding of your comment’s intended point. Am I correct in my assumption you were objecting to the use of the word stigma for the cause because it is to general? Do you believe the advancement of reducing discrimination would be more likely achieved if more defined? (Sigh) Please correct me if I’m wrong. I admit, while I’m not a simpleton, I understand eventually. And honestly, want to understand. 🙂

  5. Athena Moberg, CPC June 1, 2015 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Oh Billie Ann…. You are brave and beautiful in every way. I love you because you CARE. I admire your courage and strength in the midst of all that life has offered…and in the midst of likely needing a good long nap : ) Keep up your incredible journey. You inspire many, including me. All my best, Athena

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