Stigma Fighters : Mary Pettigrew

Stigma Fighters : Mary Pettigrew

Knowledge is Power

For many of us it starts when we are small. For many of us it continues through adolescent and teen years. For many of us we grow up unscathed from childhood issues, taunting, or typical “rites of passage” intended to mold us into adulthood. For many of us, this is not the case.

Maybe you were the “new kid” at a new school or showed up with a bad haircut, acne, or experienced your first period, unbeknownst to you as you walked down the hall in white jeans…gasp! Many of us have been bullied or gossiped about for being different, weird, or had their reputation ruined and labeled a “slut” after confiding a secret to the one person who you thought was your best friend.

Many of us grow up, move on, and are able to cope with these awful childhood experiences, able to look back without embarrassment. Again, this is not always the case for many people. Whether it be in our DNA or various childhood issues or trauma, many of us carry that drama with us through life – becoming numb to it all, judged, or embarrassed to speak out and seek help.

We must pay attention to the mental stability of young minds in the world. We must educate people as to how to recognize and respect mental health without embarrassment before it gets out of hand. We must focus on teaching children about stigma, judgment and to treat people with compassion at an early age. Stigma and judgment often occur when people see what they physically “see” and create an opinion over things they can’t understand. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER – I find myself saying this often, but it’s true. We’re making progress, but still have a long way to go!

The 87th Academy Awards were a few weeks ago and I find it refreshing to see some of the top films and roles of the year deal with mental illness and chronic illness/disease. Just to name a few:
~ American Sniper: PTSD
~ Still Alice: Alzheimer’s
~Two Days, One Night ~ Depression
~ The Theory of Everything: ALS
~ Selma: Segregation/racism
~ Cake: Chronic pain/depression (even though this film wasn’t nominated)

For me, I can speak most clearly on chronic illness with “invisible symptoms” – and my history of eating disorders and depression/anxiety. In 2001, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My life changed drastically at that time. MS affects everyone differently. I’ll say it again…MS AFFECTS EVERYONE DIFFERENTLY! My MS gives me many troubles, but it really affects my brain with cognition/memory issues. I’m used to people coming up to me with a story about their aunt or a friend who still works and is doing just fine – or, they tell me to try a certain diet because it “cured” a friend – or, they ask why I’m in bed all day – that I look fine and were able to do things yesterday! UGH!!! Their faces judge as if to say, you’re lazy, you’re faking, it’s all in your head, etc… Heat is a big issue with MS. Weakness and loss of other control can happen, yet I refuse to put a handicap placard in my car when going to the grocery store in the summer because I’ve SEEN the judging faces of ignorance staring at those who walk “normally” into the store. Hence…STIGMA – the shame inflicted and lack of awareness from others can often result in lives destroyed. There is no reason to put up with this anymore.

Social Media is a powerful tool which can produce positive results if…IF used correctly. The concept that strangers can meet across the globe who relate to each other, share the same passion, build a platform and create a community is fantastic! This is a big step in moving forward – educating others, vocalizing, sharing our stories to eradicate the various stigmas in society. I’ve experienced this magic myself and the healing powers and support it inspires is well… I’ve got no words…just grateful.

It’s time to heal, to make it alright to be different or ask for help. It’s time…no more shame, no more drama, no more pain.

PTSD

Like clockwork, panic wakes me with a start –
My body, mind and soul at war again
Spanning decades, this solo battle leaves me
Broken, breathless –
Exhausted, sweat drenched nightmares
Find me in the darkened haze – I pause
Until I’m urged to get out of bed –
Wading through the deep abyss of sleep deprivation,
I splash cold water on my face – some relief.
Looking up, into the mirror, scars external –
Scars – healed wounds, like “tattooed tales”
But my eyes…whose eyes are these?
They’re silently screaming, revealing
A hidden myriad, stories blocked, painful years lost –
Invisible and overlooked by society, yet now I see
The toxic damage internal
No one…not even myself truly looked inside –
In my eyes you’ll see my pain,
I’m still bleeding…and quickly
Running out of gauze.

~ Mary Pettigrew (2015)

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MPproPICI am a “late-blooming” writer from Texas who specializes in poetry. I also have a life-long background in music, the performing arts, and enjoyed 14 years as a special events planner in the private club industry. I am a 1990 graduate from The University of North Texas who started off as a music major (voice), but I wasn’t “feeling” it. So, I changed directions and happily ended up graduating with a B.S. in Hotel/Restaurant Management. I was healthy, eventually married, became a stepmother of two and had a fun, successful career in the food and beverage industry until 2001. Life, as I knew it, changed dramatically when I was diagnosed with MS. I attempted to work a few more years, but nothing connected quite right anymore, so I was soon forced to quit. I can’t describe how “lost” I felt in those first years after diagnosis. You see, this disease affects everyone completely different. I went through numb/tingly issues, my mobility was intact, but I was, and continue to be an “invisible symptom” case. My MS really enjoys messing with my brain. Anxiety, memory, mood changes, heat and fatigue are debilitating, and a battle especially when stressed. There has been some noticeable progression in my symptoms and have had to switch medications many times. This can be quite fearful…and common.

A few “denial” years went by…I dealt with this vile invasion of my “internal room-mate”. My husband couldn’t handle these health changes – he hated every part of it (I don’t really blame him for that). He avoided being around me when I was down – sometimes I imagined I could hear him say, ‘he didn’t sign on for this, couldn’t understand any of it, and I sure didn’t look sick (invisible symptoms).’ So, eventually divorce and other challenges came into play. Those were rough days…rough years. Looking back now, I know I was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Not yet had I thought to seek the help of a professional therapist to help me purge the noisy voices and conversations from inside my head, so I began to write. I wrote little songs and played piano again – I taught myself a little acoustic guitar – and it felt good – soothing. I had found a new form of therapy which enabled me to breathe again; a healing that didn’t require a prescription. Re-invention of myself seemed plausible via these creative outlets. Music, reading, and writing – primarily poetry – filled me with passion and endless possibilities. In fact, I’ve since begun to view my MS as a gift. A gift which forced me to focus on the important things in life, to find my sense of humor, to ignite my passion and live.

Mary can be found on:

Twitter at: @pettigrew66, @MSpals, @MSpalsPoets

Facebook at: MS Pals and Mary Pettigrew

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