Today, Geeske posts a quote about stigma and prejudice. In this case the stigma of dependence. Do you brush it off?
Mental vulnerability is not well understood: it frightens people and all too often it carries a stigma. I’d like to share an experience with regard to prejudice. Prejudice from my dentist no less. Okay it was actually an orthodontist. I wanted to get braces.
Stigma; what gave?
The orthodontist I met was in his late fifties, a little gray and actually quite the spontaneous, talkative type. He made some small talk and for starters he asked me about my employment. “I work at PsychoseNet, I am editor-in-chief there. It is an online community for people with vulnerabilities and their loved ones”. Eyebrows raised, there is obvious interest. “Like this! Interesting! Then you probably also have a background. Then you probably work there with volunteers?”
Quite a nice question!
I continue enthusiastically: “Yes, definitely! I have experience with bipolarity, but have been stable for some time. We do indeed have a nice team at PsychoseNet with team members who volunteer. Our volunteers are important to us. The orthodontist looks at me strangely. He is clearly not pleased and corrects me directly and rudely. “No, that’s not what I asked. YOU are certainly a volunteer there yourself”.
It’s not even a question.
It’s a statement he makes about me. He didn’t listen to what I told him at all. I calmly and slowly explain to him how things are: “I did indeed start as a volunteer a few years ago. I then moved on to paid jobs, first to editor, and now I am employed as editor-in-chief”.
I get that disapproving look again…
He is impatient, I seem to be testing his patience more than slightly. “Yes, I get that. But now you receive a volunteer allowance for your work”. Point. The tone is condescending. He then switches to another subject and takes the pictures of my teeth…
A little later in the waiting room…
I’m waiting in a long straight hall. There are three chairs at the end of the hall. The orthodontist walks past. He is not close, there are ten meters between us. He looks to the side and sees me, I see him. A short eye contact. In that brief look I see surprise and question marks. I’m mostly surprised that he’s looking at me. He then abruptly turns away and enters a room.
I get my braces and he’s the orthodontist who supervises that. And that’s fine. I am satisfied. I never have to tell him about myself again.