Few stigmas or social rejections are so utter - so sheer - as mental illness.
I say "few" purposefully, because there are other bigotries, just as potent, just as unkind.
One of these is homosexuality.
To be gay in our seemingly progressive society is not easy.
A minority of people accepts and does not judge, but the majority (I think) harbour a dread and hatred of gay people in the same way that many folks fear and reject people with a mental illness.
Now, imagine you live with a mental illness and are also gay.
It's tough, isn't it? It's hard to picture a life hit on two sides with so much ignorance and refusal.
Stan (as I will call him) agreed to talk with me after almost a year of building trust. We took many walks together and talked very personally. His own words follow. What we talked about could fill a book. But here's the essence.
"Being gay? Man, Hugh, when wasn't I gay? I was attracted to men in high school. But that was in the 70's. In university? Well, we had a secret society at UBC. We all knew who we were. We had our own little thing happening."
At the end of his fourth year, Stan began to feel uneasy.
"It was like . . . a kind of frantic thing. I became hypersexual. I didn't sleep. I had labs and stuff during the day, but I couldn't keep my mind from racing. I'd boom through my (lab) write-ups and then go to (a UBC residence) where we'd just carry on all night."
In the 1970's the diagnosis was "manic depression."
Stan was diagnosed with this, graduated, and entered grad school.
"I finally came out just as AIDS was hitting, in the early 80's. I also told friends and family about my diagnosis. Talk about a bomb going off. My gay friends totally rejected me. When my thesis advisor found out I was gay and had bi-polar, she hit the roof. But she let me finish my work, and I got my Masters."
But life since has been a series of rejections for Stan.
"I moved to Toronto for a while and tried to find teaching positions. But somehow, the fact that I was a mentally ill gay guy followed me. I was living pretty much in poverty for almost five years.
"Then, I got it into my head to come back to Vancouver. But being truthful on job applications -about living with bipolar - made it impossible. Being gay didn't help at all. But Van didn't work for me, so I moved here (Gibsons). And I guess it's been OK. I have a lover. Hah! But she's furry and has four legs and eats crunchy food. Cleo. My cat. Aside from Cleo and my plants, I'm pretty much alone.
"The world is just not ready for a gay man with mental issues. I am who I am. I guess, Hugh, I should tell you I am happy for the life I have. I could do without the rejection, I guess, but I'm still alive and well, which is a lot more than I can say about a lot of my old friends.
Life goes on."
We are a society of stigma and exclusion.
Editor's note: Hugh Macaulay is vice president of the Arrowhead Clubhouse Society. He writes monthly on mental health and social issues on the Coast for Coast Reporter.