Knowledge is Power – an essay

Knowledge is Power

By Mary Pettigrew

February 21, 2015

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!

Tomorrow night is the 87th Academy Awards 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.

Author: Mary

ABOUT MARY ~ I am a "late-blooming" writer from Texas who specializes in creative writing/poetry. I have a background in music, the performing arts, and enjoyed 14 years in sales/marketing & 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 was the right fit. So, I took a break, changed directions & graduated with a B.S. in Hotel/Restaurant Management. I was an athletic, healthy young woman who also displayed an unfortunate pattern in the men I chose in life (life lessons indeed!). After a brief marriage in the early 1990's, I decided to focus on my career, yet 5 years later I met hubby #2. So, with more maturity & high hopes for success, I married again & became a full time stepmother of two. Along with several rewarding events & fond memories came more challenges, yet I maintained a fun, successful career in the food and beverage industry until 2001. I knew it changed when I received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Looking back, I must have been in denial or a state of confused shock as to how dramatically my life would actually change. I attempted to work a few more years after diagnosis, but I was becoming more unpredictable, forgetful, & lost - my job performance was never quite right anymore. You see, this disease affects everyone different. I went through relapses & other issues, but my mobility was intact - then. Unless you REALLY know me, I was then & continue to be labeled an "invisible symptom" case. My MS enjoys messing with my brain, & many other body functions. Anxiety, mood changes, nerve pain, heat & fatigue are debilitating - quite an uphill battle especially when stress is involved. A few more "in denial" years went by & I dealt with this vile invasion of my "internal room-mate". My husband couldn't understand, nor could he handle my ever increasing health issues - he hated every part of it (I don't really blame him for that). But, he avoided being around me when I was suffering - he {didn't sign on for this & I sure didn't look sick}. He was embarrassed as to how my MS affected his lifestyle. So, divorce and other challenges came into play in 2009. Those were painful, rough days. I know now I was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Not yet had I thought to seek the help of a professional therapist to help me cope or to help purge the noisy voices & chaos inside my head, so I began to purge through writing. WRITING saved me! I attempted to compose little songs & dove into playing piano again - I even taught myself a little acoustic guitar & it felt good...soothing. I had found a form of therapy which enabled me to breathe again; a healing tool that didn't require a prescription. This journey to reinvent myself actually seemed plausible via my artsy background & new creative outlets. I've become a student again & the benefits of turning off our "auto pilot switch" & instead focusing on learning new, foreign things & activities is priceless. This "rewiring" of the brain is called Neuroplasticity. Writing (primarily poetry) & music has filled me with a POWERFUL passion, purpose, & endless possibility. This may sound odd, but I'm grateful for the tough times! There's this gift called "resilience" - my MS & other life struggles have gifted this to me. A gift which forced me to find "me" & to focus on the important things in laugh, live selflessly with compassion & passion. Find me on: 🔸Twitter: @pettigrew66, @MSpals, @MSpalsPoets 🔸Facebook: MaryPettigrew48 🔸LinkedIn: 🔸Instagram: 🔸 Acknowledgments and Press ~ • Two of my early poems were published in the U.K. in book compilations of poetry: ~The Summer of Sport: Forward Poetry 2012 ~ Poetry Rivals Collection 2013 • Featured in 2 articles in The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 'Momentum Magazine' ~ 2013 = art therapy & MS ~ 2015 = connecting via social media • My work has been featured/published in various book compilations, blogs, websites, as well as other multimedia platforms including: www.MS&MeRadio/TBI Network Something On Our Minds (SOOM): funds The Accelerated Cure Project "Twitter Q&A" - A Writers Experience (details forthcoming) • Creator & Co-founder of MSpals: a global organization (2014)

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