Wearing the Stigma Scarf

I love scarves.

I have an entire drawer full of them, in all textures and colors. They’ve been inherited from relatives who’ve passed on, unearthed in thrift stores, discovered on clearance racks, and joyfully received in wrapped boxes at Christmas.

My favorites, though, are the ones that were hand-knit for me. I’m blessed to have people in my life who want to make me pretty things, and I wear these gifts with pride. I have two scarves in particular where I know the crafter saw the yarn and thought of me – primarily because the colors were…um…rather bold. They were materials that you really wouldn’t buy unless you distinctly had someone in mind who would actually WEAR something that obnoxious bright and colorful.


And that someone is, apparently, moi.


I’ve wondered on occasion if these scarves were perhaps a backhanded compliment of sorts.  Did they pick up the skeins and think, “Wow. Who on earth would wear THAT?” Did they twist the strands in their fingers, mildly horrified, and realize, “I bet Kate would. Yep. She would TOTALLY wear this”?  Did they giddily race home to half-jokingly create a monstrosity just to see if I’d dare sport it in public?

Maybe.  But it’s totally OK if they did. Because I love these scarves. They’re cheery, soft, warm, and they bring me joy. And someone created them just for me. Who cares if they don’t meet someone else’s taste? That’s fine. They can wear whatever makes THEM feel beautiful, and I won’t be offended if they don’t want to borrow anything from my closet.

We’re all unique, right? And the things that make us individuals don’t make us better or worse than anyone else.  They just make us…us.


In my last post, I mentioned that things were going much better with the hubs, and that I was taking a more active role in my recovery.

But I didn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, the hubs has mellowed considerably on the subjects of religion and politics. Not, unfortunately, due to any spiritual shift, but because he’s got a new focal point: his sons. My stepsons, 12 and 14, are just starting the challenging transition from boy to man, with voices deepening and pants shrinking and sneakers no longer fitting on suddenly-larger feet. And with this hormonal tsunami, they’re pushing for other changes – primarily, to spend more time with their father, in the form of 50/50 custody.

Those of you with exes can probably guess how THAT’S been going.  Lead balloon?  Fart at a funeral?  (The latter of which may or may not <cough> have happened at my dad’s wake, and I might be acquainted with two stubborn, thoughtless children who will never let me forget it.  Kids can be jerks that way.  They must get that from their mother.)

Anyway.  For most of my stepsons’ lives, their mother has held primary physical custody, and with it has maintained tight reigns of control. Admittedly, while the hubs has been absolutely reliable in seeing the boys and paying support, he hasn’t been as involved in some of the “mom minutiae” that sucks so much mental energy, like scheduling immunizations or staying on top of what homework is due tomorrow. But he’s trying to take on his share, and while he’s made a huge effort in getting to know teachers, packing lunches, and slogging through the mental labyrinth of 8th grade algebra and Spanish, he’s getting shut out of what should be joint decisions, such as medical care and high school selection.

And the two of them have a long-standing inability to communicate effectively (read: without fighting.)  It’s epically horrific, to the point where I have absolutely ZERO idea how they stayed together in a room for long enough to make ONE baby, never mind TWO.  (Like how the praying mantis literally gets his head bitten off if he spends too much time thinking about baseball or didn’t feed her first.  Really.  Click here.  You’re welcome.)

As you’d expect, the custody battle barely tapped the border of negotiating “what’s best for the boys.” Since the parents despise each other, they were completely unable to focus on working out when the boys would live where. Instead, they hung verbal clotheslines and pinned up years and years of dirty laundry, finding faults and flaws in everything from nutrition to hygiene to spirituality to what cars they each drove and how long their emails and texts were.

The judge, of course, didn’t have time to be bothered with the parental equivalent of an alley cat fight, so he hosed them down by ordering them to attend…wait for it…marital counseling.  Yeah.  MARITAL COUNSELING.  They’ve been divorced for eleven years, and NOW they’re in marital counseling. Part of me wants to find this hilarious, but since the kids are the tragic punch line, I can barely manage a smirk.

So start with that constantly-roaring fire, and douse it with the kerosene of “Mom, I want to live with Dad half the time from now on” and “Why are you putting ideas in the boys’ heads/turning them against me/NOT LISTENING to me/diminishing my contributions/STILL EXISTING? Sprinkle on some grain dust in the form of autism spectrum disorder (both boys are officially diagnosed; Dad isn’t, but it doesn’t take much to see where they got it) and depression and anxiety (both boys; just depression for Mom and Dad, with medication all around) and you can probably see the pending mushroom cloud from the demoted non-planet Pluto.

The detonation occurred two Saturdays ago, when we received a 4 AM text that my older stepson was being taken to the local university hospital because he said that once everyone was asleep, he was fairly certain he was going to kill himself.


It’s eerily quiet after an explosion. The silence is unnerving. Haunting.

The next day, the treating doctor ordered counseling for the “family unit.” The hubs texted his ex to clarify: biological parents only, or should the step-parents attend? She replied: “this is for guardians only.” So off the hubs went, while I waited at home for a report. After he arrived, it was clarified that he was expected to arrive alone, but she and the stepdad would both be in attendance since she had primary physical custody.

I was the odd man out. Not considered significant enough to participate in this very critical healing process.

Well, you can imagine how THAT felt.  But this isn’t about me.  (And, on the bright side, I suppose my exclusion proves that no one thinks I contributed to the “problem.”)

After a week of comprehensive inpatient therapy, my stepson was released, complete with tools, reminders, and a “safety plan” that included his wellness strategy.

This included a very specific note to his parents: “Quit fighting about custody.”

Gut-punches ya right in the feels, don’t it?

And you are the only people I’ve shared this with, except for my siblings and my mother.  Even then, I danced around what really took place, using words like “he’s safe now” and “getting the help he needs.”

No one else in my life knows that we had this crisis.

Why not?

Why did I hesitate to say that my stepson is struggling with a mental health issue, and it’d reached a critical point where he needed more intensive treatment for awhile?

When my dad had his pulmonary issues, I had no problem telling people the full medical situation in full detail.  See, heart issues aren’t loaded with connotations and bias.  They just happen, to good people and bad people and people who are…normal.

If heart issues were a scarf, they’d be a neutral color, like navy or black, which goes with many things and can be tossed atop nearly any outfit.

This was different.

For some reason, I didn’t want anyone to see the mental health scarf we had stuffed in the back of the closet.  After looking at it, I decided that it simply doesn’t match my outfit.

Suffice it to say it’s been a stressful time in our household.  Thank goodness I started that medication when I did!

Oh, yeah.  About that….

I haven’t quite gotten around to telling the hubs this little detail.

I didn’t intend to keep it a secret.  But when I went to the doctor, I was pretty convinced that nothing would work, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up that there might be something that could “fix” me.  I didn’t want my moods and actions analyzed, and I didn’t want a layman’s opinion of whether it was working or not.  I didn’t want a magnifying glass aimed at my cracks and fissures.

What the hubs does know is that he’s starting to get his wife back.

Isn’t that enough?

It’s not that he wouldn’t be supportive – heck, he takes meds himself.  If it had a chance of helping, he’d be heartily in favor of it. He wouldn’t criticize or judge.  He understands mental health issues as well as any non-medical person possibly could.

But the bottle is hidden.

It isn’t a scarf I’m ready to show him just yet.

Hmm…now that I think about it….maybe it’s NOT a scarf.  Maybe it’s Spanx. Or a Wonderbra.  YES!  That’s EXACTLY it.  It pushes everything around so that I can present my very best self to society.  It tucks and sucks the floppy bits that pollute my put-together look.

And no one has to know.  All they’ll see is fabulous.

I’m aware that mental health issues aren’t within my control. I know without a shadow of a doubt that hormones shoot holes in my stability.  I understand that I’m managing what is largely a chemical imbalance.

Yet often the scarf of anxiety is itchy and uncomfortable, and I don’t want to wear it at all.  I don’t want people to start judging my job performance through the lens of mental illness.  I don’t want my weight to be scrutinized by coworkers and friends:  Is she thinner today? Is she in trouble?  She seems so scattered…do we need to intervene?  Or worse:  She’s put on weight; she can’t be THAT broken if she’s able to eat all that food.  She must be exaggerating her so-called anxiety since she completed the 1095c forms on time. 

I know I shouldn’t feel this way.  I mean, okay, YES.  I’ll say it:  I have mental health issues. 

But they’re part of what makes me…ME.  They’re powerful spices in the Kate stew.  My anxiety and my food issues are colorful threads woven in the tapestry of the personality that is exclusively MINE.

No one else has a scarf quite like this one.

Perhaps I should embrace my individuality and be proud of the quirks I have.  They add some glitter to an otherwise flat surface.  Like any hand-crafted creation, they should be worn proudly.  Right?

“Normal” is kind of dull, anyway.

With a little elbow grease and a dash of confidence, maybe I can sparkle and shine.

28 thoughts on “Wearing the Stigma Scarf

  1. I wanted to leave this funny comment about scarves. How I obsessively collect them. How I will buy clothes just because they go with my favorite scarf. Who says the scarf is the accessory anyway? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
    But Wow. I can not imagine how hard it must be to watch from the side lines as your family self destructs. I imagine you care for these children, you’ve been in their lives for a while. It’s heart breaking that their mom can’t acknowledge or accept the boys needs.
    Sending you a big obnoxious, faux fur mixed in scarfie hug.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks chica. Please leave all the funny you want – it’s how we keep breathing!!

      There’s a lot of detail I didn’t put here, of course…she said that she wants primary custody, period, and what the boys want gets ZERO consideration. Zero? ZERO? What kind of mother….Gaaaaahhhh

      Thanks for listening.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So raising a spectrum boy myself, I have to wonder…. With Autism comes a lot of obsession/compulsion. And I have to decide on a daily basis what fights are most important in the long run. And which ones I can mitigate or flat out let slide. So I can’t imagine how hard this mom has made her own life by ignoring what her boys want. I know how hard spectrum kids can fight. Literally sometimes. big hugs to you all.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the (actual, physical) scarves in the pictures!
    And the metaphorical scarves – what a great image for such an awful situation. To extend it a bit, I hope your stepsons’ mom comes to terms with the scarves her boys want to wear out into the world and lets them have some input on their own lives! And I hope your own progress with your stigma scarves isn’t too hindered by these struggles.
    Thanks for sharing. I love reading the way you express your experiences – it makes it a bit easier to wear my depression scarf too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot express how awesome your posts are. You always seem to make even the most difficult subjects amusing and interesting to read. I am so sorry to hear about the custody-tornado-bloodbath. The boys must be going through hell to have both biological parents being so mean and nasty with one another. The mother sounds like an absolute train wreck. Here’s hoping that everything starts going a little smoother. How are you holding up?

    Also, I really admire you for discussing mental illness/anxiety. A lot of people do not usually admit to these sorts of things, even online. It’s nice knowing that other people are dealing with it, too. If you ever need to talk about it, I’m always up for a chat.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. This is amazingly written as usual. I love your analogy with scarves. It’s so true that most don’t want to wear their mental illness like a scarf for all to see. I’m not sure if it’s just because most mental illnesses aren’t socially acceptable or because most people have pride and the desire to appear in control and “normal”, or both. Either way, there needs to be more education and awareness centered around mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks chica. I think because people associate it with the old caricatures of “crazy” which could mean randomly dangerous….and don’t understand that there are degrees AND it can be managed. Somewhat.

      Also some folks think “well, gee, just cheer up/relax!” If only it were that easy…I’d wish my thighs slimmer while I was at it.

      But since it’s stinkin’ cold here…I’ll keep my pile of scarves….

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. It’s always interesting to follow the pathways your mind takes. Of scarves, I can relate. Of autistic children (step or otherwise) ditto. I’m fortunate I haven’t spouse issues (other than to blame someone for dying and leaving me to face the puberty years as a parent-yeeks.) is it any wonder the little round (or oval, in my case) pills come out to play? Best of luck on the many health fronts. Let us hope mental health is a scarf of many colors–it may be gray sometimes, but eventually something sparkly and more colorful is coming soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. Aw. I totally want to make you a scarf now. Great post. Thanks for sharing everything. This crap is so hard, isn’t it? I hate that you are having to go through it, but proud of you for sharing and being brave. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

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