The glamorization of mental illness is just as bad as the stigmatization of it

At the risk of being misinterpreted as being somehow passive-aggressive, I’m going to write about something pertaining to an interpersonal spat I’m kind of in the middle of right now. I’m going to share my story of struggles with mental illness, as well as my personal thoughts about the way “normal” people think and talk about mental illness. For some of you this is old news, many of you probably know bits and pieces, and if you’re a stranger, acquaintance, or someone I just met within the last year, it may be brand new to you. I would appreciate it if you kept the jeering and judging to a minimum.

Ever since I was about ten years old I have suffered from a whole slew of anxiety disorders. I like to joke that I have every anxiety disorder on the books. I always have a very difficult time staying still because I’m constantly filled with so much anxious energy that I just have to keep moving to expel it all or risk exploding. Among these anxiety disorders are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (social phobia), and pathological perfectionism, which is not technically a recognized mental illness, but most of the doctors I’ve spoken to tell me that the general consensus is that it is closely related to anxiety disorders and specifically OCD. On top of all of that, I have had major depressive disorder (clinical depression) since I was 12.

My mental illness is generally described by clinicians as “severe” in that it greatly negatively impacts my social, school, and work life. In fact, in 2007 it led me to flunk out of school, which is why I’m almost 26 and still not finished with college. The combination of the fact that I have a bunch of rituals which I can only do in private and the fact that I used to have a hard time being in groups of more than three strangers without freaking out led me to miss a lot of class. On top of that, I spent a great deal of my free time playing video games, not because I was a lazy geek, but because gaming for some reason has always helped me with my anxiety. (I just recently found out that that’s why one of my neighbors games, so apparently I’m not the only one.) Despite the fact that I almost always got As on assignments and tests, my grades would suffer from my attendance problems. Once m grades began to suffer, my pathological perfectionism kicked in and I began punishing myself for not doing well by forcing myself to stay in the class as opposed to withdrawing before the late withdrawal deadline and I would just take the F or C- or whatever. In the first semester of what should have been my senior year (I was still only a junior though)–Fall 2007–I ended up flunking all of my classes and getting kicked out.

This led to me beginning to drink heavily to cope with the anxiety and depression. By May 2008, I was in the beginning stages of a complete psychotic break. I had begun to develop paranoid delusions and heard the occasional voice or two. (Voices in your head are never nice; mine laughed at me and told me what a failure I was.) I ended up spending most of the summer of 2008 in the psych ward of the local hospital, followed by nine weeks in partial hospitalization. It’s still unclear why I had a psychotic break, but my suspicion is that it has something to do with the pathological perfectionism and the fact that I’m an obsessive planner, and flunking out of school, becoming an alcoholic, and entering into an abusive relationship was not part of the plan. After that, I spent a while trying to get back on my feet before finally entering into a social rehabilitation program run by the Lancaster County Community Mental Health Center. Despite the fact that the anxiety and depression became worse than ever after recovering from my brief psychotic episode, I began to make progress, and since the summer of 2010 things have been looking up. I still have an insane amount of anxiety, but the depression is under control and I’ve learned how to cope with the anxiety.

Anyway, the thing that really offends me as a person who has suffered most of her life from a severe and persistent mental illness (“SPMI” in the biz) is the fact that no one really understand what a mental illness is or what it’s like to have one. There are two types of misunderstanders: those who fear us (the general public) and those who romanticize us (usually artsy types).

The frightened people are victims of the mass media’s portrayal of the mentally ill. The only time we make the news or appear in movies is when we’ve done something illegal (usually murder), which creates the stereotype of the raving mass murderer. Unfortunately, nothing can be farther from the truth. Last I knew (2010), the mentally ill were perpetrators of only 2% of violent crime. However, we were victims of 40% of the violent crime in this country. Why don’t you ever hear about hate crime against the mentally ill? Because it’s okay to hurt us: we aren’t fully human.

What’s got my panties all in a bunch right now, though, is that minority of folks who like to glamorize and romanticize mental illness. These people are generally people who would be described as “artsy”, and I think that they come to identify with the mentally ill because of the fact that they feel like social outcasts because of their career choices, and there’s no bigger social outcast than a crazy person. These people like to talk of a “fine line between genius and insanity”, which is perhaps my least favorite expression simply because of how ignorant it is. Aside from OCD, which is startlingly more common in people with higher IQs, there is no link between mental illness and intelligence. In fact, people with SPMIs tend to be markedly undereducated, simply because their mental illness gets in the way of their education. People with SMPIs often have a hard time functioning and a lot of times when are symptoms are severe we can barely take care of ourselves and need serious help. We frequently lose our jobs and friends, which are both things I went through in 2008-2009. Mental illness is a disability. It is not simply eccentricity or idiosyncratic behavior. It is a severe disorder.

I’ve been fishing around for the past few hours for a fitting analogy, and I’ve come up with one which is probably not a completely true analogy, but will have to do until I can think of a better one. Glamorizing the mentally ill is like when rich white suburban teenagers glamorize gang violence because they come to develop some ignorant and narcissistic identification with the plight of poor inner-city blacks. Like I said, it’s not entirely fitting, but it comes close to my point.

So anyway, this glamorization of the mentally ill by artists and other “outsiders” has got to stop. We need your help and support. We do not need you to idolize us.

The doctor’s appointment came and went

So I should probably let you all know how things went at the doctor yesterday, especially since I haven’t talked to anyone since I got home. Honestly, I’m kind of having a hard time processing things. It was at UNMC, which is obviously a teaching place, so in addition to my doctor I dealt with her resident and a visiting med student from China who was shadowing her. I liked the resident and the med student didn’t say anything; at first I was worried because he was a guy and I have a hard time talking about trans issues around guys because I think they think I failed at being a man, but he was so non-invasive that I completely forgot he was there 30 seconds after we were introduced. My doctor was a tiny yet intimidating Eastern European woman. I think she may be Czech. I’m intimidated by Eastern Europeans because they seem incredibly blunt and forceful. It’s weird. I’m going to keep seeing her despite the fact that I’m worried that she is going to start hurling insults at me because she’s some sort of expert in transgender health, which is why she has people coming from around the world to shadow her. She also knows more about the issue than anyone else I’ve talked to: I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new, but I did. Apparently there have been rare reports of transwomen developing benign pituitary tumors after starting hormones. (She says she’s never seen it in her practice, but she does routine tests just to make sure.) She was actually quite complimentary: Part of the psych eval my doctors sent over included my GPA, and she was very impressed. Anyway, it was basically a two-hour interview session to make sure I was ready for all this jazz, then she cut me a prescription and took my blood for baseline levels so she could track my progress and check my thyroid levels (I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis as a teenager and apparently that may be a problem). I go back in three months for another check-up. I need to have quit smoking by then. (I’ve already gotten on that.)

Anyway, I’ve been in shock since then. It just seems like things should be more difficult than they’ve been lately. I had a pretty hard time from 2007-2010 which pretty much resulted in me dropping off the face of the earth for a while, and now I’ve become conditioned to think that life is always shitty. These past two years have been so great that I’m expecting something life-shattering to be just around the corner. I don’t know, it’s kind of weird. I just hope I don’t become paranoid. Maybe things can get better.

There’s a lot more I want to say, but like I said, I’m having a hard time processing things, so I’m just going to leave it at that. Peace out. Thanks for your support.

This is what happens when asocial trans lesbians go back to school and rediscover the internet

So since my big mental snaffu a few years ago I’ve been hearing a lot of folks throwing this word, “asocial”, around in reference to me. At first I was a little irritated and offended, because I thought “asocial” was like “antisocial” and the only time I ever do anything truly antisocial is when I think that the relevant social norm/custom is anti-humanist. Anyway, I did some research and found out that “asocial” is basically just a fancy clinical word for folks who are pathologically critical of society, which, to me, sounds like it’s actually a good thing. For that reason, I’ve come to embrace the fact that I’m a pathological outsider. Really, it explains a lot about me.

Anyway, part of being asocial is that I never really understood the social media jazz. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004 (or 2006: the first got deleted for making too many “mean” joke groups so I made a new one), but I’ve never really used it much. Anyway, my thing with friends is I have a few close ones that I deal with all the time, and then a bunch of acquaintances whom I hung out with regularly for a short time before deciding that thy bored me. So, I’ve never really understood the point of Facebook or Twitter or any of that jazz. If I want to know what you’re doing (or vice versa) I can text you or call you. Chances are, I already have a rough idea of what’s happening. Why you need the interweb machines for friend things?

Anyway, my internet horizons were broadened when I went back to school last spring. It started with the porn. You see, I had never really been exposed to pornography until the summer of 2007 when I got a job at a video store that sold it. Before I found out what pornography really was, I thought it was probably just videos of people making sweet, passionate love after a really romantic evening. (No, I’m not kidding; I really thought that’s what porn was like.) Turns out it’s not like that at all. It’s a bunch of sociopaths treating human beings as sub-human pleasure objects and forcing them to do the most ridiculously raunchy things they can imagine. Totally not hot. So, when I went back to school and took Philosophy of Feminism and saw that one of the paper topics was porn, I went crazy on that shit and got me an A. Anyway, part of my research for that paper was surveying internet porn sites, which tipped me off to the fact that there are such things as porn aggregators. Seriously. Google “Darlina.” And on these porn aggregators there is a category called “pizza porn.” Yes, people get of on jamming manly meat parts through the center of a pizza pie. I wish I were making this shit up. Anyway, this made me look at the internet in a whole new light.

Then, last fall, I took a political science class for which part of my participation grade was opening a Twitter account and twitting away about the news. At first I was kind of irritated, because to me this was like requiring students to go to a bar and make small talk with the other drunks, but then I discovered that Twitter is really secretly the world’s greatest news website. Seriously, just follow every new outlet you can find there and you’ll never miss out on what’s happening in the world. Fucking amazing! And then there are all the awesome radical twits. Just twenty minutes ago I discovered that Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy fame is actually on Twitter now. Now I can get Nobel Prize-worthy radical writings delivered straight to my phone device. Huzzah!

Finally, about a week and a half ago, I discovered that “liking” people and things on Facebook is akin to following them on Twitter, and you can repost whatever they post. This has lead to an orgy of me reposting everything on George Takei’s wall. This shit is fucking awesome! And now, just yesterday, I discovered Google+, which appears to be the new hangout for trendy artists and tech geeks. Totally the coolest of them all. Too bads most of my friends seem to think it’s not the coolest thing since Creepy Crawlers. Oh well, they’ll come around.

Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that all this social media bullshit might not be total bullshit. It does seem to help people spread news and share opinions. It seems like these sites have replace the Greco-Roman forums (or fora, if y’all wanna be smart about it). The internet really is the greatest invention in the history of inventing.