After months of aggravation, I finally finished the last of four math classes in a row. On Tuesday, I started a class I’ve been excited about for months — creative writing. My excitement didn’t last. It started innocently enough, but rapidly went downhill. There was an assignment to watch or read JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, and comment on what we thought of it. I posted that I admired Rowling for her attitude about failure because I’d fallen on hard times myself. I mentioned that this coincided with writers’ block, and my instructor asked if I kept a journal, because that can help with writers’ block. Harmless. right? I responded, saying that I’d recently started a new blog to help work through physical and mental health issues. Her response completely floored me when she basically said that no one likes reading cathartic blogs about upsetting issues and that the people who write them just want attention.
I probably should have kept it to myself, but I was so upset that I pointed out that the attitude that people talking about depression or other mental health problems are attention-seekers is exactly why so many of us fear speaking up and the result is a frighteningly high body count due to suicide. I don’t think she liked being called out, though I didn’t adress her directly and was very polite. Every exchange we’ve had since then, she’s made it clear she doesn’t think much of me.
As for bloggers being nothing more than attention whores if they write about things that aren’t super happy and the fact that no one likes reading what they write, I present Allie Brosh and Jenny Lawson as evidence to the contrary. Both women are bloggers with an enormous following, successful published authors, and write about mental and physical health problems.
Regardless of my awareness that what she said was absolutely incorrect, it still stings. No one living with any kind of major illness needs to be told that they’re just looking for attention and that no one cares to listen to them. This isn’t the first time someone has done this, there have been people in all areas of my life who have used various versions of this to tell me, “You don’t matter. You’re not good enough. Everything you do is wrong.” Please don’t ever do this to anyone you know. I can assure you, those thoughts are already in their head. A second opinion will not help.
You don’t have to save me from drowning, but don’t tell me to stop trying to get attention when I’m gasping for air.
There is an elephant in the room. It’s enormous, with purple spots and flashing neon tusks, and it won’t stop trumpeting as loud as it can. Somehow, everyone manages to ignore it. Talking about it makes people uncomfortable and it won’t go away, so they pretend it isn’t there. If you do talk about it, you’re immediately silenced in a multitude of ways. Some people will tell you that you’re exaggerating and it’s just a tiny little elephant and you’re perfectly capable of pretending it isn’t there. Others will say that it isn’t appropriate to talk about the elephant. Still others will insist that since the elephant isn’t bothering them, it can’t possibly be bothering you, or at least they don’t want to hear about how it’s bothering you. Don’t talk about it. Don’t acknowledge it. Look away. Grin and bear it. Oh, the elephant is standing on your chest and you can’t breathe? You’re just not trying hard enough. You could push it off if you wanted to. Why are you crying? Surely not because of the enormous hole in your chest where the elephant gored you with his tusk. Just stop bleeding. Try harder. Just ignore the pain and you’ll be fine. Keep smiling. Keep pretending.
The elephant’s name is Mental Illness. The unwritten rules of society and the stigma attached keep people from seeking help. This is as true for people in the public eye as it is for those of us fighting our own battles in private. One of the first questions asked when someone loses the battle is, “why didn’t they ask for help?” Society teaches us early on that we can’t ask for help because that would mean talking about the elephant in the room. So we force a smile and learn how to hide the fact that we’ve been crying. “I’m tired.” “I just don’t feel well.” “My allergies are really bad today.” “I’m fine.” Always, always, “I’m fine.”
The last time I was able to see a therapist, he wanted to hospitalize me. That was several years ago. The problem with temp work, which I’ve been doing for quite a while, is that even if you get insurance, it doesn’t cover mental health. I’m finally insured again. Part of me worries I’ll get the same reaction. I just keep thinking, “I don’t have time for a psychotic break. I have a job and school.” That’s the other thing you learn. It’s not just that you shouldn’t talk about it, it’s that self-care is selfish. Everything, everyone else has to come first. I know I need help. I know I’m unwell.
I picked up this planner for $5 the other day, not because I think 2018 is the year I’ll finally get my shit together and be organized, but because I loved what it said on the cover. I think there are a lot of people who think words like “crazy” are ableist, but I find it’s just a useful catch-all. Multiple mental health issues is a bit wordy for my taste. Not that I don’t love words. I’m writing a fucking blog, for (insert deity here)’s sake. It’s full of words. I just don’t think I need an excess of words to describe the chaos in my head. I’m crazy. I’m not homicidal (except when I have to go to Walmart) and I’m not a Scientologist. I’m just regular crazy. Store brand crazy.
I hate when people throw around legit diagnoses and symptoms like they’re funny. “OMG, this weather is like so bipolar,”…”I have to make sure my shoes match my purse. I’m so OCD,”…”I hate exams. They give me panic attacks.” No. All the no. Weather cannot be bipolar. It does not have a brain. Making sure your shoes match your purse is good fashion sense (seriously, Linda, get it together) but it doesn’t chart compared to someone who, for example, can’t walk away from the front door of their home without unlocking and locking the deadbolt precisely eight times. If you ever actually had a panic attack, you’d wish your pre-exam jitters were the worst you’d ever felt. Panic attacks are terrifying and painful and, if they happen in front of other people, humiliating. This shit is no joke.
Crazy is different. It has a multitude of uses. Cake batter ice cream is crazy good. I’m crazy about The Muppets (the good Muppets, before Disney ruined them), who had Crazy Harry. Granted, he may actually have been an arsonist, now that I think about it, but he’s made of felt, so he gets a pass. Beyoncé was “Crazy In Love.” John Cusack and Demi Moore had “One Crazy Summer.” Crazy is just a multipurpose word that steps in when others are too big or complicated.
I’m crazy. I’m okay with that.