Mental Health: In Which Steff Calls a Spade a Spade

A couple months ago, I proposed to talk about writing for therapy, how to kinda “go there”, via blogging.
The conference was yesterday. It was an “unconference” put on by end-patients and people who work on the peripheries of mental care.
Why did I want to get involved?
For a million reasons. I’ll get to most of them shortly.
But, first: I proposed my talk without knowing the conference’s “reputation” or anything like that. I just wanted a forum to talk about depression.
Unbeknownst to me, I stepped into the thick of a controversial “unconference.” It wasn’t until Friday that I really realized just how controversial it was. Whether it’s because ballsy speakers like Steven Schwartz speak in dismissive vernacular, saying edgy-yet-funny adjectives a lot of boring people object to, or because of who was organizing it, or even the press some of us speakers were getting, the reactions were ridiculously sharp and pointed.
Late Friday night, I saw comments some anonymous dumb fuck left on the Mental Health Camp’s website, and I got pretty riled up. Since then, all the comments were deleted, which I take serious issue with.
Me, I never would have deleted the comments. We convened the camp to fight stigma against the “idea” of mental illness, so why would you delete, and not fight, that stigma when it stands up and attacks you? Deleting and silencing the attack does nothing to neutralize it. But that’s where I stand and it’s not my blog. So, yeah. Moving on.
The asshat’s comments varied, but the most offensive of them all were that a number of those involved in the Mental Health Camp were doing so only to propel their image and get their allotted moments of Warholian fame. Media whores, basically, all faking their interest to get noticed.
Heh. Yeah, okay. Fucking shrewd, that.
A line in the comment made me wonder if I was one of the people they alluded to, just because I had the audacity to do an interview with CBC about the conference.
Here’s the deal, all right?
I’ll be the first to admit there were organizational issues with the conference. That’s what happens with not-for-profit amateur/volunteer organizers, people who have organized a conference just to have discussion and don’t have experience organizing them.
Oh, well. That’s life. It happens. But it’s not about the organizing.
It’s about the messages explored — mental health, stigma, and the fact the lives are destroyed by mental illness every moment of every day, and the fact that EVERYONE in their lifetime will experience mental illness at some point, and YET we don’t talk about it.
Well, I do, and I have for years.
I’ve been writing about depression, weight issues, self-esteem, lack of confidence, and everything else I’ve battled in life since 2005, and blogging since 2004. I’ve been getting real fuckin’ raw and honest since 2006.
There are a whole lot of things I’m willing to do to have success as a writer. Do you know what the least smart of them would be?
Letting myself in any way be any kind of poster girl for any mental illness.
Let’s see, when was the last time a Hollywood publicist suggested their celebrity client embrace their mental illness for the public as a means of netting better starpower in the press? Um, never.
Know why?
No one wants to be thought of as “nuts”.
Because people who are strong, intelligent, articulate, engaging, and well-liked don’t come out and admit their mental illnesses. They don’t talk about them. So stigma exists because all we see are the nutty fucks you try to avoid in hallways, or the whackjobs they put on television shows.
But those are extremes.
When assholes like that anonymous commenter attack a conference whose only purpose is to bring the overly-shamed and constantly-silenced issue of mental health to the forefront only because they dislike the people behind it, and they use that opportunity to suggest it’s basically Starfucking by those involved, it’s an insult to the seriousness of the issue.
It also suggests they have no fucking idea what it’s like to have been, in my case, an otherwise strong and intelligent person who took the wrong medication and considered suicide before spending the next year-plus trying to claw my way out of the depths.
It suggests they have no idea what it’s like to live under the clutches of your mind, body, and chemistry’s whimsy on a day-in, day-out, year-by-year basis, never being able to rise above a sick world of fear, chaos, and hopelessness that can’t manifest outwardly, that you hear inside your head every time you wake or lie down to sleep.
It suggests they don’t fathom that mental illness is the most costly and insidious of sicknesses in society — it destroys the fabric of life, of all the lives around the sufferer, not just the body of the afflicted. It ends relationships, destroys marriages, causes debt, and is the largest reason for employee leaves of absence in the modern workforce.
I don’t WANT to talk about depression.
But I need to.
Because what happened to me can happen to anyone.
Because it happened to my mother, and, as a 17-year-old girl, I walked in on her attempting suicide with the very pills that caused her chemically-induced depression — one like I myself would experience 17 years later.
Because doctors will tell you birth control pills don’t cause depression.
Because I know my birth control made me want to kill myself and feel like life could never have hope again.
I need to talk about depression because I’m tired of bi-polars, schizophrenics, and other more acute or rare mental health concerns having the limelight in “mental illness,” when it’s depression that’s most likely to touch, and destroy, the average life.
I feel like their more “stereotyped” afflictions make it less likely for seemingly average Jolenes like myself to come out and say, “I’m not that afflicted, but it still really fucked me up, too, and no one saw any big signs…”
I am a good writer. I’m a really, really good writer. I’m a passionate speaker who will not mince her ideas. I don’t back down from a fight. I’m engaging, funny, and even self-deprecating. I’m a great communicator with friends, family, everyone.
And yet depression almost took me out of the game of life.
But I survived.
I made it to the other side. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m happy most of the time.
Still, I’m surrounded by people I see who are skating through life with the cool indifference of someone struggling with depression. I see it everywhere. And we’re NOT TALKING ABOUT IT.
You want to attack my IDEAS? Go for it.
But don’t fucking attack ME or any of those people who’ve had the STRENGTH to write about all the things YOU make fun of, that YOU won’t trust, or YOU can’t admit about yourself.
We’re out there only for the reason that we can’t be silent anymore. Society can’t AFFORD our silence anymore. We need to hear our thoughts expressed on the page, we believe our experiences are real and representative of the whole, yet largely ignored by the mainstream.
And we’re not going to be quiet about it.
Not anymore.
Until you’ve lost your job — like I once did — for writing in the public eye about your darker self, until you’ve had the courage to write without tempering your weaker thoughts and fears, until you’ve been able to admit you have an affliction the majority of society can’t understand and doesn’t know how to act around, you have no right to criticize us for the moments of acknowledgement we might finally receive after years of having the courage to tell our stories no matter what the prices have been.
Now it’s easier for me. But where the fuck were you in 2006 when I wanted to commit suicide only 9 days after writing the most harrowing things I’ve ever published? Where were you when my traffic dropped to nothing as I used my blogs to work through my depression? Where were you when I lost a job and nearly my home for having a voice on less acceptable topics? Where were you when I struggled to maintain faith in speaking out? Where were you when I constantly had to lower my voice when I said what I wrote about?
Sure, now you know about me, but I’ve been doing this for a long fucking time and I’ve paid a LOT of steep prices for my honesty.
But I’ve paid ’em and now you can’t shut me up. Just try it, honey. You’ll only wind me up more.
If I finally have an audience and a wider means of getting my message out, you’d have to be a fucking moron to think I’d walk away from that opportunity.
Oh, and being single and getting press for having gone nuts, been suicidal, and longterm depressed? Yeah, that’ll be a fucking brilliant way for me to get laid. I hear men are wild about that shit.
Marketing GENIUS, clearly.
Whoever you were, you anonymous spineless motherfucking commenter: Grow up. You’re a fucking idiot. Open your eyes. See that some battles need to be waged with faces on them.
At least I have the guts to show mine.

14 thoughts on “Mental Health: In Which Steff Calls a Spade a Spade

  1. Abby

    I can’t yell or shout YES or AMEN loudly enough. What you do takes more than balls, it takes courage. Not the fluffy kind that gets thrown around so often like saying someone is nice, but the raw, walk through fire, put it all on the line, hell or high water, will not back down, you’ll have to go through me first kind. I only just started reading, but respect the hell out of you for what you do, simply because you have the courage to DO it.
    So YES, AMEN and a HELL YEAH for good measure.

  2. Karen Floriego

    Boohoo, and does anyone care? NOT.
    W/o whining about depression, what would you have to discuss? NOTHING.
    Birth control made me sad? Laughable plea for attention.
    Mental Health Camp: retarded whinefest for social mis-shits.
    You milk each other’s pathetic udders.

  3. harriet

    Funny thing is, it still is very hard for people to “come out” about mental illness or even fears, weaknesses, and anxieties around work, life, the universe and everything. The more unconferences, media, blogging, tweeting on the subject the better. Keep it up!
    .-= harriet´s last blog ..Different yet similar =-.

  4. Airdrie

    “Whoever you were, you anonymous spineless motherfucking commenter: Grow up. You’re a fucking idiot. Open your eyes. See that some battles need to be waged with faces on them.”
    thanks steff for having the balls to say what some of us are unable to articulate. xo
    .-= Airdrie ´s last blog ..Geek- =-.

  5. Zoeyjane

    Fuck, yeah. And seriously, Karen is a spineless asshole. If someone has something to say, but they have to hide behind a veil of anonymity by using a fake name and/or email address, they’re not really very confident about themselves or their message. I sense that maybe ‘Karen’ has some issues of her own to deal with, yes?

  6. Will Conley

    Like water off a stone. That’s how we must be with regards to silencing tactics. We are a stone, a boulder, a mountain on a great chain swung by the purpose as of a heavenly David versus a materialist-bound Goliath.
    A friend said to me: “Add more weight to the pendulum.” It is a useful visual for me, in regards to “not letting the little things get you down.”
    I believe depressives are a majority, not a minority. I believe there is a hegemony in which denial oppresses bravery of exploration.
    I believe there is a spiritual bankruptcy to our society. That spiritual bankruptcy saps our courage to expand our inner life until it emerges into our outer life.
    We must, as you have done here, advance the forces of our inner life into the outer world. Call it “making dreams come true.” That which we dream is true; let truth be made flesh.
    When the patient has been laid out on the table, under the bright light of inspection, the doctor – our consciousness – can then operate.
    My two cents, ladies and gentlemen.
    .-= Will Conley´s last blog ..Things change quickly in my life Here- let me slow it down for you =-.

  7. Derek K. Miller

    The comment from “Karen” is a perfect example of the double standard with mental illness. When I write about having cancer or diabetes, or go on radio or TV to talk about it, no one accuses me of “whining” or of doing it solely to get myself some fame (although, honestly, I wouldn’t try to get on radio or TV if that wasn’t at least a little bit of my motivation—that’s why I’ve done it to talk about non-disease topics too).
    Since “Karen” doesn’t seem to have been at Mental Health Camp either (especially if her ISP is in L.A.), I wonder how she knows it was a “whinefest for social mis-shits” too. At least she bid you ADIEU, so with luck you won’t need to deal with her round these parts again. Yee haw.
    .-= Derek K. Miller´s last blog ..iPad impressions =-.

  8. Raul

    Thank you, for so many reasons. For attending, for bearing with me and our organizational issues (mostly, my own fault, trying to balance everything on an already very full plate), for contributing your voice, for defending me (because I did see the comment and yes it was aimed against me, and partially against Cathy, but mostly me). More importantly, thank you for being you.

  9. Keldie

    Hey Steff,
    I love reading your blog and tweets. You are more honest in your writings than most people. You are a brave woman to bare your soul so openly. More so than me for sure.
    Thank you for taking a stand and writing about it instead of remaining silent. You seem to have my voice sometimes, except you articulate way better than I ever could.
    Thanks again for being you.
    – Keldie

  10. Janis La Couvée

    Thanks for your blog post. Thanks for your support of the organizers of Mental Health Camp. Thanks for your honest writing.
    You’re right about futile attempts at silencing people who have the courage to declare THEIR truth.

Comments are closed.