I cried today. Normally, I am prepared to hear negative comments about mental illness, but today I was caught off guard. Way off guard. I went to a lecture put on by writers on how to teach people to write from a voice that is not the norm. In other words, how do you teach writers to create a character who is mentally ill, or how to work with students who hear voices, make unusual connections in their brains, etc.
I was excited. I thought the topic was interesting. I often write about being psychotic and what that sounds like and feels like, so I thought the lecture was perfect for me. I also wanted to know what experienced writers had to say about teaching students who view reality in a different way than others.
The first speaker was a man without a mental illness. He had spent time talking to a psychiatrist about the types of thoughts a mentally ill person may have. His writing sounded a lot like a woman I know with schizophrenia. She writes the most beautiful metaphors I have ever heard. They are made up of some of the most unusual connections. It is natural for her to make these connections (metaphors) because that is her thought process. She can’t however carry a short story through from beginning, middle to a logical end. She can’t remain on one theme or storyline long enough. Her thoughts are disjointed.
The man who spoke read us his work. It was good, but it made me wonder why are people without a mental illness trying to write books from the perspective of the mentally ill? There are thousands of mentally ill writers that can do this without trying. It is authentic to us. Let us have our own voice, and speak our own truth. Don’t try to steal our voices away. We need as many mentally ill voices/artists out there as possible.
The second speaker was mentally ill. She had bipolar disorder. I was more interested in her experience and her perspective. She came across as slightly angry, and I don’t blame her. She was the only one with a mental illness on the panel and everyone was speaking with such authority.
Then she said it. I’ve heard it dozens of times before. I wasn’t prepared this time. I have thrown books across the room when I have read it in them. She said, “At least I don’t have the more dire diagnosis of schizophrenia.”
So, even the mentally ill view those of us with schizophrenia as worse off, as other, with a stigma.
There is nothing in our culture like having schizophrenia. We are the bottom of the barrel. We are the pit in the cherry. We are the garbage in the can.
I left the lecture with tears burning my eyes. I was angry, and I felt saddened that people who struggle with a mental illness don’t always have compassion for one another.
My husband said, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you point it out to her? Why did you let it go?”
I got sucker punched today, and I was unprepared. A sucker punch from a natural ally always hurts the most and makes me cry.