My husband told me that when he was in college, many of the architecture students would dress in black turtlenecks, and black pants. It was what students wore to look like architects. Many people that are poets and artists do the same thing, they try and develop a “look” so everyone will know their preferred identity as an artist.
On social media, people frequently try to “brand” themselves. I think this is quite successful if done intentionally or not. I know if you showed me a hundred posts written on social media there are several dozen people who, without any identifying information, I would know because of the way they said something or the words they used to say it. Some people who I have followed for years just have their own style of writing.
I don’t have a unique style on social media. I post other writer’s books. I post other writer’s articles. I post workshops and classes put on by writers. I sometimes will post a call for submissions, writing contest, or a residency. So many times I have posted something political, either something that outraged me or an article I read on an online news source, only to take it down within a few minutes to an hour later. A few years ago, I posted much more personal stuff on social media (I can tell by the memories that Facebook shows me on a daily basis), but I stopped that when I started using social media as a networking tool.
I know why I am willing to write my inner life and daily happenings on a blog but not on social media. I am afraid of the “call out culture” on social media, and what people will think, do, or say. I have strong opinions on most of the things happening in our society right now. I have strong opinions about politics, about disability, about the use of the word, “schizophrenic” (which I happen to see far too often). I have strong opinions about a lot of things, but I am not willing to fight and take heat for those opinions. I know it sounds like I am a coward, but it has to do with schizophrenia.
Making enemies (which seems to be easy online these days) and getting threats (I know many writers this has happened to) is not something I can tolerate when I already battle paranoia. So many people tell me how brave I am and how courageous I am and honestly, those words make me feel like a fraud.
I think it is easier to talk about living with the most misunderstood and feared of the severe mental illnesses than it is to post something I feel strongly about on social media. Although people often unfriend me when they find out I have schizophrenia, they don’t usually argue with me about it, the worst thing that happens is people give me advice about how to “cure” it or “treat” it or they will go on a tangent about “Big Pharma.” I can handle most of those things, although they are disheartening, at least they aren’t hateful.
I think people who put what they believe out there in public no matter what the consequences, are bold, brave and courageous. We all have a different tolerance for what we create and share about ourselves, and that is what makes the landscape of the Internet such diverse terrain – you can find every type of person, opinion, lifestyle, hobby, obsession, etc.
No one should feel alone on the World Wide Web, and as far as bravery and courage go, well that means something different to different people. If you want courage and bravery to be part of your identity or “brand” you can’t count on it the way you can an outfit that defines you as an artist or architect. Bravery and courage have to do with our own tolerance for dealing with fear and what one person fears, another person craves. I happen to fear too much and crave very little.
Yesterday, my husband and I walked on the beach. As we were enjoying hearing the waves roll in, and having the sand between our toes, we noticed all the surfers. The surfers were preparing to go out, surfers coming in, and surfers dotting the water in their black wetsuits as far as we could see.
In the evening, just in time for the sun to set, we took another walk but this time on the cliffs above the beach. We could see little black dots, dozens of them, bobbing out in the water offshore. From sunrise to sunset – surfers. Their dedication made me think of people and their passions.
Some people devote all their spare time to surfing; others devote all their spare time to playing music, climbing, hiking, swimming, golf or any number of things. I thought about how lucky those people are to have something they love to do so much in their lives – something that occupies their days, nights, thoughts, and that they spend their time and money to do.
I don’t have a passion like that. I like to write, but I frequently avoid doing it. There are times when I will do anything to pass the time besides write. I don’t think I feel about writing the way those surfers feel about catching a wave.
I wonder if a person has something that they are so focused on, and that they enjoy so much if they avoid having an existential crisis where they try to find meaning in their life? What if someone loves surfing so much that the thought that there is something more out there doesn’t cross their mind?
I wonder if people who have a passion for something are happier and more well-adjusted than those that don’t? I don’t think so because there are examples like Van Gogh, who spent most of his time and resources painting and he had a mental illness. Was his illness made better or worse by his passion? I would like to know. Maybe, he would have been unable to function if he hadn’t had his paintings. Maybe, if he hadn’t been driven almost to the point of obsession to paint, he would have been healthier? Who can say?
I do think I would be healthier if I weren’t so wrapped up in my thoughts and in my head – let’s say if I had something physical I loved to do like surfing – something where I didn’t think so much.
I have a mental illness, though, and part of the symptoms of that might very well be, too much time spent on my internal world. It can be a dark and scary world at times, and it would be a relief if I could turn that darkness off.
I think I am going to try to get out more or find something thrilling to spend my time doing. I am fairly certain less time spent in my mind would be a good thing. I would take up surfing, but I’m terrified of sharks – real sharks, not the kind that you experience when you have a mental illness.
Please check out my introductory essay for my new series on Drunken Boat. The series will cover mental illness in art.
The title is, Bright Lights and Dark Corners
I have a new blog post up on Psych Central. It is about being an imperfect advocate. It mentions Bob Dylan, feminism, and stereotypes.
I hope you will pop over there and read it.
My mind plays tricks on me. There are times when I am dozing off to sleep that I will remember a sentence I wrote earlier and the errors in it will stand out like a blue shirt against a white background. “How could I make such a dumb mistake?” I will ask myself.
Because I have already hit the send button to an editor, to a journal or for one of my blogs, I will feel so stupid thinking that the whole world now knows my inadequacies, deficiencies and the gaps in my knowledge of perfect grammar.
During these times, I will get up and check what I have sent. Many times I didn’t make the error I was positive I made. (There are times though when I reread what I sent and am horrified that I didn’t pick up on stupid and simple mistakes).
I am so hard on myself during those times. I feel like I am an imposter who doesn’t deserve the title of writer. I say to myself, “If I can’t get the basics right, how can I consider myself a writer?”
For a while, the punishment I put myself through for making mistakes seems like it will overwhelm me and I will stop writing completely. But in the long run, it is the pressure, the feeling of being an imposter, the desire to call me a writer and feel it, the desire to write something both beautiful and without errors that keep me going to classes and workshops.
I know I am harder on myself than I need to be, but when the initial weight of criticism leaves me, it makes me do more to master the craft. I sign up for another class, I read another book, and I push and push.
I bet many of you are hard on yourselves, too. I find the process of learning new things uncomfortable but my desire to be better than I was a year ago, a month ago, last week, and yesterday keeps me looking for opportunities to learn.
Do you get past the criticism of yourself and look for new avenues to drive down that will lead you to places you thought might be impossible to visit? If you do, in time we can walk to the door of some cool house and maybe even have the key to getting in.
I wrote a new blog post for Psych Central. The title of it is the same as this post. It is about the link between creativity and mental illness and how I believe we shouldn’t romanticize mental illness in any way. I hope you will check it out. The link is here.
I can’t get away from it. It is everywhere. For some reason, I keep thinking I will be safe with artists. Surely artists will understand.
I first read the name, Anne Lamott, on Facebook. Some of her quotes were going around, and I thought they were beautiful. I liked her author’s page on Facebook and started seeing updates from her. I liked what I read. I thought she would be a cool person to have coffee with once a week.
I was on Twitter a day or two after Caitlyn Jenner came out. I follow Anne Lamott on Twitter, and she was using the masculine pronoun to write about Caitlyn. People started to call her out on that. She tweeted back that she would refer to Caitlyn as she as soon as “he lost the pee pee.” (I’m not sure that is the exact quote, but it was very close to that).
If you look up Anne Lamott on Google, you will find her described as a progressive political activist. That is the best we can expect from someone who identifies as progressive and as an activist? Her son popped on Twitter and explained that his mom had some things to learn. Anne apologized. Her initial response was a total rejection of the transgender community.
I knew she wasn’t perfect, but she did own up to her ignorance and apologized, which is so much more than many people do. We all have to have space to make mistakes and grow. It is necessary to welcome the people in who are willing to open their minds and change their perspectives. I continued to follow her.
So, as one of my Christmas gifts, I bought her book, “Small Victories Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” I’m not going to lie I didn’t love the first essay in the book. But I kept reading, and there it was on page twenty. Twenty pages into the book the words, “They knew deep down they were manic-depressive crazy people…” popped out as if in bold on the page.
I held my breath. I read a few sentences to see if she meant it or would take it back. I thought maybe I read it wrong. The author is a progressive activist after all. I looked in the front of the book to see if it was published a long time ago. The copyright date said 2014.
Manic-Depressive? My first diagnosis was over twenty years ago, and it was bipolar disorder. Even twenty years ago, the switch was being made from manic-depressive to bipolar. There is a woman out of touch. Not only is she a woman out of touch, but a woman who thinks bipolar equals crazy people. I started to see her comments about Caitlyn Jenner as part of a bigger problem.
In my opinion, she is far from a progressive, and if she is an activist it is not for the marginalized or discriminated or hated or those that are made to feel less than and dehumanized. No. I don’t think of Anne Lamott as a progressive. I think of her as an outdated, ignorant person, who should be irrelevant but keeps making the New York Times Best Seller List. I guess many people don’t read closely or thoroughly enough, either that or they have the same stigmatizing attitudes that she does. All I can do is sigh because last week I thought we had made such progress in this arena. One step forward, two steps back.
artists, bands, Blogging, blogs, essay, fear, internalized stigma, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, music, musicians, paranoia, Psych Central, relationships, schizophrenia], stigma, writer
Today is one of the days that I blog for Psych Central. I try to blog for that site every Tuesday and Friday (occasionally I can’t make that schedule). Anyway, I woke up and wrote a blog about relationships that I thought was fantastic and then paranoia started to creep in. Thoughts like, “What if someone takes my advice and they die? What if the person reading my blog is in a violent relationship?” So, I ended up too fearful to post my writing.
I sat at the computer with nothing. Nothing for this blog and nothing for my Psych Central blog. I did a few yoga stretches. I tried to clear my mind. I decided research was the way to go and I ended up writing this post for Psych Central. It is a blog about internalized stigma.
If you are interested you can also read my blog post about bands and artists that I think stigmatize mental illness. It is a post I wrote over the weekend. Fans of the rock band, Disturbed disagree with my take on the video but every time you have an opinion people are going to disagree. I don’t mind disagreement, it can lead to further understanding.
I try to buy products that are handmade, recycled, upcycled, used, etc. I go to thrift stores, used book shops, and love the website, Etsy. The reason I do that is so that I can feel good about all of my purchases knowing I didn’t contribute to companies that harm their workers, use child labor, or pollute the environment. Of course I also support small businesses by shopping at Etsy and support many nonprofits by shopping in their thrift stores. It is a win-win situation all around.
I am not always successful at being a conscientious consumer though. There are times when I am in a hurry and buy products that I normally wouldn’t buy, or times, when I don’t do my research and find out later that I have supported a business, corporation, or in the case I am about to tell you about, some artists that I had no idea created stereotypical information about people with mental illnesses.
I saw this band, and a video they made, in my newsfeed on Facebook (the link I am sharing isn’t the same one I originally saw). I listened to the song again and again because I loved their remake of the original (I like the original, too).
I posted the video to my Facebook page.
Yesterday, I decided to look up the band on YouTube and see if they had any more songs that I like. This is the first song I found (Trigger Warning – suicide). Is it possible for the band, Disturbed, to be any more stereotypical about mental illness than they are in that video? The part that really bothers me is that the video has well over ten million views.
I do not want to support a band that makes videos like that. I guess they think that mental illness and psych wards make you edgy, dangerous, different, and cool. It is easy to see why so many teenagers write poetry about mental illness and inaccurately think they are “crazy.” When the bands you listen to and look up to are making videos that you watch over and over again and those videos are about stereotypes of mental illness – when was the last time you wore a uniform in the psych ward? That isn’t of course the worst of it – the message of the video is that the “keepers” of the psych ward are “jailers” and they are out to punish, change, hurt, and subdue, and even kill you.
I find that people who fall back on stereotypes to sell their art are not very creative. They certainly aren’t edgy, different, or cool. To be truly cool and edgy you have to put a new message out there. This one is as old as lobotomies, and I give this band a thumb down. No, worse than that, I give them an F at social messaging that impacts others. They reached millions of people with images that harm millions of Americans. I wish the media would pick up on this type of “stereotyping” and call artists out and hold them accountable. It is a shame that they can make money by making our lives worse – we have to live with the stereotypes they promote. This band reminds me that we have such a long way to go in seeing mental illness as the disease that it is, and we can’t even count on artists to take us the next mile or so – we have to move ourselves forward and it feels like we have to do that by crawling on our hands and knees.