So I read this stupid article the other day. It was called “8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance,” and while it had some semi-decent points, it was mostly very “man, the establishment and stuff.” Education, college included, is making us all conform to…something; television allows us to live in a fantastical dream world in which actions come consequence-free (dude. watch some crime shows, ok?); and most predictably, we’re all being medicated into compliance!!!
Which, no. No, no, no, no, no.
Setting aside how steeped in privilege this entire article is (how cute that the author has apparently never had to imagine the social and economic ramifications of not finishing high school), it’s also dumb in that very special fauxgressive, elitist, cis-het-male-able-bodied-middle-class-Caucasian kind of way. And it gave me an annoyed.
(Oh, and this is kinda off-topic, but just as a side note—what is it with the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching older generations who apparently cannot fathom the possibility that people who grew up with television and other technology would, in fact, be able to differentiate between TV, video games, and Real Life™? Violence, racism, misogyny, ablism, homophobia, transphobia—their presence in the media is a problem because it’s indicative of actual attitudes held by actual people, because their popularity suggests that bigotry is rampant, and because their prevalence reassures bigots that it’s all cool, don’t bother rethinking your bullshit. But the media is not dragging people into a Big Crazy Dream Land. People create entertainment, and then the media reinforces their bigotry. It works cyclically. The No-Good Terrible Very-Bad Media is not some kind of mysterious entity swooping down to corrupt us all.
Plz to not anthropomorphize the media kthanxbai.)
Anyway, here’s what I don’t get about the Meds Are Making Us Conform bullshit: well, everything, but my biggest problem with it is that, if you really want people to be malleable and ineffectual, you keep them sick. Right? I mean, before we had meds, we had…what? Institutions, and before that, nothing. Sick people just stayed sick, or got sicker, and eventually died.
If you deny treatment to someone with a physical ailment, whether they ignore the sickness or go into debt trying to buy treatment themselves, you have weakened them and taken some of their power. Is it really such a stretch to apply this to mental illness?
Oh wait. Yes it is. Because people get weird about mental illness.
If I had any doubt about the general public’s apparent inability to treat mental illness as a real thing that actually happens and is the fault of brain chemistry, not the person suffering from the illness, those doubts were put to rest the day Amy Winehouse’s death was first reported. Because here’s someone who stated publicly that she suffered from bipolar disorder, who became addicted to multiple substances, who wrote music about her addictions—and yet, after she died, I heard tons of people essentially saying “oh well, dead junkie is dead.”
Because yeah, that’s fair. Because this is totally the first time someone with bipolar disorder has ever developed a compensatory substance abuse problem, and clearly, it was entirely her fault.
I mean really. Obviously, I didn’t know Amy Winehouse, and I don’t know what her life was like, and I’m not going to pretend I had some deep personal investment in her well-being. That would be kind of creepy. And I don’t have bipolar disorder, so I can’t personally testify to how it feels. I do know plenty of people with BPD, one of whom is an immediate family member, so I’m fairly close to it, but no, I haven’t really been there.
And yet, I know better than to blame people for not winning the neuro-lottery. Crazy, right? (That’s not to say I won the neuro-lottery myself; I haven’t really. But I didn’t fare too badly, and I have plenty of other privilege that helps compensate for the problems caused by the issues I do have.)
People love to trot out Personal Responsibility as an excuse to ignore mental illness—because like, duh, you gottta take responsibility for your problems and stuff! It’s not even that I disagree; I think that sympathy, taken too far, can become coddling, which is enabling (and one of the reasons I prefer empathy to sympathy, but that’s a whole other post). I think it’s easy to slip into the role of an enabler, and I dislike arguments which assume that the mentally ill can never have any power or agency.
First, there are people whose illnesses really are so severe that they literally cannot be held accountable for their actions. They don’t comprise the majority of the mentally ill, but they are there. The degree of their illness might be temporary, or it could be permanent, but they shouldn’t be ignored.
And second, I’m not going to jump on the Personal Responsibility bandwagon until our cultural attitudes toward mental illnesses change. I’m not going to criticize people for not seeking help when the likelihood that they will be shamed for it is so strong. Actually, I probably wouldn’t criticize them anyway, but you know.
Not to be one of those obnoxious self-referential bloggers who makes everything relate back to Me and My Issues, but I’ve dealing with this problem right now—because while I am finally, after years of being really fucking miserable, coming to recognize the depths of my issues with food, I cannot pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with a counselor. Part of the problem is that I’m tired, and used to feeling shitty, and terrified of gaining weight. But another part of it is the fear that I’m not sick enough, that I’m exaggerating, that I just need to go eat a waffle and go biking in the sunshine and listen to the birds chirp. (Or whatever.) Part of it is the fear that I’m just privileged and self-obsessed, and that the counselor is going to shrug and say, meh. You’re fine. You don’t look like someone with an ED. And part of it is simply not wanting to put up with the bullshit that comes when people discover you have a problem.
Which, whatever, I’ll be fine. But this just reinforces my anger when it comes to popular attitudes in re: mental illness, because really, what the fuck? I mean, I understand that there’s magical thinking at work here: the stubborn belief that people with diagnosed mental disorders are weak, that the contemptuous magical asshat in question isn’t weak, and therefore, that zie is immune from mental illness. Ok, fine, I get it. But it’s stupid and damaging.
And it enrages me (enrages, I say) when people who ostensibly support universal health care either make exclusions for mental illness, or pretend it’s a non-issue. No, it’s not. It’s really not. And sorry, but you don’t have the right to determine what kind of illnesses deserve treatment. You also don’t get to decide who deserves treatment, or for how long, or to what degree. You just don’t.
I wish I could write more on that subject, but now I’m pissy.
All I’m really asking, I guess, is that mental illness be treated as something real, as something harmful, and not as a sign of non-comformity and exciting independence. I also want this to be a genderless issue, but of course it isn’t. I remember when Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty were both gaining notoriety in the States, and the ways they were discussed were, ah, radically different. Amy Winehouse?—worthless junkie, terrible person, and people kept making fun of her beehive and beat-up ballet flats. But Pete Doherty? He was a misunderstood genius with a boyish face, which could be totally cute if he just got off the heroin and started bathing again.
Basically, I want a world that encourages anyone suffering from mental illness to seek help, regardless of who they are, how affable they seem, how sympathetic their suffering is. I want treatment to be free, for as long as it’s needed. I want everyone to realize that no, medication isn’t Destroying Young Minds; when used appropriately, it empowers people who suffer from problems they never asked for.
I also want this post to be more coherent, but I have too many thoughts and not enough focus. Heh.