Category Archives: shaming
Don and I went to see a movie the other night, and gosh, we had fun! I mean, there’s nothing funner than going out for a nice evening with your husband and being confronted straight on with the knowledge that one of the scariest things some people can imagine is being forced to live with someone like you! Yay, fun times for everyone!
The particular film trailer that is paining me this month is for “The Roommate”. At first looks like some sort of “And then they went to university and had awesome adventures” sort of film, right up until that immortal line “She is taking her medications, right?”
There’s a whole genre of these particular films which take an idea that can be pretty scary – moving in with a stranger or virtual stranger – and kick it up a notch. If it’s a comedy, then obviously the problem will be someone who drinks all the milk or borrows all your clothes or is just really annoying, and that particular story will usually be about two white dudes, and in the end the hero will get the girl. When they want to really frighten people with some thriller-version, then it’ll be all about the scary white chick who moves into some other white woman’s life, kills some of her friends, seduces her boyfriend, and tries to steal everything away from her, while some family member eventually reveals that the crazy lady is on medication for some undefined mental health condition.
Gosh, I have no idea why stigma is still attached to mental health conditions!
I really hate that I can’t turn around twice without being reminded that people like me, just by virtue of existing in the world, are scary. There’s always someone reminding me of that, whether it’s a classmate telling me she’ll just say she’s crazy if she kills someone so she can get off without punishment (even though Canada’s jails are full of people with mental health conditions), the near constant repetition of the myth that crazy people are more likely to be violent (even though people with mental health conditions are actually far more likely to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators), or waiting for the next remake of Single White Female to be put into general release.
I know. They’re just films, and they really are just taking the perfectly normal fear of moving in with someone you don’t know and exaggerating them for effect. But I also know that people are really afraid of those of us with mental health conditions, and that the stigma and myths about mental health conditions can make it really hard for people who are having problems to seek out help. I have also had many discussions with people who have been honest about their mental health conditions to roommates or university officials, and suffered the consequences.
I often see the housing concerns framed as a concern for other students – being around someone with a significant mental illness might traumatize them. And I agree that finding me dead in a bathroom would have traumatized someone. But my self-harm and my mania did not seem to me to be any more potentially traumatizing for other students than my dormmates who would go to the communal bathroom to throw up after every meal, those who were using hard drugs like cocaine, or even those who would binge drink until passing out naked on the stairway, none of whom ever suffered any potential housing consequences. To say nothing of my then-boyfriend, who was then causing me active and ongoing psychological trauma through his emotional abuse and who got to stay in the dorm with all our mutual friends after I was shipped across campus. That I was the only student looked at by the university and potentially subject to penalties – and identified as potentially problematic because I sought lifesaving and appropriate care – speaks volumes about how students with mental disabilities are seen by administrators.
I hate these movies because of the stereotypes they reinforce. I hate that these stereotypes are the main reason I don’t discuss my diagnosis. I hate that I can’t just go to the movies without being reminded that my existence is scary-thriller frightening to enough people to make these movies popular.
Mostly, I’d just like to go see a movie without the reminder. It makes my popcorn taste bad.
Also see: An open letter to abled people who use disabled parking spaces by Annaham, which this is jumping off from. Since I drafted this, s.e. also wrote Dear Imprudence: Who Appointed You the Parking Police?!
Dear abled people who like to glare at people who use disabled parking spaces,
Hi there. It’s great that you’re so conscious that disabled parking spots are for disabled people! I’m pleased you’re so keen to keep disabled spots for disabled people – after all, that’s the law and the right thing. People who aren’t disabled certainly shouldn’t be using those spots.
However, you know what my problem with what you do is? My problem is when you take your anger out on people who are using those spots legitimately. I don’t know if you glare and shake your head and tut because you don’t notice the disability signs/stickers on the front of the car – or if you think they’re faking their disabilities – or if you think those crummy disabled people simply don’t deserve to hog the best parking spots. I don’t know if you do this because you don’t expect to encounter disabled people out and about, so you think the parking spot user isn’t legit. I don’t know why you’re letting dominant narratives crowd out the person there in front of you.
I’d also like you to keep in mind that some people who need disabled parking spaces are prevented from getting the sticker. The red tape involved can be incredibly difficult to negotiate, especially for someone running on the second shift for the sick. Some people who need stickers fall through the cracks formed by the “we need to tighten restrictions because of the tiny number of fakers!” meme.
Just keep in mind that, just as there are a lot of people out there who use disabled parking illegitimately, there are also a lot of people who make life harder for people who are using the parking legitimately.
Don’t be one of them.
Last year, after the incredibly scientific method of “looking at Facebook photos”, Manulife Insurance Company decided that Nathalie Blanchard wasn’t really depressed, she was just faking it, and thus cut off her disability-related funding.
Mix up a few details, and Blanchard’s story is a pretty common one. Whenever I talk to people who are currently living with long- or short-term depression, or have lived with it in the past, they tell me the same story: Friends thought they were faking because they managed to get out and have a good time. They laughed at a joke once and everyone decided they were “over” their “funk”. They didn’t act like stereotypes of depressed people, so they must not actually be depressed.
Woe, and all that.
This is what short-term depression was like for me: I spent four months getting up, going to work, doing my job quite well, eating at work, coming home, feeding the cat, lying down on the couch, falling asleep, and waking up to do it all again the next day when the cat bit me to remind me that I had to feed him. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t go online. I didn’t eat when I wasn’t at work. I didn’t go into my bedroom. I enjoyed my job, and was often bubbly and vivacious at work, and while everyone outside of my job figured there was something up, everyone I worked with thought I was great fun and having a lovely time.
This is what short-term depression looked like for my friend: She spent a few months being aware of every possible way she could kill herself in a room. She was really angry and yelled at people a lot. She would go for long walks in the dark and wonder if someone would just hit her with a car and be done with it. She cut off most contact with her friends and spent as much time as possible alone. She was told that she should “get over it” – whatever “it” was – because everyone gets “down” sometime and she was just being a drama queen.
This is what short-term depression looked like for another friend of mine: He didn’t feel like doing anything, so he didn’t. His doctor encouraged him to go out with friends, so he went out with friends, and laughed when other people laughed and acted as normal as he could. Sometimes he’d have a really good time, and then he’d feel bad because if he was having a good time, he probably wasn’t depressed, and that meant he was just a horrible person, so he’d go back into his room and not do anything because otherwise he was bad, and then the doctor would encourage him to go out and the cycle would begin anew. But most of the time he just didn’t feel much of anything. People told him he must be getting over everything because otherwise he wouldn’t be getting out.
Depression can be sitting alone in a room being sad or down or feeling empty and alone. But when this is the only thing that people think of when they think of depression, not only are there cases like Blanchard’s, but there is pressure on the person with depression, from friends, family members, co-workers, even themselves, to look “depressed enough”.
This stereotype can also lead to people with depression delaying seeking assistance. When I was depressed, I didn’t think I was really depressed, because I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t crying. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. At all. Ever again. But I just knew I wasn’t depressed because I didn’t want to die. It took me many months to get any of the help I needed, and many of my friendships were irreparably damaged in the meantime.
This stereotype can also lead to more social isolation for someone with depression. If one needs to “act depressed” in order for people to take depression seriously, that can lead to sitting alone even if sitting alone isn’t what one wants to be doing.
I can’t tell you how people will behave when they’re depressed because, even when depressed, people can and do make all sorts of choices. They may do any of the things I’ve referred to here, or they may do something else entirely. If you think you’re depressed, I encourage you to do what you need to do to get through it, and I hope you find the help you need to recover.
For your reading enjoyment, a “Things People Say To People With Depression” Bingo Card.
It looks like it was originally posted by inbar–1423 on Tumblr. The link is to one with the image described.
ETA: Actually, the bingo card was originally created by YouKiddinRight on Livejournal. Thanks for the correction!
Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Being suicidal, especially if you have long-term thoughts about suicide and suicide ideation, can be a very isolating and lonely experience. Do you tell your friends and family? If you do, how will they react? What about your job? Will you be forcedly committed into psychiatric care? Will people assume that if you haven’t actually harmed yourself, you’re not really suicidal and just faking it for “attention”? If you’re happy and having a good time today, does that mean you’re not really suicidal at all? What exactly do you say, and who do you say it to?
These are the things I wish I could tell you:
Be as kind to yourself as you can. If you are having long-term suicidal thoughts, you are ill. You are not weak, you are not failing, you are not letting anyone down. You are sick, and just like if you had a bad cold, or some sort of infections, you need to take care of yourself, and let your body and your mind recover.
There is not a quick fix. Talking to a friend, or a professional, or a help line, taking medication, spending some time in short or long term care, these are all helpful but take take time, something you can take as much of as you need. I wish I could promise you that talking to someone would force your mind and your body to heal, but it won’t. This is not because you’re a failure, but because you are ill, and again, you need to give yourself time, because you are not a failure, and you are not letting anyone down.
You do not have to be perfect. Just like someone with a cold or an infection may skip their cold medication or their antibiotics, and as a result may get sicker or set back their recovery, you too can end up screwing something up. This does not make you a failure, and you have not let anyone down. You are still worthy of getting the help you need, and you can still reach out to people who want to help you. Again, there is no quick fix, and you are allowed to make mistakes.
I cannot promise you that everyone around you will be accepting. It is not unusual in my travels through the internet to find people writing about how people who attempt or commit suicide are “selfish” or “bad”. These people are wrong. You are ill, and that is not the same thing at all. But there are people who are trained to help you, and are willing to help you in the road to recovery, no matter how hard or how long it is. Some of these people will be strangers, and some of them will be friends or loved ones. I know it’s socially isolating and scary, but please try and reach out, because they want to help you. Here is a small list of resources that may be helpful to you.
Your pain, and how you feel, it is all real. You are allowed to feel these things. You are allowed to be who you are. None of this makes you bad, or undeserving, or unlovable.
I hope you find what you need.
People with disabilities, especially women, have all the same pressures currently non-disabled people do to look “good enough”, with added bonus of being either non-sexualised or hyper-sexualised, as well as having people infantize them to an incredible degree.
Talking about disability and self-esteem and body image is very difficult for me. People look at me and see a woman without a disability (or a woman with a non-evident one), and I pass. I don’t get the odd looks that a woman of my age (or younger, or older) using a cane or crutches would. I don’t get the pats on the head that women who use wheelchairs report, and I don’t have people leaping out of the way when I’m using a motorized scooter.
But at the same time, women like me are often used as stand-ins for “horrible”. Whether that’s the simple of “she took off her glasses and suddenly she was beautiful!”, or the more complicated of “oh my gosh! the woman I had sex with is actually a crazy person! Quick, let us make many movies about crazy = bunny-boiler = grotesque!”, I’m well aware that women like me are bad, ugly inside, and unacceptable.
These things add a whole other layer to the conversations that many women, feminist and non, have about self esteem and body image. We are all inundated with the constant barrage of White, Long-Haired, Slender (But Not Too Slender), Tall (But Not Too Tall), Unblemished, Healthy-looking, Young women in most advertising and fashion spreads, television shows, movies, and even on our book covers.1
At the same time, though, poster children and the pity parade are a fairly common image of disabled children – whether with visible or non-evident disabilities – that present people with disabilities as weak, as undesirable, as needing of pity – and always, always, always, as children. Very rarely are images of self-possessed, happy, disabled adults shown, unless they are in one of the “he’s so brave” “look at what she’s overcome” news stories.
I don’t know how this affects other people, or how they deal with it. I know that when Don first got his cane, and then his wheelchair, his self-esteem and image of himself took a hit, and it took a while for me to convince him that yes, I still found him attractive (and I can’t tell you how much I love that wheelchair, since my sexy sexy husband now has energy!). I know for me it would be nice to see images of Actual Crazy Women who aren’t mockeries of women like me, but treated like actual people. It would be nice to see casual fashion spreads with people with evident disabilities in them, rather than only seeing “diversity matters!” posters that include maybe one (male) wheelchair user, usually white.
As I said, I find these things very hard to talk about, because in many ways I don’t even know where to start. While to some extent discussing pop culture and representations there is important, how do we, as individuals, deal with our own self-esteem issues? How do we, as a group, tackle the constant attacks on people with visible disabilities to hide parts of themselves? Make yourself more approachable by putting sparkles on your cane! Soup up your wheelchair and maybe someone will ask you a question! Hide your obvious aid-devices so that they don’t offend people! Cake on make-up so no one can see your scars!
I think there’s so much here to talk about. Please, tell me your thoughts.
- The last one is so ubiquitous that until just now I didn’t realise that of all the non-fiction books on my desk about disability, only one has an actual image of visibly disabled people on it. Most of them have very plain covers, or abstract-type art on them. ↩