Tag Archives: mental illness

Recommended Reading for December 21, 2010

James S. Fell for the Los Angeles Times: Holistic nutrition is weak on science, strong on selling supplements

You may not know the term, but you’ve surely heard its claims. Among other things, holistic nutritionists (or HNs, as they call themselves) may teach that fluoride and pesticides are lethal, that most diseases and detrimental behaviors are diet-related and that many people would benefit from taking numerous supplements. I’ve read plenty of articles by HNs in which they assert that they are disparaged by mainstream medicine and warn you not to trust modern medicine.

Gina Kolata for the New York Times: Tests detect Alzheimer’s risks, but should patients be told?

It is a quandary that is emblematic of major changes in the practice of medicine, affecting not just Alzheimer’s patients. Modern medicine has produced new diagnostic tools, from scanners to genetic tests, that can find diseases or predict disease risk decades before people would notice any symptoms.

Kathryn Roethel for the San Francisco Chronicle: Chronic migraines: When pain is all in the head

After Robertson’s headaches began, she started wearing sunglasses to school because the migraines made her sensitive to light. Then she gave up fencing – a sport she’d competed in for seven years. She cut school to half time, then had to quit altogether.

In their Potrero Hill home, Robertson’s family put in skylights because the light bulbs were too bright for her. They stopped cooking with garlic and onions because the scents made her nauseous. On the rare occasions when she is well enough to eat meals at the dinner table, her mother lowers the lights and everyone speaks calmly and softly.

David Sirota at Truthout: Why the “Lazy Jobless” Myth Persists

First, there’s what psychologists call the Just-World Fallacy — the tendency to believe the world is inherently fair. This delusion is embedded in our pervasive up-by-the-bootstraps, everyone-can-be-a-millionaire catechism. The myth of the lazy unemployed can seem to make sense because it connects those ancient fables to current news, effectively alleging that today’s jobless deserve their plight.

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Mental Illness: Brain Function Impairment

Re-branding the current term “mental illness” to the more accurate description “brain functioning impairment”, will go a long way towards solving our stigma problem. We can reposition the impairment term as the politically correct term, and phase out the awful connotations of the old term. At a minimum, rebranding will go a long way toward forcing the general public to change its perception of people with BFI.

Recommended Reading for December 7, 2010

Cheryl at Finding my Way: On Privilege, Again

It was after this that the almost imperceptible freak out occurred. What am I going to do when it snows? How am I going to get food this winter? People / the county just don’t shovel sidewalks very well and it’s too far to roll in the street. At least you could get to the old grocery store by cutting through the mall and you’d barely be outside at all. It’s too cold for me to be outside that long in the winter. Cold hurts. Even in the daylight, in a few weeks it will be too cold. It’s 20-25min each way. I don’t want to take paratransit somewhere I could roll (absent snow). I don’t want to pay a cab to get somewhere I could roll. What a waste of money and time and aggravation.

CCA Captioning: WHY CART in Courts/justice

As I am awaiting a verdict in what would normally be an “average” vehicular manslaughter trial, I wanted to share the many interesting stumbling blocks that arose. The defendant in this five-day trial is profoundly hard of hearing. I was called in and hired by the Superior Court as a “realtime interpreter” to provide accessibility for the defendant during his trial. The official reporter proceeded with her duties, as it would be impossible to have done both, which I will explain later. I was fortunate to have a wonderful courthouse staff to work with in this small town of Cochise County in Bisbee, AZ, about 1.5 hours from my home in Tucson.

Gwen at Sociological Images: Regional variation in adults with diabetes, 2004-2008

Here’s a problem: neither the CDCP nor the Slate article specify. They say “adult diabetes,” meaning individuals over the age of 18 who are diagnosed with diabetes (so not necessarily adult onset diabetes). I think that would mean either Type 1 or Type 2.

Katie Zezima for the New York Times: Mental health cuts put police on the front line of care

Despite increased awareness, many officers, mental health workers and advocates for the mentally ill say that with fewer hospital beds and reduced outpatient services — especially at centers that treat the uninsured — many patients’ family members and friends, and even bystanders, are turning to the police as the first choice for help when a crisis occurs. Many states are feeling the brunt of cuts that started years ago but have gotten worse because of the economy.

Christina Fuoco-Karasinski at Soundspike: Charlotte Martin dances past “Needles” to a happy ending

“One day I remember doing a set of push ups, and something just snapped, and it went from numb to pain [in October 2009]. It was a really confusing, painful journey trying to figure out what exactly it was. You’d be surprised. There are a lot of doctors that didn’t know what it was. They really thought it was muscles or tendons. But I’ve got this burning shooting thing happening. It continued to get worse. It was really awful.”

Recommended Reading for November 23, 2010

miss_invisible at Take a little look… (DW): Origins

I often find myself wondering when, exactly, everything started. Have I always been dealing with mental illness? Have I always been, to greater or lesser degrees, disabled? At times the wondering borders on obsession, the inability of my anxious mind to let things go making me turn the thought over and over in my mind. Maybe part of me thinks that if I knew when it started, if I could find some moment and say, “This is when it began,” then maybe I could master it. I could understand it, I could control it, I could fix it. Ridiculous, obviously, but a lot what goes on in my head has fairly little to do with logic.

Shoshie at Catalytic Reactions: Afraid to Fly (trigger warning)

I particularly worry about flying the day before Thanksgiving.  The flights are so full, the airlines are looking for any excuse to boot people.  And now, there’s the added stress of the body scanners/grope searching.  I don’t want to go through the body scanners.  I don’t want someone to see my naked body.  I’m not ashamed, but I haven’t done anything wrong.  They have no right.

Lene Anderson at The Seated View: Everyday Hero

The click in my mind that connected that to the undertone of amazement that a person with a disability would adapt and go on with their life. It’s as if there’s a sense of awe that someone would face difficulty or pain without being curled up in a corner, gibbering in fear and how this bestows upon the person a regard as being a role model. Because it is apparently inconceivable to the able-bodied that it is possible to have a life while not being able to move your body the way the Abs do. Inconceivable to the point that there is this weird sense that disability conveys an alienness, an otherworldly not quite personhood.

BenefitScroungingScum at The Broken of Britain: Clare’s Story

I’ve been exhausted for as long as I can remember. I remember walking along in a kind of dream state when I was 7 or 8. I never went out anywhere as a teenager, I didn’t have the energy. At 19 I went to Germany to be an au-pair and remember the exhaustion of that. When I returned I went straight to University to study German. In a summer job in a museum in Munich I used to imagine making a den in the coaches that were part of the exhibit. I started to forget words. A nightmare for a linguist. That’s when it got worse. In my year out, I developed an allergy and was prescribed a high dose of antihistamines. I just slept through the rest of that year. The next year I developed a flu that didn’t go away and slept through my final year too.

Shari Roan for the Los Angeles Times: Sensory stimulation could prevent brain damage from stroke

Imagine a safe, inexpensive and drug-free way to prevent the long-term brain damage that often follows a stroke. No such treatment exists, but a new study involving rats suggests it might not take much to prime the brain to repair itself in the immediate aftermath of a stroke. For the rats, the simple act of tickling a whisker was enough to allow the animals to regain full cognitive function after a severe stroke — as long as the treatment was given within two hours.

Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine: Chronic pain: A disease in its own right

Herself a victim of chronic pain, [author Melanie Thernstrom] brings a personal perspective to the subject and also includes informative vignettes of doctors and patients she encountered at the many pain clinics she visited in her investigations. She shows that medical treatment of pain is suboptimal because most doctors have not yet incorporated recent scientific discoveries into their thinking, discoveries indicating that chronic pain is a disease in its own right, a state of pathological pain sensitivity.

Recommended Reading for November 16, 2010

Peggy Orenstein for the New York Times Magazine: The code-words of breast cancer awareness

Fast-forward to today, when, especially during October, everything from toilet paper to buckets of fried chicken to the chin straps of N.F.L. players look as if they have been steeped in Pepto. If the goal was “awareness,” that has surely been met — largely, you could argue, because corporations recognized that with virtually no effort (and often minimal monetary contribution), going pink made them a lot of green.

But a funny thing happened on the way to destigmatization. The experience of actual women with cancer, women like Rollin, Black, Ford and Rockefeller — women like me — got lost. Rather than truly breaking silences, acceptable narratives of coping emerged, each tied up with a pretty pink bow.

Ally at Every Crooked Step Forward: Where I Write About (Not) Coming Out

I could have lied. But I couldn’t lie. I didn’t know asexual was anything, then, so I just said no, and then was forced to sit through all the speculation. They didn’t know, and I didn’t know enough to argue with them. People assumed I was undesirable, because of the CP, and I didn’t argue with them, though I wanted to because the assumption hurt, but the hurt was hard to explain, under the circumstances. People assumed I was too brain damaged to understand sex, and I couldn’t explain otherwise, because simply having no desire was enough to tell sexuals I didn’t understand.

Lisa at Sociological Images: Illustrating a “Normal” Life Course

By organizing birth control needs according to age, the slide show teaches viewers a socially-approved timeline for our sexual, marital, and reproductive lives.   Teen sex is invisible, having children in your 30s is ideal, and the end of a relationship is an option but, as Corina points out, not having children is not.

Wheelchair Dancer at cripwheels: Broken

Regardless of the state of Tommy’s mind and body, it is we who are broken.  It is we who drink in glorifications of war and heroism in the movies and kill the political systemic message of such poetry by treating it as individual expression.  It is we who refuse to provide support and systems of support to help our veterans; it is we who shame and silence them into a stiff upper lip.  We are the ones who both stare and look away.  Homelessness doesn’t respond to swelling music and huge parades.  PTSD isn’t best treated by ignoring it.

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Unlike Breast Cancer with their irascible pink color, and Heart Disease with their “wearing red” campaign, Mental Illness doesn’t have the awareness in the public eye that those campaigns and others such as Multiple Sclerosis or other equivalent organizations.  Why is that?

David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine: Homeopathy for fibromyalgia: The Huffington Post bombs again

As you might be able to guess, because fibromyalgia is a syndrome of unclear etiology with a wide variety of physical complaints, widely varying severity, and a clinical course that waxes and wanes, it is a woo magnet. Indeed, many conditions that scientists do not yet understand well and/or for which we do not yet have particularly good treatments are woo magnets.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for November 9, 2010

John Keilman for the Los Angeles Times: Technology opens new horizons for disabled

Yet for all of technology’s promised advances, some worry that the cost will keep helpful devices out of many people’s reach. Others are concerned that governments, schools and institutions might think that high-tech gadgetry has relieved them of their responsibility to serve the disabled.

“Technology is not a solution for every problem,” said Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind. “It doesn’t replace the need for quality teaching. It doesn’t replace the need to teach social skills.”

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Paranoid Schizophrenia: Worst Disease in the World

During the tail end of my psychotic break with reality, I came to believe that there were zombies after me, ready to kill me in order to take over my body. My fear of them taking over my body eventually became so great that I decided to go to the local hospital emergency room, where I thought I would be safe from them.

Liz Sayce at RADAR Network: Health and safety: Stifling disabled people’s independence?

As politicians queue up to cite ever more ludicrous examples of health and safety excesses – making kids wear goggles to play conkers, cancelling historic Gloucestershire cheese rolling events, stopping trainee hairdressers having scissors – those of us living with health conditions or disability sometimes hesitate about which side of this argument we are on.

On the one hand, selected stories like this, designed to justify scrapping regulation, can – as the NASUWT just put it – play politics with children’s safety or put workers at greater risk. On the other, there is a massive history of health and safety being used as an excuse to stop disabled people from doing things. So – whilst I hesitate to join all the people selecting examples of health and safety excesses – we do need to look them in the eye.

Irish Deaf Kids: The Salamanca Statement and EPSEN Act (2004)

A key point:

“regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminating attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency & ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.”

allama at give the feminist a cigarette: Women as sociological ducks

In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

incurable hippie at Where’s the Benefit? Round-Up Post

There are plenty of must-read articles and blog posts which I haven’t had the time or the spoons to cover. All of the following are well worth a look.

Astonishingly, A Mental Illness Plot on House That Doesn’t Make Me Want to Scream!

Content note: This post contains critical plot elements from ‘Massage Therapy,’ the fourth episode of season seven of House.

Watching the House episode ‘Massage Therapy’ and approaching the grand denouement, I got ready to be infuriated. The storyline involves a character, Margaret, with schizophrenia. She conceals it from her husband and when she gets sick, the medical team spends an extended period of time puzzling over what’s going on until they finally figure it out. What I expected from this episode was much brouhaha, followed with a brisk round of ‘you can totally leave your partner for being disabled!’ What happened surprised me.

Now, I am not a fan of keeping secrets. I am, in fact, fairly strongly anti-secret. And I do not think that concealing very significant information from your spouse is an ok thing to do, even if I understood exactly why she did it, fearing the stigma associated with schizophrenia. It wasn’t really explored deeply in the episode, but it seems possible that they started dating and she never brought it up, and it got to a point where she couldn’t figure out how to say anything. So, I sympathise with what the character did, even if I don’t agree with it.

I expected House, who is kind of known for being a jerk, to support the husband in wanting to leave his wife because of her mental illness. But that’s not actually what occurred. Instead, when the husband follows House out of the room, looking for justification and vindication, House basically gave him a stern talking to. He pointed out that, yes, marriage and love and relationships are hard, and that, no, it’s actually not ok to decide to leave your partner because you just found out she has a mental illness.

‘This is not who I married,’ the husband says. House points out that this is wrong; Billy, the husband, married a woman he loved very much and shared a lot in common with. That hasn’t changed. She’s not a different person now that he knows about her mental illness. She’s the same person, and she’s someone who could probably really benefit from the love and support of her husband right now, while she works on finding a treatment method that works for her.

‘It’s too hard,’ Billy says. Well, I’m with House on this one. Life and relationships are hard. Concealing information is definitely a problem, but it’s worth exploring why she felt the need to conceal that information for so long, why she tried so determinedly to hide from her husband. Given his reaction, of wanting to leave her because of her mental illness, I think it could be argued that she had pretty sound reasons for her decision; this is something I have encountered myself, and that some of our readers probably have too, that once you disclose a mental illness, suddenly you’re not as desirable. You’re ‘too much work.’ And the person who was happily dating you, who had a lot in common with you, who was really excited about being with you, stops calling.

I’m not saying here that people should be forced to stay in relationships they don’t want to be in. What I am saying is that wanting to leave your partner because you just found out about a disability is a shitty thing to do. Wanting to leave your partner for keeping a significant secret, being concerned about the lack of trust there, is valid, but deciding you want to leave not because of the secretkeeping, but because the secret was a disability? Not so much.

Disability complicates relationships, for all parties. Recognising when a relationship is not working and being honest about the role disability plays in that does not make people bad people. In this case, though, the husband just decided that the relationship wouldn’t work on the basis of his wife’s schizophrenia, and wasn’t even willing to try and put in the work; despite the fact that their relationship had been working well before, he suddenly determined it wouldn’t any more.

Granted, I disclose before I’ve been married to someone for several years, because my mental illnesses are an important part of who I am and I want people to know about them. But I can certainly understand why some people choose not to disclose. What surprised me in this case was an incidence of pop culture showing a nondisclosure in a sympathetic light, and reinforcing it with House’s speech. Usually, episodes like this end with the husband marching off into the sunset, Deeply Wounded, and everyone castigating the evil secretkeeping wife and talking about how she deserves it.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Description is below.
Black and white advertising image. On the right is a man standing behind a podium that has US flags, his eyes covered with SLOGAN OBSESSED. On the right is the text: Labels get in the way. Disabilities rarely do. Learn the truth. Think Beyond The Label.com Photo courtesy of Kate in DC.

A few signal-boosting calls to action that people, especially those in the US, may want to participate in.

Penny Reeder at Abled Body: Share your Smart Phone Strife with the FCC

And one other thing, I don’t want to pay any more for my smartphone than anybody who has a Blackberry, Droid, or iPhone. I don’t believe I should have to pay extra for a screen reader, like TALKS or MobileSpeak. I don’t mind paying for apps that maximize my capabilities, like GPS or the Kindle app, because everybody pays for those. But everybody doesn’t pay extra for the opportunity to read what’s on the screen!

When I go to meetings with sighted colleagues, I find they are connected in real-time to their smart phones. Ask them a question like, “What does a First Class stamp cost?” (I can never remember…), or “What should the temperature of a medium-rare burger be? — and they can respond, literally, in seconds! That’s because they can see the screen, so they don’t need spoken output to access the information, giving them immediate access to answers.

There’s more information and how to contact the FCC to discuss your accessibility-related concerns at the post.

Steve Spohn at Abled Gamers: Sony’s new Firmware stops disabled gamers from playing PS3

Mad Catz, makers of many PS3 modded controllers, supplies the circuit boards to Broadened Horizons for several of its accessible controllers. These controllers are responsible for allowing severely disabled gamers with no dexterity or hand movement at all to use their PlayStation 3. Normal OEM controllers require lots of finger movement and hand strength while Broadened Horizons’ controllers allow for little or no movement at all.

Suddenly, and without warning, several of these motor impaired gamers were locked out of their favorite activity.

Steve provides information about how to contact Sony and raise concerns with them directly.

Blog Posts:

Steven M. Schwartz at the Emperor Has No Toque: “A Demographic of Silence Living With Mental Health Stigma”

Silence when it comes to mental illness is a killer, a killer of self esteem, hope, and emotional safety. Silence mixed with stigma is painful and is a cause for those living with Mental Illness to separate ourselves from the world around us. Rarely does a person living with mental illness speak out to identify with or protect others traveling down our own road, because the fear of being stigmatized by others is a constant shroud that covers us. We have all faces stigma, either self imposed or from a external source, both feed each other and keep us in so many ways from reaching our potential.

Holy Gray at Don’t Call Me Sybil: Speaking of Crazy

One thing that struck me when reading RMJ’s post was that, like the mythology that surrounds Dissociative Identity Disorder has roots in the truth, most of those negative connotations of the word “crazy” spring from reality, however distant. In light of that, I understand why Natasha Tracy and others choose to embrace the word. Why not call a duck a duck? The problem as I see it is that while most of us reserve the word “duck” exclusively for referencing actual ducks, we don’t use “crazy” in the same way. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s used in positive or negative ways. If, from this day forward, we all used that word only to mean (1) stunningly awesome, or (2) mentally ill, it would still irk me. Because if your boyfriend is crazy hot, DID isn’t crazy. And if DID is crazy, your boyfriend isn’t crazy hot.

Laura Hershey at Life Support: My Wheelchair, My Body, Myself

For that’s exactly what this felt like to me – an assault. It was a direct, physical affront to my person. This man wasn’t just messing with some piece of equipment. He was interfering with my mobility, my power to position myself, to go where I want. My wheelchair is a part of my means of being in the world. In other words, it was part of me that he grabbed – my wheelchair, my body, myself.

Would anyone else recognize this? If I had tried to charge him with assault, would the legal system have supported me? Were other passengers aware of the depth of this violation? Or did they accept his statement that he was “helping” me?

Writer in a Wheelchair on Disability Voices: Virginia Ironside’s Comments on Sunday Morning Live

Her take is that it’s a moral thing and that it’s to be done to prevent suffering. She does then go on to say that there are millions of disabled people who live “Marvellous” lives but there are also thousands of millions who are suffering and not live no kind of life.

She’d do it to a child she really loved and she doesn’t know any mother wouldn’t. I personally am very glad that according to Ms Ironside’s views my own mother can’t love me and must be a terrible mother.

WHEELIE cATHOLIC: Independent Living: Planning Pet Care

I do have to change my cat’s diet and routine a bit. One thing that is always time intensive is when new tasks get added to the schedule around here. I have a limited number of care hours. Anything that goes over those hours gets added to what I have to do with adaptive devices. That can drain energy I need to work.

So I start by trying to figure out ways to do the new tasks using assistive devices. If I can’t or if the energy it will take won’t work, I add it to what others do and have to pick out something they are doing that I can take on. There are only so many care hours and since I also use them also to help me get my work done, it takes a lot of planning and resourcefulness on everyone’s part.

Teeny Little Super-Meta: The things I can’t write about

And they say that the truth will set you free/but then/so will a lie

— Ani DiFranco, “Promised Land” (2003)

Yesterday, I wrote some things down, intending to use them for a post. The half-post or so that I wrote was inspired by, in large part, bullying-related suicides recently making the national news. It was difficult to write, as much of it was stuff I have kept to myself for a while — both for the sake of those I care about, and for my own mental health.

After I finished writing, I realized that I could not use any of it. Because the thought of  exposing this stuff to an audience was, and is, too painful. I want to believe that writing it down helped me in some way, because otherwise what I wrote exists as just a barely-legible scattering of meaningless words, scrawled on a piece of paper.

There are many things that I can’t write about here on FWD, or on my personal blog. Many of the things that I have experienced are so emotionally fraught that I am reluctant to even consider writing about them, mostly for fear of going into a black hole of emotions from which I may not be able to get out.

There are other reasons, too, such as protecting the people that I care about in any public retelling and/or analysis of these events. Some of these people may not have heard every part of the story, or even every story. There are also people — many of whom have a central role in these painful stories — about whom I do not care, and I would relish the opportunity to textually rip some of these people apart. It would be easy to say, “They ripped me to shreds, and now I will grate them like cheese, using my keyboard. It is payback time.”  Paradoxically, my own selfish concerns about my integrity prevents me from using my keyboard as a weapon.

The twist, of course, is that writing about these things in the “right” way — dispassionately, analytically — might help someone. Posting about things that are painful for me to think about, let alone write about, might reassure someone going through similar issues that they are not the only person who has dealt with some scary things.

And, like many people, I like the idea of helping someone get through rough times, or reassuring someone or someones that they are not alone in facing trying circumstances. Maybe that’s selfish. Maybe it’s part of human nature. Maybe it’s both.

Writing publicly about these things, on the other hand, may get me comments that I do not particularly want to face. This could not have happened. How do we know you’re not just making this up? Do you always have to write about yourself? Let’s look at this objectively. Why can’t you focus on something more important? I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that. Why can’t you just let it go? It was so long ago, anyway. We all have difficulties, what makes you so special? Who do you think you are?

According to the dichotomy of writing for an audience, I should either “get over it” and write about x or y more important topic, or excavate all of these painful things — that is, come forward with them publicly, dissect these less-than-savory experiences and my role(s) in them like a vivisected frog laden with pins to keep it from slipping out of the pan — in order to help others.

I think this dichotomy is bullshit.

But, the main thing is:  Very often, I cannot tell the whole story, for highly specific and extremely personal reasons. I might, in time, choose to reveal parts of these stories. I certainly do not have an obligation to do it all right now.

[Note: The title of this post was partially inspired by Sesame Street’s Teeny Little Super Guy short segments.]

Recommended Reading for October 6, 2010

RMJ at Deeply Problematic: A feminist reading of Achewood, part one: disability and Roast Beef (trigger warning for discussion of ableist jokes)

Roast Beef’s depression is a major theme of his character and the strip. At the outset of his appearance in the Achewood universe, he expresses the wish to commit suicide repeatedly, though he has not mentioned past his first year in the strip. His actions and words (in a distinctive smaller font) are often explicitly steered by his low opinion of himself; depression is a simple fact of him. While sadness is a constant in his his characterization, the portrayal of his disability is far from static: his emotions are fluid, dependent on context, an advantage at time and a palpable pain at others.

Julia at a l’allure garconniere: cultural appropriation: still refusing to see the truth

rather, it’s that images of models, of clothing catalogues, and of white girls in headdresses at concerts that attack and offend us: those of us who feel like these conversations are important to be having, that we have to ask these questions. i am fed up with it. fed up with seeing “Othered” cultures reduced to shitty stereotypes for uncritical (mostly) white people to buy into, as a product, and then to attack me when i ask them to think about what they are wearing, when i ask them why they choose to wear what they wear. is that such an offensive question? is it really us who are so hypersensitive and who take things “too seriously,” or is it you who just wants to refuse to think for two seconds?

mycultureisnotatrend on Tumblr: I received a flood of angry notes and messages after that last post. . . (trigger warning)

We are multifarious people, and no one native cultural symbol can represent us all. It is impossible to dress like “an Indian” without reverting to stereotype. This does not mean all native related things are off limits. But be wise with your choices, stay away from things of great religious significance, and don’t play “dress up.” Moccassins = okay, Warbonnets = not. The line between the two is grey – use caution and respect if you near it.

Roya Nikkah for the Telegraph (UK): Channel 4 criticized for new reality “freak show”

A recent advertisement in Fame Magazine, a celebrity magazine, seeking recruits for the six-part series said that the show “will place two people who are defined by the way they look … in close proximity to each other”.

It added: “Our participants will get to live together in a specially constructed space. Over a number of days, they will explore each other’s lives in the real world.

“They will be challenged to look beyond the mirror and step into the shoes of someone for whom looks have a completely different meaning.”

Gary Marx and David Jackson for the Los Angeles Times: Pact to decrease number of mentally ill in nursing homes

A Chicago federal judge has approved a landmark agreement that will enable thousands of people with mental illness currently living in nursing homes to move into community settings that experts say are more appropriate and less expensive.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Veronika Decides to Die: A Very Special Lesson in Living Your Life Right

Book cover for Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho. A mostly blue cover depicting a snowy scene with a blurry shadowy figure of a (presumably) woman walking on the snow among some blurry shadowy trees.Every now and again I come across a book that I enjoy enough to read repeatedly. I have several of these on our bookshelves at home. The Harry Potter Series is an annual read for me in my YA set. The Kushiel’s Legacy series is another, in my Not YA set. There are, though, few books that I have encountered that I have read and enjoyed at different periods of my life when that have meant different things to me. Particularly because I have gone through some dramatic life shifts, and because those shifts have given me some fairly fundamental changes in how I view the world, politics, religion, human nature, and mostly myself as well.

One of those books, which has had a great impact on me and which I have enjoyed in immensely different ways at hugely different periods of my life, partly because of the way the author’s experiences are painted into the word work and partly because of the story itself, is Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. Veronkia was recommended to me by a friend who has in the past recommended other books that I have always enjoyed for one reason or another (including The Hitchhiker’s Guide and I, Lucifer, and who also gifted us with a set of 4.0 books for our wedding — you will either fully appreciate that or you won’t), and for me and the way I chew novels for breakfast was a quick read. It took me the better part of a morning. That friend knew that I sometimes practice what is commonly referred to as astral travel, and what I sometimes more commonly lump in with lucid dreaming (they feel the same to me) and thought that I might find the scenes about this topic interesting. I did. In an odd and slightly disturbing way.

In fact, that is how I would describe my first foray into Veronika. Odd and slightly disturbing.

So: Spoilers Ahoy and also a Trigger Warning for descriptions of attempted suicide, a potentially upsetting rape-like scene, and descriptions of mistreatment in a mental hospital.

Veronika Decides to Die (Veronika decide morrer in the original Porteguese) is set in Ljubljana, Slovenia, tells the story of Veronika (I suppose you could have parsed that one out), a 24 year old young woman, who has decided that she has reached the height of her life. She had determined that from this point that life and beauty will probably get no better, and out of no real sadness or unhappiness she has made, in her opinion, the perfectly rational decision to end her life. Her incompleted attempt on her own life winds her up in a mental institution called Villette, in Slovenia, where she awakens to the news that her attempt has irreparably damaged her heart; she is told she has only days to live.

The story is supposedly based on Coelho’s own experiences in mental institutions in his youth where his parents send him for refusing to acquiesce to their demands that he become an Engineer instead of a writer, or at least something useful and respectable. Coelho’s refusal to become something productive proved, to them, that he was “mad”. One of the central themes in Veronika is the idea that collective madness is really sanity, and that sanity is really in the hands of the beholder. Essentially, if everyone in a room, or even a kingdom, believes one reality to be the truth, except for a single person, irrespective of that one person’s authority (the doctor, a king, etc.), then the sanity of that authority is irrelevant, because it is the collective reality of the masses that matters and thus becomes the rational way of thinking.

The way you view this theme really depends on your views of people’s right to define their own mental abilities. I viewed this book through two very different lenses in my life, one where I was fighting my own mind, and one where I was coming to terms with myself instead; a period of self-acceptance rather than self-loathing (still working on that last part). Veronika depicts a mental institution that both suppresses people’s free will, yet allows them to stay beyond the requirement that binds them if they choose to do so. Don’t be fooled, however: There are still many things going on, such as forced medication, forced inside and outside time, and even a scene that describes, very graphically, a treatment of induced insulin shock that sends a patient into what she calls a state of astral travel. The balance of treatment of human dignity with that of the way that disabled people are often treated as objects to be shuffled around and poked and strapped down is troublesome at best, and hard to read without a watery field in front of you at… well my worst. Maybe not yours.

Very troubling to me is the overarching theme, embodied in Dr. Igor, the head psychiatrist at Villette, who has decided that Veronika, a beautiful and vibrant young girl, is wasting her life, and must be taught a Very Special Lesson. So sad, is it, that she has decided to throw away youth, and beauty, and that she is ignoring all that life must be waiting to hand her. He, obviously, knows her life better than she, and is uniquely prepared to teach her that she is, indeed, Doing It Wrong. R-O-N-G, even. How good of Dr. Igor, this man, to come and rescue this poor, helpless, and foolish girl from what might have been the worst mistake ever.

Dr. Igor has this theory, see, that people, like a defibirillator paddle on a heart, just need a jump start to avoid the heart attack that is this mental illness, something he calls “vitriol”. He believes he can shock people into appreciating life and just help them realize that they can simply buck up and learn to love life again.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, gentle readers, if at this point you are still with me, so I won’t go into detail about how Veronika becomes not only the tool by which he provoke many of the residents of Villette, including Eduard, a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia who becomes a love interest for Veronica, and Mari who has frequent panic attacks. I also won’t tell you how Veronika learns her own Very Special Lesson, because she is not left out of that condescending rule of Dr. Igor who swings his diploma like a true Patriarch. She suddenly sees that she is free from the rules of a society that has given her a laundry list of expectations, and that she now may act like the “crazy” person that she is being treated like. No one believes that she just felt like ending her life, for no particular reason, so she may as well act the part. She starts to see the comfort that is Villette’s lack of accountability.

I think this book speaks strongly to the way that we dehumanize and mistrust mental health patients and people living with any variety of mental illness. Even if I don’t always appreciate Coelho’s delivery.

A caution to you, gentle readers: There is a rape-like scene, depending on how you read it (the first time I read the book, I did not read it this way, the second, I certainly did). Veronika performs a masturbatory act in front of a person who neither consents nor denies consent. It is fairly graphic in description, and it very much made me uncomfortable, no matter how “freeing” it made Veronika feel.

The book was made into a movie that I have not yet seen, as it didn’t appear at any theatre anywhere near where I was living. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Veronika (a stellar choice, IMO), and David Thewlis, most well known to me as Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series, as Dr. Igor. Should I get the chance (I love you, NetFlix, for coming to my APO!), I may revisit the review.

Who out there, gentle readers, fellow contributors, has read Veronika? Thoughts? Popcorn? Tomatoes?

Book Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons