Coming out as ‘Crazy’: A Mental Illness Series, Pt1: The Introduction.
I am going to begin a series of posts about my experiences with ‘mental illness’.
I thought I would clarify some things first.
1) What do you mean by ‘mental illness’?
Last summer, a truck that should have taken my life ended the existential/spiritual crisis that had prolonged my misery for years. It was a lengthy, complicated process of coming to a new awareness about the deepest origins of my problems, and thereby, modern human discontent in general, which I will describe at length in a future post. (huh?) Anyway, I no longer subscribe to the medical model of mental illness.
The medical model basically advocates the following: the many varied forms of human mental and emotional distress/psychological abnormality are primarily biological and genetic in origin, although external environmental factors have an important effect. Human wellbeing depends on the right amount of neurotransmitters (serotonin/dopamine/etc.), which are those little chemicals in our brains that control things like mood, arousal, appetite, etc. It also depends on normal processes of perception and sensation in the brain, which go beyond neurotransmitters. Psychiatry mechanically alters those chemicals through the application of pharmaceutical drugs that are supposed to restore crazy to mental ‘health’ and ‘normality’, and psychotherapy is basically supposed to retrain the brain to function correctly. The medical model says, in a nutshell, that we are ‘broken’ and can and should be ‘fixed’.
Today, I am both highly critical of and extremely educated about the perils of such a POV. But I will wait until the end of the series to wrap it all up and explain how I came to reject this model. Most of my account will show who Coral was before she came to this realization. You will see me fighting, struggling under the crushing weight of an established, authoritative paradigm that is forced on everyone who gets labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis from the DSM. (Please keep in mind that I am in a far, far better place today. 😀 So, throughout the series, don’t freak out/get scared or worried. I’m doing just fine these days.)
For now, I am going to bring you, reader, backwards into my journey, into the places I traveled through alone, before I had any idea that there were other ways of conceptualizing my experience.
2) Why are you doing this? Isn’t this a bit much, Coral?
Above all, I am doing it for me. Brutal, self-revealing honesty has become therapy for me in the past few months. I spent most of my young life experiencing things that made me ashamed of who I was. I used to hate myself, to the core of my being. Yes, I really did just admit that. (I will admit a lot of things that will probably make you feel awkward while interacting with me since you aren’t used to people being so openly vulnerable.) On top of that, we live in a society in which, due to the enforced normalization of human experience wrought on us due to thousands of years of control based/fear based civilization (i’ve got a lot of theories, lol), there is a very real stigma on those of us who deviate from ‘normality’, a heavy burden on those of us who suffer inside and cannot be productive or lighthearted or social as a result. However, as I got older and became more aware of others, I realized that I was far from the only one and that as a rule we tend to try to hide our struggles and put our best face forward, we try to be ‘strong’, we try to ‘fit in’ and be normal, we don’t often talk about the deepest, darkest things unless it is with people we are close to who we know will not judge or condemn us for these things. I began to realize that my experience, although intense, was FAR from unique. The more I began to open up to people, the more I realized that not only are we are facing an epidemic, of seismic proportions, that many of us are unwilling to discuss publicly; we are also quite simply facing the natural dark side of human existence, which often gets labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘sick’. My intuition and perceptiveness grew sharp and I got good at seeing past the quiet lives of desperation some of us lead, seeing past the surface of conventional social behavior to realize that so many of us are struggling and feeling so alone. So, out of newly learned radical self-love and an increasing awareness of the desperate need for individuals to be upfront and vocal about mental illness, I decided to come out as ‘crazy’ (a term I am clearly critical of). I’m doing this for me, to give a great big fuck you to all of the years I spent in hiding. A great big fuck you to all of the paradigms and hospitalizations, all of the harsh judgment, all of the informal and subtle invalidation, silencing and shaming from others, all of the pills I forced down my throat, all of the lies I believed when I thought that there was something deeply wrong with me for going through what I did. There wasn’t. I am taking my power back.
However…I am also doing this for you. Because I love you, too, in a way that doesn’t require me to know you. This is for you. This is also to help you understand and support your best friend with depression, your sister with anorexia, your mother with bipolar disorder, your girlfriend with debilitating anxiety, your twelve year old cousin who cuts but the family won’t acknowledge it. Struggling from a young age has equipped me with the strength and the courage to openly talk about my mental illness experience and I am taking the opportunity to use the Internet and social media to reach out to you, dear reader. I want you to know the gritty details of my own experience. Now that I absolutely detest stigma and the things it forces us to do to ourselves, I want to scream about what I went through at the top of my fucking lungs because there are things inside me that deserved to be voiced then and deserve to be voiced now. I choose to open up and bare my soul because there is a part of me that thinks that this is such a powerful, beautiful, revolutionary thing to do for others. Even if you never got a diagnosis, you might find that you can relate somehow. I want to reach out to the deepest, darkest and most human things in you. I want you to know that there are so many others, that I’m here, too. You are not alone. And you don’t have to hide. You don’t have to tell the world, either, but by God, you do not have to hide or be ashamed of dealing with mental illness in any form. The pressure to hide is real but I am bursting with the need to speak as authentically and genuinely as possible about the things I have experienced. Maybe it’s a bit exhibitionist, maybe I’m misguided, and maybe this is too ‘intense’. But FUCK that, I do not care anymore. Besides, since I started using social media in a personal, ‘intense’ way, I’ve gotten so many unexpected, heartfelt messages from people, many of whom I did not really know, the kind that make me feel like I am not alone and that beneath the thick veneer of normalcy that pervades our everyday life, there are hearts beating just as offbeat as mine, souls falling apart and putting themselves back together again just like mine. That is the kind of connection I am looking for. (Never been good at small talk.) I want you to know who I am and where I’ve been so that I don’t have to hide anymore. And I want to know who you are, too.
I spent years shut up within myself and now, I want to make noise. I want to start conversations, if only in my limited circle of friends.
And? I’m off. No turning back. Some of you might be thinking, Coral, why? There is no need to do this, just heal within your self; you don’t owe anyone any explanations. I know very well that I don’t. But I also know that for me at least, healing cannot happen in a vacuum, that I must share my story of struggle, of hope, loss and redemption, to really, truly heal, I must reach outside of myself to others. I can’t really explain why. Not sure if I even fully know why. I just have to. It’s coming from this strong inner drive. Hopefully my efforts benefit someone, anyone out there.
Ok, so: the first post in the series will be entitled: What it was like to experience severe depression at Wesleyan University while trying to hide it from everyone. It will be posted when it’s ready.
(Warning: I will be blunt and honest and sometimes graphic. I know that some things are emotional triggers for some people, so if I am including anything of the sort, I will add a disclaimer at the beginning of the post. Also, feel free to contact me to talk about anything, and feel free to share my shit out there in the webosphere/among your loved ones and homies.)
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