Thoughts on Mad Pride

I’d like to encourage readers to check out a new blog, Radically Mad, where cheshirekit will also be writing about experiences with mental health issues. Although she has several psychiatric diagnoses, she prefers to consider herself “mad and neurodivergent.” Near the end of her Introduction, she explains the meanings of these terms:

Neurodiversity and disability rights refer more to physical and cognitive disabilities, while mad pride and radical mental health refer to psychiatric diagnoses.  The basic idea is that humans are meant to be diverse and have diverse ways of perceiving, experiencing, and acting on the world, and this actually improves society as a whole rather than hurting it.  Having a brain that is wired differently, though it can be challenging at times since our society at large is set up to be convenient people with “typical” brains, does not have to be a bad thing, and can in fact be a source of pride.

I like this way of thinking, but I have yet to examine my own relationship with it.

Whatever labels people might stick on me, my basic experience is that I have very strong emotions. I’m learning what to do about / with them – how to express them safely; how to channel them into a healthy activity; how to respond to the situation in which they are arising so as to meet my own needs while still respecting others; etc. Right now I’m taking medication intended to make them a little bit easier to handle, but most of my work is on coping with them.

I don’t want my intense emotions to go away – they are an important part of who I am! They give me energy, creativity, the passion and drive to do amazing things. I often find it difficult to function in a society that devalues emotions, demands conformity, sensationalizes tragedy, and over-stimulates the senses. Worst, I’ve internalized messages from society that take the form of very harsh, critical thoughts with the power to decimate my self-esteem. But as painful as the lows may be, on some level I value them just as much as I value the joy that can rise in response to the simplest things. The depth of the emotions I can experience is meaningful to me; it is the genesis of my art. Having experienced the lows helps me to appreciate the highs so much more. They’re also an important part of how I connect with other people – empathy.

So I guess for me Mad Pride is recognizing these aspects of who I am as a way of being that, while undervalued by society, is valuable in its own right. My emotions aren’t “pathological,” society just isn’t really built to handle them. My journey isn’t about “recovering” from an “illness,” it’s about learning the skills I need to live and function in society, while still valuing, expressing, and utilizing all of my Self. It is in this way that I can make the most meaningful contributions to society.

… Though any change that can occur in society, to make it more accepting of and accessible to people who are mad and/or neurodivergent, is certainly a big help. That’s where activism comes in: changing the structures of society to be more inclusive; to make diversity more visible; to value respect the myriad of ways humans can be in the world – rather than considering one way “normal” and marginalizing everyone who doesn’t fit into this narrow mold.

This sounds really awesome! Who *doesn’t* use Wikipedia? Making women, people of color, and others who are typically marginalized more visible in *the* online information source is some excellent activism. Thanks for the info & opportunity!

A Broken Promise

Around the time of the U.S. November 2012 election, congressional districts were rezoned. When I voted, it was for the congressman who had been my representative for as long as I could remember – and who seemed to do a decent job of representing my views and interests in the House.

But now I am being “represented” in the legislative branch of the federal government by a man I never voted for and didn’t have the opportunity to vote against. Last year, he was one of the people who blocked the Violence Against Women Act from being reauthorized for the first time since it passed in 1994. I’ve already written him an email expressing my disappointment that the bill isn’t even on the House agenda (two days after it passed 78-22 in the Senate) and urging him to support it.

Find and send an email to your Representative in the House.
Sign a petition urging House Republicans to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

I was overjoyed when I saw that one of today’s One Billion Rising events – scheduled for a time when I could make it! – was a protest outside my representative’s local office (a 45 minute drive – not bad). I RSVPed and was planning to go! I would add my voice – my actual voice, not just an email – to the demand that my representative co-sponsor and vote for the Violence Against Women Act. I might even help influence a powerful politician who doesn’t already agree with me!

But then my intestines revolted. I’ve gotten used to my bowel movements being loose, often even watery (the thought occurs that perhaps I should get that checked out, it’s been going on for a while. oh joys, another doctor visit! my insurance is going to hate me …) But I was surprised and overwhelmed by the intense fatigue I felt. It was close to the time I needed to leave to get to the protest on time, but I just had to lie down.

By the time I awoke, it was far too late for me to get to the protest on time. I might have been able to get there late, but I wasn’t sure how much I would have missed or whether being late would outright prevent me from participating. I was concerned about being arrested and/or injured. I still had homework hanging over my head, and felt guilty about the fact that I’ve been procrastinating – some things for a couple of days, others for weeks. Once I started doing some of my homework, I felt the anxiety melt away …

So, I was going to Rise, but I broke my promise. Was it legitimately because of a physical health constraint/need? Or was it because of anxiety? Is the latter any less of a legitimate reason? I certainly didn’t break my promise because I don’t care – I care about this issue very strongly. Still, I feel like a hypocrite when I speak out about these things, trying to encourage others to participate, then back out of participating myself at the last minute. It’s become a bad habit, to be honest.

I feel constrained, limited. powerless.

worthless …

I think the thing keeping me from Rising is my anxiety, my insecurity. I could overcome the physical symptoms if I really wanted to. But the emotional? If I worked really hard, I could probably overcome them too. Maybe I need to push myself more. I could have found out more information about the event, so I would have had a better idea of what to expect; that would have eased some of the anxiety.

And maybe I also need to be a little more forgiving of myself. In this case, there are other ways to Rise that don’t require one to be physically present in a particular location. The One Billion Rising website offers ways to participate online, for people who can’t join the physical/in-person events for some reason. I can utilize them.

Blog for Mental Health 2013

I was so excited to learn about the Blog for Mental Health 2013 Project on A Canvas of the Minds! It is an effort to raise awareness about what it is like to live with mental illness, from the perspectives of people with mental illness. It is also an effort to end suffering in silence, bringing people with mental illness together in a community of dialogue and support.

In other words, it’s pretty much exactly what I want my blog, a day with depression, to be: sharing my experiences, both for my own healing and to help others – whether through educating them about mental illness, or by letting them know they are not alone. By sharing our experiences and insights, perhaps we can help each other heal – or at least cope. Perhaps we can create a world that works with people who have mental illness to help us live fully in society.

blogformentalhealth20131And so I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

I chose to take the pledge after reading about it on Disorderly Chickadee.

My Mental Health Biography

I remember a childhood that included having anger management issues, feeling like I couldn’t express my emotions safely and effectively, and feeling isolated from my peers. I often daydreamed as a coping mechanism; later I would have difficulty paying attention even when I wanted to. My father physically abused me at least once; I have carried the guilt, shame, and fear of others’ anger with me, believing he was justified in how he treated me until very recently. His fight with lung cancer and death 15 years ago left me devastated.

I received psychotherapy / talk therapy a couple of times as an adolescent. I don’t remember it being very effective. I focused primarily on my schoolwork and had some friends and extracurricular activities; I was functional but often felt grumpy, out of place, and misunderstood. Around the same time, my mother started depending on me to fill her emotional needs, often at the expense of my own.

My freshman year of college had its ups and downs, but mostly I remember it as a good time in my life. When I returned for my sophomore year, I felt like something was wrong. I felt sad, isolated, like I wasn’t ready to be back. Spring 2005 was the first time I was diagnosed with depression; that fall was the first time I took medication for it (Wellbutrin). The medication seemed to help; I decided to stop taking it and terminate therapy the following spring. Despite the depression, I tend to think of my college years as the best time of my life.

I graduated magna cum laude and worked for almost 2 years before matriculating as a graduate student. At work, supervisors noticed that I had low energy. I felt tired, sad, and frustrated much of the time (at least partially because of work, but I believe there were mental health issues as well). I felt another depressive episode coming on in early Spring 2010 – my second semester of graduate school – and though it has waxed and waned, it has never fully lifted.

I began receiving music therapy as a client in Fall 2010. My work has focused mostly on self-esteem, assertiveness, expressing emotions (especially anger), and overcoming anxiety. The first psychiatrist I saw in late July 2012 diagnosed me with dysthymia and prescribed Wellbutrin; my current psychiatrist (whom I’ve been seeing since mid-December) diagnosed me with a major depressive episode and prescribed Zoloft. The Zoloft, continuing music therapy, and writing in this blog seem to be helping.

Take the Pledge!

Participating bloggers are encouraged to pledge 5 other people to the project. I’m not sure whom to pledge, so consider this an open invitation.

Visit the Blog for Mental Health 2013 post on A Canvas of the Minds for instructions on how to pledge, including how to be included in their official blogroll.

If you decide to take the pledge, please comment with a link to your “Blog for Mental Health 2013” post and I’ll gladly feature it here. If you do so, please consider using this post as your link to the person who pledged you.