Sunday, 23 March 2014

Misery Loves Monotony

I don't know if anyone else feels the same way, but personally I find depression boring as shit.

Right, now that I've probably got people all riled up and telling me to be more sensitive about mental health issues instead of being a judgemental twat, let me explain. I don't find depression as a mental health issue boring, because I don't find mental health issues boring. This is mainly because I'm sick and tired of having them swept under the proverbial carpet, but let me move swiftly on...I don't find people talking about depression boring as shit either. Again, I don't like having those issues swept under the carpet - and I've found it useful to be able to share experiences with others and not feel guilty or ashamed.

No, what I find boring about depression is the utter monotony of it all. You wouldn't think it, but being miserable is actually very repetitive...Wanting to die gets old. Being vulnerable and shaking and crying gets old. Hurting and frustrating the people around you gets old. Feeling empty and in pain gets old. Slowly losing the ability to take care of yourself gets old. Getting triggered to holy fuckery to the point where even talking about self-defence or reading the news makes terrible thoughts surface...That gets old. Being sick and tired and miserable, day after day, with little or no respite...You get to know it so thoroughly it repels you. Don't get me wrong, it still fucking hurts, but it's in no way novel. It's just the same slog, day after day, the slog that brings you to your knees and breaks you down to the point where you want to die.

Maybe that suffering touches you, in which case I might just be getting something across properly (and if I am, I wholeheartedly apologise for having discussed something so painful). If you have to live through that, it still keeps touching you every minute of every day - actually, being touched is the wrong phrase. It's more like having a giant, painful wound that refuses to heal. Got that?

Now imagine this same wound also being incredibly boring, because your experiences with it repeat themselves over and over again. It's much more difficult to get across to people who haven't lived through something like this - it's not something you really think of as happening - but it's true. For me at least, depression really is that monotonous.

So I suppose that's the first strike against the people who think that suffering is some kind of enlightening, ennobling, purifying experience; there's nothing enlightened, noble or pure about raw, gaping pain. Just get that into your skull right now. It doesn't make people better. It is each person's unique, special hell, a hell they go through for no high and lofty reason - just circumstance, ignorance and cruelty.

I should really go on to the second strike now, and it's this: people seem to think that misery and creativity are somehow linked. I have read many explanations as to why this should be, which are usually along the lines of overthinking making you miserable.

I can see why people might think that they're linked; there is a maddening correlation that is just shy of the threshold for statistical significance. Perhaps they are. But I find mental illness more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to being creative; sure, it helps me understand things in a different way, and sure, all of my experiences during the bad times are fuel for creativity in the good times.

But in the bad times themselves, I'm not creative. I'm stuck in unbearable pain and I feel like the air is being crushed out of my lungs. I just want to curl up and die; doing something creative is pretty much the last thing on my mind. And I don't think that there'll ever be a good time again, only that things will get worse and worse. This is what depression does to you: it makes you think that there is no hope left, and that even if there were you'd be too weak to grasp at it. I have to have my friend tell me to do some art for me to be creative, because it's just about the last thing I'd do.

So sure, they may be linked, maybe - but while people are suffering, they're probably not going to be creative. Not in the worst depths of their suffering, anyway; they need to be given support to get better, and that won't take away the creativity, it'll make it come back and flourished.

Otherwise, they're stuck in a hell that's not just painful, but boringly so.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Why I Sold Out and Got a Kindle

Books on my Kindle
So this is the best I can come up with after an absence of over a month?! Not quite - there is better still to come - but for now I am blogging in my spare time, in between studying, exams and trying to make sure that I actually get to university come September. So pardon me if my posts aren't always deep and thought-provoking; it's not like they ever are, anyway.

Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely adore books. Right now I have hundreds huddled against each other on my shelves and curled up on my floor for lack of space. If I'm engrossed in a book or a magazine, you're probably not going to get a peep out of me till I'm done - if I even acknowledge your existence. (I'm really rude to people when I'm reading, because I blank out everything that isn't a rectangle with writing on it. Sorry!) I love their shape, their feel, their smell, their covers. And when ebook readers first took off a couple of years ago, I wasn't too impressed with them. Why do I need a grey rectangle that hurts my eyes, won't even let me own the books I read, doesn't really let me highlight stuff and is basically just a useless, overpriced brick if the battery goes flat? (This is one advantage of real books: they don't have batteries, so they can survive for thousands of years, at least in part, if correctly preserved.) Hell, I even unofficially pledged to read the printed word.

And now, a couple of years later, I'm going back on my pledge like the turncoat I am. As you can see, integrity is one of my best qualities.

But every turncoat has their reasons for leaving the side of the good and the true, and mine aren't simply for the pleasure of doing it. Evil for its own sake is pretty exhausting, you know.

Firstly, ebook technology is actually fairly decent now; e-ink means that I don't get assaulted by bright light every time I try to read in the dark while still being able to actually, you know, see my page owing to a lovely low backlight on my Kindle. I left mine on for six weeks once and its battery was still 50% full before I recharged it. I finally worked out how to put highlights in my ebooks. And mine has roughly enough space for 1,000 books - about the size of my collection.

Secondly, I don't really buy ebooks unless they're freebies; I already have a book-shaped brick to store them on, so why pay more for the license to read a digital copy? Instead, I use the wonderful Project Gutenberg to download public-domain texts that I already have, or desperately want to read. For anything else, this is the internet. You can probably figure out what I'm talking about. If you haven't, spend more time online.

But neither of these things really explain why I would set aside my long-standing revulsion for ebook readers. If I don't have to shift my thousand-book collection, I've got no reason to get one over just buying more books.

And here is the crucial thing: I'm going to university in a couple of months' time, or at least I hope to should I actually pass my exams. I will need to take several things with me there - more than I can fit even in my biggest suitcase. And I know that because I love books so much, I'll probably end up trying to cram my entire collection into the car and leave absolutely no space for anything else. This is where an electronic brick becomes quite important and reasonable: it can store my entire collection and leave me room to pack more vaguely sensible things, such as clothes and cutlery.

No, it'll never be as good as holding a real book in my hands. But until I can shift every last book that I own, it will suffice.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


So this all started with an absolutely terrible event. I've lost my mind like I haven't done in a long time, so this post isn't going to be at all coherent. Have fun deciphering my mental scrabblings, guys.

Long story short, everyone's alive. Everyone now wants to move on - except me.

But why? you might ask. Moving on is desirable, the end goal after trauma. Not moving on is for weaklings, attention seekers and other such - to put it impolitely - absolute fuckheads that no sane human being wants to associate with.

The trouble with me is that I think too much. It's certainly better than doing the opposite, but I don't think in straight and clear lines or elegant curves: I think in circles, tangles, swerving in sharply as I spin towards the centre of the proverbial downwards spiral. It's not good for me. Sometimes I think a lobotomy would help. It's especially odd, as in depression most activity of just about anything in the body is reduced - that's why it's called depression (being pressed down upon) and not just chronic sadness.

And I've been thinking a lot - and feeling a lot too, more than I'm comfortable feeling. I feel suicidal. Scared of what I might do to myself. Heartbroken. Bereft of any kind of emotional stability. Mistrustful - I picked up that something was wrong, but wasn't told anything and had to find out for myself. It all happened with very little warning, too, so the upshot is that this could happen again, with just as little warning to go on and with no idea what's happened. It's this last emotion that stops me from moving on more than anything; as long as I believe that it could just as well happen tomorrow, I'll have even more difficulty winding myself down from a pretty shitty (though still alive) state.

What's worse, I don't know what moving on even is. I know the difference between past, present and future, and that you cannot change the past (well, not without a way to get back to that particular region of space-time from the present, or the future light cone). It thus follows that moaning and griping about it is futile, as nothing will actually happen. I also believe that the future can be changed for the better.

But when people tell me to move on, they don't seem to have any idea what they actually mean by those two simple words. I know this, because I've observed what lots of different people think of as "moving on" and the characteristics change from situation to situation. Not even almighty Google can come up with a satisfactory answer. This is pretty worrying, because it suggests that a concept many people hold dear is ill-defined and thus not very useful.

What I have noticed is that some people use "moving on" to mean "cutting off", trying to put an event behind them that they don't want to think about. Show me someone who hasn't done that and I'll show you a newborn baby; most of us have been too ashamed or afraid of various things at various points to bring them out into the light. Instead, we push them to the back of our memories, squeeze them into almost-nothingness and do our bitter best to keep them there. It almost always fucks up, but that doesn't stop any of us from trying it. I've done it; in fact, I've done it so many times I lost count long ago. I wouldn't consider it a wild guess to say you're probably in a similar situation, and I wouldn't look down on you for any of it at all. Quite apart from anything else, I'd be a flaming hypocrite.

I've been told over and over again, and I've learned from my own harsh experience, that cutting something off or trying to forget it only ever backfires. It's a deeply ingrained reaction and it's hard as hell to struggle against, but if I keep doing the same things that never worked for me, I'm not suddenly going to wake up one day and find that suddenly it actually does something useful.

So how come if you repackage the same basic sentiment in happy, positive-thinking fuzzies and give it a different name it's now suddenly common wisdom?

So no, I don't want to move on. Not for a while, anyway. And I want to do it my way, because life landed me with the double whammy of being singular and stubborn. I don't want to grab some canned, stale words of fake inspiration and desperately try to mould myself to them.

At the moment, I'm in what I guess you could call some kind of a grief state, which is strange because I haven't actually lost anything apart from my sanity. I'm not looking after myself properly, I'm shutting out most other people, nothing feels real or stable, and I'm acting like an angry sack of shit because I can't cope with these feelings. What I most want right now is for everything to be okay, but wanting to be dead is a close and dangerously attractive second because I learn nothing.

I need time, most of all, which is in short supply because I'm going back to school and a punishing workload, time for what's happened to sink in and soften. Then I need discipline, more discipline than I've had; I need to look after myself. Particularly with regard to sleeping I'm rubbish because I've been having panic and anxiety attacks, which have this amazing ability to feed on themselves and get worse - so I fear sleep. I generally don't sleep well anyway because I'm too busy thinking about things. After that I need reflection. I need to pick this apart systematically instead of pushing it away altogether or going over the same bits repeatedly; I find that visualising things in all their great and painful detail helps me. Only then will I, as people put it, be able to "move on".

But till then, I'm going to be a sick and ashamed mess. And thus until then, I'm going to keep myself to myself. I may still post occasionally, but it'll be quite cold.

Lastly, I found a link in my quest for the definition of "moving on". It has some concepts that I don't like - move on or everyone will hate your guts - but a lot that I found far more useful than the normal drivel because it actually gives specifics and ideas of what to do to move forward instead of being stuck in the past. It's here, and I hope it helps someone.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Problematic Choices

Shit like this is why I won't go back to being a feminist any time soon.

Some feminists are complaining about how we can't criticise any concepts or institutions, like marriage or wearing make-up, because some women enjoy these things. Quelle horreur! Whatever can we do, if we can't criticise other women's choices? Explode righteously?

Their justification for criticising the choices of other women? Because they're not made in a vacuum: they're made in a repressive, kyriarchal society that has a vested interest in making women complacent and content in their own oppression.

I'm going to concede something right now: choices are definitely, definitely, definitely not made in a vacuum. They are made chained to kyriarchal standards, drowning in them even. But every single person, no matter their privilege, is bound by these chains - so no-one can claim to be uniquely liberated. And this is one main reason I don't believe you should be criticising the personal, informed and consensual choices women make: because you are not the exception. You are every bit as steeped in the kyriarchy as they are. You're just more aware of it.

Another main reason I don't like criticising women for making choices you personally find problematic is because it assumes that you, in your infinite wisdom, know so much better than them. Guess who also does that? The kyriarchy. The kyriarchy also criticises women for saying and doing certain things on the grounds that "we know better than them and they're making such problematic choices". Either way, frankly, you're assuming that those silly little women need your intellectual largesse to make proper decisions, because silly little women can't be trusted to make the right decisions (read: your preferred decisions) for themselves.

I believe I still remember enough basic feminism to call that by its proper name: a facet of misogyny. Misogynists don't believe women are capable of making informed decisions, and think that a big, strong man needs to make the decisions for them. This is not so different from assuming that a woman's "proper choice" needs your feminist approval - because either way, you don't believe that other women are capable of seriously thinking through a choice that you might disagree with.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but being a silly little girl I had this terribly misguided notion that feminism was all about the liberation of women. Telling me that certain things that don't harm anyone else are problematic and that I shouldn't do them when you know literally nothing about my life history is not liberation, it's you trying to mould me into an image of yourself. When you're trying to bring about liberation (a phrase I much prefer to calling someone a liberator - I don't need a conquering hero, I need liberation from the ground up), one of the things you have to accept is that you're flinging the door open to people disagreeing with you. Liberation invites plurality. If you want homogeneity all that much, become an authoritarian.

This feeds into something I want to say: blanket condemnation of personal choices that don't hurt anyone else ignores the differences between women.

Some people are not going to like this very much, because I have an individualist streak. While I can recognise systemic problems (institutionalised racism, sexism, ableism, etc.), there are about 3.5 billion women alive right now. 3.5 billion is a big number, so big that I have trouble visualising that many people - and I want to be a physicist, so working with big numbers should be my day job.

When you're dealing with such a huge number of people, there's going to be some individualism involved, simply because there's no way you're going to have such a huge monolithic block of women. Actually, you can't even treat them all as a monolithic block because each woman will be facing intersecting oppressions and relatively few of them will have your precise experience. This makes it pretty difficult to decide on a universally applicable set of problematic-but-not-harmful actions and behaviours (should you be into doing that rather than just, you know, live and let live...). I'll give a trivial example and a more serious one.

My trivial example of the day is makeup. Lots of feminists find makeup problematic because it encourages the kyriarchal idea that you can't actually be a worthwhile human being unless you're conventionally pretty and pleasing to men, and of course your natural face can't ever be pretty or pleasing so you need to buy stuff and support capitalism.

And you know what? I find makeup pretty problematic too. In fact, I detest wearing it to the point where I only put light makeup on for special occasions, and even then I feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable; I feel as though I'm something I'm not. I might be insecure about my looks, but I want to work on that in ways that don't involve changing my physical appearance with chemicals or surgical equipment.

So far, so good - but I haven't contextualised my opinions and reactions. This leaves them floating around in an uncomfortable vacuum and so I can't really say that my reactions should be the right ones in every situation. If I contextualise them, here's what comes out: I'm a relatively wealthy, white, conventionally attractive (according to white, heterosexual cis men - they find me attractive, I don't), cisgender, physically able-bodied woman who acts in traditionally feminine ways. I wear my hair almost down to my waist and don't go around crossdressing. I come from an educated family where both my parents went to university and placed a higher value on learning than appearance. They also encouraged me to be an academic high-achiever more than they encouraged me to be traditionally feminine. This explains why I spend much more time thinking about physics than I do thinking about makeup, which leads to me being inexperienced and uncomfortable with makeup and thus not liking it.

Now let's say we have this hypothetical woman who grows up in a very conservative, misogynistic home - yes, even more so than normal. She is told that if she wears makeup or short skirts she is a dirty, worthless slut. When she manages to move out, one of the ways in which she asserts her bodily autonomy is by wearing short skirts and striking makeup. It reminds her that she can do these things and still be worthwhile.

Knowing this woman's story, I would not challenge her on her use of makeup in a purely patriarchal context. I would not shame her for it in this purely patriarchal context, because that matters and in this particular context, makeup is her way of trying to liberate herself from a background of shaming. In fact, I would look down on anyone who did try and shame her for it because then they would be missing said context. It would probably be worth her while trying to

Now, time for the serious example - marriage! In a lot of places, marriage is problematic because it's between one man and one woman, and only that kind of relationship gets legal protection. That's hardly fair on anyone else, and I'm speaking as a bisexual here; if I were in a relationship with a woman I would be far more marginalised and less protected by society. I can recognise that much. Marriage is also problematic owing to how (particularly in Europe) it was a loveless political alliance or a property agreement, not a union of love. Those are just two of the major ones: I'm fairly sure someone's written a book on why marriage is just such an awful thing.

To be honest, I don't like marriage. And I don't like marriage for a completely irrational reason - in my family, it has a history of going badly wrong and ending up with the woman being a stay-at-home mother, which is the last thing I want to be doing because I'm not happy playing domestic goddess to a male chauvinist.

But again, the old demon of context crops up. I am white, educated, have the resources to live independently, and come from a family that will let me live on my own or cohabit. If I refuse to marry, fewer people will claim that it was because I was unmarriageable than they would do if I were a woman of colour. I will not need to marry to escape an unhappy family life, as my grandmother did at my age. And I will very probably be capable of supporting myself without the financial and social protection that marriage can afford - a veneer of respectability if you marry at the "right" time (for white, educated, middle-class people, generally in your mid-to-late twenties or thirties).

So when some feminists complain about not being able to criticise problematic things that other women do, I don't feel particularly sympathetic - nor do I see oppressed women trying to help out their sisters. Mostly, I see very privileged and well-intentioned women who think they're doing a good thing, but seem to have forgotten that choices are made in the context of a kyriarchy that affects different women in different ways, and seem to think of themselves as some super enlightened exception to this whole kyriarchal mess.

All throughout this post I've tried very hard to emphasise that it's only choices that don't harm anyone else that I'm concerned about - things like shaving one's legs. Of course anything that harms others, such as being bigoted, should be criticised and shamed. Nor do I think that critically reflecting on your actions is a bad thing - if anything, it should be encouraged. I certainly try to reflect on my actions all the time. Yes, even though there's at least 1 person on the planet who thinks they're all wrong.

The problem is, there's a pretty big difference between saying "hey, in some contexts this choice might actually support the kyriarchy and let's examine this more deeply" and "your choice isn't real, you brainwashed kyriarchal stooge". One critiques the choice itself and analyses it in context; the other one attacks and invalidates a person. I've been a witness to certain feminists attacking another woman for being a housewife. Again, being a housewife isn't something I'd personally choose - the role doesn't suit me. This person had chosen to be a housewife because severe ADHD and anxiety made it difficult for her to work. Context matters, and if you ignore that context you end up doing shitty things like attacking a neurodivergent person with disabilities for not doing what you want them to do. That is not cool, and is far worse of a thing to do than becoming a housewife, because other people get hurt and abused in that process.

I don't want to pin all of the blame on proscriptive feminisms because, again, context is very important and I think I also have internalised patriarchal bullshit somewhere in the back of my mind that I still need to find and root out, but still. If you somehow end up shaming women for who they are and you're a feminist, you've fucked up somewhere really really badly and you need to acknowledge that. I mean, I do - my whole life is basically an endless stream of fuckups with some good stuff holding it all together.

I really wish I lived in a world where I didn't have to write this post because no-one thought that shaming anyone else was acceptable. Unfortunately, I have this thing called a conscience which is strongly socially libertarian in that I support individual liberty as long as no-one gets hurt, and I don't want to pipe down and be a good little woman. I also really wish I could turn off the part of my brain that's drawing parallels between very proscriptive feminists (there aren't many) and misogynists, because it's creepy and upsetting. Just don't assume that women are too stupid to think for themselves so they must need your super-enlightenment. That is literally all you have to stop doing and it's really not that hard. Neither am I saying that things like marriage or putting on makeup are necessarily uber-feminist choices - just that while it's probably not the most feminist thing in the world, it's also not ludicrously antifeminist. Finally, please don't go jumping on this post and saying that it attacks all feminists: I have tried to make it clear that this is not something endemic within feminism. It's a group of people that is probably very small but whose opinions I happen to find pretty toxic and trying. A lot of other feminists are actually very cool and smart people I like to listen to.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Please don't romanticise mental illness

Skinny white girl crying and saying "Im Fine" (sic)
Content note: suicide, self-harm, purging.

I can't really be bothered to think up a good title for this; I'm too angry.

As a mentally ill person, I absolutely beg anyone who's reading this right now not to romanticise mental illness. I beg anyone who's reading this right now to spread the word, to tell their friends and family and loved ones and children, to go and shout it from their roofs that mental illness is a terrible thing to live through.

Please don't wonder why I care so much: I live through this. Rather, wonder why I don't welcome it.

"She's just broken inside"
I've seen people defend the romanticisation of mental illness with the justification that it's better than demonisation - the trouble is that it's not. They're two sides of the same thing: a refusal to deal with mental illness honestly. And here's why.

I'll start with demonisation first, because it's simpler to understand and to explain. This demonisation is dehumanising, as it strips the humanity from mentally ill people. Instead of being people who love, cry, fight, laugh, smile and struggle, we are turned into violent rapists and murderers. We are made to seem heartless and manipulative. We are labelled "worthless" and "broken" as though we are just objects who need to be "fixed" by some sane saviour. This in no way reflects the actual reality of mental illness, which is centred around the mentally ill person's own lived expericence, does not automatically make someone brutal or cruel (the idea that mentally ill people are evil is a massive misconception), and does not make a mentally ill person inferior to a sane person (matched for age, race, gender, disability and socioeconomic status I've done better for myself so far than several sane people I know - how's that for being a broken, inferior, worthless human being?).

"you're too young to let the world break you"
Romanticisation is a bit more complicated, because it's not actually dehumanising mentally ill people: it seems like it's trying to understand their plight and hold them up as just as deserving of a good life as anyone else. The trouble is, it doesn't actually do that. If dehumanisation is the equivalent of abusing someone with severe damage to their face, romanticisation is the equivalent of applying a light layer of make-up to that face and proudly proclaiming that the problem's gone away. Romanticisation trivialises mental illness, even making it seem desirable and beautiful - and that's dangerous. What's worse, it still falls into the same traps as demonisation, except this time being broken is about being a skinny white girl who has enough motivation in the morning to do her hair and cry while waiting to be "fixed" by some male saviour or planning your oh-so-beautiful suicide. Who needs boring, tough things like recovery when brokenness never looked this pretty?

They left her alone with her thoughts/and her thoughts ate her alive
The truth - the ugly truth - is that mental illness is a horrible thing. There is nothing beautiful about the aching, gaping pains of psychalgia. There is nothing beautiful about being so anxious or demotivated you sit shaking in a corner for 45 minutes. There is nothing beautiful about not being able to make it out of bed in the morning, let alone managing the stairs without collapsing. There is nothing beautiful about self-harming until it looks like you have a skin disease, because the deadness of self-injury feels better than the constant pain. There is nothing beautiful about feeling so guilty every time you eat something that only emetophobia stops you from trying to throw it up. There is nothing beautiful about the flashes of suicide that come into your mind and comfort you. There is nothing beautiful about taking your own life.

"sometimes the smallest things, hurt you the most"
I have lived through all that. I have looked into it deeply. I have stared death in the face and returned alive. I have stuck my head over the edge of the abyss and looked straight down into the bottom. And that is more courageous than any act of romanticisation.

You see, romanticisation trivialises mental illness. It glosses over all the awkward, unpleasant bits because they don't fit the narrative it's trying to shape - one of slender tragedy wrought with pointed hands, ignoring the fact that it's not really a narrative at all because it's a pointlessly, meaninglessly tragic condition and not a story.

Depressed girl curled up in a ball
Oh, and it's triggering.

One of the traits of the romanticisation of mental illness is that it tries to make even the most harrowing of things look beautiful - like self-harm, suicide and being dangerously underweight. I've starved myself, sawed at my arms with blades and tried to take my own life - all of which are traumatic experiences.

Romanticisation, and people who romanticise mental illness, seem not to give a flying fuck about that trauma. Sure, they might say "This blog may be triggering", but will they put trigger warnings on specific posts or images? Generally not.

Girl crying as she holds up a smile
Now, if you don't have any triggers you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. Surely I'm just being a big baby and should grow up already? After all, it's not like the real world has trigger warnings; I should just learn to deal with it.

The thing is, I am learning to deal with it and I have far less destructive responses to triggering things than I used to. All the same, I'd quite like to know what might be a trigger and what isn't one so that on a bad day I know what to avoid. If it helps, consider triggers like allergies: no-one chooses to be allergic to certain substances, but you still generally put warnings on them so that people know what to avoid.

White girl sitting on her bed crying
What really doesn't help me is when people post idealised pictures of suicide, self-harm and being dangerously thin. They don't represent the reality of these things, the gore and vomit and the lanugo that grows over the malnourished body, but I've seen that reality. And as soon as I see those images, the memories flood my mind - no, they don't just flood my mind. They flood my body too; it's a physical reaction that leaves me frightened and in a mood to do something very destructive because I've just relived a traumatic experience.

There is one final argument for romanticisation, particularly romanticisation in literature: that it's not really romanticisation, but rather an exploration of serious topics that affect people all around the world.

Look at me, I'm in a room full of signs!
Well, that's a crock of shit. That assumes that romanticisation is a good way to learn about mental illness and that all texts are romanticisation. As I've already said, romanticisation is incredibly far from the truth about mental illness - but what about the texts? Do all texts truly romanticise illness? Is this the only way we can conceive of it? While lots of texts do romanticise illness because it's seen as difficult to talk about, there are also some that don't - and here are three main examples.

"my head is currently a horrible place to be"
Firstly, Les Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire. This is one of my favourite pieces of literature right now, simply for its honesty; Baudelaire was one of the first modernists and aimed to explore the beauty in vice and evil without confusing it with goodness. Indeed, one of his poems, Un Voyage à Cythère, talks about "le courage/De contempler mon coeur et mon corps sans dégoût!" (the courage/to contemplate my heart and body without disgust), and this is a major theme in Baudelaire: the courage to face up to the evil in our world and inside ourselves, for only then can we start the process of working on that evil.

Secondly, the poems of Sylvia Plath. This is pretty much expected, because of her reception as that one mad girl who killed herself and Ted Hughes. However, if you actually read her work she was so much more than that: her poems are dark, unsettling and absurd.

Lastly, Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green. It's a bit different from the other two examples I've given, as the other two are poetry and this is a graphic novel, but it's every bit as honest and nearly brought me to tears at several points.

There are also some honourable mentions that aren't strictly about mental illness, but still helped me through some hard times: anything by Jean Anouilh or Eyvind Johnson, and the plays of Anton Chekhov too - and this song by Phil Ochs.