Not so long ago, I was on a CERN trip with my school to Geneva. (End result? I'm not a fan of Geneva, but CERN is an awesome place even if it does look like a bunch of industrial sheds.) When getting from the airport to the station side of the city - which is the side with a lot of shops that all close at 1 in the afternoon - we decided to plop ourselves down outside a Starbucks.
Such was the case in Geneva, too (well, for me anyway, because I was speaking French for most of the trip)...except for one woman in Starbucks who overheard us speaking English and apparently snapped, launching into a tirade about how the English are imperialist murdering bastards who should get out of Geneva and telling the black people in our class to, essentially, fuck off back to Africa. (I think I was also one of the only white people to be more disturbed by her racism than her criticism of British imperialism...)
But why should I care so much, anyway? I mean, it's just used off-hand as a way to say that someone's being stupid and illogical, right?
Yeah. And there are ways to say that someone's being stupid and illogical without implying that the quarter or more of people living with a mental illness are also stupid and illogical. It might not matter to someone healthy and sane - but it matters to me.
You see, I am considered articulate - at least, I am considered as articulate as any healthy person. I pride myself on attempting to think logically, and on backing down when I'm wrong. In other words, on being mature and trying to think things through. I'd like to think that most of the time I manage.
I also struggle with chronic, clinical depression with anxiety symptoms. While I've been getting better, I still have debilitating flares in which the illness is more severe. I don't want to talk about it, but suffice to say the possible consequences range from threadlike cuts on my arms to shaking and collapsing, unable to move or speak, to death.
I don't like how the latter invalidates the former, and how I am reduced to, variously, a manipulative attention-seeker, an emotional abuser, or simply too unstable to be taken seriously regardless of the fact that I have demonstrated on multiple occasions that I am capable of logical thought and checking my privilege.
And that brings me on to something else, because yes, this is a rant. I don't like it - in fact, I hate it - when sane people assume that mentally ill people are somehow incapable of love, empathy or friendship. That mentally ill people are inherently more selfish than sane people. That mentally ill people deliberately lie to and abuse others, simply because they are mentally ill. That they deliberately manipulate people with suicide threats.
I don't like this tactic, but let's replace "mental illness" with "physical illness", let's say cancer or heart disease. Would you call someone with cancer inherently selfish and abusive and incapable of love?
Probably not, unless you're so ableist that not even the spectre of the Littlest Cancer Patient can sway you from your belief that there is something fundamentally evil about people who are ill. And the reason that most people in their right minds don't consider physically ill people inherently selfish and abusive and incapable of love is that somehow the message has gotten through that physical illness has nothing to do with a person's goodness.
For some reason, the same message hasn't gotten through to people and it pisses me off.
It pisses me off because having a chronic mental illness is like lugging around a back-breakingly heavy sack of shit. No matter how much it's romanticised (and people do romanticise it, for some strange and stupid reason), it still hurts and I'll probably have to live with it every day for the rest of my life.
I'll have to live with mental breakdowns.
I'll have to live with not being able to move, speak or take care of myself at points.
I'll have to live with the compulsion to self-destruct.
I'll have to live with psychalgia and anxiety attacks.
None of those are particularly fun or easy things to live with.
It does not make it any easier when people tell me that my condition is "in my head" or that I'm somehow weak or evil or selfish for having an illness I never wanted.
So maybe some mentally ill people do shitty things. Guess what? So do sane people. Sane people can be just as manipulative, abusive and selfish as mentally ill people are accused of being, because being a good person is independent of being mentally healthy.
I will just say one last thing, because after all, this is a rant: you don't have to be mentally ill to manipulate people with suicide threats. It's shitty behaviour coming from anyone, sane or not, and as someone who's struggled with suicidality while I have sometimes told people about wanting to die, I've made a conscious effort never to manipulate them with it and openly told people that it's my illness, not me trying to abuse them. I've also gotten help for my problems. I'd say all that is responsible behaviour. (It also helps that I detest manipulation and manipulators of any kind.)
But more importantly, sane people have a responsibility not to be...well...sanist fucks. A responsibility to not stereotype all mentally ill people as stupid, illogical and abusive. Because when you do that, you hurt us. You won't even believe our illnesses are real sometimes - so how are we supposed to seek help for them?! You think we're negative, abusers, sociopathic, selfish, incapable of love - which understandably makes it difficult to trust and open up to the people around you. You use mental illness as a way to insult people about their intelligence, which is guaranteed to make even the smartest of mentally ill people feel like shit.
As a mentally ill person, I don't want to rape your pets or slit your children's throats in the middle of the night; I want to quietly get on with my life and achieve my dream of becoming an experimental physicist. That is hard enough with a mental illness, but harder still when I am treated as bad and wrong for it.