I don’t know exactly what my fight is but I know I need to fight. I don’t know which movement I truly care about, or which ones would welcome me as an advocate or ally.
Interesting how I gain more insight from my creative courses than from my more academic courses. Nearly everything I’ve written in my fiction workshop, for example, has centered on mental illness, therapy, and psychiatry in the United States. Does that indicate that I care about these issues or that I wish to construct an image of myself as caring? Or, worse, that I’m intrigued by the strangeness of mental illness as a voyeur?
One thing that raises these questions is my worry of being perceived as a sufferer of a mental illness myself. That reflects my own internalized shame and stigma concerning mental illness — even though I wish to ally myself with efforts for justice and treatment for the mentally ill, I wish to distance myself and emphasize my own, questionable mental well-being. I say questionable only because I know I get depressed more than the average person, and I spent most of high school feeling dissatisfied and angry at myself. (On a positive note, I feel more “okay” than I ever have in my life, but who’s to say if I meet someone else’s criteria for “mentally healthy”?)
Okay, and now I must deconstruct the false healthy/unhealthy dichotomy. Mental illness is increasingly being represented with spectrums instead of rigid criteria. Efforts have been made to examine the historical construction of mental illness as a gendered, racialized, and class-divided tool to oppress certain people (I think of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman). It’s more complex than healthy or sick.
And that’s where my observations on mental health in this country collide with my observations on feminism. We’re still dominated by historical constructions of women as property of men, women as second-class citizens, women as objects of male pleasure and procreation, women as war conquests, women as more irrational, more deviant, and more unreliable than men, et cetera, et al, ad nauseum. We’re embedded in a culture and mass media system that commodifies women, divides them by race, class, sexuality, and other social markers of difference, and teaches its people exactly how to reproduce these conditions.
And it makes us sick. Subjugation and oppression of a group is detrimental to both the oppressed and the oppressor. The mental health component comes in here — shame and guilt manifest themselves in members of a dominant group who recognize their inherited dominance. It’s even more conflicting to understand one’s own oppression and privilege at the same time. Beyond that, the dissonance created by the friction between ideology and reality makes the people depressed and apathetic.
This is where I want to be a source of support in someone’s life. Of that much I am certain. Coming into one’s social identities, deciding what to “include” in one’s personal identity, and recognizing inequality are painful things, and I believe they require individual support as well as community support.
And if this is all some self-reflexive projection of my own struggle for well-being and awareness of inequality, so be it. Learning how to support other people has already been hugely beneficial to my own well-being, and I’m going to keep believing it’s a good sign.