I’ve been meaning to write for ages. Lots of things have happened since I last wrote. Like my glasses have a stronger prescription, I have had my first ever telephone interview, I’ve argued with racists on facebook even though I promised myself I would stop doing that in 2012. And I’ve been to the hairdresser four times in the last ten days which this time last year would have ended in a conversation with a medical professional about “managing highs and lows”, but so far has only actually resulted in very short hair.
None of those are reasons for why I haven’t written of course. I haven’t written because it’s hard. Despite all of the emails and deeply enriching conversations I have had, and all the plans I have made and strength I have gained thanks to this blog, I have to psych myself up every time I want to write on it, and that can take weeks. What’s with that?
I have noticed people call me brave a lot, for writing about my health, and while I graciously accept the compliment (who doesn’t want to be brave?) I have to admit that I have never really understood it, or accepted it. Maybe when I think of bravery I still think of horses and swords and human shields and girls saying No and girls saying Yes and the girl Maya Angelou is talking about here:
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
Not me. I struggle to see me, chronically over-disclosing on the internet, as brave.
But that’s bullshit, isn’t it. Reading that sentence now I can see how much it drips with internalised misogyny. How it willfully overlooks how deeply political the personal is. I can hear the voice inside my head telling me to hurry up and get over it and get back to work and get back to my friends and back to normal life, and besides, it never really happened anyway. The overwhelming voice of society and the people who make it, refusing to value the experience of insanity for what it is; to acknowledge it, to explore it, to understand it. The voice telling me to Forget, Forget, Forget.
It’s bullshit because I know that pens and typewriters and keyboards are weaponry as much as swords and shields and guns are. I feel like I was born knowing that. Because I would be the first person to encourage a woman to speak loudly and for as long as she needs to, without worrying about spitting while she does.
It’s bullshit because in the words of my good friend Cat, “if the stories of our lives and experiences run counter to dominant narratives, telling them is a political act”.
So why, if I know all that, do I battle the feeling that my choice to talk openly about my mental health is self-indulgent, attention-seeking, weak? Why do I question in myself the bravery I have come to celebrate in others? Is it the guilt of being different in the first place? Is this The Stigma in action? The stigma that tells people with extreme emotions, minority life experiences, mental disorders to get a job and shut the fuck up? To not make a scene. To control ourselves. To not be a burden. The dogma is so strong, that political creature though I may be, I am realising I have not been exempt from it.
You know, these days I can count on myself to just about pass for a normal person. I wake up in the morning and feel hunger instead of dread, nausea or despair. I stand at the top of a street and I wonder what I will find as I walk down it instead of wondering if I’ll make it the whole way. I can think about other things and talk about other things and I think that’s why writing about it feels harder. Now that my mental state is not my whole identity, it feels like by writing about it, I am choosing to go there. And that is starting to feel like a brave thing to do.
When I was talking to a friend about sexuality recently she said, “there’s this myth that you come out and it’s a big deal and your mum cries and then she stops crying and then it’s over. It’s not like that. You come out every day, multiple times a day. And sometimes you choose not to.” Choosing to come back here and write about mental health feels like continually outing myself as someone with a problem. As someone who will hurt you if you get too close. As someone who needs help. As someone who is different. I mean, I am no stranger to “being different” – I have never been somewhere where I am not different, and I out myself as a black feminist on the daily, but I have never felt anything like the perceived cost of outing myself as one of the “mentally ill”. The sense of weakness and waste associated with it is overbearing. Everything tells me to run from it, like a building on fire, and not to look back. It’s brave to look back, but it has its rewards too, because when you look into the flames you’re also looking into your future.
Upon hearing of Maya Angelou’s death, I drank in the quotes that flooded social media and drifted to sleep listening to her voice. It was the quote up there that I couldn’t get out of my head. How desperately I want to be the girl she is speaking about. Her words gave me such strength, but they challenged me at the same time. They challenged me to write this, and address that fucked up little voice inside me that tells me to be grateful and be quiet. Her words moved me to think about all the women that are kicking ass right now, who kick ass on a daily basis, who are advocates for themselves, who out themselves willfully, who say what society tells them no-one wants to hear. Thank you, you are so brave.