Mental Illness is soooo 2012

In the wake of the Newtown shooting there has been a lot of talk about needing to open up the conversation about mental illness. As I started listening to the coverage and conversations I started to get peeved at how the term was being thrown around as if it encapsulated every mental state that may have a negative connotation. As an artist and metalhead it also brings to light the necessity to get clear about the stereotypes associated with being a “creative type”.

When I started to write SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious I wanted to talk about my own struggle with episodic depression and search for joy, but to do it in a way that was relatable and avoid the journal-entry-as-theater cringe fest that one can easily fall into. As I researched the various organizations that I could potentially work with in regards to mental health I’ve been consistently weary about 80% of their mission statements.

Can you be more vague please?

We represent the wide spectrum of mental illness that is present in the United States and we aim to serve that population through a combination of research and outreach. That’s fairly vague and even somewhat boring to me mainly because it isn’t specific enough. Who exactly are you serving and why?

There are so many types of mental illness and severity associated with each kind that casually labeling someone manic depressive, bi-polar or autistic seems quite unhelpful. Not that I haven’t put people in these boxes without knowing if the classification is even DSM worthy. Yeah he’s kind of aspergery. What does that even mean exactly? Just because someone is a bit socially inept does it mean they need to be on meds or is it simply that I just don’t like being in their company?

Oh, don’t worry, that’s because I have Antisocial Personality Disorder

We throw around OCD to describe our need to keep our car clean in a particular way. When I was kid everyone started to have ADD or ADHD. Most likely most of the “cases” were based on an overconsumption of sugar and lack of physical activity. For years, while I was flailing about in the bay area trying to figure myself out, I was wondering if I had a disorder of some kind. I was both wanting to be put in a box while also fearing the lid being stapled down on me.

Although diagnosis is a helpful it’s usually for the benefit of others and not for the person who is being examined. Oh, that’s why he’s like that. That makes so much sense. It seems as if we are able to categorize each other, then we know where we stand and can be prepared for the worst. On the other hand mental illness has been a celebrated component of the artistic life.

He’s only acting out because he’s so creative

The artists who historically get the most press are the ones who seem the wackiest, the most outlandish, bordering on uncontrollable. We have a fascination with the musician who takes out a knife onstage and starts cutting himself mid-song. We’re drawn to the topsy-turvy hatefucks that seem to fuel the fury of the abstract painter. The writer whose sullen introverted ways lead to volumes of unpublished prose sitting next to a suicide note.

Doom Metal = Gun Violence (Really?)

The romanticism with mental anguish is just as troubling as the need to blame Marilyn Manson for the Columbine tragedy. If we are truly going to have an open dialogue about mental illness then perhaps we need to stop using that term entirely. Is it possible to find a neutral terrain that incorporates all of the possible unknowns as well as the research that has been done up to this point? Can the community of concerned citizens and mental health professionals come together to create a clarity about what it is we’re really trying to achieve?

Answer me this

In terms of art, can we let the art stand on it’s own but hold the person who has created it accountable for their actions in society, rather than celebrating their preciousness as a cultural influencer? Can we see illness for what it is? A need to create more ease for that individual, lifting away a particular stigma while simultaneously assisting them in taking responsibility for what they are capable of.

There is a benefit in coming to terms with one’s own limitations and needs, finding a balance to how one operates in the world at an optimum level. The thing that is clear to me is that this cannot be done alone, that labels are generally cop-outs and that the territory of the brain and it’s relationship to illness is just beginning to be unraveled. It’s better for us all to be in a deep state of questioning rather than thinking we have a solid argument or answers.

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4 Comments

  1. Josh Platt
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Lots of good, important, useful questions, many of which I’ve thought about myself in some form or other over the past decade of my life. Here are some random listy things.

    1. If you wanted to start a reading group on these topics, I’d be down.

    2. Acting was a major tool in my recovery. ‘Recovery’ is a term that covers a lot, but let’s leave it at that.

    3. I have bipolar disorder–we’re the ones who write the pages & pages….

    4. Are you interested in psychoanalytic thought? There’s a lot that bunch has to say about the relationship between the psyche, development, illness, and creativity. The developmental piece in particular is something they add to the conversation. (What Artaud in his genius horrible psychotic poetry called ‘the mommydaddy’.)

    5. Deleted. Because not all things may be spoken of.

    6. Have you heard of The Freedom Center in Noho?

    7. My thumb aches from this tiny keyboard. May write more later.

    —Josh

    3.

  2. Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Right on, Seth! As I read through, I was thinking things like “Yep. I totally agree. I like that guy. Geez, we’re on the same page.” And also “I need to revamp our mission statement to say what I really think, instead of using wording that will appeal to our funders.” I greatly appreciate your point of view!

    PS – I am still working on bringing your play(s) to our town. Dying to see SuperHappyMelancholiexpialidocious!

    Becca Atkins
    Artreach/Second Step Players

  3. sethums
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Becca! Yeah, mission statements are always a double edge sword. Let me know if you need anything else from me in order to bring SuperHappy to you.

  4. sethums
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Hey Josh,

    Thanks for the feedback. Here’s my responses to 1-7.

    1. Maybe, I’m beginning to go on tour soon and I’m a bit stretched with projects but it would be great to get some coffee and talk about stuff too!

    2. Yup, creative pursuits are so helpful in that department.

    3. I wonder how you feel about that label overall.

    4. Nope, not familiar but I’ll go check it out.

    5. Fine by me.

    6. Nope. I’ll check that out too.

    7. Please do.

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