It is Mental Health Awareness Month again around here. Last year I wrote an epic status update on Facebook, outlining my mental health issues, well, some of them. It was a fairly effective way of outing myself to more distant family, those weird Facebook-only high-school friends, and the odd collection of people I have gathered from various random sources (mostly friends of friends). This last group are mostly Americans, who argue endlessly about politics and gun control, so the whole revealing myself as a crazy person was a bit of an interesting experiment.
For the most part everyone behaved. There were the usual “don’t call yourself crazy” lectures, and a lot of “but you aren’t like ‘those’ people”, and of course the obligatory “but you seem so normal”. All sort of annoying and condescending in their own special ways, but well meaning, and pretty much willing to listen. The thing I get the most reaction to is the whole “I wouldn’t change my experiences if I could” thing. Most people just can’t conceive of not needing to be cured of bipolar disorder. To them mental illness has no up side, no positive angle. What they are not seeing is the fact that I would not be who I am without it. Being bipolar is pretty fundamental to the way I developed. It gave me my self-reflection, my compassion for suffering, my understanding of power dynamics and oppression. It gave me a much more robust understanding of joy, contentment and happiness than my peers. I see the light better because the shadow defines it.
So, now that it is “be condescending to a crazy person” week again, I have to decide if I am going to post this year. It has been a much better year, as I measure them. I got healthier, I didn’t get hospitalized, I left some groups that were draining energy from me, and I spent more time with friends who really support me. I’m ready to work (even if I don’t have much of a job yet), and my mood is pretty stable.
Ok, not totally stable. I completely had a panic attack a few days ago, but it is a good story. In the past a panic attack would have collapsed me for days. The recovery was always slow. I became one with the couch. This time I made cookies. Literally. I went home and baked. My husband fully supports this coping mechanism. Apparently, I am learning how to manage again. I suspect that perfectly ordinary, mentally stable people bake as a coping mechanism too. There are way too many baking magazines in subway news shops for this to be just about providing sweet sustenance to your friends and family. I think I have stumbled on to a great secret of the sane world – baking as an antidepressant! Don’t tell anyone. Big Pharma will have it packaged in less time than it takes to brown the edges of a nice peanut butter oatmeal cookie. It can be our little secret. Oh right. Facebook.
I object to Facebook on a number of levels. I am not the user, I am the product. Facebook owns everything I post. They own all my little political rants, and my reposted pictures of kittens, and all the weird conversations I have with old roommates. They own my last “I’m crazy” post. They own all the responses from my nearest and dearest and others. I know that, and I rationalize it by saying that I post with eyes wide open. I know I am giving my words up, so somehow it is ok. It’s not really, but most of the people I “know” on Facebook have no other contact with me, and so I have no other way of contacting them. Ah, the life of the netizen.
The other thing, says my HR manager best friend, is that I am wrecking my employment reputation by ranting about city council and the federal government. I maintain that any employer who would disqualify me based on my dislike for our mayor, is not an employer I would want to work for, but as my savings and my family’s good will dwindle, this feeling is eroding. So, if my potential bosses would freak out because I have a serious problem with his worship, or our glorious leader, it stands to reason that they would shred my resume seconds after reading about my mental health. Stigma-busting and supporting workplace mental health are great for corporate fundraisers, but god forbid you actually have to hire one of these people.
So I’m torn, between my own little Facebook activism, where I force my friends to recognize that they interact with a nutcase on a fairly regular basis, without appreciable trauma, and wanting to present a clean, or sanitized view of me to the working world. I want to be sort of in your face about my illness. I’ve always said that I had enough backup that I could afford to be really open about my life. That resolve is being tested. It pisses me off, though. I know that we all curate ourselves for different audiences. Who I am with my mother is awfully different from who I am here, the sticky part comes when you have to hide parts of yourself, or risk being ostracized or left out. In this case it would mean continued poverty and deprivation. I don’t like being told what to do, and not posting on Facebook feels like someone telling me who I can tell about me. I don’t like it.
Chances are I will post. Some part of me likes watching my acquaintances wriggle around in discomfort as they try to be supportive. Maybe like is the wrong word. It is more about some level of satisfaction that they have had to stretch their minds a little to encompass something they are really good at compartmentalizing away. It is ok for Annette to be eccentric, but keep the mumbling real crazy person away from me. They don’t understand how closely related to that person I am, but that isn’t really the point. Posting about my illness is practice for being out in the world. In my vain little head, I can change them. I can make them think differently. Maybe I can get them to treat someone better, or judge someone less. I’m foolish and pig-headed that way.