ISSUE 5 SNEAK PREVIEW
THE LIMITS OF
DESTIGMATISATION: AGAINST AWARENESS
ROSE LYDDON | ARTWORK BY RUDY LOEWE 1
My first advice to someone newly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder is always: never google it. Search results pages have reminded me again and again that we are manipulative, abusive, and incapable of love. Since my diagnosis two years ago, I’ve watched this slowly improve: many articles and books emphasise the availability of successful therapies, and BPD is increasingly becoming conceptualised more as a mental illness in the vein of mood disorders than as a fundamental character flaw or a broken personality—I have no doubt that this is about its relative curability compared to other personality disorders. You could trace this through the appearance of sympathetic articles about BPD in Vice, Buzzfeed, even the Telegraph. BPD is the cause célèbre of personality disorders. Narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders are not benefiting from this process. These disorders, associated with “psychopathy”, occupy a particular space in our minds and in culture as states of pure and irredeemable evil. They are always viewed from the corner of the eye, reviled but never understood. Neither “psychopath” nor “sociopath” have fixed meanings; there is no clear delineation between them, no accurate usage. The ease with which these terms are thrown around reveals how hesitant we are to look at their content. Conceptually, this is a black hole: an empty space where we can project all the badness we can’t and don’t want to understand. Mass murder, abuse and other acts of immense violence are frequently explained (and explained away) by mental illness. The treatment of white murderers and terrorists by the Western media is the clearest example of this. In the wake of massacres at Isla Vista, Charleston and San
Bernardino, mental illness was immediately on everyone’s lips. Throughout his career in politics, Donald Trump has been repeatedly assessed as a “sociopath” and “diagnosed” with narcissistic personality disorder by real psychiatrists who have never spent a minute with him. On Twitter, he is assessed by those less familiar with diagnostic models as having dissociative identity disorder or schizophrenia. These, among others, are the mental illnesses commonly referred to as highly stigmatized or “scary,” because they, in particular, are associated with violence, horror, and threats to the social order. Labelling fascists, murderers, and anyone thought to be evil, with these diagnoses does the dual injustice of hurting real mentally ill people (in very literal ways — people with these diagnoses are often subject to forced medication, hospitalisation and psychiatric abuse) and allowing us not to think too closely about problems. Madness allows ideology to get away scot-free. It allows us to explain abuse without looking at the social conditions which produce abusers. It allows us to see the most horrible violence as anomalous and exceptional: the result of a broken brain, not something which can exist in ourselves and in the people we love and trust most. Distancing oneself from evil is one of the oldest and most important ways of dealing with the horror that humans are capable of doing to each other. It’s not going to go away. Most mental health awareness activism works by normalising mental illness. The mad are “just like you.” We’re 1 in 4. But as more people are assimilated into the new normal, as depression, anxiety, and other illnesses become understood and empathised with, the place of fear remains. 2
Destigmatisation functions, necessarily, by shifting the stigma to someone else. How many times have you heard “I’m not crazy” or “I’m not a psycho” from a mentally ill person? This saying retains the negative associations of “crazy” and holds it at a distance. It says ‘pick on them instead.’ An important part of this is that certain symptoms can be understood more easily than others. One may not understand depression without lived experience, but a vague grasp of it can be extrapolated from experience of the low moods that everyone occasionally experiences. These symptoms don’t vastly threaten one’s understanding of what it is to be human. Psychosis, personality disorders, and dissociative identity disorder all entail symptoms which are so far beyond the realm of able-minded experience as to be incomprehensible. They are the Other, the horrifying inversions of the lies our societies are structured around. Real liberation for people with these illnesses would mean more than assimilating them into the able-minded world; it would mean deconstructing the notion that humans are fundamentally rational and logical. Normalising these illnesses will never work because they are not normal. I wonder if raising awareness about this sort of illness does the opposite of what it intends, bringing us greater violence and mistreatment as more people learn about our disorders. Because no matter how many statistics you spout about how mentally ill people are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence, there will always be the role of the disturbed, axe-murdering psycho lurking in the imagination. That role is central to us being able to move through the world without 3
being overcome by the horror of it all, the capacity for horror we carry inside ourselves. Somebody has to fill it. And in a belief system which privileges rationality, the scapegoats will always be those for whom irrationality is a constant companion. A solution to this problem is scarcely imaginable. Methodologies which threaten the hegemony of rationality are barely taken seriously even when forwarded by respected academics with huge stores of cultural capital. Meanwhile, the impulse to destigmatise, to explain over and over again that you’re not violent, dangerous, and abusive, is understandable, and has implications for dayto-day and long-term survival. Awareness gives us pressure on policy-makers to fund services and research. Awareness makes it easier for us to be open about our mental health at school, university or work, giving us access to vital accommodations. But crucially, this work should always be accompanied by an understanding that normalising mental illness will not destroy stigma. Talking about depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or even personality disorders, will not make things better for all mentally ill people. There will always be someone scarier. There will always be experiences which destabilise and disturb the foundational cultural beliefs which govern our lives. And most of the time, by normalising our illnesses and symptoms we are shifting the worst stigma onto the most vulnerable people, people who perhaps don’t have the power to fight their own corners. n All artwork featured by Rudy Loewe in this issue is from the zine ‘A bunch of Things’, you can find out more about Rudy’s work here-www.rudyloewe.com
that it sucks to feel that way and you can’t stop worrying and your mind won’t stop spinning and every time you start to feel like a breath has helped you settle down for three seconds something else pops up and it’s so incredibly frustrating to worry and try to stop and worry and try to stop and worry and you can’t stop and the more you try to stop worrying the more worried you are about being unable to stop worrying and what is really wrong with you anyway for worrying so much when you look around at people smiling at you and at each other and holding hands in the sunshine and planting flowers in the dirt and they’re not worrying about getting brain devouring bacteria germs from their lover’s hand or getting burned by the sun or having allergic 5
reactions to the flowers or digging up a rotting severed hand in the dirt or worrying about why a stranger would be smiling at them and if the stranger is just trying to set their mind at ease so they can follow them into an alley and brutally murder them for the three dollars in their wallet and the half-off flyer from Bean Bean Bean coffee in their pocket not to mention the amount of worry you have about your worries actually GETTING WORSE because even though that seems impossible it must somehow be possible because sometimes people worry themselves right to death right and you’ve felt like maybe you’re close to worrying yourself to death but if you were dead you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t be worrying about it unless death includes having to be anxious
about everything under the sun and stars and cloudy rain dripped sky and now you have to worry about death not being an eventual escape from your worry and if that’s the case then worry worry worry death death death what about that kid selling lemonade on the side of the street what if that kid is like some sort of lunatic poisoning all the middle class parents and lower class parents and upper class parents and all their children or what if that kid has like some sort of lunatic parent who’s doing something
unspeakable in their home and the kid is using the kid version of GoFundMe to raise enough money to run away to big flat empty flat Montana where nobody can sneak up on you and that’s actually why that kid is sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of the day when it’s ninety-one degrees selling lemonade when they should probably just be inside watching cartoons or outside playing with their friends or down at the beach with their parents or cousins watching the gulls fly and why are gulls so grey and weird and 6
they eat trash and they’re basically just rats that fly and one of them could hit you with big white shit any moment?.!?. And I know that it’s so very very tiring, to worry so. And many of us know that and we’d have more sympathy for you if we weren’t worrying so much ourselves about good Christ knows what. And, one of the worst things, even though you’re so tired from worrying all the time, you’re still too worried to sleep at night and then you have to worry about dying from lack of sleep. Anxiety is rooted in fear, and it lives in that oldest part of the brain, the limbic system. The Lizard Brain. Fight Flight Fuck Eat Sleep Shit Piss. As needed. Some people experience little fear and some people experience moderate fear and some people experience uber-fear all the time. Modern theory seems to think that which of those types of people we are individually is determined by the condition of lifelong experiences plus a certain amount of being biologically prone to being the type of fearfeeler that you are. (Biology, amiright?) I find time daily to reflect on “mental illness,” anxiety and fear. (Mental illness is in quotes because illness is defined as being a condition that causes your mind or body to work in a non-normal way when most mental illness is actually as normal as table salt when you look at it through a developmental and biological lens.) A hundred thousand years ago you would have been the best person to have in the cave-home because the saber tooth tiger isn’t sneaking up on you. You can’t stop looking over your shoulder and scanning 7
for danger and feeling tense and fearful and worrying and having trouble sleeping. There’s no way that tiger is sneaking up on you in your cave. Except, you wouldn’t have been in the cave, you’d have been at the mouth of the cave, and the people sleeping in the cave would have been so thankful that you were there. And, a hundred thousand years ago being so full of uncontrollable fears wouldn’t have been such a big deal because there were things that could drop out of a tree and eat your entire family. (We’re all family.) Or, maybe it would still have been a big deal, but it would have been more helpful than it is currently. The point being, the reason having excessive amounts of fear is a problem is because there isn’t always danger to be afraid of. (Although, realistically, there are always things to be afraid of because the world is a messy dangerous place, even in the absence of saber tooth tigers.) It isn’t necessarily just the anxiety itself. Anxiety is okay. Protective. Healthy. It’s part of the reason personkind has become the dominant species, for better or worse. In our past, we needed the worriers. They were our vanguard. They still are our vanguard. Your fear is powerful and good, but undirected or overdirected. Much of the time, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The times when there is something to be afraid of, you can handle it. Because you’re a badass, ready for anything, on the lookout. Vigilant. In conclusion: saber tooth tiger. n
Seo Kim 8
OCD AND ISLAMIC RITUAL Ethar Hamid I feel genuinely uncomfortable at the beginning and ending of every supplication. Ever since I was told that I should begin and end my du’a by praising Allah and sending peace upon the prophet, I have had a gnawing at my mind before and after the prayer. Praise be to Allah, praise be to Allah, praise be to Allah, I would repeat in a murmur (or in a thought, of course). Then, I would reflect on what I had just expressed, just to make sure that it was solid. You know—to make sure the words were really there. Then, I would pray. That part was usually ok. At the end, though, I always felt somewhat imprisoned by the mantra that was supposed to give me relief; praise be to Allah, and may peace be upon the noblest of the prophets and messengers… I had no clue that OCD symptoms can manifest themselves in religious practices, before I experienced the illness, myself. I had always thought of religion as a peacegranting institution, shielded from any worldly pain or discomfort. The idea that negativities present in life can intermingle with and taint Islamic rituals I carry out is... distressing, to say the least. That being said, mental illness is a formidable opponent…it can ruin life to an unimaginable point. And it doesn’t mind if you are a pious, God-fearing Muslim, or not. (Sometimes, being firm in faith is actually the driving force behind its strike; it tries to shake your faith in Allah through its blows.)
Mental disorder will clutch you in a most painful grasp, and will refuse to let go until either you give up, or it sees that your sabr is stronger than its hold. My own disorder and I have wrestled some rough brawls. I have suffered through psychosis, depression, and OCD. And yes— I have wondered such thoughts as “why me?” and “when will this end?” in the midst of the battles. But I have learned through my war with mental illness that a good Muslim is not one who never distresses, or who doesn’t ever waver in her faith (for, if there was such a Muslim, where would Allah’s test be, in the life of that person?) A good Muslim is one who, after falling down in spirit, rises back up, again, and again; “Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: “When will the help of Allah come?” Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!” the Qur’an teaches us (Qur’an, 2:214). I have the painful fear of my prayerful words fading away into oblivion, when I make du’a. The fact that words do not fade away into oblivion (what does that mean, anyway?) does not help me, while I’m in the moment. While I’m in the moment of making du’a, I am afraid that Allah s.w.t. will not answer
me, because I may not begin (or end) the supplication with “praise be to Allah, and peace be upon His prophet” sincerely enough…hard enough. So, I repeat the words, over and over, concentrating, firmly, on them. I know that this is irrational, but this is part of my illness. It’s a part of my test. And Allah loves those who endure their tests, patiently. Alhamdulillah, for that. n An Arabic Glossary • Sabr: patience • Alhamdulillah: praise be to Allah • Du’a: supplication, prayer
I’m disordered. But I’m fine. I can’t remember the last time I ate lunch. Restrict, Restrict. Smoke, binge, restrict. repeat. But I still eat. I’m not bone thin. but you should be. My clothes still fit. So I’m fine. My ADHD meds stop the hunger. success. Today I only ate breakfast. success. But I ate. So I’m fine.
That sounds yummy. Smoke another cigarette. Doesn’t sound yummy anymore. success. But I don’t exercise. you should. So this is healthy. So I’m fine. So close. but you can’t commit. I can’t commit. So I’m fine. No one notices. if they did, you’d love it. Maybe that’s a good thing. It means I’m fine. I’m fine. n
Rumble, rumble, gurgle. success. 14
Doll Hospital is an art and literature print journal on mental health. We believe print is the best medium for this project - a refuge from toxic comment sections and constant link skipping. Something tangible to slip in your book bag and read on the bus. Something still, something quiet. Something just for you.
Artwork by Alyssa Nassner
A sneak preview of Doll Hospital Journal Issue 5! Digital copies of issue 4 will be launching very soon alongside pre-orders of Issue 4 hard...
Published on Feb 12, 2018
A sneak preview of Doll Hospital Journal Issue 5! Digital copies of issue 4 will be launching very soon alongside pre-orders of Issue 4 hard...