Guest Post: Trust me, I have already thought about their feelings

A huge thank you to Karlie Ebersole for contributing this guest post!

CW: sanism, ableism

 

A couple months ago, I decided for the third time in my life that I needed to begin to see a therapist. As someone with an anxious and often depressive neurotype, there are generally two options posed to me: talk to a therapist or take meds. Since I feel like so much of my experience with Madness is linked to my experiences and social position in society, I generally feel reluctant to reflexively take the latter option and am more inclined towards talk therapy. I LOVE to talk… even when I often hate myself after I do it a lot. Perhaps subconsciously I truly believe that talking can solve all of my problems. While that might not be exactly true, I do believe that there is a lot of power in trying to confront our emotions and past traumas when we have the resources and/or desire to do so.

The first time that I tried to see a therapist was a process. A game of writing the number to call on my to-do list and watching weeks and weeks pass by without having called to make an appointment. I had recently moved to college and was becoming distant from many of my friends back home if I had not already lost them altogether. I felt scared and alienated from my peers and was coming off from a period where I used alcohol to cope. Because I was beginning to understand and recognize my worth as a disabled person and was beginning to name my queerness, I was only able to start peeling at the outer layers serving as barriers to my self-understanding once finally finding someone to talk to. After all, my therapist was at a short-term clinic and it felt incentivized to make my problems seem tangible and concise. I was able to fool myself into feeling I reached some sort of resolution towards the end of my sessions, completely unaware that resolution and closure should not have been the goal.

The next time I tried to see a therapist was maybe a year later. I decided to go to an affordable clinic. In the college town where I live, this meant that I saw someone who was still in training. Objectively I was fine with this. After all, I really just wanted someone to listen to me and validate what I was saying. Well, she listened to me alright. I found myself just going in there and talking and talking sometimes feeling like I forgot to take a breath. I felt validated but upon reflection I think this might just be because she did not do anything to overtly invalidate me. She laughed at all my jokes including the ones I made to avoid confronting how shitty I felt about things in my life, but I appreciated that validation at the time too. To her credit, she did give me lots of worksheets to help me evaluate my values and she helped me practice mindfulness a few times. I felt like I was being offered tools that would help me in the real world outside of our sessions. Unfortunately these sessions expired around the time that I am assuming my therapist was completing her program. She made me feel like I had accomplished something, but that feeling did not last long. A few more layers were peeled.

Fast forward another year or so to this year and I am realizing that all my past therapy experiences have sufficed merely as band-aids to underlying issues. I am not going to pretend to have a complete understanding of what these issues are, but I do figure they reside somewhere in my unprocessed trauma. And as most disabled folks with able-bodied parents probably know, much of this trauma lies in (or becomes exacerbated by) these familial relationships. More than that, there are nuances to having any relationships with non-disabled people that solicit deep reflection and self-care work; the latter not being really possible without the former. This dynamic is not exclusive to any specific marginal identity, as I have learned by listening to other marginalized folks that this is a common experience. What is important is acknowledging that marginalized folks are vulnerable to their oppressors whether or not the oppressor intends to cause harm. So where can we go to receive the care that will validate our position? Where can we feel safe to express what society wants us to keep silent about– our oppression, often the very core of our problems?

I was inspired to write this because of my most recent experiences in therapy. Right as I begin to make myself vulnerable, expressing basic grief over all the pain I have experienced born out of living and interacting with the world as anomaly, clinicians seem to have a knee-jerk reaction:

“Have you thought about how [insert name of person other than myself] must have felt?”

Here’s the thing about being multiply marginalized disabled person: it is normal to feel like we take up too much space even when we take up a fraction of most others. I was socialized to feel like a burden, to feel lucky if someone decided to pay attention to me in any way that seemed remotely positive. I was made to feel like I should thank people for treating me with the basic respect that is expected to be afforded to white, able-bodyminded, cishet folks. And there are of course layers to this, but even if there is a respect that is not afforded to non-disabled folks, it will never be because of their ability status.

What is it that I am trying to express? In a lot of ways, I am still working through that but a theme has come up a lot lately for me in spaces where I would hope to feel safe and receive care. This theme relates to the pressure to empathize or sympathize with those who have caused me harm, whether that harm was intentional or otherwise. Let me be clear. It is not therapeutic to encourage me to consider how my existence and intrinsic behaviors make other people feel, especially when their feelings are often rooted and/or influenced by ableist/saneist notions of normality. I do not need reinforcement that I am a burden to everyone around me, that I need to prioritize others before myself. I already do this. It is natural for me, reflexive. It is in these moments where I realize how easy it is to slip through the cracks, how critically misunderstood so many marginalized people are and how urgent it is to have more therapists who are informed about vast human complexity. Informed feels like an understatement. They just need to….. give a shit. Our lives cannot be reduced to stereotypical narratives and all of our problems are not going to be directly related to our marginal identities. However, if a fundamental mutual understanding our material experiences cannot be reached, if there is no space for that to be heard, how can we truly benefit from these interactions at all?

I hope that by speaking my truth and connecting with other folks who are marginalized, I will begin to find channels where I can be cared for in ways that will allow me to heal from trauma, or at the very least can allow me to find peace. More importantly, I hope that I find the space within myself to feel worthy of receiving that care.

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Reblog: Can the suicidal (academic) speak? Personal reflections on depression, suicide and research.

Want a taste of the future of Critical Suicide Studies? Check out this blog.
CW for suicide, suicidality, sanism/ableism.

Compulsory Able-Mindedness II

CW for sexual violence, psychiatric violence, suicidality.

If you have experienced the suicide of someone close to you, it might be best not to read this post.

In my last post with this title, I talked about the nature of compulsory able-mindedness and how there is a ubiquitous expectation in our society that we all will pursue this, do our best to achieve this. I pointed out that this expectation is sanist/ableist and that Mad and neurodivergent people should not have to conform to normative ideas about how we should or should not behave/move/think/act. Beyond this, I suggested that ‘care/treatment’ in its current manifestation is designed for the benefit and improved wellbeing of able-minded people, not for Mad and neurodivergent people.

A lot of people had strong reactions to this; it was clear that many disagreed with me. As far as I could tell, virtually none who disagreed with me identify as Mad/neurodivergent/otherwise non-neurotypical. As far as I could tell, it was able-minded people rejecting my stance that Mad/neurodivergent people should be free to be/live/die as we wish. As far as I could tell, the people most adamantly protesting my view that non-Mad people should not define, prescribe, and administer (without consent) care/treatment of Mad people are not, themselves, Mad. It seems to me that the people who find the idea of Mad/neurodivergent self-determination most offensive are able-minded people. In other words, the neurotypical people who were angry at my rejection of ableist/sanist ‘care’ were enacting the kinds of normative expectations I mentioned within the concept of ‘compulsory able-mindedness.’

Here’s a thing: no one disagreed that our society expects Mad/neurodivergent people to (want to) seek care/treatment.

Here’s another thing: Most people agreed that ‘care/treatment’ of Mad/neurodivergent is often implemented without consent. Most people agreed that some Mad/neurodivergent people cannot consent, at times. On this point, we all agree: non-consensual ‘care’ of Mad/neurodivergent people is normal in our culture.

I must say that it surprised me that neurotypicals readily agreed that some Mad and neurodivergent people aren’t capable of giving consent at times. It surprised me, in part, because many (especially progressive/liberal) Americans subscribe to a ‘rights’ model of humanity: human beings are special and our rights should be protected; we should have individual liberties; we should have bodily autonomy (a concept foundational to the anti-rape movement); and so on. Rights-based thinking leads many Americans to accept that, in most cases, it is wrong to do something to someone who has not consented to that thing (be it sexual contact, medical treatment, etc.).

This is not the case for Mad/neurodivergent people. When we venture into certain territories—in particular, ‘A Danger to Myself or Others’ territory—we suddenly lose many if not all of our rights. I suspect this is because, to some degree, we lose our humanity. Neurotypicals can expect to hold onto their rights until they have actually harmed someone or something. Mad/neurodivergent people, though, can have our rights taken away by neurotypicals if we are suspected of being ‘a danger’—that is, before we’ve harmed anyone or anything. There is a chicken-egg dilemma here in that it’s hard to know if our rights are being taken away because we are seen as less human, or if we are dehumanized because neurotypicals have seen ‘the need’ to take our rights away. Either way, ‘It’s for our own good.’

All of these thoughts on bodily sovereignty, rights, humanity, and so forth have been leading me to a particular realm of thought: suicidality. It is possible that I’m drawn here partly because of my own morbid inclinations, but more likely that conversations of bodily sovereignty inevitably turn to ‘the most extreme’ beliefs about the body and our entitlements.

There are books to be filled (and that have been filled) about bodily sovereignty. I don’t want to write a literature review here. I want to talk about the everyday effects of neurotypicals casually accepting the violation of the Mad bodymind while vehemently rejecting assertions of Mad autonomy and self-determination.

Before I delve into the connections between suicide and bodily sovereignty, I want to say a few things about perceptions of suicidal people.

One paradox of suicide is that thinking and talking about it makes one crazy and irrational, yet avoiding or preventing it (and healing from ideation) often hinge on our ability to discuss it. In the neurotypical imagination, to admit that I’m thinking about killing myself precludes me from partaking in potentially life-saving discussions about suicide.

Perhaps stemming from this, another weird thing is that if I don’t mention suicide/suicidal ideation, neurotypicals assume that I’m ‘not extreme’ or even that I’m ‘on their side.’ But the minute I do mention suicide/ideation, suddenly my opinion is crazy, irrational, and devoid of merit. This is evidence of the ways that Mad people are alienated from discussions of our own needs, problems, desires, and strategies for (not) living with Madness. The void created by the absence of Mad voices is filled by sanist and non-Mad voices telling us ‘the facts’ about suicide and sane-splaining how to prevent it. David Webb discusses the striking absence/exclusion of Mad people from suicidology (the study of suicide) in the piece “Thinking (Differently) About Suicide.” Webb explains that because suicide and suicidal ideation are heavily pathologized in our culture, neurotypical suicidologists assume that Mad people who think about, plan for, and/or attempt suicide are irrational have nothing to contribute to the study of these topics, which is primarily science-based.

I do take issue with an aspect of Webb’s piece, though, which is its focus on the notion of ‘prevention.’ Thinking about the Western obsession with ‘prevention’ guides us back to the links between suicide and bodily sovereignty.

‘Suicide prevention’ is a collocation in English, indicative of anti-Mad and anti-suicide beliefs that run deep in Western cultures. If I’m suicidal, it’s assumed that I am crazy and also that I should get ‘treatment.’ If I discover that someone else is suicidal, it’s assumed that I should prevent it. This prevention should happen regardless of the suicidal person’s wishes; intervention and prevention should happen by any means necessary, up to the point of violating the suicidal person’s bodily autonomy and forcing ‘treatment’ upon them.

Here is another paradox of suicide: sometimes feeling suicidal means simultaneously feeling out of and in control. Suicidal ideation is empowering for some us precisely because it is a means of taking control, even when we feel out of control.

Violating a suicidal person’s bodily autonomy can have the effect of reinforcing that person’s feelings of disempowerment. Forced ‘care/treatment’ reifies our experience of not being in control.

Even for those of us for whom suicidal ideation is never empowering or does not make us feel in control, non-consensual ‘care’ is rarely empowering. Feelings of being out of control are often accompanied by feelings of disempowerment, fear, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

There is a connection between violation of bodily autonomy and subsequent depression and suicidal ideation. This is not remotely surprising to anyone who has experienced and/or studied sexual violence (i.e. experiencing sexual violence is a risk factor for suicide), medicalized trauma, imprisonment, or other instances in which a person experiences bodily violation or loss of control over the self.

Considering this, it seems antithetical to frame intervention/prevention as ‘caring’ when it entails a lack of consent. It seems odd to take for granted that we must intervene on the suicidal person, and that we do so under the guise of ‘care.’

So we live in a sanist culture where non-consensual ‘care’ of/intervention on Mad people is normalized (even when Mad people experience it as harm), while Madness and the exercise of Mad autonomy is pathologized. Not choosing treatment is a non-option; ‘treatment’ is narrowly defined within the range of the neurotypical imagination (and obviously does not include suicide). The very rejection of treatment is, itself, pathologized: when we are told something is ‘wrong’ with us yet we do not choose ‘treatment,’ the neurotypical assumption is that such rejection is symptomatic of our ‘mental illness.’

If Mad people reject treatment, we do so because we are crazy and this opens the door to non-consensual enforcement of ‘care.’ Therefore, not only is able-mindedness a standard expectation in our culture but ‘treatment’ is mandatory.

I think I should make it really clear that I do not think suicide is wrong or bad. Sometimes it is sad, devastating, angering, terrifying— suicide pings the range of human emotions. Suicide is also extremely personal and context-dependent. I will probably write more about this some day, but I don’t want readers to get the impression that a) I’m over-the-moon happy about suicide all the time or b) all suicidal people are the same. In fact, that is a sanist perspective: all suicidal people are the same, which is why there are only a tiny handful of approaches for dealing with us. Suicide and suicidal people are complex, and the sanist temptation is to boil us down into the least complex terms imaginable. The sanist imagination strikes me as a lack-thereof. If you are reading this as a binary (“they didn’t say suicide is 100% bad, therefore they are saying suicide is 100% good”), then you hold a sanist perspective.

One of my goals with writing about this crazy stuff is to try to imagine new ways of thinking about and approaching Madness and Mad people, and to get sane people to be more imaginative about life, death, in/sanity, un/wellness, care, and community.

In that vein, mine is not the only perspective. If you feel like you have something to say about this stuff (madness, mental illness, suicide, bodily sovereignty, psychiatric care, disability, sanism/ableism, etc. etc.), I would love to give you a platform for talking about it—this blog could be a place to start. If writing appeals to you, I am happy to serve as an editor if you so desire. If you want to post something here on my blog, you can do so under your name or anonymously. Consider this an open invitation. ^_^

 

References and Further Reading:

Webb, David. “Thinking (Differently About Suicide.” Searching for a Rose Garden. Edited by Jasna Russo and Angela Sweeney. UK: PCCS Books. 2016. Link: https://thinkingaboutsuicide.org/thinking-differently-about-suicide/

“Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics.” RAINN. June 22, 2016. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

The Icarus Project. http://theicarusproject.net/

Reblog: On Being Depressed, Part I by The Belle Jar

Trigger warning: mention of suicide There’s a funny sort of paradox about depression where it’s probably the mental illness that people who haven’t experienced mental illness find easiest to identify with while simultaneously being a condition that is incredibly difficult to understand if you’ve never lived through it. I mean, I get it. We’ve all […]

via On Being Depressed, Part 1,826 — The Belle Jar

Reblog: On the Medicalization of Donald Trump, via crippledscholar

There has been quite a bit of discussion around whether it is appropriate to speculate about whether Donald Trump has a mental illness. The rhetoric and armchair diagnosis of Trump is already happening and it’s important to look at the arguments for why people are doing that and perhaps more importantly whether people should. I […]

via On the Medicalization of Donald Trump — crippledscholar