Feb. 20th, 2011


Feb. 20th, 2011 11:10 am
voltairine: (neurological faultlines)
A friend of mine shared this video on the facebooks and I can't get over it or seem to articulate the ways in which it makes me mad.

A big part of it is that, you know, it's like two minutes long, so it obviously doesn't deal with any of the nuances or complexities inherent in talking about diagnosis and "labelling" of mental health issues. The image of a bunch of people ripping off their "labels" to reveal that ALL ALONG they were REALLY just revolutionaries, artists, leaders, and activists is catchy, there's inspiring music, dramatic lighting, it's very well-constructed propaganda, and the message is simplified enough (using diagnoses as labels to define people is wrong) that it's hard to argue with right out of the gate.

Less catchy and inspiring, though, is the more complicated reality of a lot of people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses. While diagnoses are frequently used as tools to oppress neuroatypical people - ways for mental health professionals and other authority figures in historically fucked institutions to gaslight neuroatypical people and justify abuse; ways to stigmatize non-normative means of communication, problem-solving etc - they are ALSO often used by neuroatypical people to access resources, information, and help that can potentially be life-saving. Both sides of this coin are VERY real, and also valid, legitimate parts of peoples' lives, often at the same time.

A diagnosis makes me vulnerable to a lot of things, the most frightening of which (to me) is institutionalized abuse - but which also encompasses a broader socially-based discrimination and stigma: if I need a certain accommodation in class or at work, should I ask for it and risk opening myself up for discrimination and hope for the best, or should I struggle through processes designed for people who function differently than I do and (again) hope for the best? AND, A diagnosis ALSO allows me access to the Centre for Students with Disabilities at my school. It makes it easier for me to access medication, should that be the route I choose to go, and easier to access support when I want to go OFF medication, should that be another route I choose to go. In a town where waiting lists for doctors and mental health professionals are often months long, it allows me to get quicker access to these people. Messages like the one in this video - that diagnoses are something that "patients" have no stake in themselves - serve to enforce another (albeit unintentional) stigma: that "patients" (ie, neuroatypical people) have no agency regarding their mental health, that we are always uninformed about the processes we go through in mental health systems, and that diagnoses are something that we necessarily need to be "rescued" or helped to "break free" from (usually by neurotypical people).

While it's true that the process of diagnosis can be and often is a disempowering and alienating one - especially for children who may not have access to the info necessary to self-educate around the issues affecting their lives - these stereotypes, repeated in this way, do NOT facilitate a better understanding of such power dynamics and injustices or help to dissemble them, because they are, well, stereotypes. Like the stereotype that people with depression, bipolar disorder, and/or other mood disorders are inherently more artistically inclined than normative folks (see also: the moment in that video when the girl labeled "bipolar" rips her label off to reveal a t-shirt bearing the word "artist"), it's well-intentioned (usually) but serves to enforce a greater stigma and disempowerment for people actually dealing with these situations. This is especially risky when such stereotypes and oversimplifications masquerade themselves with progressive language and imagery as being liberationist and radical knowledge, because in doing so they "replace" and discourage the seeking and creation of ACTUAL liberationist and radical knowledge.

Diagnosis is a double-edged sword. It's something that can cut you, and something you can use to defend yourself in a world that stigmatizes and shames your way of thinking, feeling and doing things.

The way to deal with this is not to create further shame by offering up propaganda like this, which serves to (perhaps unintentionally, but still) direct existing shame at those who actively seek diagnoses and use their diagnoses as a tool for themselves. The way to deal with this is to understand the ROOT of the problem as being not diagnoses-as-labels, or diagnoses period, but a society which normalizes certain ways of functioning and oppresses anyone who does not conform to that, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT those people seek and/or receive formal diagnoses. The way to deal with this is to understand what it means to live and/or "function" as a neuroatypical person in such a society - and to understand the benefits and joys (yes, some of us are leaders, some of us are artists, some of us are activists and revolutionaries and inventors and philosophers) AS WELL AS the struggles (some of us harm ourselves, some of us have trouble getting out of bed sometimes, some of us cry and yell and can't go outside and are deeply, life-disruptingly afraid of things that wouldn't cause a more normative person to blink) that that entails. We are anxious heroes, we are strength and limitation. Mental "illnesses" can be dis/abilities - yes, REAL DIS/ABILITIES - and dismissing them by saying (as is said in so many ways, overt and implied, every day of our lives) that it's just something in our heads, that we have a false consciousness, that we THINK it's difficult to deal with but we REALLY just need to embrace our true nature as ARTISTS and LEADERS, etc, is dismissive and insulting to neuroatypical people who often have to fight for our survival in a hostile world. It minimizes our pain and turns our joys into patronizing stereotypes.

But it does not make us more free.

Freedom means the ability to self-educate, it means access to knowledge, it means being empowered to make informed decisions about what goes into your body - whether that's herbal supplements or pharmaceutical meds or rays from a sun lamp or WHATEVER - and having the autonomy to refuse treatments you don't want. It means being afforded the legitimacy as a human being that is necessary to have your choices and your self-determination respected, whether or not your self-determination includes phrases like "obsessive-compulsive disoder" OR "organizer" OR BOTH - it means an understanding that you CAN BE both, and you can be more, if you want, and none of those things necessarily preclude others or define who you are all by themselves, but they are all as relevant to who you are as you know them to be. It means not having to choose between asking for what you need and losing the respect of the people you're close to. It means respect for the full expression of your humanity - not having to be the Model Neuroatypical Person all the time, lest you cross the line and be vilified as "crazy" for refusing meds, or as an ignorant anti-radical fool for taking them.

When all of this is understood, not just by individuals but on a systemic level, then maybe we will be getting somewhere. But videos like this one are not going to get us there. They just aren't.

So put THAT in a two-minute propaganda video and tell me about my life.


voltairine: (Default)

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