It’s not my intent to discuss politics or current events beyond the realm of literature on this blog on anything like a regular basis. That’s just not what I’m doing here. But the conversations surrounding the recent shooting in my hometown have made me feel like there’s something I just have to say.
For the record, I’m mentally ill.
I don’t mean in a “haha, she’s so eccentric!” kind of way, either. I’m talking “takes multiple medications daily,” and “sees both a therapist and a psychiatrist,” and “is often depressed, and sometimes so manic she doesn’t sleep for days,” full-on bipolar disorder.
I’m mentally ill. I’m also a homeowner, a small business owner, and a taxpayer. I’m emotionally unstable. I’m also a wife, a daughter (with an excellent relationship with her parents, thanks), a friend, and a mentor. I could be described, not inaccurately, as being “of unsound mind.” I have a college degree, and I’m a published author.
My point is not that I’m an exceptional crazy person – though I do think I’m pretty awesome, sometimes – but that it would be wrong to make assumptions about what kind of person I am and what my life is like based only on what you know – or think you know – about manic depression. And it would be wrong to assume that any given thing that I do is motivated by my illness, rather than by any of a number of other potential factors, singly or in combination.
Throwing around words like “loony” and “nutcase” and “whack-job,” as though they’re the sole and simple explanation behind a complex act is as ridiculous as suggesting that someone committed a crime because, say, he had a mustache.
Except there’s an important difference: If you were to say that a violent criminal did what he did because of his facial hair, that wouldn’t contribute to a pre-existing, massive stigma against the mustachioed in our society, having repercussions for everyone with an unshaven upper lip.
Whereas if you go around suggesting that people “should have known” that a guy was likely to kill a bunch of people “because he was obviously unstable” – well. You just made my life, and the lives of every other mentally ill person out there, harder. That bias already exists for us, making it difficult to make friends, hold jobs, and reach out for treatment, to name a few things – and you just added to it.
If you’re interested in talking about rhetoric, and the power of language, don’t forget that the meme of the violent lunatic is rhetorical, too.
And if you don’t care about that, and all you want is to distance yourself from the horrific behavior of a fellow human being by insisting that his actions are somehow typical of mental illness, that he’s an incomprehensible, less-than-human “psycho” -
You can call me and everyone like me a nutcase, or a whack-job, or whatever, I guess. But I’ll have a few names to call you: Ableist. Ignorant. Bigot.
Just for the record.