I first started showing signs of mental illness in my mid-teens, and by the time I was 19 I had been hospitalised twice. It was a low time in my life, punctuated by horrible interpersonal relationships and a shitty living situation. I was a shitty person to the people around me (and myself), and when I went into hospital the second time there was a lot of popular opinion that I was beyond help and deserved the suffering I was experiencing, and that ultimately I deserved to die.
I cannot explain to you how it felt to lash outwards, then curl inwards and look into the depths of my pain and feel like a burden. I felt like I inconvenienced the people around me with my illness. It was too loud, too intense, too much. I felt ill equipped to deal with life, and I leaned heavily on my loved ones. I was so overwhelmingly ashamed and embarrassed of myself, and I felt like life would be so much easier for everyone if I simply was not alive any more.
A decade has crawled, leaped, and wriggled by and now I am a happily married woman with many successes to my name. My mental illness is ever present but under control, and I have learned that even though I am mentally ill I am still deserving of love, support, and respect.
On May 20 xoJane ran an essay by Amanda Lauren entitled “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing”. Wow, right? The gist of the piece is that this woman, Leah, tried to hook up with Lauren’s crush, but other than that didn’t have any boyfriends, and lived in an untidy house. All crimes worthy of capital punishment, I’m sure.
This article later had the by-line changed to Anonymous, before finally being pulled and replaced with an apology by xoJane, though the original article was captured by web.archive.org if you’ve got the spoons to go looking for it.
The story continues as Lauren begins stalking her ex-friend Leah, a mental illness sufferer, on Facebook because she was morbidly curious about the fact that Leah was a sex worker. She goes on to say that she has nothing against sex work (yeah, I bet), but that Leah simply couldn’t consent to performing sex work because of her mental illness. I’m sure Lauren is totally able to make those claims because she was stalking her on Facebook and was therefore an authority on Leah’s life. This is news to all of us mentally ill people who are doing sex work to support ourselves, and I’m sure in future we will all be sure to ask Lauren’s permission before continuing to be sex workers.
The story comes to an end with Leah drowning in a bathtub, and Lauren’s commentary on how it was a blessing because “(s)he would have either been institutionalized or a major burden on her family”. Lauren goes on to say in another interview with Daily Dot that “Do you know the laws in America? You can’t just put away mentally ill people even if they need help. My goal in writing that essay was to bring light to the plight of the mentally ill.” It is worth noting that this piece says an awful lot more about Lauren’s failings as a decent human being than it does about Leah’s, a fact that obviously passed Lauren by as she penned it.
I know that reading these words affected me greatly, causing much reflection on how it felt to believe I was a burden on my loved ones, and I cannot imagine how her words would have affected people who currently experience these types of intrusive thoughts. Mentally ill people, you need to know that you don’t deserve to be “put away”, you are not a burden on the people around you, and you have inherent worth as a human being in this world.
Reading her piece, and the subsequent Daily Dot interview, it was more apparent than ever that mentally ill people do not need neurotypical and ableist commentary on our lives. We need the freedom to tell our own stories, without condescending, dangerous, and insulting commentary of the type that Lauren dishes out. We deserve respect, and the ability to have our voices shared and heard, especially on so-called feminist sites like xoJane.
If you’re mentally ill, please let me assure you one last time that you are a worthy person in this world, and your life is a blessing to the loved ones around you. People like Lauren exist, but their light in this world are far diminished by the radiance you exude. You have value, and potential, and worth. Don’t forget. I love you!