16 June 2016

Too many voices, not enough attention paid



If you're in the right demographic, The Mighty might publish them

There are many websites asking for first-person accounts of mental illness – quirky stories, self-help methods, recovery, etc. I’ve submitted to a few of them and been greeted with silence. It seems that perhaps, I do not have interesting stories to tell or my writing flat out sucks. That could be either depression talking or reality – I usually see it as reality. 

So comes this story on two trips to the mental ward in the OC 87 Recovery Diaries by Karis Rogerson.

When I read stories like this, I accumulate red flags and warning bells. By the time I reach the end I can usually figure out why this story made it and, perhaps, others didn’t.

First thing I noticed, and I see it many of these stories, is that they are thinly veiled love letters to living in New York. I suppose if you can get committed there, you can get committed anywhere. It seems that many people find their lives unfulfilling if somehow, they can’t make it to the Big Apple. I don’t understand why any person fighting mental illness would want to live in that hell hole, especially anyone with a nervous condition. 

Woody Allen made the mistake of making neuroticism in New York look trendy and hip. Nervous conditions anywhere are neither but, in reality, a giant pain in the ass. To be in a place where there is constant noise, activity and unreal career or personal expectations would seem to set up a fragile person for a disaster. Maybe all the mental wards and delis within walking distance make up for the crushing cost of living and claustrophobia that would seem to be generated by living in a closet marketed as an apartment.

But maybe it’s just me. I just don’t get it. 

At the end we find a little more out about Karis:

Karis Rogerson is an American/Canadian who grew up in Italy and Germany, and is currently in New York City getting her master's in journalism from New York University. She loves to read, write and laugh. All she wants out of life is an NYC apartment, a newspaper job and lots of travel. She couldn't live without friends (both the TV show and the real-life ones), binge-watching cop shows and lots and lots of pizza. Someday she hopes you'll read her novels.

I know how this is going to sound, but I’ve seen too much of this. So many of the people who actually have their mental health stories published are, not to put too fine a point on it, people who come from means and, by nature of their published bios, probably have a number of connections in both the web publishing and online mental health communities.

I rarely see any essays that are written by people without the kind of pedigree I see above. And, I also rarely see stories from people who were not inpatient psych at one point or another. Perhaps an inpatient stay is needed for street cred in the mental health writers committee. So I guess I’m out of luck on that score as well.

In addition, there seems to be a dearth of stories written by anyone over 40. Again, maybe it’s just my perception.

If these rougher voices need editing, well, that's what editors are for. Not everyone afflicted with a mental illness is William Styron.

Why do I care? I think I have something of interest to share, especially my story of what happened to me at work and why sometimes silence is better than educating (it involved a SWAT team and other unpleasantness).

But I’m used to this sort of thing and it doesn’t bother me much anymore. That’s why I have a blog, after all. What bothers me is the dulling sameness of the people I do see published and the seemingly similar story arcs and construction. I’m also concerned that other people who did not have the external advantages and connections are not being considered for publication. 

You can say that is the way things are and that is true to a point. My naiveté may be that I believed that the online mental health community may have been a little more opening and willing to consider a wider range of voices. 

OK, stop laughing. 

My interactions with the local NAMI branch should have disabused me of such fairy tale notions but I guess my Pollyanna attitude with the ‘helping community’ dies hard.