Tag Archives: censorship

Language and Mental Illness; A Different Point of View

I’ve been reading a lot of pleas and rants about how important it is for people to conform to one standard of language when it comes to discussing mental illness… this is not one of them.

Personally, I believe expecting everyone to adhere to strict conformity when it comes to discussing mental health is a step in the wrong direction, and while that is a notion that may boggle some minds, I’m hoping to make a clear case today for my (potentially less-popular) point of view. I am not here to call anyone out, just to express my concern and why I feel that way.

I’d like to start by stating the obvious:

People have different beliefs.

In fact, they’re allowed to. That is a big part of the idea that America was founded on, and globally it is even more apparent that our cultures and environments have produced many different ways of looking at the world. These many viewpoints include those that effect how people look at mental health.

If you haven’t already, you may want to take a second to check out The Icarus Project. This is a national community of people (largely artists) who don’t believe in taking traditional psychiatric medications (for the  most part) and instead try to embrace themselves in their current state, largely funneling their emotions into art.

Do you agree with this? Maybe not, but whether you or I agree with their beliefs doesn’t change their right to believe them.

A big part of our ability to live our lives comes from tolerance and the ability to get along with people with different viewpoints. It seems like such a large part when it comes to “battling stigma” has become pushing others to believe the things (and act the way) we want them to instead of focusing on being open and being treated with respect.

Language is Imperfect. 

I have gotten a lot of flack from my therapists for jumping back and forth between psychiatric verbiage when describing my mental state and regular descriptive language. What they don’t seem to understand is that most words don’t seem to describe what I’m aiming to describe very well at all, and I wind up with the oddest mish-mash (I’m sure you’ve read some here if you’re familiar at all with my blog) of language.

Language is imperfect, not all of the words we might want or need have been invented yet. Describing something that isn’t tangible (like something in our minds) can often be frustrating enough, and on top of that different groups of people have different feelings associated with different words. One word in English very rarely means one thing straight across the board (I guess maybe “buttress” is an exclusion?), and a word spoken in the city might have an entirely different connotation in the country (let alone from region to region).

Language is not something we can expect to lasso and subdue until it is uniform. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way language has ever worked (from the time it was invented) so it seems ludicrous to me to expect that it will now.

Language is a form of self-expression.

If we consider other forms of self-expression (music, painting, etc.) it seems ridiculous to walk up to someone painting and tell them they can’t use the color blue. Or they can’t use the “c” note. Or they can use the “c” note but only when followed with an “e flat”.

A lot of the things I’ve seen lately about mental health verbiage has sounded like that sort of bizarre notion me. While I understand that people feel concerned about how others are expressing themselves (something I will get into momentarily), the act of telling someone what they can and can’t say or write quickly falls into the realm of censorship. While I understand that is not anyone’s intention, that doesn’t change the fact that that’s where this attitude is heading.

In addition, self expression is as individual as… well… the individual! There is no such thing as a “right way” or a “wrong way” to express oneself. Surely, there are ways that may be more pleasing to the senses (which, again varies widely from person to person), or ways that our society deems more acceptable than others (also varies depending on many factors like age, location, race), but that normally doesn’t bar forms of self-expression that falls outside of these categories.

Do the actions or words of one person discredit the rest of the group?

This is the big question that I think has been fueling so many of these negative comments and posts. Certainly when one blogger appears sloppy or ignorant about mental health, we all suffer, right?

I read an article once about how a large group of lesbians (around the time the gay rights movement was really heating up) were shunning any woman who had identified herself as a lesbian but had slept with a man because they believed it made them all look bad. Instead of helping their own cause, it created tension and animosity among a group that should have been fighting along side one another for the same rights.

I feel like this is a very similar situation, and people who should be scooped up and cared for to bolster a strong mental health community are instead being ostracized and attacked (for often doing little more than using a word incorrectly).

This particular idea is one that has been weighing heavily on my heart for quite some time, not because of the language situation (that is really a secondary symptom for this issue) but because of how quick much of the mental health community is to jump on board with ostracizing or shunning anyone who has a mental illness and also committed an act of violence.

Does a seemingly “poorly written” blog post make us all look bad? (Really?)

To take it one step further I have to ask; does an act of violence from one person with mental illness make us all look bad?

If it does, it is not for the reasons you are probably thinking of. From my perspective it all comes down to the reaction of the mental health community, and whether our reaction is one of solidarity:

“This is an example of a very extreme instance of mental illness and is an important indicator about the help that is sill needed in the mental health community.”

or, more often, one of dismissal:

“People with mental illness are almost never violent. I am never violent, this has nothing to do with me.”

The issue of including (or being supportive) of someone in the mental health community who might need extra help is an issue ten times larger to me than being nit-picky about the language in a blog or on twitter. How can we expect people to be supportive and accepting of us when we can’t support or accept the people within our own mental health communities? Can we take a look at the bigger picture please?

This conversation has only just begun.

The conversation about mental health has only just began to heat up. I believe whole heartedly that putting our focus on the statements that don’t match up with our own beliefs and attacking them is incredibly foolish. At this point, I think it is less important what is being said as the fact that people are saying it.

Think about it, more people than ever before are beginning to talk about mental health, and that is truly remarkable! No matter what people are bringing to the table in this conversation, it is important to remember that people have different beliefs and the way we learn and understand is to have a conversation with many different points of view. We can’t expect people who are just starting to explore this topic to have the vocabulary or understanding that someone who has lived with these issues for many years to have, and attacking anyone for being ignorant or for having a different perspective will likely create an enemy instead of a friend.

Understanding wont happen overnight, and we can’t force people into seeing from our point of view. All we can do is share what we have, and be patient and tolerant with everyone else.

What can we do to help?

1. Express yourself! Express yourself with words, photography, paint, clothing, music, whatever it is that you do best. Use the language that suits you best to tell your story, the story of how you (an individual) live your life!

2. Practice patience. I know this can be a tough one (especially with a mood disorder), but if you see a comment or post that upsets/frustrates you, skip it. If you want to respond, maybe wait until the emotional reaction has gone and see how you feel then.

3. Practice positivity. The internet is one place in particular that I try to practice the phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Try pledging yourself to leaving positive comments only and skipping writing negative ones. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help your own mood and feelings of positivity while blogging.

4. Focus on you. Try focusing on your own self expression and making it the best it can be instead of focusing on the perceived faults of others. When in conversation (online or in real life) and you feel you need to respond to a point of view you don’t agree with, start the dialogue by focusing on yourself. “I find this particular use of words offensive because ____. ” or “disagree because ____.” This leads to a more open conversation that feels more honest and less accusational.

5. Be open. In the mental health community, a lot of importance is placed on the portion of being open that involves sharing our stories, but it is equally as important to be open to what others have to say or questions they might have. Remember, this is a time for mental health conversation, and conversations are a two way street. It can be amazing how being open to a new idea or point of view can lead us to profound places; all it takes is a willingness to listen!

Anyone with works of self-expression coming from a mental health perspective who might be interested in seeing one pop up on this blog, shoot me an email at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com

Whiteout During A Blackout

Many of you are probably aware of today’s internet blackout, where many prominent websites are protesting the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) bills that are currently being considered. These bills were created to potentially help end piracy on the web for musicians, filmmakers, and other artists, which means well, but the end result would mean government involvement in censoring the internet.

Obviously a lot of people have a problem with that.

I think the biggest fear people have is that if the government begins censoring even just a small portion of the internet, couldn’t they potentially begin censoring everything on the internet? I mean, we’ve heard horror stories about the government in China doing a lot of internet censorship, and it is easy to jump to that conclusion.

I know our country was founded on the principles of free speech, and as of right now, I feel like the internet is one of the only good examples of that we have left of that principle today.

My appreciation for the internet has grown ten fold since the beginning of the Occupy movement. How many TV stations were reporting on the movement when it started? Zero. They blocked it out and wouldn’t report on it. Does that give anyone else the chills? That a major protest could be happening in part of our country (it was just NY at that point) and our media was acting as if nothing was happening?

How much more are our television networks “conveniently” not telling us?

The internet is not subject to any political party. Obviously some websites are, but we can choose what we take in.

Once the government becomes involved, even if they’re just putting a toe in the pool, they jeopardize the notion of free speech.

Beyond that, I can see how one thing might lead to another. If artists are upset about the piracy of their work, what if doctors are upset that more and more people are relying on the internet for medical advice? Is it possible that this “threat to their livelihood” could cause the government to step in and censor medical websites? That might sound far fetched, but as much as our country toots the free speech horn they also value business above much else. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be so keen on passing these bills involving censorship in the first place, right?

The answer to this censorship problem seems to be simple. Don’t let the government start. Keep the internet open and free.

As someone who has a mental illness and blogs openly about it on the internet, yeah. Free speech is extremely important to me.

The internet is one of the few places I don’t feel like a second-class citizen. Here, I am not disabled. I am not defined by the fact that I have a low income. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have insurance. I’m just like anyone else who has something to say, with a free platform to say it.

Let’s keep it that way.

If you have a moment, please be sure to tell Congress to end piracy, not liberty.

Censoring Media for Self Preservation

Before the word bipolar reared its head in our household when I was growing up, I can remember my mom using the word “hypersensitive” in reference to me.

I can understand completely how that conclusion came about, because what else do you call someone who is extra sensitive emotionally, extra sensitive to noise, sugar, environment, basically the gamut of human experience? I’ve always been sensitive to things that most people could care less about, and though that makes much more sense to me now there was a long time where I didn’t quite understand what that meant.

These days, the simple way to explain this is using the word triggers.

Noise is a huge trigger for me, I have a very hard time being in situations where there is a lot of noise. I am quickly overwhelmed by places like the mall, not because of the people… just because of the amount of noise. I know that these situations are likely to result in a mood shift, and I tend to quickly find myself feeling exhausted, extremely irritable, and ready to climb into the nearest quiet hole I can find.

I figured that one out pretty early on, but something it took me a while to recognize is how much media content effects me.

For example, if I listen to a sad or angry song, I will become sad or angry.

If I watch a depressing movie, I will likely walk away feeling depressed.

If I read an article about a topic that disturbs me, I will probably be disturbed and frustrated for the rest of the day.

So lets see, I have a disorder that causes my mood to shift rapidly on its own (sometimes for no apparent reason), is it wise for me to be actively choosing to surround myself with things that will have a negative effect on me?

No.

This is where things get tricky. I don’t believe in general censorship, I think information belongs to everyone. That said, it has become increasingly difficult for me to do things like watch the news, especially when there are videos of child abuse taking place or people (Saddam Hussein, for example) being killed right in front of me. I can handle hearing a disturbing topic, but I absolutely cannot handle such graphic, disturbing images (especially of real life situations).

For the most part, I try to avoid movies with disturbing images as well… I’ll watch the occasional horror movie every once in a while, but I constantly remind myself that I am watching a movie and the content is fiction. Plus, horror movies are often so ridiculous that they couldn’t pass for seeming real anyway, so I haven’t had much trouble. Usually it is movies in the “drama” category that really get me in trouble, because that’s when things like abuse, sexual assault, or suicide pop up without any sort of warning.

Honestly I hate the idea of censoring what I allow myself to see or hear or read, but there are very real and unpleasant consequences if I do not. I don’t enjoy feeling a deep, unrelenting agony… especially when it isn’t about something that happened in my own life!

Recently I’ve been listening to podcasts as an alternative to music (or books on tape, love it), and it has been great to learn little facts or hear stories and for the most part I have not had trouble with them effecting my moods (with the exception of listening to The Fellowship of the Ring and having a bit of an intense OCD relapse from the Tom Bombadil portion for some odd reason).

You know what else never makes me feel terrible? Justin Timberlake. Now now, don’t scoff, if you knew me you’d know that to be a ridiculous thing to say but that is the very reason I am able to listen to him. Seriously, I crack up like crazy anytime I hear Justin Timberlake, and he is one of the few artists that puts me in a better mood than when I started (simply because I’ve been laughing so hard over the course of the song).

Well, in conclusion, I’ve reached a point where I feel comfortable with what media I expose myself to for the most part, this sort of censorship has become an important reality for me.

Do you ever find yourself censoring what you read/watch/or listen to, and is it worth the trouble?