Mental Health, Stigma, and Activism

This post has sort of been a long time coming, but it’s a challenge to gather my thoughts on what I’d like to discuss here.   For a long time, my identity has been heavily organized around sexuality and gender.  That’s where most of my activism goes, as well as most of my writing and academic work.  I’m sensitive to gender- and sexuality-based discrimination in my own life and in the lives of others.  But lately, I’ve been thinking about another kind of discrimination, and another kind of identity–one that it’s much scarier to claim.

I spend some of my blog-reading time each day on disability, a topic that’s of interest to me because it falls in with so many other oppression- and kyriarchy-related topics, because I don’t know enough about it, and because it affects so many of those near and dear to me.  I am a TAB (temporarily able-bodied) person, and so I have never really identified with disability, but that has been changing.

None of these things are diagnosed, partially because of the challenges in seeking professional assistance and the potential of community rejection, but I show pretty strong signs of depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and binge eating disorder.  I had to fight my urge, just now, to put the adjective “mild” in front of those words, because the stigma against them is so heavy, and I can practically see the judgment coming.

I’ve judged other people for their mental health problems.  I’ve used words like “crazy” to describe people, and as a brightline rule to apply to myself–“I may have some issues, but I’m not crazy.”  I’m ashamed to admit that.  By some definitions, I probably am crazy.

The fact is, normal is relative.

We live in a world that encourages mental unhealth.  Just sorting through the challenge of trying to find a good eating disorder recovery blog that is body-positive, supports HAES, and doesn’t use the language of control and oppression and restriction, is really tough.  That’s because we’re taught that it’s healthy to hate our bodies, healthy to restrict our eating, and if food controls our lives, it has to do with weakness and willpower and personal responsibility.  Similarly, anxiety is normal in a stressed-out world, as is depression.  Those things are “just what everyone has,” but if someone asserts that it actually is a problem, it actually is greater than normal, zie becomes stigmatized, unhealthy, crazy.

I’m tired of guilt.  I’m tired of all the fucked-up issues I have surrounding food and money.  I’m tired of feeling the burden of the constant pressure to maintain a reputation, an online presence.  I would love to write and be an activist for a living, but it’s not a profession that cuts people very much slack.  There’s pressure to constantly produce, not to have an “off” day.  There’s pressure to be able to be social and travel and do things whether or not you feel like it.  There’s pressure to present as healthy, calm, with it, in control.  Of course, there’s very little money in it, so it’s not a very welcoming place for folks whose mental health issues are exacerbated by not having enough.

I’m not going anywhere.  But I am starting to learn and accept that I may not be cut out for this career, for activist “fame,” for material success.  I’m going to keep writing and keep reading and keep talking to people, but I’m going to accept that my periods of disappearance due to social anxiety may mean that I lose a lot of people and am never seen as a member of the community.  The time it takes to tackle my “issues” may take away from the time I have to tackle the world’s issues.  I may be seen as “less than,” “not good enough,” or “unprofessional” by some people and organizations.  I’m going to learn to be okay with that, because the guilt and the shame and the pain of a world that I visualize in constant judgment is too much for me.

I wanted to put this out there because I know I am not the only blogger, writer, or activist in this position.  I want to let you know that you’re not alone and your struggle is valid and the stigma against you is shit and it’s not your fault. I’m not sure I can offer a very reliable ear, because the pressure of correspondence is often difficult for me, but I can try.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on June 21, 2011, in (dis)ability, activism, body & size and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this.
    I’m currently dealing with being diagnosed with a new autoimmune disorder, on top of type 1 diabetes, and having to endure another depression episode, and feeling bad that I can’t be as active (in so many spheres) as I’d like.
    Self care is a truly radical act, and unfortunately for most people a very difficult and guilt ridden act. I wish it wasn’t so.

    • You’re very welcome, and *hugs* I think you’re right: we say “self-care!” a lot in activist communities, but when doing that takes away, it’s easy for people to feel like we’re not living up to some imaginary standard. Ugh.

  2. I realize I’m stumbling onto a pretty old post so maybe things have changed for you, but I’m so glad I’m not the only who feels there is a preference towards folk who are are mentally “stronger” or folk who do not need one or two off days PER week, not just once in awhile. I had an incident happen in a social justice learning space where I tried to address mental health and it was framed as my white fragility; essentially the “don’t confuse discomfort as being unsafe”. If I am having a panic attack in an activist environment, I don’t want to be seen as avoiding my own privilege or associated guilt, rather when anxiety or depression strikes, exiting a conversation or group or situation is not necessarily for life vs. death safety, but rather safety of our brains and out mental stability.

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